Gibson AJ: historic 1936 vs used production vs HD28

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by JamesAM, Sep 24, 2020.

  1. knavel

    knavel Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    531
    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2014
    Location:
    London
    Cool re the Texan. I love mine.

    I will have to make an effort to have a hands on with an AJ--darn this thread! In my mind it would logically be the ideal guitar. I don't know the price of a 30s one these days, but I expect what I would find means that many agree with my perception as to its perfection. I just don't get too excited over Martin anything even though I really like my brother's authentic and marquis models -only the AJ gets my motors running.
     
    JamesAM likes this.
  2. JamesAM

    JamesAM Tele-Meister

    Age:
    36
    Posts:
    425
    Joined:
    May 13, 2020
    Location:
    Virginia, USA
    Well, there’s a real ‘38 on reverb right now, if you’ve got a spare $66 grand laying around. I’ve got my eye on a couple of 90s/2000s reissues there, but I think I’m going to hold off until I can actually hold and play one myself. I don’t think I can let my Martin go, so I’ll have to figure out another way to free up some stable space.

    hope you find one to play soon!
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2020
    spurgie79 likes this.
  3. knavel

    knavel Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    531
    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2014
    Location:
    London
    Good heavens. That original one is nearby me. I make it a point not to own guitars that I can't play after a couple of glasses of wine on a Friday night and walk around the house with--and Victorian houses here are very narrow.

    Like you say, the ones from the last 30 years are fair priced for a high end American made guitar. Other than the usual banter about the CEO, I really don't know much about Gibson in the last few decades. I'm like you, I need to try them rather than distance sales. The right one will speak to me and I won't care who the CEO was at the time or what factory it was made in.
     
    JamesAM likes this.
  4. Bill

    Bill Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    7,431
    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2003
    Location:
    London
    You also might want to ask user Wally. He used to own an original 1938 AJ.

    Not to get off topic, but a few folks have mentioned J-45s. Yes the originals are wonderful (I have a 1950 J-45). I tried a wall full of reissues a few years ago, some historic, some custom shop, some standard, with a variety of body and fingerboard woods. They varied hugely in volume and the tone they produced. And not necessarily based on price. None were as loud or warm as mine, and none had the same deep bottom end. But then they were all new.
     
    JamesAM likes this.
  5. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    4,045
    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2006
    Location:
    These Days NE Ohio
    It is not really off topic because with a few exceptions such as the discontinued Legend Series and an occasional Custom Shop run, the modern versions of the AJs, J45s, J35s and the like are structurally the same as Gibsons current production guitars. So what Gibson labels an Historic '57 J200 does not have the second wide angle X brace above the soundhole or the transverse mounted tone bars. The J35 and the L-00 do not have non-scalloped bracing but Gibson's standard scalloped X brace. And so on. It is not a good or bad thing just different. Personally I favor the non-scalloped braced guitars. One of the reasons I ended up with the 1942 J50 I did was that for whatever reason the bracing is not scalloped but rather has a slight taper to it which gives the guitar a dose of J35 DNA.
     
    Bill and JamesAM like this.
  6. TwangerWannabe

    TwangerWannabe Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    648
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2019
    Location:
    West Coast
    I've owned versions of both...a 2012 Ren Ferguson era AJ and an HD-28 that was from somewhere between 2010 -2015 (cant remember the exact year).

    The AJ was a true monster. VERY LOUD guitar, amazing note separation, lots of mids and it was a great flat picker and a great Bluegrass guitar and had somewhat of a quick decay, so single note separation was awesome and perfect for that style of playing. Wasn't too bad for the singer/songwriter stuff, but you really had to hold back with that guitar or it would just take over and overpower your voice. Wasn't my favorite for fingerpicking, but was no slouch either. You could hit that guitar hard and it would just get louder.

    The HD-28 was probably my least favorite Martin dread I've owned (Current favorite that I own in a Reimagined D-18 and have also had a few D-28's and a Reimagined D-35). The HD-28 was way too scooped in the middle and I never liked the low end. It had a big, boomy low end that was a bit mushy and not very defined, and the highs were pretty thin. Not great for flat picking, but was a decent strummer fort the singer songwriter stuff and was a very nice fingerpicker. Definitely more dynamic and touch sensitive than the AJ, but not nearly as loud, if you hit it hard it would start to compress and hit a threshold where it just would not have any more left in the tank, and tended to get buried and lost in a group setting or a jam with a bunch of other guitars, while the AJ could always be heard, partly because of it's bracing/voicing and it's volume.

