Gibson J-45 Standard review

Gibson proves the workhorse is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was released over 80 years ago

  • £2799
  • $2999
Gibson J-45 review
(Image: © Future/Daryl Robertson)

MusicRadar Verdict

For us, the J-45 Standard is the quintessential Gibson acoustic guitar. Its warm bellowing tone, effortless playability and charming good looks combine to create a truly timeless instrument. As well as the tried a tested formula of solid mahogany and sitka spruce, this modern version of the "workhorse" includes the LR Baggs VTC pickup system, which we feel is a match made in heaven.

Pros

  • +

    Stunning tone and looks

  • +

    Very playable

  • +

    LR Baggs VTC pickup

Cons

  • -

    The finish is a little sticky to start with

  • -

    The price has skyrocketed in recent years

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Gibson J-45 Standard review: what is it?

Dylan, Lennon, Gilmour, Presley and Springsteen are just a handful of names that have utilised Gibson's iconic acoustic to put the world to rights. Now, with names like that attached to this round-shoulder dreadnought, it's no wonder it's Gibson's best-selling acoustic of all time. 

While the J-45 has had some revisions over the years - especially in the early days - for the most part, it's stayed true to the winning formula of solid mahogany back and sides with a solid sitka spruce top - and that's precisely what we find on this modern example. Of course, the body is then dressed in the now legendary sunburst getup, making it unmistakably a J-45.  

Celebrated for its warm and all-encompassing tone, present midrange and tight bass, the J-45 is often described as a sonic chameleon - able to adapt to any musical situation. It's no wonder it's favoured by strummers and finger-pickers alike, who can't get enough of its timeless charm and room-filling tone. 

This contemporary version of the J-45 also features a mahogany neck with a comfortable slim taper profile, rosewood fingerboard and compound dovetail neck joint. Rounding out the spec sheet is the renowned LR Baggs VTC acoustic pickup system, which allows you to hit the road with your new guitar, confident that you'll have the best tone in the room. 

Gibson J-45 Standard review: Performance & verdict

Gibson J-45 review

(Image credit: Future/Daryl Robertson)

Looks and playability

This guitar has a lot of history attached to it, which is something you can feel as soon as you lift the lid on the stylish Gibson-branded case. Sitting cosied up against the plush black interior, this stunning acoustic looks every bit as good today as it did in 1942. The elegant sunburst finish is simply gorgeous, and this is only enhanced by the lustrous shine of the nitrocellulose lacquer. Luckily, our model has no marks or finishing issues that would detract from its handsome good looks - something that's not always the case with Gibson, even at this price point. 

Okay, so it looks the part, but how does it feel to play? Well, Gibson fans will immediately feel comfortable with the slim taper mahogany neck. For us, it feels like an old friend you've known for a lifetime. The neck isn't too fat or too thin, and to be honest, it isn't a million miles away from our beloved '60s reissue ES-335 - making it incredibly easy to manoeuvre and handle. 

Of course, the J-45 sports the typical 24.75 scale length, 20 "standard" frets, mother-of-pearl dot inlays and is finished in full nitro lacquer just like the body. Now, we did experience a slight "stickiness" to the back of the neck for a good while after receiving the guitar - and this was due to the finish. Unfortunately, this is something we've encountered many times over the years with brand-new Gibson guitars. Although it eventually sorted itself out after a few plays and a lot of wiping down after each use, it is mildly annoying. 

Sound

Gibson J-45 review

(Image credit: Future/Daryl Robertson)
Also consider

Martin D18

(Image credit: Martin)

: Martin's spruce-topped, mahogany back and side dreadnought is a cannon of a guitar, producing a bold tone that demands to be heard. 

: Looking for the J-45 tone on a budget? Well, the Epiphone Inspired By Gibson J-45 is the guitar for you. This budget version gets scarily close to the authentic model at a fraction of the cost. 

The humble J-45 has found favour with many different players over the years. From rebellious singer-songwriters to bluegrass aficionados, pop-punk heroes and hard-rock icons, the J-45 has become the sound of so many hit records - and it's easy to see why. 

