A classic model enjoys a superstar upgrade
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Brad Paisley is not only a major star, he's an unparalleled triple threat in the pantheon of country music talents: he sings, he plays, and he writes—all to award-winning ends. Whether he's burning up the fretboard of his solidbody or singing his self-penned hit songs to legions of his fans, there's not another performer on the scene today who displays so many musical gifts in so many areas. So when Paisley agreed to collaborate on his first-ever signature model with Gibson, the guitar had to excel on all fronts. It's not an easy bill to fill: Paisley is a guitar player's guitar player, he's a golden-eared tonemeister, and he knows his history, too—guitar and musical.
The much-anticipated product of Gibson and Paisley's collaboration is the gorgeous Brad Paisley J-45, at once instantly recognizable as the model that everyone from Dylan to the Beatles played, but that is also an instrument for today's musician, offering a unique look and some innovative features. Paisley's aim was "to make sure that it sounded as good as it could, and that it plays the way you would expect—really, like an old guitar. I think this guitar feels older than it is," as he put it. Let's see what new offerings this old soul guitar brings to the modern acoustic player.
Classic meets modern
Like most historic J-45s, this one boasts solid mahogany back and sides, a solid Adirondack red spruce top, and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. The body construction of the Brad Paisley J-45 is faithfully derived from the original 1942 model as well, with scalloped red spruce and hide glue X-bracing.
But what catches your eye is the finish. "I wanted it to be a cherry sunburst, because that was the color of my old one, and Gibson wasn't really making that at the time we did this," says Paisley about the hand-sprayed nitrocellulose finish. This is a striking and beautiful variation compared with the more common and less flashy tobacco burst found on most J-45s. Add to that the multi-ply binding, double-ring rosette, tortoiseshell pickguard with the amoeba-shaped design that is Brad's namesake, and it's clear that is not your old man's J-45. The paisley pattern not only appears tastefully engraved at the bottom of the pickguard, but at the 12th fret in the fingerboard inlay.
In other respects as well, the Paisley J-45 balances the vintage vibe with more modern conveniences. Accommodating today's performer is the Fishman Ellipse Aura pickup system, tuned specifically for this model, with its controls tucked discreetly inside the soundhole. As a nod to the traditional player, the custom handmade nickel tuners are the open-back wormgear variety, capped with cream-colored buttons. These not only look really cool, but keep the headstock light and balanced. Speaking of things up top, Paisley's signed trussrod cover sits underneath the vintage-scripted Gibson logo and the scroll design displaying the words "Only a Gibson is good enough."
Playability and tone
Paisley was instrumental (if you'll pardon the expression) in specifying the way the guitar plays and sounds, and this shows in the neck's modified V profile, which makes the guitar play quite easily, either when banging out rhythm chords and open strings in lower positions or ripping out lickety-split fiddle-tune leads in the higher reaches of the fretboard.
The nut width is 1.625", which is a shade under Gibson's more standard 1.725" width. Combined with the neck shape, the slightly narrower fingerboard yields a feel that seems a tad smaller, reminiscent of 1960s Gibsons. Of course, this makes it easier to wrap your left hand around the neck, too, which is significant if you have don't have large hands to begin with (for men or women) or if you just like that narrower, more-electric type of neck feel. It's great for those long gigs pounding out rhythm guitar parts!
In rhythm mode, the sound is tight and punchy in the bottom end with plenty of singing clarity up top. Whereas many large acoustics feature an overly prominent bass, the J-45 proves why it is the unplugged guitar of choice for rock and country rhythm sections and recording sessions of all types: it has an aliveness and a certain aggressive quality that enables it to punch through, yet it never overrides the mix with uncontrollable boom.
Hit the J-45 hard, hit it soft, or somewhere in-between and the results are always balanced, even, and musically full. As Paisley notes, "On the records we'll use a Gibson when we're looking for that really great, jangly sound. A J-45 can be a great rhythm guitar. It's got character and what I would call an 'aggressiveness' that's different from something like a dreadnought, which you associate with a more specialized bluegrass thing. Gibsons are more of this really unique sound that goes with popular music from the '60s onward. You think of The Beatles playing those, and you think of some of their records and what they did. I always envisioned John Lennon in my mind standing there with one. And the way they beat out a rhythm part was really second to none."
The driving force
Paisley is clearly proud of the product he and Gibson have created together, and there's no doubting his utter sincerity when he offers this assessment: "The instrument is the vehicle. You are the driver. It's very important, if you're going to grow as a musician, that the tools you use are what you want them to be. And that's what Gibson has offered me here: a chance to have a consistent guitar that's absolutely world-class. I can write on it. I can record with it. I can play it every night on the road." And if you jump into the driver's seat of a Brad Paisley J-45—with its superb construction, classic tone, electrifying color, and perfect blend of the modern and vintage aesthetic—you'll be riding in high style.
Check out the Brad Paisley J-45 for a classic acoustic guitar that's been customized according to the superstar picker and songwriter's specifications.