    If I had a chance to get either one of them back I'd get the AJ back in a heartbeat. I never missed the HD-28.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2020
    JamesAM likes this.
  7. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

    Posts:
    13,946
    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2011
    Location:
    Frontrangia CO
    Even though I've been playing a long time, I don't have the depth of experience that many others have, as far as having played old vintage Gibsons or Martins. But for the acoustics I have played, it was the sound of various Gibson models that made the connection with me - both feel and sound. Sure, I've played some modern era Martins that were spectacular, too. A few older ones, pre-war, 50's-60's. When I was playing in the 70's, I wanted the sound of a D-18 with the playing characteristics of a Hummingbird. That's what I was thinking back then.

    I ended up with an AJ, because I love that sound. It's modern era, 2012 special run AJ with (gasp) maple back and sides. Yeah, go figure. It was used, when I found it, at Guitar Center. Felt pretty lucky to walk out the door with it. It was #10 of a run of 60, from what I read. Whatever that means.

    A few photos. Yes, it does have scalloped braces; ok by me. Can't say that I could honestly tell the difference in a blind test, unless someone was there who could point out what that was. Does the glue work on the braces look a little bit sloppy? I might be a little on the spectrum as far as that goes.

    front partial.jpg

    BACKSIDE QLT MAPLE.jpg

    treble end bridge plate.jpg
     
  8. mike stanger

    mike stanger TDPRI Member

    Age:
    77
    Posts:
    60
    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2020
    Location:
    Idaho
    Hi, James...
    I have quite a lot of experience with the AJ: I owned a 1939 for quite a while, and I also worked at Gibson when the model was reintroduced in late 1990 at the WINter NAMM Show. I currently own an AJ from the first production batch.

    Like you, a Martin D-28 was my dream guitar initially, and I owned a very good 1966 28 for over 40 years. I currently own a 1964 D-21. In the past I've also owned several other Martins and other Gibsons.

    The 2 guitars are very different sounding despite all their similarities. The body shapes are the largest difference, but there are many more smaller ones; they both have long scale necks, but Gibson's long scale is a little longer than Martin's.
    The Gibson has a smaller bridge and bridge plate, and the bridge actually has a bit more mass than the Martin's due to the 2 small machine bolts that were used in addition to the glue to hold the bridge to the body.
    (Not all the re-issues have these bolts. Mine does, as did all the pre-wars)

    The bracing pattern in both is an X, but the Martin has more tone braces, and when scalloped, the Martin braces are scalloped differently than the Gibson. The angles of the main X are different, and the AJ is also different from the J-45 and all the other X_braced guitars due to a slight difference in the body shape.

    The Martin has 20 frets, and the AJ has 19. The AJ's sound hole is slightly smaller and is placed higher on the body than the Martin. The D-28 has an ebony bridge, and the AJ has a rosewood bridge.

    These differences make up the most differences in sound between the 2 guitars.


    While it's very hard to put sound into words, here are my observations:
    The Martin has a more complex tone with stronger harmonics surrounding the primary notes. The harmonic envelope of the AJ is less complex, slightly more like mahogany than rosewood, with a stronger-defined primary note. The D-28 has a deeper, lusher tone, while the AJ has a brighter, more direct tone.
    This tends to make the D-28 a good all-round versatile guitar that works equally well in many different styles. The AJ isn't as naturally versatile; it tends to like a flat pick over bare fingers, and while both can be loud, the AJ wants to be loud- it needs no forcing to make it loud. The sound sort of rumbles around in a D-28, but the AJ throws the sound out very quickly and forcefully.

    That's not to say the AJ's tone isn't good, but it is very different, and the player has to spend a lot of time with the guitar to discover it's gentler, more sweet qualities. It's a natural lead guitar, but it takes a while to learn how to make it as good for rhythm playing. While both have a lot of sustain, the AJ has faster response than the Martin.

    To my ear, the AJ is a superior bluegrass guitar to the D-28, or any Martin dreadnought. But overall, the Martin's versatility really shows; the AJ tends to have one tone no matter what, while the D-28 has several.

    Personally, the challenge of the AJ gradually made it my favorite guitar. It didn't happen right away, but as I learned how to get more out of it, I think the guitar made me a better player.
    regards,
    stanger
     
    LPTyler, Axis29, Harry Styron and 8 others like this.
  9. Bill

    Bill Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    7,431
    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2003
    Location:
    London
    I love when someone with direct experience responds with detailed comments that clarify a thread!

    Great post, Mike Stanger.
     
