In the decade leading up to World War II, guitar builders started scaling up their acoustic offerings to meet the demands of working musicians, and bigger was better. In Kalamazoo, Gibson rolled out the Jumbo, then in 1942 debuted the flagship J-45. Certain specs have wavered over time, but it has always been a 14-fret, round-shouldered box with that definitive Gibson-acoustic sound.
The company’s latest J-45 is the 50s Faded acoustic/electric. A nod to the post-war version, it sports a larger pickguard, belly-up bridge, and 20 frets. Its understated faded-sunburst satin nitro finish is a surprisingly nice touch and the guitar feels broken-in right out of the brown-and-pink hardshell case.
Weighing in at a comfortable four pounds, it also comes out loud and assertive – well-balanced across the strings with (unsurprisingly) robust bass response that is also quite focused; Jumbos sometimes bring an overwhelming low-end roar, but not this one. The mahogany neck is 100 percent Gibson – 24.75″ scale, 1.725″ bone nut, and 12″ radius called “Round,” though it isn’t particularly bulky. Side-by-side with Gibson’s Slim-Taper, it’s clearly a bigger, rounder neck, but doesn’t feel like a handful.
While this iteration of the J-45 enters the market at a lower price than many of its glossy siblings, Gibson didn’t cut corners with the bread or butter. The 50s Faded has a Sitka spruce top on a mahogany body with X-bracing, and the neck is hot-glued via compound dovetail joint, just like a vintage J-45. The body is double-bound with multi-ply on top, single-ply on the back. Gotoh white-button tuners are a nod to the originals, but offer modern performance. The LR Baggs VTC system is an under-saddle pickup with in-hole Tone and Volume controls, and it’s a well-matched combination that produces a warm, articulate signal.
The J-45 tradition won’t be usurped anytime soon. With the J-45 50s Faded, Gibson adds to it, offering all the performance of the flagship without the entire price tag.
This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.