Gibson Acoustic Guitar Shootout Comparison & Review!

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Everyone loves and old fashioned shootout – but this one is different, no Ok Corral around here, instead I lined up 4 pretty great acoustic guitars to hear how much alike they sounded and how different they sounded. I even learned a few new things as well.

You can check the video and listen for yourself but please don’t try listening to it on laptop speakers – you really won’t hear the differences. Here’s the YouTube Link.

My Early J-45 has been a stalwart for me since I got it in ’97 and it’s been on many, many recordings. A friend of mine has a J-45 that’s pretty close to the same serial number and he says the “Early” in the name designation was changed a bunch of years ago and we now own really expensive guitars.  I’ve used it on 10 of my albums and when folks come in to record with me we often end up using it as well. I’m not prejudiced against other guitars but many of my clients hear this guitar and ask “Can I use this one?” It has a great mellow tone that sits really well in the mix with singer/songwriters. 1I’m not a fan of bringing this one on the road or out to shows – it’s like the Beatles after 1966, it just plays in the studio. I string this guitar with Martin Marquis 12’s and is a 24.75″ scale length which translates to being very easy on the fingers to play.

My J-100 xtra CE was a gift from my parents and took forever to find. When I was looking for it I contacted Gibson and asked how many of them they made. The “xtra CE” is the Cutaway model and I was told they only made these in 1995 and only made about 12 of them, maybe less.2Good record keeping Gibson! It’s not like I’m asking about something made 75 years ago, we had computers in ’95 and you still don’t know?! Not just that but one of the other ones I’ve seen wasn’t even labeled as “xtra CE” so there may be more of them just mislabeled. Again, good QC Gibson! I string this guitar with Everly Medium gauge 13’s. It’s a big sound that comes out of this guitar and it’s got a super wide body, thin neck and the long 25.5″ scale length. There’s nothing “small” about this guitar. Well, actually the neck on this guitar is the thinnest of the bunch which took some getting used to.

Jeff Allen’s Gospel. The first time I saw this guitar I did a “what is that?” looking at it. So much of it was familiar but it was…different. Jeff had had it for years and the bridge was pulling off and after a while of bugging him I finally convinced him to have my buddy Danny Ott fix his guitar and I’m so glad he did. This is a special instrument. When you look inside you notice that there is no back bracing – it’s an arched back! Very unusual for a Gibson and it’s got a nice full character to it. When you lightly strum this one it’s nice and fingerpicking is especially a treat but when you dig in and try to do some heavy strumming it sounds confused. It’s as if the arched back is putting out too much sound, too many overtones and it loses it’s special-ness.

My Gibson J-30 is my workhorse guitar. A true “under the radar” instrument if ever there was one. When Gibson first launched this line it had different bracing, a longer 25.5″ scale length and just…different. At some point they started making this version of the J-30 which is identical to a Hummingbird *except* it doesn’t have the fancy paint job, doesn’t have fancy inlays, is 24.75″ scale length and doesn’t have that giant tone sucking plastic pickguard with a bird on it. And therefore sounds better than most Hummingbirds. Yeah, I said that. I remember being on tour in Texas and my buddy Brian3Brian “Magic Hands” Matteson – drummer, guitarist, recording engineer, all around sweetheart of a guy looked at me one day and he said “That guitar is what all acoustic guitars should sound like.”

On the suggestion of Mike Erickson I not only did the guitar shootout but I also used different picks to hear the tonal difference. At first I was annoyed by this, I mean – I know it makes a difference but I didn’t think it would make *that* much of a difference. I was wrong. Mike uses those Herco picks. I have some but I don’t like them. I think I read somewhere that The Edge from U2 only uses those picks, they are textured and made of nylon and I have them but…  So I used 3 picks – a Fender Medium, a Dunlop Nylon Max-Grip .60 (very close to the Herco) and a Dunlop Tortex .73 (yellow) and the Dunlop Max Grip really did make a huge difference in the tone. When playing my J-30 it softened the guitar to almost sound like my J-45. I was shocked and awed.

In any case – the shootout was fun. I hope you enjoy watching and listening to it. Shoot me any questions you may have or your thoughts on the shootout.  Thanks!

Notes:   [ + ]

1. I’m not a fan of bringing this one on the road or out to shows – it’s like the Beatles after 1966, it just plays in the studio.
2. Good record keeping Gibson! It’s not like I’m asking about something made 75 years ago, we had computers in ’95 and you still don’t know?! Not just that but one of the other ones I’ve seen wasn’t even labeled as “xtra CE” so there may be more of them just mislabeled. Again, good QC Gibson!
3. Brian “Magic Hands” Matteson – drummer, guitarist, recording engineer, all around sweetheart of a guy

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