  10. Pineears

    Pineears Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,734
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2016
    Location:
    Texas
    In my 8 years in this vein I learned you should pick one acoustic for how it performs on stage.
     
  11. Stubee

    Stubee Doctor of Teleocity Gold Supporter

    Posts:
    11,293
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2007
    Location:
    Mid-Michigan
    Well said Mike Stanger!
     
    mike stanger and JamesAM like this.
  12. JamesAM

    JamesAM Tele-Meister

    Age:
    36
    Posts:
    425
    Joined:
    May 13, 2020
    Location:
    Virginia, USA
    mike, thank you for this awesome post. AJs are kind of rare/niche guitars, so finding folks who have firsthand experience with one has tough. And thanks so much for the comparison with the d-28! This was extremely helpful.

    also: you’re killing me, man. You did such a great job of describing how it plays and sounds that I had some serious flashbacks to my brief experience with one- now I’ve got to get my hands on an AJ.

    In all seriousness, thanks again for your experience. Hopefully I can find another one to demo soon.
     
    mike stanger likes this.
  13. mike stanger

    mike stanger TDPRI Member

    Age:
    77
    Posts:
    60
    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2020
    Location:
    Idaho
    You're welcome, James.

    they're not like other Gibsons, for sure! I instantly loved my pre-war; when I bought it, I could have bought a 1936 D-18 instead for the same money, but I fell for the distinctive tone and the volume of the AJ. A good friend bought both and wanted to sell one to pay for the other. It cost me $1000, cheap, even for 40 years ago.

    At that time, no matter how much I liked it, what I should have purchased was a good, new, working stage guitar, as music was my main income source at the time. Eventually that's where the AJ went, and for a new Martin that made me a lot of money for the next 13 years.

    I was just lucky landing the job at Bozeman. I was sure I'd never be able to even lay eyes on another AJ again. Interestingly, my 'new' AJ is the same age as my old AJ was when I bought it. I played the new one side by side with another 1939 AJ about 4 years ago, and they sounded so similar I could see no advantage in owning the pre-war.

    After 30 years, 4 years ago I had the AJ re-fretted, replaced the nut and saddle, and it now plays like it's factory new. I still put twice the time into that guitar than all my others.
    regards,
    stanger
     
    Axis29, Stubee and JamesAM like this.
  14. ravindave_3600

    ravindave_3600 Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    3,360
    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2004
    Location:
    Newly Indiana
    Best guitar I ever played was s 63 SJ. Gorgeous tone. It was $3000 and I was $2900 short.
     
    Axis29 and DougM like this.
  15. RodeoTex

    RodeoTex Doctor of Teleocity

    Posts:
    11,323
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2005
    Location:
    Nueces Strip
    That first video is what I was hoping my dream guitar would sound like (Gibson J45).
    Actually my two cheap EPIPHONE AJs sound way better than my dream GIBSON.
     
  16. DougM

    DougM Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    7,446
    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2017
    Location:
    Honolulu, HI
    I worked for almost fifteen years at a Martin and Gibson dealer, and so I got a chance to play dozens of both, and I'd say that, although each piece of wood is different, the Martins were more consistent than the Gibsons. There were some HD28s that were absolute magic, but even the lesser ones weren't really stinkers. I can't really say that about the J45s and J200s. Some were real dogs. We didn't get a lot of rosewood Gibsons, but of the ones we did get, the Songwriters were the most consistent. That being said, I don't recall ever having a bad rosewood slope shoulder or jumbo either, but we had far fewer of those.
     
    JamesAM likes this.
  17. mike stanger

    mike stanger TDPRI Member

    Age:
    77
    Posts:
    60
    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2020
    Location:
    Idaho
    Rosewood was never Gibson's thing as much as it was Martin's.
    I was never able to understand why that was, either, but I tend to think it was just one more mid-western thing about the Gibson company.
    Kalamazoo, Michigan is long away away from New York, Philadelphia, and even Chicago, all the major guitar-making cities back in the day. So Gibson, as a home-grown product of Kalamazoo, never had the same design influences the others all had. There were no Germans involved in the early days of the company, no Swedes, and no Italians.
    All those nationalities had long histories of making stringed instruments, and they all shared a lot of similar ideas as to size, scale length, wood choices, etc.

    Orville Gibson was an essentially self-taught instrument maker who had his own ideas, and few of them were similar to the rest of the industry of his day. That worked out very well for him with his mandolins, and then later with his guitars, but it also made Gibson often going in directions there was no market for, or at least not at the moment.

