Gibson J15

After buying a Gibson-J15 from Manson's Guitars in Exeter, I reasoned my choice. This article takes you through my buying experience, it depicts my thoughts and considerations prior to parting with the cash. Did I use my head or did I use my heart? If you click the pictures you'll see a higer resolution image

Gibson 15

The delightful subjective subject of Tonewood must be considered prior to the purchase of an Acoustic Guitar. Diminishing supplies are driving manufacturers to get creative and explore new ground. I've played a Spruce/Mahogany Martin for the last 14 years and I'm more than happy with it. The woody tone and chunky thunk is pleasing and it responds well when you dig in or find the need to project. Manson's Guitars fitted a Fishman Pickup and Preamp at my request so it has all I need to go to work. I'll not part with it, it's graceful journey into old age will see it stay at my side. Mahogany is a great Tonewood, a similar woody sound can be found with Sapele which is becoming more popular due to the rising prices and relative diminishing stock levels of Mahogany. But I do think Sapele lacks the character or tonal depth/complexity apparent within Mahogany. I have a Sapele Morgan Monroe MVS-45, it's just not in the same league as your Gibson or Martin but it holds its own nonetheless. Sapele/Spruce then is a sensible combination for Guitars suiting a realistic budget. The common thread linking my Guitars is Spruce, I've owned a Takamine Cedar topped and Yamaha Mahogany topped Guitars, fine as they were but the projection ebbed away as the tone matured, they have a mellower flavour that is not suited to my palette. I play with a pick, I like to strum Cedar or Mahogany tops seem to have a more intricate tonal range probably more suited to fingerstyle or sensitive playing. It's a subjective topic this, one persons pleasure is another persons pain and all that so I'll leave it at that. With this background you may the better be able to understand where the Gibson J-15 fits into my world.

Rosewood. No article written loosely about Tonewood would be complete unless it mentioned Rosewood, add a cliché and mention Brazilian will have some of us salivating. For a long while I thought it the Holy Grail but knowing someone who owned such a lovely piece of kit I was quite surprised to hear how he had to endure the pain of watching his Brazilian Rosewood crack and the Tone diminish (along with its value). It was however repaired by an expert Luther but it had lost it's former glory. The reason for this cracking was stated as humidity but the cynic in me persuades my conclusion elsewhere for that holiness of holy Tonewood is hard, very hard, it may well be too hard and the resulting cracking consequential. But that is what gives the tonal beauty, its resonance is quite unique. Of course that little aesthetic reason of its undisputed beauty one simply cannot ignore, but let's get back down to earth. Rosewood/Spruce Brazillian or otherwise is both a powerful and persuasive combination, the complexity present in the tone relative to its coupling is special. Some liken it to a glossy sheen but fear not I will spare you from an ostentatious descriptive yarn about its excellences, it already has been widely publicised. Purchase that combination in an Acoustic Guitar and you are in for a journey where the tone will mature and will stay friendly, warm and comforting. Please forgive me though you Rosewood junkies, bare in mind I have rich support for your tonewood desires but the woody overtones found in the hands of the Mahogany workers seem to float my boat a little further.

Gibson J15 Back - Walnut

Time rages on and we find ourselves part of a new century where we are planting seeds for future generations to harvest but we have to reconcile the controversial past. Most creative folk will wax lyrical about healing the world, making it a better place for you or for me and the entire human race so carrying the axe of befallen rainforests around your shoulders is nothing short of hypocrisy. I don't mean Mr Jackson specifically but I think we are all united behind Cites in their approach to protecting our vital and valuable wood stocks. Brace yourself, sustainability. There I've said it so now you know that at heart I'm just an old hippy, perhaps not that old. Enough of this personal chit chat let's get back on track. Guitar manufacturers are starting to get creative with their Tonewood usage, the diminishing stocks of tradition are running low so new benchmarks must be set or new routes taken. Martin has employed some innovative approaches to that end, likewise Taylor and Gibson are venturing to pastures new.

