Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Banner Gibson J-45 Cloaked in Rare Flame Maple

The word "rare" gets tossed around a lot on Craigslist and eBay so I contemplated not using it in the title.  In my opinion, this one deserves it.  This is a 1943 Gibson J-45 made from a laminated flame Maple back, solid flame Maple rims and a bear claw Spruce top.  Well, at least one half of the top has some bear claw figure but it's mostly obscured by the sunburst.

Quality wood was difficult to come by during the war, especially Adirondack Spruce planks wide enough for tops.  The Gibson company had slimmed their product line down to just 6 models, only two of which were archtop style that commonly used Maple.  Because of the shortage of quality materials Gibson started using parts of guitars from the basement to piece a guitar together.  This is one of those examples.

The Maple is stained dark in an attempt to make it blend better with the Mahogany backed J-45s.  The neck on this guitar is a 5 piece Maple-Walnut lamination, also intended for use on an archtop guitar.  The bear claw figure on the top is very rare for a Gibson.  Undoubtedly this piece of Adirondack Spruce was originally tossed aside until there were no more unfigured Spruce planks left.  The bear claw figure is mostly covered by the burst but is still easily seen if you look close.  Gibson considered this figure a lower grade than the standard straight-grained Spruce.

This guitar was owned by Gladys Atkins from Porterville, Ca until her death about a decade ago.  It is unknown how it received such a great knock as to cause the headstock to break, or who did the repair.  All I know is that it is a very solid repair but boy, is it ugly!  I haven't decided what I want to do with the front.  I can't bring myself to refinish the entire front and lose the original banner.  I also don't feel confident that the lower half could be finished and blended very well with the top.  I intend to leave it as is for now at least.

The Tone

In short: loud, articulate and very unlike a typical J-45.  The Gibson J-45 model is know in part for its low-end growl and break up.  They aren't muddy like a D-28 can get in the low end.  They have this distinct overdriven low end.  This one substitutes the standard J-45 growl for articulation, note separation and sparkly top end.

This Maple J-45 still retains two tonal aspects common of the Mahogany backed J-45s.  The first is a very balanced mid-range.  It responds well across the figurative EQ curve and would record well.  The other is the Gibson thump, but it is different than the Mahogany thump.  The thump doesn't sound as bass heavy but is still pronounced.  

Gibson used solid rims on J-45s until about 1952.  At this time they started using laminated wood and discontinued using cloth side supports to protect against splitting.  Laminated wood isn't prone to splitting at the grain lines because they layer it with the grain running 90 degrees to the other layers.  I'm partial to solid rims myself, especially when they have nice flamey figure.

Do you have one of these that you would like to sell?  I'm looking for another.  Please email me about what you have for sale.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Shovels and Rope and Old Gibson Guitars

Shovels and Rope

My dad quoted a "statistic" the other day about how 1/3 of kids these days primarily get their news from Facebook.  "That's crazy" I said, not feeling convicted at all.  Then I thought to myself that isn't that bad, after all, Facebook is what brought on the musical- albeit one-sided love affair between myself Shovels and Rope.  Exhibit A:

If you have just spent the past thirty minutes watching other S&R youtube videos then you are not alone.  Shovels and Rope are a husband and wife duo out of Charleston, SC.  "Rowdy" is how I described their sound to my brother as he reluctantly listened to me ramble about how much I enjoyed their music.  Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent also have a inclination towards old Gibson acoustic guitars.  This pair of multi-generational Kalamazoo- born six strings frequent both the videos and live performances of Shovels and Rope.

Cary Ann's Gibson LG-0

Cary Ann is playing a Gibson LG-0 made most likely between '58 and '62, judging from the straight bridge missing its pearl dots.  This was Gibson's most affordable model from about '58 to '67 (in this general configuration).  The LG-0 was ladder braced and made from solid Mahogany.  The model didn't receive a Spruce top until around '68.  These guitars have that great old guitar feel and don't commonly need repair other than a bridge reglue.  The tone is usually less desirable than one would expect from an old Gibson but with an average retail price of about $550 for one in good condition, they are a pretty good deal.  They are also good stage guitars since the bodies are a bit less resonant and therefore a bit less prone to feedback.  Cary Ann's LG-0 sports a refinished (or maybe unfinished?) headstock.  She doesn't seem to mind all that much.

Michael's Gibson ES-150

Michael Trent is often seen playing his Gibson ES-150 made between about 1940 and 1942.  I've been trying to come across this version of the 150 because of that single "P-90-esque" pickup in the bridge position.  Gibson started used this pickup on the 150 around about 1940 but discontinued it sometime in '42.  A similar pickup appears in '55 on the Silvertone Espanada.  I've seen this pickup called the Gibson "P13" pickup, which was supposedly a precursor to the P-90.

The ES-150 features an arched, solid Spruce top with tone bar bracing.  Some say that the tone bars are a bit heavier than normal Gibson archtops of the time to limit feedback.  I doubt that it is enough to tame this feedback beast.  That pickup is hot and full of tube saturating power.  I have never had the honor of playing one of these but maybe one is in my future.

"Oh, Be Joyful"

Look for for the first Shovels and Rope full length album, "Oh, Be Joyful" and give it a listen.  You may enjoy the first single of that album titled "Birmingham" which happens to be the name of my home town. I'm quite taken with this oldie, "Hell's Bells."

Here is a link to their Tumblr: