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Gibson dreads *don't* suck for flatpicking!

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Joined: 23 Aug 2006
Posts: 324
Location: Hermosa Beach CA

PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 7:48 pm    Post subject: Gibson dreads *don't* suck for flatpicking! Reply with quote

A couple months ago I was without an acoustic - my D-41 was damaged in a rehearsal space (pretty bad side smash) and my one-off weird D-16 has been on loan to someone for an extended period. I had zero funds and decided to trade away my GFI Ultra pedal steel - wonderful instrument and very light but I just didn't play it - I always use my old Fender 400 "Sneakycaster".

One of the shops I work with took it and a couple redundant effects on trade. They had a D-18GE I was going to go for - but when I got there it had ben sold an hour before!

The owner said "I think I have something else you might like...maybe more", rummaged around in his back warehouse and came out with a '59 Gibson J50 (the natural-top version of the J45) - a bit of a road warrior and an adjustable bridge model that had been converted to a fixed saddle.

My instant reaction was negative, as every Gibson acoustic I'd ever played was a midrange-heavy, physically heavy "singer rhythm guitar", which is NOT me. I wanted something light. responsive, with great dynamic range and very sensitive to pick attack, angle and distance from the bridge.

Picked it up and was floored - it was light. REAL light. Prewar D-18 light. Then I played it and was surprised again - none of the "stiffness" I've found in Gibsons, nice, full bass, clear, cutting mids and a sweet top end. It took me a few minutes to even realize the scale was shorter - it made it much faster to move around on, and combined with the thick neck profile and rounded neck shoulders it was easier on my still-arthritic left hand than my Martins.

And the sucker was loud. I pick lightly and the projection was great - when I dug in that's where the rubber really met the road, especially on close-to-the-bridge bass notes. It simply sounded like a scalloped-brace Adi-top D-18.

Had funky tuners on it, but (obviously I made the trade) at Music Works, the shop I work the most with, we found an actual set of correct '59 white-button 3-on-a-strip Klusons!

Got my fiberoptic camera inside and found it to be braced very lightly - not scalloped but very thin and not tall. Reverse-belly bridge, bone saddle and nut, mahogany back/sides and W/B/W binding, nicely aged. It's ben played - a lot - and must have some great stories to tell.

It sure changed my mind about Gibson's dreads.

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Joined: 09 May 2009
Posts: 50
Location: Montana

PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 3:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice find! How is the intonation? Maybe it's just the picture, but it seems like a strange angle for the saddle.

Bet he sounds great!
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Don Miller

Joined: 23 Aug 2006
Posts: 238
Location: Anchorage, Alaska

PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's interesting..Ive got a j-45..circa 2000 so its not a vintage piece but aging well...and a D-18GE...the D-18 is a cannon...and obviously the guitar I go to for may flatpicking workouts...the Gibson is a lot quieter...I've tried different strings and set ups to increase the volume but its still more a strummer than a picker...and it works well for my insipid singer songwriter coffee house stuff...its going with me to a jam of other kindred spirits tonight...

cool score, Jim
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Joined: 23 Aug 2006
Posts: 324
Location: Hermosa Beach CA

PostPosted: Thu Jun 13, 2013 9:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

unbridled - the saddle is actually at a normal angle; if you look at the pic it's shot at a slightly oblique angle so the top would not have a huge "flash spot" in the middle, and that throws the perspective off. Intonation is fine for a non-intonated saddle (which I think is snake oil on an acoustic guitar with a 1/16" wide saddle).

Don - there is an absolutely monstrous difference between the bracing of Gibson's J models up until about '62 and ones made after. If you looked inside the thing, the first thing you'd notice picking it up is the weight - it's VERY light- - then looking at the braces, well...I'd guess "dainty" is a good description. They are very thin (much thinner than Martin's scalloped braces); a different approach than scalloping and in my mind a better one, as brace height, assuming a straight-grained brace, is going to provide more compressive support without a damping effect than wide, low-cut scalloped braces - at least as far as my acoustical engineering training seems to go.

It's kind of similar, in a way, to Stuart Mossman's brace weight reduction system - where he shaped the braces like "I" beams, with very thin centers and wider attachment surfaces.

All 3 achieved the same result - better bass and lower mid response - but the Mossman ended up with an extremely balanced response, the Gibson only slightly less bass but more complex mids than a Martin - and Martin with the tone most flatpickers are very familiar with (both good and bad versions.) - a big bottom end, woody mids and quite a falloff on the top end (a reason Richard Hoover DID NOT model the Tony Rice model after Clarence's old D-28 - it was engineered precisely for the Dawg/Spacegrass music Tony was focusing on at the time and the tone he was "hearing" (also why he ended up using an Ovation on all but the title cut of "Backwaters" - Ovations generally have tremendously focused midrange, good response to pick attack/position and mic like a dream).

As Gibson thickened the bracing (and beefed up literally everything else in the early 60's) the guitars became heavier and focused more in the midrange area - kind of a neutral zone, good for singers, but dead for flatpicking. Martin's first non-scalloped guitars actually had thin braces somewhat akin to my J50, but they got much fatter by the early 70's (although aging has made some of those into great guitars).

This was the second Gibson I'd seriously considered as a flatpicking guitar, the other a seriously overprice '46 J45 (also with a converted saddle) - and having had both of them in the same room played head to head, the J50 is just one of those guitars that has "something" going for it.

It's not perfect - I've noted some spot problems with frets above the 12th, but I don't play up there much...and if I wasn't so lazy about my own stuff I'd do a full dressing and solve them. But it's SO responsive I have to play with a rubber pick downstairs at night or I'll keep the family awake (actually stiff rubber picks are great practice!)
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