From the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By James Rotondi
Of all the metrics by which we judge an acoustic guitar, perhaps the best measure of how it fits us—our playing styles, our personalities—is the degree to which it inspires new song ideas the moment we pick it up. With Gibson’s pocketbook-friendly and finely crafted new G-45 Studio, you can be fairly confident in enjoying that kind of fluent partnership with your instrument. Immensely comfortable to hold with its smooth, rounded edges, the G-45 sports the same classic slope-shouldered dreadnought shape as its prized namesake—the J-45—and a sweet, warm dash of responsive and wide dynamics almost anywhere you pick around the soundhole.
If Gibson were looking to make a peace offering to those put off by the cost of its premium acoustics, the company has come up with not one but two fine candidates for that role with the G-45 Studio and the slightly pricier, gloss-top-finished G-45 Standard, both produced in their Bozeman, Montana, workshop. Right out of the box, the G-45 Studio feels like a well-worn pair of jeans or a favorite coffee mug—which is to say, there’s very little between you and your next song, riff, or single-note line. Indeed, even with its substantial Advance Response neck profile, the G-45 Studio is a breeze to play: The light strings (.012–.053) are easily bent, full barre chords provide no great challenge, and you’re unlikely to encounter fatigue after hours of playing.
Back to the Wood
Often compared to koa in terms of tonal properties, walnut is a sustainable alternative to tropical tonewoods that grows abundantly in North America. It’s used liberally on the G-45 Studio—the fretboard, belly-up bridge (with compensated Tusq saddle and Tusq bridge pins), headstock overlay, and truss-rod cover are all fashioned from walnut, contributing to the guitar’s lovely aesthetic unity and its noticeably woody character.
Walnut is known for bell-like highs and a tight, focused midrange, as well as a dark bass undertone that can take some playing time to really emerge. The G-45 validates that recipe, often admired by fingerstyle players who want rounded, focused tones. Still, pairing walnut back and sides with a Sitka spruce top—along with proper domed top braces and scalloped X-bracing—edges the G-45 Studio toward big-strummer territory as well. The guitar has no lack of harmonic richness and overtones in the top end, and plenty of midrange projection, making it a solid choice as an all-purpose acoustic.
That said, with a slimmer body depth than, for instance, a Martin D-18, the G-45 Studio is not a big boomer in quite the fashion one might expect from a full-sized dreadnought—at least not fresh from the factory. You’ll want to direct your picking hand directly over the soundhole to elicit the kind of low-end oomph that’s easily culled from a classic dread. This is hardly a surprise—like the iconic J-45, the G-45 has a relatively short scale length of 24-3/4 inches, so what you may lose in volume and projection, you handily make up for in playability and midrange focus.
Still, that may well be a blessing in disguise for a brilliantly balanced guitar that’s so well suited to studio work, where the bassy bigness of a typical dreadnought is often lost or surgically EQ’d out of the mix. A studio acoustic typically finds its sweet spot in the midrange, or, with a C-style microphone pointed off the neck joint, in the zingy highs so coveted on full-bore strumming, and the G-45 is a serious performer in those tonal areas.
Nevertheless, the guitar doesn’t lack for lows either, and it’s especially cool that it loses relatively little of its bass response and resonance as you capo up the neck. Even with a Kyser clamped on at the fifth fret, you can still hear a rich, dark, and very pleasing low-midrange quality, particularly when fingerpicking or using your thumbnail. I imagine that the neck—made of utile, a tropical African wood resembling mahogany in both tone and appearance—contributes to that overall low-mid resonance. (It’s also worth noting the G-45’s hide-glued dovetail neck joint—a premium feature on a cost-effective guitar.) Again, try experimenting with your picking hand across the entire soundhole area, from neck to bridge, and you’ll discover a potent EQ tool just by virtue of the G-45 Studio’s many sweet spots.
While the basic tone and playability—indeed the whole personality—of the G-45 Studio is immediately likeable right out of the box, the same cannot exactly be said for its tonal partnership with the Fishman Sonitone package, an undersaddle piezo and preamp system, with tone and volume controls conveniently tucked just inside the soundhole’s edge. The Sonitone electronics do a decent job of representing the basic balance between the strings and preserving the G-45’s bottom-end focus, but they don’t really bring out the warmth, character, or coppery nuances of the G-45’s upper mids and highs, perhaps due to a lack of EQ functionality.
The result is a whiff of that all-too familiar piezo quack, a bit lacking in warmth and brilliance. Played through a Fender Acoustasonic Junior amp, it was difficult to remove the hard poke of the midrange without compromising the character of the mids entirely; the tone control on the Sonitone was only mildly helpful. A Fishman Aura 16 imaging pedal did, however, prove helpful in restoring some of the G-45’s sheen and richness.
Better results were achieved in the studio running the guitar through a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface and adding a couple of key plug-ins: a UA 610-B preamp (with some bass cut and treble boost); some light Fairchild compression; and a UAD EMT-140 Classic Plate Reverberator, which helped open up the G-45’s higher frequencies in a way more suited to the guitar’s naturally bronzy upper register and organically open sound. That said, eschewing the pickup altogether, almost any mic sounded good on the G-45 with very little on the back end, including very inexpensive ones like an MXL 993 Condenser mic and a Rode NT5, all with a minimum of fuss. Look, this is a really good-sounding guitar, period, regardless of cost. It could use an internal pickup system that is more tonally compatible—and which keeps it at around the same attractive price point.
When it comes to shopping for acoustic guitars, pricier may be better on paper and in terms of display appeal, and one is likely to get more premium woods, with fewer compromises in terms of materials. But a sensibly priced acoustic may well speak to your personality and playing style better that one costing thousands more.
At $999 street, including hardshell case, Gibson’s G-45 Studio (and likewise, the $1,299 G-45 Standard) represents a very good-faith effort to bring a handcrafted, solid-wood, U.S.-made acoustic guitar to the market that sounds great, looks lovely, feels good and inspiring to play, and records beautifully. Gibson has succeeded mightily. The G-45 Studio may well be exactly the kind of acoustic guitar you want to have within reach at all times.
BODY Slope-shouldered dreadnought; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; solid walnut back and sides; walnut bridge with 2.165″ string spacing; satin finish
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NECK 24-3/4″-scale utile neck with Advanced Response profile; 1.725″ nut width; walnut fingerboard with 16″ radius; Grover mini Rotomatic tuners; satin finish
OTHER Tusq nut and saddle; coated phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053); G-Series hardshell case; Gibson accessory kit
PRICE $999 street
MADE IN United States
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.