Great Gibson Guitars: the J-45

How well do you know your great Gibson guitars? In a new series, will shed some light on origins, legendary players and current models. Be surprised! We won't start with an electric...

To begin, let's look at just one of the classic Gibson acoustics that highlights the heritage and ongoing future of Gibson's legendary guitar craftsmanship. Ladies, gentlemen, children, all players... we give you, the undeniably great Gibson J-45.

Origins of the Gibson J-45

The Gibson J-45 is known as "The Workhorse". It's a phrase Gibson's marketing team coined themselves 70 years ago. But it remains apt. A "basic" J-45 is a no-frills but quality acoustic that has become a staple for numerous famous players, home enthusiasts, recording engineers, buskers and more.

Simply, the Gibson J-45 is one the greatest guitars of all time.

  • The J-45 was part of Gibson's round-shoulder dreadnought "jumbo" line, that began in 1934 with the Gibson Jumbo Flattop.
  • The J-45 launched in 1942. Wartime was not the best time to be launching guitars, so Gibson kept things simple. The company had to, as 90% of Gibson’s workforce had been recruited for war-related projects. The J-45 launched at a price of $45, hence the name.
  • It originally came in a sunburst-only finish. A 'burst finish could buff-up any flaws in its (originally 4-piece) laminated spruce top. Gibson is dedicated to the very best woods, but large, quality cuts of spruce were hard to come by in WWII. Most spruce was commandeered by the U.S. military to build war-planes.
  • Original J-45s even had no truss rod because metal was also in short supply due to the war. Don't worry, players! - that's not the case any more.
  • The J-45 remains Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar ever.
  • The related J-50 differs in that is a natural finish. The related Southern Jumbo adds more ornate binding and split-parallel (rather than dot) fretboard inlays.

Although debuting in troubled times, the Gibson J-45 was an instant hit, from concert halls to campfires. It upgraded Gibson's J-35 with improved X-bracing, a rounder neck and smoother playability. From 1942 to 1946, the J-45's sales were triple that of Martin’s D-line competitors. Gibson win!

The basic J-45 design hasn't changed all that much. It doesn't need to. It's not flashy, it sounds warm and earthy, and an incredible vision of "everyman" acoustic guitar design. It's the exemplary dreadnought. Full-sounding, clarity and definition, warm bass and excellent projection. From soldiers to hippies to rock stars to street buskers... the Gibson J-45 is the workhorse.


Gibson J-45 Artists

Where to start? Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, David Gilmour, John Lennon, Donovan, Woody Guthrie, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, John Hiatt, Aimee Mann, James Taylor, Earl Slick, Jeff Tweedy, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Weller, Brad Paisley, Peter Doherty… the diverse list of star artists who have relied on a Gibson J-45 is immense, pan-generational, and ever-growing.

Its simplicity is part of its appeal. David Bowie sideman Earl Slick told, "The best way I can describe it is, I can actually hear the wood. J-45s don’t sound 'clanky.' Other acoustic guitar manufacturers have flourished in the last 20 years, companies that supposedly make high-end guitars, but I’ve picked them up and played them... and I just don’t get it."

As such, that "workhorse" tag still suits the J-45 well. And, there is always a debate about whether you should/could write songs/start playing on acoustic or electric guitar.

But Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, normally associated with his Gibson SGs, says it best: "If there was one tool every singer-songwriter should have, it would be the J-45."

The Gibson J-45 In 2016

If the "basic" Gibson J-45 design hasn't changed too much – you don't deface a classic, after all – in 2016 its line now boasts refinements for every stripe of player. Pure vintage-alikes, tech updates, pickup systems, some new woods... Click on the headers for full specs.

2016 Gibson J-45 Standard

In a Vintage Sunburst finish, this is the “now” version of the classic J-45. The AA-grade Sitka spruce top is 2-piece, the back and neck is mahogany, with a rosewood board. It has fancier 4-ply binding on top than the early models, and it adds an LR Baggs Element VTC pickup system – though you won't even notice (visually) it's there. A legend and legacy reaches new heights.

2016 Gibson J-45 Vintage

If you crave an old-timey recreation of the early J-45s, this is your box, bro's! Thermally cured Adirondack red spruce top, period-correct tuners, bone nut and saddle, a hand-rubbed Vintage Sunburst finish and a repro of the original "Only a Gibson is good enough" headstock inlay. Purely acoustic. History rebooted.

2016 Gibson J-45 Granadillo

This limited edition flips with tradition. The top remains Sitka spruce but the back and sides and fingerboard are granadillo wood. Granadillo is a great-sounding, dense timber for luthiers. It's known as "the wood that sings" in Cuba. Trivia? Granadillo is the preferred wood for the tone-bars of marimbas. Granadillo also looks amazing. With its Autumn Burst top finish, gold Grover tuners, this is how a Gibson J-45 can stand out from the crowd. This one has Trance Audio's Amulet M pickup system. Custom-like in its detail and looks, and a limited run for 2016.

2016's 1960s J-45 Burgundy

This is close to the J-45 Standard as built in the '60s, but with a striking difference – its unique burgundy finish. And with a bigger cream pickguard (complete with Gibson logo) fellow players will know you have a special J-45. Limited run again, so get in there quick. Only 75 are being hand-made.

2016's J-45 Progressive

No, it's not necessarily designed for "prog rock"! It just ups the ante for Gibson technology. Titanium saddles and Tune-o-Matic bridge, Richlite fingerboard, Gibson's G FORCE™ tuning system – switch from "standard" EADGBE to anything you want at the push of a button – plus an LR Baggs Active PZM pickup system. And with split parallelogram inlays on that fingerboard, it looks class. In 2016, the "Workhorse" just became a "thoroughbred".

The Gibson J-45 is right up there as a Great Gibson Guitar. Heck, it's just one of the greatest guitars ever, full stop. No fuss, but crafted with love.

Many players don't want an acoustic with overly-blinging inlays and rosettes, fussy pickguards, cutaways, et cetera. Gibson got it right with J-45. And that will surely continue. Over 100 years ago, Orville Gibson worked by the creed that everything that went into a guitar that bears his name would be there "in the name of tone and performance." The J-45 reflects that.

Want to write songs? Want to play songs? Grab your preferred Gibson J-45, players. Let's go to work... And if you own a Gibson J-45, please share your stories and photos.