Walnut. Where did that come from? Before you say a Walnut Tree I mean as a Tonewood. You can find it in the very affordable Gibson J-15 introduced to the Gibson range in 2014. The beauty had captured my eye and the price certainly had my attention. Manson's Guitars, Exeter on a busy Saturday afternoon, lined up on the wall was a stock of Round Shouldered Gibson’s. The J-15, J-35 and J-45. I played them all and guess what, the J-15 came up trumps. But I must confess the Rosewood benchmark shone outfrom the opposing wall, at a similar price point but second hand and sporting no electronics, there stood a Martin D16RGT. I must remind you I'm a Martin player, I hold them in high esteem. My comparison simply had to include it but I was in for a shock. I don't know what it is and I suspect Roger McGuinn knows, but there is just something about a decent Martin and the big G. Play the chord in any shape or configuration and it seems that every inch of the thing will vibrate merrily. Without any doubt the years have taught much to the Luther’s at the Martin Guitar Factory, it seems to come out in every instrument. This 16RGT was no exception. The characteristic Martin tone enveloped my ears, roused my senses and destroyed my game plan. Was I truly expecting the Gibson J-15 to outshine a Rosewood Martin, could such an instrument have the audacity?

Googling Walnut as a Tonewood yielded this encouraging description from a site dedicated to the subject. “Walnut - A great selection with bright woodiness of mahogany when played lightly, with much of the punchiness and power of rosewood when you dig in. When properly braced, a walnut backed guitar can have a unique warmth and tonal depth. This is a dark brown, highly figured specialty wood, which is grown in a wide variety of locations.“

Gibson J15 Sides - Walnut

Beauty is subjective and there are elements of the J-15 that can be criticised, the pale Maple neck is not to everyone’s taste but to me I think it improves the aesthetics of the Walnut Back and Sides by offering a greater contrast. On the Walnut note, rare it is to find a Walnut fingerboard, it works in this instance but the durability will always have my concerns. Consistency is respected with the appointment of a Walnut bridge. I've always preferred the simple looking guitar. Ornate inlays or blingy appointments seem to miss that point. An instrument and how you make it sound is what it's all about. But where is the fun in that, I'm being too harsh. Guitars are like a companion, it's great to have a pretty companion, others may cast an envious eye. So the Abalone Rosette, Tortoise Pickguard, Nitrocellulose Finish and traditional Black/Gold Gibson Headstock contribute to my weak desire for vanity but please keep that between you and I. There can be little doubt, the graining and rich set of colours found in the Walnut back and sides rivals Rosewood with its aesthetics. I find the simplicity of its appointments, the beauty of its Tonewoods persuasive it must be said.

Its tone then seemed complete, wide open strumming projected a nice even sound throughout the register. The bass not too heavy, adequately pronounced, the mid-range even, warm and inviting, not lost at all and the trebles twinkling through far clearer than on Gibsons from days of old. The tone is encouraging, it responds well to a firm touch. The new strings possibly or the lovely acoustic room at Manson’s with focused acoustics? They help for sure but only accentuate the bottom line. This guitar has character, a tone that is warming, welcoming, cosy or more than just nice. Not so brash as its Rosewood cousins but a shade more rounded than its Mahogany brothers. In the hour or so of our humble beginnings the J-15 had captured my heart but the used Martin D16RGT captured my head and put me into a flat spin. I left the shop empty handed.

Gibson J15 Headstock

Coffee can be a useful boost at times and was needed more than ever in this moment of procrastination. I dug deep, sought that inspirational feeling, squabbled with common sense of it, battled in that not so unfamiliar position where the head reasons and the heart yearns. One last play on the things would solve it and a last run through the facts. The Martin was second hand, contained no electrics its history illusive. Moreover, I already own a Martin and perfectly happy with it. The Gibson reminds me of the source of music, my ability guides the music to the ears of an audience and in that moment where the head struggles the heart wins. Dare to dream, reach out and find that chord, that note or that word to express your art. The Gibson is by my side, my old Martin at the other.

You can hear it here - by Steve Scagell