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All I want for Christmas is a machine that kills fascists (and banjos)...


Mojorule

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Hello acoustic experts.

 

Having found that my electric playing truly opened up when I finally got hold of a Gibson, and having recently discovered some genuine pleasure in my cheap Indonesian dreadnought after about 15 years of hating the thing, I am hankering after another Gibson in the hope that it might work some magic for my acoustic playing. I really like the look of, and what I hear about, the Woody Guthrie SJ, but I have no realistic chance of trying one before buying. (Those of you in America will have noticed a trend in posts from those of us in Europe or the UK, where finding a single Gibson acoustic to try out is a major feat, and where the idea of trying a row of similar instruments out in order to find the best one is a pipe dream...) So I'm hoping that you can give me enough information to make me feel that I can buy with some confidence. Here are some details about why I'm thinking about the WGSJ.

 

Of course the tool does not make the player, but something about the neck of my electric just clicked with my hands and made my fretting faster and more mobile. As a result, my playing really has grown in confidence, and my electric has become my go-to instrument when my kids are not around. Because those occasions are happily quite rare, though, I have found myself playing my dread a lot more recently as well. I really am enjoying it, in alternation with an ancient Eastern Bloc parlour or 3/4 steel-string which chews up G strings at a frightful rate, but feels more like the classical guitar that used to be my go-to instrument before it lost a machine-head. I admit to liking the tinny sound of the smaller acoustic, especially for blues picking, but really the appeal of the guitar is its small body and short scale length. Despite being a plywood box, the dread has a much fuller tone which I ultimately like more, and which apparently impressed the audience at our kids' Kindergarten Christmas concert last week. What I don't like so much about the dread is the stretch along the neck. I'm coping with it, but it is essentially a restriction on my playing. The dread appears to be a 25.5 scale instrument (I measured with a metric ruler and rough conversion would seem to confirm this estimate). Now I know classicals are also in the 25.5 scale range, but I never had a problem with reach on mine, possibly because of the lower string tension, perhaps because of the more compact body size. On the dread I really feel the stretch. I don't really know what its nut width is: it feels like the 1 11/16" of my electric, but when I measured it, it was 44mm which should equate to a 1.76" width. (That said, the string spacing is categorically not 1.76", and perhaps I should be measuring nut width in relation to the outer strings.) In any case, I think that I could quite happily handle more width in that dimension, as I never really found the width of a classical problematic, and as most of my playing is fingerstyle. (I'm very comfortable playing fingerstyle on my electric, especially with its shorter scale neck, but a touch more nut width would make it even more comfortable in that genre.) All of which leads me to think that what I would really like is a single guitar combining the power of a dread with the shorter scale of a smaller guitar, plus a slightly wider nut width than I currently have. A slightly curvier, more manageable body than my dread's would also be a positive factor. To my thinking the instrument which would best fit my needs would be a classic slope-shoulder Gibson. Does my reasoning sound right to you?

 

If it does, then in terms of affordability, I will essentially have a choice between a standard J 45 and a Woody. From youtube videos I can tell that I basically like the mellow but powerful sound of Bozeman workhorses, and they do remind me of a J 45 that I once heard in a documentary about contemporary blues musicians (title and names forgotten, I'm afraid), which had the best, most balanced, warm acoustic tone I can remember hearing. But on the Thomann website, the recording of the J 45 (My link)sounds rather muted next to that of the Woody (My link). And at present the Gibson tone that I like best on youtube is coming from Robert Perkins playing a 2003 reissue of a 1943 SJ (My link). All right, so he's flatpicking, and playing hard, but the guitar just sounds so good...

 

The problem is, I can't really find any sound clips of a Woody other than the Thomann one, and I would really like to know whether that clip is representative or not, and whether the J 45 clip is typical or not.

 

I know that the G owns and loves a Woody. I would love to hear more about or of that guitar. Does the Thomann clip capture the sound? Does the Robert Perkins guitar sound similar? And what is with the VOS finish? On Gibson electrics, that seems to mean an extra layer of grime which can be sandpapered off to reveal the original gloss finish. But on a Montana acoustic, what does it mean? Thicker or thinner nitro? Or just different? Does the Woody really come with a bone nut, and does it make a difference?

 

I've read Zombywoof's rave reviews of the Woody on several threads in different forums, but I would like to hear more about why you think that this model is so special. Does it sound like an original banner to you or is it actually closer to your 50s SJ? Is it really significantly better than a contemporary J 45?

 

Red 333 has seen inside so many Gibsons. Have you seen inside a Woody? Does it have anything different going on in terms of its bracing which should make it sound special?

 

Any information gratefully received! A Woody or a straight J 45?

 

Mojorule

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Red 333 has seen inside so many Gibsons. Have you seen inside a Woody? Does it have anything different going on in terms of its bracing which should make it sound special?

 

Mojorule

 

 

Hi, Mojorule.

 

Sorry to say, I've never laid on eyes on a Woody in person. I do know that the True Vintage J-45 and True Vintage SJ have different back bracing, but I can't tell you anything beyond that. I suspect the Woody must be braced differently from the J-45 Standard or Modern Classic in some ways, as many comment on their differences in sound. I bet if you call or email Don Ruffatto (Product Specialist at Gibson acoustic), he could let you know. His email is don.ruffatto@gibson.com. Be sure to let the rest of us know what he says!

 

Best,

 

Red 333

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"The Woody Guthrie SJ acoustic features a variation of Gibson's "X" bracing pattern situated behind the soundhole, with a set of tall and thin braces for the back, and scalloped tall and thin braces for the top."

 

 

The Gibson site -

 

 

Much like several other slopes.

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I played a Woody SJ at Janet Davis Music last year. It was a beautiful instrument, and I wanted to really like it, but the standard J45 and HBird both played and sounded better to my ear. I walked out with the HBird. But with new strings and a set up, who knows?

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I can't offer much information on modern SJs, but here's my video comparision of two 1943 SJS, one mahogany and one rosewood (like Woody's):

 

 

 

 

Another great situation there jt - good stuff. Though the rose is louder and clearer, must say I lean towards the mahogany. Comes out mellower to these ears, more rounded and together (but that's how I always feel about the hogs, still I know others perceive it differently). Both guitars have a strong bass, the rose-trebs sticks a bit forward and might be preferred in a 'thicker-traffic-mix'. Still, playing into the sunset - without being 100 % secure - I'd reach for the hog.

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Hi, Mojorule.

 

Sorry to say, I've never laid on eyes on a Woody in person. I do know that the True Vintage J-45 and True Vintage SJ have different back bracing, but I can't tell you anything beyond that. I suspect the Woody must be braced differently from the J-45 Standard or Modern Classic in some ways, as many comment on their differences in sound. I bet if you call or email Don Ruffatto (Product Specialist at Gibson acoustic), he could let you know. His email is don.ruffatto@gibson.com. Be sure to let the rest of us know what he says!

 

Best,

 

Red 333

 

Thanks for the e-mail address, Red. I'll be sure to e-mail him and pass on his response. Does the fact that you've not seen a Woody in person mean that they are relatively rare in American guitar shops or at shows? I'm from the UK, but currently in southern Hungary. No hope of finding a top-quality guitar locally here, most people can't afford them, and the serious musicians clearly buy their instruments in Budapest. When in Budapest, we stay near one of the best shops there, which has a lot of acoustics on the wall, and several Gibsons in the window, but no instruments which are both Gibsons and acoustics! EuroAussie would love the Furches they sell (and that our local bluegrassers seem to favour), but I really think I want the combination of jumbo size and short scale length. I'm now kicking myself for not trying out any Gibsons while in the UK this summer, but I was still thinking in terms of smaller bodies and longer scale lengths, and just didn't think I could afford a Gibby, so tried other things out instead. In any case, the best range of Gibsons I saw was in Oxford, where a J 45 Rosewood, an SJ 200 and a Hummingbird were all lined up. That sort of choice opens up so many variables, and closes so few down! Anyway, I suppose I ask about rarity, not because I'm looking to bag something unusual, but rather because I'm a bit concerned that the Woody is on the verge of being discontinued; at least one American online seller labels the model as such.

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I remember hearing somewhere that the woody was actually ladder braced. Though take that with a grain of salt it is a hazy memory.

