Vintage Gibson J-45Buying Guide

A guide to finding the right vintage Gibson J-45 for your budget.

An introduction to the Gibson J-45.

1942 to 1946

Wartime production meant occasional material shortages, so while the standard J-45 has mahogany back, sides, and neck, Gibson had to replace some of these mahogany parts with laminated maple ones. Consequently, some banner logo J-45s can be found with maple back and sides as well as maple necks.

Others, still, were made with mahogany tops rather than spruce. Spruce shortages also meant that some guitars came out of the Kalamazoo factory without bookmatched tops, or with four-piece tops rather than the standard two-piece.

Beginning in 1943, some J-45s were made with a black "skunk stripe" painted down the top. It's speculated by some that these stripes were used to hide poor bookmatching due to spruce shortages, while others feel it's simply a bit of decorative flair.

In order to save metal for the war effort, some banner logo J-45s were produced with an ebony reinforcement bar in the neck rather than a standard truss rod. This can have an effect on the stability of the neck, and also means that the neck tension is not adjustable.

1946-1955

After the war ended, material shortages slowed down and J-45 production began to normalize again. Some early models from this period still have maple backs, sides, or necks, but the standard production models returned to spruce and mahogany construction.

Gibson dropped the banner logo from its headstocks in '46, bringing in the classic block logo that adorns headstocks to this day. The standard rectangular bridge was replaced with a top-belly bridge in 1950.

1955-1961

Gibson made some significant changes to the J-45 in 1955. The teardrop pickguard was replaced with a larger one, similar to that of the J-185, and the fretboard was lengthened to include a 20th fret. A change was also made from scalloped to unscalloped top bracing, which was a common change across all models.

An adjustable bridge saddle was added in 1956, and while this made it quite a bit easier for players to set up and adjust their own instruments, some players found it to negatively impact the guitar's tone and make it quieter. This was the last period during which Gibson used its tobacco-tinged 3-tone Sunburst finish. It would be replaced by the much lighter Cherry Sunburst in 1962.

1962-1969

Gibson replaced the previous solid maple bridge pad with a thicker laminated maple bridge pad in the early '60s. While the intent here was to provide more stability on the top, it was actually found that the laminated pads were a little less durable than the solid maple pads.

1968 was the last catalog year for the classic round-shoulder J-45. It would be replaced by a square-shoulder design in 1969.

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Editorial content by John MacNeil

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