The front of a slope-shouldered dreadnought guitar
This new model is a friendly homage to the great banner-era J45s.

I never planned to build a guitar this large, but 2020 was a pretty strange year all around, including in my wood shop. When the right person asked if I’d build a J45-like guitar (and convinced me that it would be a blast to play), I caved.

I’ve played and repaired many slope-shouldered dreadnoughts over the years, and based this new model on the best one I’ve ever played, a maple-bodied banner-era J45. It belongs to Jim Nelson, a terrific old-time fiddle accompanist from the St. Louis area. What makes that guitar so great is that it has a dry, fast sound with a touch of a devil-may-care edge to it, while avoiding the trap of tubbiness so common in this shape of guitar. It’s a terrific specimen of the git-r-done aesthetic of the war-era J45s.

The most sought-after examples of J45s were built during the war years (World War Two) with pretty much whatever materials were available, and on a budget for cash-strapped players. They built a reputation as a blue-collar guitar that was never intended to be too sophisticated or elegant, but was ready to play when you were. I respect the come-as-you-are aesthetic of these instruments, and tried to hew close to the original unfussy, make-it-work ethos, in part by using sustainable domestic woods. Continue reading “No 27 – Adirondack Spruce and Red Maple”

Two guitar tops for size comparison
The J45 (underneath) is the largest guitar I’ve ever built. The soundboard on top is for a grand concert, which is not exactly a small guitar.

I’m currently building a pair of commissioned guitars and having a great time because the two instruments have such different goals.

The first is a jazz machine: I’m shooting for the strong, independent voicings and fat, certain trebles I’ve seen in several of my previous builds. This one is a Grand Concert size 12-fret with a red spruce top over a double-wall sugar maple rim and back, one of my all-time favorite combinations.

The other is a street fighter, with plenty of confidence and swagger, lots of low-end thump and a devil-may-care attitude about clean trebles. It is inspired by the best J45 I have ever played, a maple-or-maybe-birch-backed “Banner era” belonging to one of the best old-time guitarists around. My build is a red spruce top over a red maple rim and back.

Serial Number 26, a grand concert in sugar maple

Serial Number 27, a J45-style guitar in red maple