    I've also tended to think that because Gibson was so close to the Great Lakes, it naturally used woods that were both relatively cheap and easily obtainable but were very good quality and very well suited for making guitars.
    Maple is plentiful in Michigan, as is red spruce. Gibson used really a lot of hard birch and called it maple, and birch is a good guitar wood. Mahogany was always a preferred import wood over rosewood for Gibson, possibly due to it's lesser cost, or due to it's great working qualities and for its great guitar tone.

    Gibson also used walnut from time to time, but the only pre-war guitar models that featured rosewood bodies were the Advanced Jumbo, the SJ-200 (which was actually a custom-made guitar only until the 1940s), and the J-55, which was also available in walnut, mahogany, or maple.

    Gibson also never made a distinction between Brazilian and E. Indian rosewood. Both were used interchangeably, and sometimes, walnut was passed off as a type of rosewood in product descriptions.

    The Advanced Jumbo sold very well for the company, and was priced just a bit higher than a D-28, so if a player wanted a fancy guitar, it could be had for less than a D-45. But Gibson seemed to be pretty content to let Martin do its thing while did theirs. Throughout the 30s, Gibson did extremely well with its arch top guitar series, so it really didn't need to compete with Martin selling cowboy guitars made of rosewood.
    Their L-5 guitar cost as much as a D-45, and Gibson's Super 400 guitar cost twice as much as a D-45.
    regards,
    stanger
     
    LPTyler likes this.
  18. Axis29

    Axis29 Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    7,003
    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2007
    Location:
    Beaumont, CA
    A lot of great advice so far. I'll come at it from a slightly different perspective... Because I'm a small bodied, 12 fret, Gibson guy, through and through.

    I don't know where in Virginia you are, but if you can get over to Fredericksburg, drop into Picker's Supply (and tell 'em John Freund told you to). I used to work there. They are a Martin Dealer, but have a lot of older vintage Gibson stuff hanging about. They will also let you try just about anything.

    A few years ago, when I decided I needed to buy myself a really good acoustic, I went searching. Didn't know what I was looking for, until I found it. I landed on a Gibson Custom Shop Keb Mo. Way different than what you're interested in here, but my journey might help.

    After picking up the Keb Mo, I got the job at Picker's. I sat there playing all these 30's Gibsons.... Eventually, the itch hit my brain and I had to compare them directly. So, I brought my guitar in and several of us sat around comparing. The thing I discovered was that my guitar fit me, fit the way I played, sounded right to me.... The vintage Gibby's were so nice and I loved every one. But, I still love my little Keb Mo more than any of the others. This guitar will probably be one of the last things I ever let go of in life.

    All of the Boseman Gibsons I've played have been very nice instruments! All have sounded very nice, but as a few have noted, each is it's own creature. I am convinced that each acoustic must be evaluated by and against itself.

    But, the other thing I discovered while working at Picker's was that I am definitely a Gibson guy, not a Martin guy. Only one or two Martin's I picked up sounded and felt right to me (and they were all expensive guitars). Not that I think one brand is better than the other, just different. I am still haunted by a certain Eric Clapton signature Martin I got to try....

    I think the Gibby will sound different enough that you could easily justify owning both. But, I think you will seriously regret giving up that Martin.
     
    JamesAM and ravindave_3600 like this.
  19. JamesAM

    JamesAM Tele-Meister

    Age:
    36
    Posts:
    425
    Joined:
    May 13, 2020
    Location:
    Virginia, USA
    Thanks! That’s a great story. I’m up in loudoun county, so pickers supply isn’t too far away. Surprisingly, there are very few solid music shops in nova- I’ve never been to pickers supply but it sounds like the perfect trip one our COVID numbers go back down.

    And yeah, I really don’t think I could give up the Martin- more and more AJs have been coming up on reverb lately, with some really good looking ones every now and then. I’ve started saving up, so we’ll see how things shape out.
     
  20. Axis29

    Axis29 Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    7,003
    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2007
    Location:
    Beaumont, CA
    Yeah, I grew up in NoVa, Springfield, to be exact. It's never really been flush with choices. Chuck Levin's was always a destination. Atomic and Action Music are pretty good (I've spent way too much money in Action). Gil Southworth's was another place I used to love. But, I think he's all online now.

    None of them had the same focus on acoustic stuff as Picker's. It's not a huge store, but they have a huge collection (Bran, the owner, has more stuff than he knows what to do with, and probably more than he would even be able to sell in his lifetime). If there's a vintage piece you are interested in, he might just have it. LOL
     
    JamesAM likes this.
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.