Its earthy and woody mid-range invokes images of a long-forgotten era, while the tight bass and sweet treble ensure it still has something to offer the modern player. This is what makes the J-45 easily one of the greatest flat-tops ever made - sitting right next to the famed Martin D-28 at the top of the acoustic guitar tree. 

We've said it already, but it's worth repeating; the Gibson J-45 is timeless. There isn't a style the workhorse can't do. We found it performed just as well with hard-strummed cowboy chords as it did with delicate fingerpicking - and it can certainly hang with the best of them in a delta blues jam session.

Thanks to its traditional hand-scalloped X-bracing, each note rings out true and clear, with a piano-like percussive nature to sharply-picked single notes. It's also worth noting that this classic flat-top is loud - very loud! There is a great deal of headroom in the top - meaning you can wail away on those country chords until you're blue in the face and the top won't compress too much. 

Historically, the J-45 has been a cherished recording instrument - you only need to look at the hit records made using one to see that - but with the addition of the LR Baggs VTC acoustic pickup system, this modern interpretation is also a very valuable stage companion. 

Luckily, this simple-to-use pickup does a fantastic job of retaining the tonal character of the unplugged J-45. The guitar's power and sonic balance are represented incredibly well here, and without the scratchy top-end you typically find with other under-saddle transducers. 

We also like how Gibson has been sure to hide the controls so as not to upset the tasteful silhouette of this legendary guitar. You'll find the volume and tone control tucked inside the soundhole, and while they may not be visible, they are just in reach if you need to make adjustments while performing. 

Final verdict

Gibson J-45 review

(Image credit: Future/Daryl Robertson)

For us, the J-45 Standard is the quintessential Gibson acoustic guitar. Its warm bellowing tone, effortless playability and charming good looks combine to create a truly timeless instrument. 

As well as the tried a tested formula of solid mahogany and sitka spruce, this modern version of the "workhorse" includes the LR Baggs VTC pickup system, which we feel is a match made in heaven. This uncomplicated pickup perfectly captures this Gibson's wide dynamic range, meaning you can hit the stage with your beloved new acoustic safe in the knowledge that the audience is hearing the guitar exactly as you do. 

Now, we can't talk about this new era of the J-45 and not mention its rather hefty price tag. It wasn't that long ago that this famous Gibson model would set you back around £1,800, and now you won't get much change from 3K with a brand-new J-45 costing a staggering £2,799 - that's certainly a damn sight more than the $45 listed in the original ad from the '40s. 

Well, is it worth it? We'd say yes. While it's difficult to justify the new price point, the price of all guitars has increased in recent years, and this isn't limited to Gibson. So, while this expense may be eye-watering for some, the truth of the matter is, if you want the sound of this legendary guitar, then only a Gibson is good enough, and this new era of J-45 is among the best the guitar giant has produced in a very long time. 

Gibson J-45 Standard review: hands-on demos

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Gibson J-45 Standard review: Specifications

  • Body Style: Round Shoulder
  • Back & Sides: Mahogany
  • Top: Sitka Spruce
  • Bracing: Traditional Hand-Scalloped X-Bracing
  • Body Finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Profile: Slim Taper
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Tuning Machines: Grover Rotomatics
  • Under Saddle Pickup: LR Baggs VTC
  • Case: Hardshell Case
  • Contact: Gibson 
Daryl Robertson

I'm a Senior Deals Writer at MusicRadar, and I'm responsible for writing and maintaining buyer's guides on the site - but that's not all I do. As part of my role, I also scour the internet for the best deals I can find on gear and get hands-on with the products for reviews. I have a massive passion for anything that makes a sound, in particular guitars, pianos and recording equipment. In a previous life, I worked in music retail, giving advice on all aspects of music creation, selling everything from digital pianos to electric guitars, entire PA systems to ukuleles. I'm also a fully qualified sound engineer with experience working in various venues in Scotland.