When Gibson introduced the Gibson J 45 Custom Shop in the early ’40s, the country was mired in an age of austerity—torn by the war and not yet out of the Great Depression. The guitar was designed and built to address the economic realities of the time, eschewing flash to keep the price low. But Gibson’s approach to making the guitar accessible also made it beautiful. The sunburst finish—used to conceal the multiple-piece tops made necessary by a spruce shortage—was stylish and actually looked luxurious. The dot inlays were a picture of perfect simplicity. And the mahogany back and sides conspired with the spruce top to create a bright, bassy, slightly husky voice that, serendipitously, suited the bluesy, down-home vibe of the times.
Gibson’s newest J-45, the limited-edition PureVoice Custom, isn’t exactly an entry-level economy model anymore. Alongside the J-200, it’s the essence of Gibson acoustic style and tone—the flagship of a proud line—and as such it’s a guitar many of us will dream of rather than actually own. But the J-45 PureVoice Custom evolves a classic by adding an internal, bridge plate-mounted transducer system that makes this particular J-45 a superb performance guitar without sacrificing the tone, style, and intangibles that have made J-45s objects of lust for guitar nuts and an indispensible tool for artists from Dylan to Jeff Tweedy.
It’s hard to imagine anyone with a heartbeat not being moved by the sight of this J-45. The sunburst, which moves from honey-amber in the center to a dark cocoa, is alive even in the dullest light. If you happen to catch a glimpse of the guitar in late-afternoon sunlight, it’s positively luminous. Though the first J-45s were often built from great-sounding, but less-than-perfect, spruce sections, the PureVoice Custom’s top is made of lovely wood with a bookmatched, straight-but-figured grain with an organic racing-stripe effect. The Indian rosewood fretboard, meanwhile, has a reddish hue and figure with almost cocobolo-like qualities, and the simple mother-of-pearl dot inlays are a perfect juxtaposition to the opulent materials elsewhere.
The same can be said for the subdued white-black-white rosette and binding, and the faux-tortoise pickguard. Other small details help set this J-45 apart too, like the open-back Grover butterbean tuners and a truss-rod cover that looks lifted from a Les Paul, adding a touch of rock ’n’ roll that doesn’t look at all out of place. Together, the visual elements are an ideal convergence of understated and velvet-ropes sumptuousness.