 

Salt duly taken Bluesbreather, especially given EM7's posting from the Gibson site, though I suspect that your memory is not entirely hazy, and that you heard somebody somewhere who was confusing Guthrie's SJ with his L00 (also known to kill fascists, though probably not banjos).

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"The Woody Guthrie SJ acoustic features a variation of Gibson's "X" bracing pattern situated behind the soundhole, with a set of tall and thin braces for the back, and scalloped tall and thin braces for the top."

 

 

The Gibson site -

 

 

Much like several other slopes.

 

Thanks EM7. I've read the same page several times, but it's those words 'a variation of' which really intrigue me...

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Janet Davis music used to have a video demo up on the SJWG (sounded fair similar to the SJTVs to my tin ear). Cant find it now, but its priced nice. http://www.janetdavismusic.com/gibson_woody_guthrie_sj.html

 

btw, here's a video of the SJTV

http://www.acousticguitar.com/video/playvideo.aspx?videoname=GearReviews/AG187/Gibson_SJ-AG187

 

Thanks for the links jkinnama. I especially like the face he pulls when he reads/tries to remember the price of the guitar. This one brings me back to the old chestnuts: how much difference do a big pickguard and belly-up bridge make to the sound?

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Thanks for sharing the video links, Mojorule!

 

I can't offer much information on modern SJs, but here's my video comparision of two 1943 SJS, one mahogany and one rosewood (like Woody's):

 

 

Thanks JT, the playing is just great and hypnotic whichever you are playing. To my ears you get more resounding bass from the rosewood and more balance from your hog, but both instruments have big bass and good balance, so what really matters is that you more than do justice to both. (Of course cosmetically yours is prettier...) In a way the subtlety of the difference is useful to note, as the 'faithful' WG model is hog- and not rosewood-backed. Not really a problem for me in any case, as I'm not seeking Guthrie's sound (I can't make out what guitar he's playing on any of the recordings I've ever heard, anyway), but possibly an issue for anybody looking to the WG in the hope of getting the sound of the rosewood guitar in your comparison.

 

I've never heard of a blues called 'A Simple Little Mediocre Ditty' before, but I imagine it was big in the 1920s... Now I would really want to hear you playing the same thing on tpbiii's mahoganny-backed 1943 SJ so that I can compare the difference between the belly and non-belly bridges without rosewood as a variable. Any chance of that happening?

 

Given that you are a serious researcher, I'm presuming that you've explored the Robert Perkins link enough to spot his 1946 post-banner SJ. I'd be interested to hear your opinions about that guitar's tone, both in itself, and in comparison with his modern reissue.

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I played a Woody SJ at Janet Davis Music last year. It was a beautiful instrument, and I wanted to really like it, but the standard J45 and HBird both played and sounded better to my ear. I walked out with the HBird. But with new strings and a set up, who knows?

 

Thanks for the note, Pittstrummer. Could you say a bit more about why the standard 45 was better to your ears (closer to your Hummingbird, or closer to what you think a slope Gibson should sound like)? Anything in particular that made it better than the Woody?

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Mojo,

 

Thanks for the kind words! My only regret is that both SJs aren't mine. As for Woody's SJ being rosewood, that's info that Gibson (or anyone else0 didn't have. my co-author and I have been working closely with the Guthrie archives on the issue and we'll be revealing some interesting stuff.

 

I've spent time comparing my 1943 SJ with a 1946 SJ. Alas, I wasn't thoughtful enough at teh time to do a recordign. Next time.

 

Anyway, here are the visual differences:

 

1943 SJ:

 

2031398830033810361S600x600Q85.jpg

 

1946 SJ:

 

2316073350033810361S600x600Q85.jpg

 

As you can see, not much of a structural difference. The major difference is the Sitka top in the 1946 vs. the red spruce top in the 1943. In addition, the bracing is just a wee bit sturdier in the 1946. My gizmos measure to teh 1/10,000 of an inch and I'm not sure the differences make sonic differences. I did publish 2 articles about this stuff in the Journal of the Am. Soc. of Radiologic technology. PM me if you'd like copies.

 

To my ears, the 1943 was a better fingerpicker (for my style), but the 1946 might have been better for flatpicking/strumming. Again, I wish that both were mine!

 

I'd love to compare Tom's SJ with mine.

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