I’ve been recently posting comparisons between well known brand name guitar models and less expensive alternatives made to copy the expensive models. Last week I reviewed 000/OM sized guitars. Not surprisingly, I’ve mostly covered medium to small sized guitars, my preference, and omitted larger sized guitars. Maybe soon I’ll cover the big boys. Today’s post is sticking to small to medium sized guitars but instead of Martin inspired models, I’m going to look at Gibson.
The second (or maybe it was the third) guitar I owned — but the first brand name guitar from a “quality” company, was a Gibson acoustic. I bought it new in 1963. It was a small sized guitar. Gibson isn’t known for their small guitars and the model I owned (and still own) was the LG-1, a “student” guitar. It was crap though much better crap than my previous guitar. The most famous Gibson small acoustic guitar is the L-00. The LG-1 might superficially resemble the L-00 in shape but not in construction. L-00 guitars had X bracing while the LG-1 had ladder bracing.
Gibson has revived the L-00 in recent years in response to the renewed popularity of fingerstyle and small guitars. The current cost for an L-00 is in the ballpark of $2700 (image to left). There have been some model variations such as a Keb Mo model. (Gibson Montana LSKMVSNH1 Acoustic Electric Guitar).
The obvious value model for the L-00 is the Epiphone version of the guitar, the EL-00 (or now the EL-00 Pro, shown right). The price if you find one should be about $250 to $300. Or in terms of ballpark value, 10% of the cost of the Gibson version. Is the Gibson version a better guitar? Of course it is. But the Epiphone still has a solid spruce top. It’s also an Acoustic-Electric if that’s important to you. Good value. I think so. I’ve seen the Epiphone at my local Guitar Center and they seemed OK. But I once owned an Epiphone acoustic some 15 years ago and that guitar was crap just like my LG-1. I hope they do better. But try one. If it has good action, straight neck, proper neck angle, sounds good and feels good in your hands, then you’ll have a good value.
Between these two models, both from the same corporate parent, are models from outside the Gibson family. The guitar on the left is from The Loar. It is the model L0-16 and is advertised as having an L-00 body. The Loar is another of the companies that import good quality reproductions of well known guitars. The current cost is about $400. In addition to a solid spruce top the guitar comes with a 1 3/4″ bone nut. This is wider than the Gibson or Epiphone. I like wider nuts and they are popular among fingerstyle guitar players, but the Gibson and Epiphone nut width of 1.68″ is probably what you are used to.
Recording King also has several models that pay tribute to the L-00 model from Gibson. An interesting variation is the Greenwich Village All Solid (model RNJ-26-NA). It has a deep body like the Gibson Nick Lucas models had. It is solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. The unique feature is that the neck joins the body at the 13th fret. A number of modern interpreters of classic small guitars have done this as a compromise between the “sweet spot” of the bridge on a 12 fret guitar and the extra playability of higher frets on a 14 fret neck join guitar. This model from Recording King sells for about $670 (your milage may vary).
The next larger of the smaller sized Gibson acoustics which is also one of their most popular acoustics is the J-45. It’s not that small being a slope-shouldered dreadnought with 14 frets to the body. Gibson has tried to extend the popularity of the J-45 by making variations including some with rosewood back and sides. But the fame has come from the nickname given the guitar, “The Workhorse” and that name applies to the mahogany body version. Mahogany bodied guitars are often preferred by studio musicians for recording because the dynamic range is more balanced (compressed) — that and the smaller upper bout make the guitar less boomy. The version shown at the left is an acoustic-electric and currently sells for about $2200.
There is an Epiphone version of the J-45. The model I found online said it has a select spruce top. Whenever you read select something for a guitar wood and see no specific mention that the wood is solid, you can assume it is a laminated wood. The Epiphone sells for about $200 but I’m not going to show you anything without a solid top. Laminated sides and backs are acceptable but if you’re going to play an acoustic guitar it should have a solid top for the best sound.
The good news is other companies are making guitars in the style of the slope shouldered dreadnought very similar to the J-45. The Recording King RAJ-126-SN Slope Shoulder Guitar is an all solid wood guitar which is selling for about $670. They have other, less expensive versions of the guitar that use laminated wood for the backs and sides. They also have 12-frets to the body versions and 25.4″ scale length models. These are more similar to Martin slope shouldered 12-fret guitars. Gibson rarely makes anything in a 12-fret model.