6/13/2015

1943 Gibson "Banner" J-45 Slope Dreadnought Guitar




Well, this box sounds tops. It came in from my consignor in rough shape and has exited the workshop in politely rough shape. It plays beautifully, has a huge voice, and would make any old-time, country-blues, or folk player very proud.

This was sold to my consignor as a '43 J-45 and, well, sure thing! I can't find any sort of factory order number on it or any other identification, but it sure fits the specs of a wartime J: non-truss neck, medium-big C-shaped neck, and "lady-made perfection." The story is that these were made by women in the factory during the war and that's about 7/8 truth, as there were a few "old timer" menfolk staffing the place as well. Still, we all know that the "banner" Gibsons are something special. This one certainly is!

FYI -- "banner" refers to the "only a Gibson is good enough" decal at the headstock which was used on often-desirable wartime products.


Work was... a lot... and not a whole lot considering how it came in. This already had a neck reset done sometime in the past and so my work at the pocket was just to tidy up the joint, install a small wedge in the dovetail joint itself to make sure it'd remain stable, and reset a previously reset (twice over, it seems) fretboard extension.

Then I moved on to regluing the bridge, filling and redrilling the pin-holes, leveling and dressing the frets, adjusting the (original) saddle, and setting it all up after much cleaning.

Oh, wait, there's more! Four top cracks were cleated/stabilized/filled including 2 tight 4" length ones (hard to see), 1 short and tight 2" one, and a more wide-open, uglier one right next to the pickguard. Then there was cleating of a few hairline cracks on the back and regluing 1/2 the length of two back braces (the lower 2).

The end result is a guitar that plays spot-on (3/32" bass, 1/16" treble with very overall 1/16" except for the low E) at the 12th fret, sounds crisp, big, warm, and has oodles of projection... and also projects its heavy-handed playing history as well!


The painted-black headstock is certainly showing some wear, huh? Note the two replacement tuner ferrules in brass. They definitely look older to me. The original bone nut was also perfectly useful after fretwork, too.


The radiused, Brazilian rosewood fretboard has pearl dots and original old small-stock Gibson wire. The "side dots" had expanded (or something?) so I trimmed them back down to the side of the neck. Note all the fretboard wear -- there are definite finger grooves in the first-position area.

The neck itself is dead-straight even under full tension from a set of 12s. Nice going for a non-truss neck! This neck is made from 2 pieces of mahogany with a center strip (rosewood? maple?) and an added-in reinforcement wedge of maple under the fretboard.


It's interesting to note that the fretboard extension had been removed -- probably twice -- in the past. There were cut marks at the 14th fret and also on the underside of the board near the 15th fret... but not all the way through. It all went back together happily, though.


Tons of playwear!


Here you can see the filled-in bigger pickguard crack. It's all cleated up or over bracing behind it, too, and now the top is "flat" there, whereas before it was "book shaped."


The original bridge was thankfully not too-abused for reuse. I still had to fill in the pinholes and redrill them to make them practical. The pearl dots are replacements as I had to scrap the originals when I extracted the bridge-bolts for a reglue job. I reused the bolts (this time with washers added to the rear for safety's sake) when I did the work.

The bridge pins are all older ones I scrounged from my parts bins... I wanted something a bit more worn to complete the look.


Here's one of the tight hairline cracks (4") at the bass waist, in some higher glare, so you can see it. Like the others, it's cleated-up and good to go.


The top is much-worn-in, so if you're into squeaky-clean guitars, run away! This is certainly a "mojo-tastic" girl.

I should say that this has a 4-piece top on it... spruce... and mahogany back and sides. The guitar is original with the exception of perhaps one tuner strip (1940s, though), the bridge pins, and the tuner buttons. More on those in a bit.



A tailpiece was added at one point. It's been removed but there is a "dent" in the top where it rocked against the top under tension.



The back has two 4" -- two 3" -- and 3 smaller tight hairline cracks that're cleated and stabilized as needed.


The tuners are really interesting. One appears to be an original strip (the "left" side in the pic) while the "right" is same-period but a different type. The detective in me likes to think that this shipped with two different plates (they're both Kluson-made and from the same era), but that's probably unlikely. Either way, one of them must've been replaced early on if at all.

The (old, probably 40s/50s) replacement brass buttons are really cool and someone did a nice job popping them on. I think they're awesome, but the tuners can certainly be swapped out (on the house) for a set of StewMac repros if the next owner desires. The tuners themselves work great and look the business, too.



Here you can see the 2-piece plus center-strip construction.




Here's some glare so you can see those tight back cracks. Really, they're all in good order.




The bridge was "full height" to begin with and aside from reprofiling the very top edge of the saddle to remove some added slots, it's "full height" for when it was built, too. I did have to lightly sand and buff-up the top rear of the bridge after my pin-hole resurrection, though.




On the bass waist there's a tiny, tight hairline crack. Fortunately, it's right over some of the glued-on cloth reinforcement that came from the factory and needs no extra cleating.




Treble side of the joint looks great.


Bass side has a little "fill" as the previous old reset job sanded just the edge of this joint a little round on that corner.


Filled tailpiece hanger-holes and... an original endpin.


The inside of this guitar was disgusting and, unfortunately, much of the "grey matter" dust is embedded in the wood, now. I've cleaned it up a lot and that let me see old glue-drips and smears and stuff like that. There's also a replacement patch of center-seam reinforcement... but you have to look deep inside to see it.


Note that the B string slot is intonated, now.


There are three 2" tight hairline cracks on the treble-side waist. They're also right over a cloth-backing reinforcement strip (from the factory) and are good to go.


A newer non-branded hard case (fits well) comes with the guitar.

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