Gibson J-50 Deluxe, made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, between 1970-72
As mentioned before I have been dreaming of a Gibson J-50 for years now and last week I finally managed to find one. Of course I would have preferred a 1940’s or 1950’s one but it’s hard to even afford one from the 1960’s with today’s vintage guitar prices, and I really don’t approve of the adjustable bridge they used in the mid 1960’s. They changed from round shouldered to square shouldered around 1969 and at the same time got rid of the horrible adjustable bridges. Gibson reached a lot of low marks in the late 1960’s with laminated backs and sides, plastic bridges, massive bridge plates and double X-braces to stiffen up the tops and making sure that they wouldn’t belly or break. I knew when I bought this J-50 that it might not sound like James Taylor’s, not just because it’s not a round shoulder, but also because of the double X-bracing and the general build quality of a 1970’s Gibson. Even though it doesn’t sound like James Taylor’s J-50 I really like the sound of it and it’s very pleasing on the eye too, at least for me. I love the simplicity of the small black drop shaped pickguard and the grain of the top is just amazing. It’s a Gibson J-50 Deluxe with the original Gibson Deluxe machine heads, made at the Kalamazoo plant between 1970-72, apparently it’s impossible to date it any closer.
It has had a neck reset at some point and it seems like the bridge has been re-glued too, which could mean that it’s one of the earlier ones that perhaps came with an adjustable bridge and someone changed it to a normal rosewood bridge. I bought the guitar from a gentleman in Oxford, England where it had lived for the past 15 years but before that it came from Oklahoma, USA, where the repairs where made at some point. The bridge plate seems to be a really thin, delicate and made of spruce, perhaps that’s been updated too since these where know for having massive tone killing blocks of wood under the bridge. It has the double X-bracing which I guess has it’s pros and cons like any other form of bracing. It’s an extremely light and well sounding guitar, I don’t know how they managed to build it so light since these are supposed to be really heavy. Gibson got tired of all the returns which cost them a lot of money so in order to increase profit they started to build their acoustics thicker and heavier until they were built like tanks and could survive any beating. These are known as the Norlin era Gibson guitars, but it’s important to remember that even though Norlin took over in 1969, the old owners CMI kept control over the Gibson production up to 1974, so I guess that’s when the real dip in quality happened. As with any vintage guitar of any brand, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Not all Levin guitars are good, but all of the 12 I have sounds amazing so perhaps some brands are more even in the quality than others. I feel that I was lucky with this Gibson J-50 Deluxe and managed to find an extremely light built and very well sounding example. I wished that the bass was a bit deeper, it still has the Gibson bass response, but since the mid range and trebles are so good I’m still very pleased with my new guitar.
A picture of the inside, beautiful solid mahogany back and sides, with the dreaded double X-bracing. It actually sounds better than expected and since the braces are fairly thin and delicate, together with the thin spruce bridge plate, it’s a very light and resonant guitar with great sustain. Except for a little worn patch on the neck after a capo and two tiny cracks in the top where the pickguard has shrunk it’s in very good state for being 45 years old. The neck reset and general set up it had before it left Oklahoma has made it an extremely easy guitar to play with fantastic low action. It has 011 gauge strings on in the clip below, I guess with 012’s it will sound even richer.