4/05/2015

1966 Gibson J-50 Slope Dread Guitar




Update: Just a note -- this comes with a decent hard case, too.

Gibson "jumbo" slope-dreadnought guitars sure are great machines. To my ears and hands, they make the perfect "singing" guitar: a sound that blooms "just enough" on the bottom but has focused and slightly compressed mids and highs, a comfortably narrower (than other dread shapes) upper bout, and a shorter scale length that (given the same ideal setup parameter) always feels easier on the left hand after hours of playing chords.

This J-50 (natural-top, slightly gussied-up version of a J-45) dates from either late '66 or early '67 and shipped as a righty, was converted to a lefty, and now I've converted it back to a righty. It has tons of general wear and tear, lots of finish checking and crackling, and a light "pickguard shadow" of the original guard which must've gone missing in action a long, long time ago.

My work on it included cleating/sealing up 4 top cracks (no cracks otherwise), making and fitting a custom replacement bridge, fret level/dress, new bone saddle and nut, and setup. Playability is spot-on at 3/32" bass and 1/16" treble, though this is one of those Gibsons with the "very narrow" nut. In this case, it's just a hair under 1 5/8" across. The neck profile is classic Gibson C shape and I find this a super-comfy guitar for any sort of chordal play type, but it does beg you to use barred chords all the time! I'd have second thoughts on a neck like this for straight-up fingerpicking or dedicated lead work.


The top is solid spruce while the back, sides and neck are solid mahogany. The bridge is Indian rosewood but the board looks like Brazilian to me.


The truss functions perfectly... as you'd expect.


The 5th fret dot is probably replaced as it's pearl rather than pearloid.


It's hard to argue with the plain-Jane, workhorse Gibson looks.


I made this new bridge from rosewood and it directly matches the footprint of the (Gibson-issued) lefty that was on there. The saddle is farther back on the bridge because the original bridges were adjustable types with a wide saddle slot and probably hadn't been glued in quite the right place. This setup, with its long-cut slot and bone saddle, is considered a tonal improvement over the adjustables. 

My opinon? The rosewood or ebony-saddle adjustable units sound just fine. The ceramic ones, depending on the guitar, can add annoying overtones and reduce volume. This setup gives you more of a 50s Gibson flattop sound vs. a 60s one. This is "all plus" for fingerpickers who want a little extra clarity and dryness but some of that tubby, scooped-mids 60s strumming sound that I associate with the adjustable units evaporates a little bit with this format.

This is neither good or bad -- they both have a good sound: just different.


This battlewagon sure has plenty of scritchy-scratchy, but it keeps on ticking.



Only the top has hairline cracks... the back and sides are happily crack-free. The lower bit of the back does have flaked-off finish, however. This is really common to guitars that might've gotten a bit of moisture trapped in the bottom of the case. It's an aesthetic thing more than anything else.


The original Kluson tuners are going strong but I did have to bend one of the knob-shafts back a bit.


The neck set is good to go.



The sides have a nice golden-brown sort of color -- like golden ginger ale.



The older plastic pins are a little cheesy, but the rest isn't. My bridge is a hair thicker top to bottom than the standard Gibson issue for the time.



The original screwed-on pin is still there, too.

This picture also gives you an idea of the general finish crackle all over the guitar.