The Gibson J-45 is, simply put, a legend. Created in 1942 when supplies were short due to the war effort, this round-shouldered dreadnaught quickly became an icon. It’s been the guitar of choice for world-class musicians including Elliott Smith, Buddy Holly, and David Gilmour. Now, Gibson offers its enduringly popular model in a stripped-down Studio version. The Studio is an affordable option, but it’s still a guitar that stays true to the J-45’s roots. Is it the best blues acoustic guitar? Let’s take a look.
How Does It Differ From the J-45 Standard?
If you’re considering the J-45 Studio, you’re likely wondering how it differs from the J-45 Standard. At first glance, both guitars look similar. But the Studio is made with walnut back and sides, while the Standard’s back and sides are mahogany. (If you’d prefer rosewood, Gibson also makes a separate model called the J-45 Studio Rosewood. Unsurprisingly, it’s more expensive than the walnut model.) Walnut is often described as being somewhat in between rosewood and mahogany in terms of tonal character. It’s a beautiful wood with an often striped appearance, but it doesn’t have the same woody warmth that most people associate with the classic J-45. The J-45 Studio also has a shallower body. This makes it comfortable to hold, but it sacrifices some of the bassiness of the Standard model.
The shallow body also makes it especially suited to playing blues. The J-45 Studio projects nicely and has plenty of midrange, and it also has a little less sustain than your standard-sized dreadnaught. These are key things to look for if you want an acoustic guitar for blues. While the fingerboard may not be the most important part of a guitar, there’s a difference here, too — the Studio has a walnut fingerboard, while the Standard’s fingerboard is made of higher-quality rosewood.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is in their electronics. The J-45 Standard comes with the L.R. Baggs VTC pickup, a world-class pickup designed to offer natural-sounding live tone. The J-45 Studio has a Fishman Sonitone pickup. Fishman is renowned for their pickups, but it’s a little surprising to see one in a Gibson, as they’re often found in much cheaper guitars.
The difference in pickup explains part of the price difference between the Studio and Standard — the Standard retails for roughly $1000 more than the Studio.
Tonewoods and Build Quality
Like the classic J-45s, the studio has a solid Sitka spruce top. The spruce pairs nicely with the walnut back and sides, and the slightly shallower body offers powerful projection.
The neck is mahogany, which warms up the sound a bit. Like most higher-end Gibsons, the J-45 Studio comes with hand-scalloped X bracing. Scalloped braces give the top of the guitar more flexibility, which translates to both better responsiveness and an enhanced bass response.
The J-45 Studio is made with the J-45’s signature round-shoulder dreadnaught shape. Some players prefer this shape, as they believe it balances out the heavy bass response you often find on square-shouldered dreadnaughts. You might worry that the J-45 is a cheap-looking guitar. After all, it’s significantly less expensive than the Standard. However, it’s still a Gibson, and the same high-quality workmanship is evident on this one. Just like classic J-45s, its look is one of understated elegance.
Hardware & Components
The J-45 Studio is a fairly well-appointed guitar. The walnut fingerboard coordinates with the walnut bridge (as well as the back and sides). And while walnut may not be as prized as the rosewood found on the J-45 Standard, its beautifully striped appearance helps give the guitar some character. Contrasting cream-colored binding gives the Studio a decidedly vintage look, and the fretboard is adorned with simple mother-of-pearl dot inlays. And like the Standard, the Studio has Grover Rotomatic tuners. Both the nut and saddle are Tusq, which is a popular composite that has many of the tonal properties of ivory. This guitar also comes in two finish options — walnut burst, the dark sunburst that plenty of people associate with the J-45, or antique natural, which lets the grain of the Sitka spruce top shine through. With the Studio, Gibson has done well with keeping costs down while still delivering a beautiful, well-appointed guitar. Next, we’ll take a look at how it plays.
Sound and Playability
Gibson guitars are designed to be great-sounding and highly playable. Immediately, you can likely tell that the round-shouldered dreadnaught shape is a little less bulky than the traditional square-shouldered dreadnaught. Plus, the shallower body makes this an easy guitar to play sitting or standing. As noted above, the projection that comes with the shallower body (as well as the reduced bass response) makes this an ideal guitar for playing blues.
The neck is also surprisingly comfortable to play. It’s Gibson’s Advanced Response profile, which is a little thinner than the average acoustic guitar neck. And thanks to the scalloped bracing, the soundboard is extraordinarily touch-sensitive. Your playing dynamics will be accurately reflected with the Studio, making this a fun and rewarding guitar to play.
The sound of the J-45 Studio is decidedly earthy, with a good balance of treble, bass, and mids. It isn’t as boomy as the Standard, which some players might prefer. And while you might be worried that the back and sides won’t have mahogany’s same warmth, we think the J-45 Studio’s sound is plenty warm while still maintaining excellent articulation.
No discussion of the sound of an acoustic-electric would be complete without a mention of the plugged-in sound. The J-45 Studio is equipped with a Fishman Sonitone pickup, which admittedly doesn’t have the same responsiveness and detail of the L.R. Baggs VTC. The Sonitone is passable for playing live, but it does have some elements of the piezo “quack” you often get with undersaddle piezo pickups. If you have the funds, it may be worthwhile to eventually upgrade the pickup to something better.
Plenty of guitarists dream of owning a Gibson, and we think the J-45 Studio is an excellent choice. While it’s more affordable than many guitars in the Gibson Acoustic line, it’s still an all-solid piece of impressive workmanship. And while it’s easy to think of this model as a downgrade, it’s an impressive-sounding guitar that plenty of us would be proud to own.