Erik Bogaards - 07 / Aug / 2020

The Gibson J45 or the Martin D18?

Many customers ask us what they should buy: a D18 or a J45?

The Gibson J45 or the Martin D18?
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It's a bit like asking a guitar player, would you rather keep your left or right arm? Well, we would like to have both!


But we do understand that most people do not buy two of these world class acoustic guitars, so we do our best to try and help anyone faced with this dilemma. But as always with guitars, we must say: try for yourself. You can do so in our shop in Dedemsvaart, because we are open and we do our best to keep this classic dreadnought  and roundshoulder  in stock.




To want a guitar, it just has to catch your eye first. That may sound a bit superficial, but looks are very important. We know:  it is the inside that matters and all that, but we will get to playability, sound and all those things later. Let’s just face the outside first. A Martin D18  looks like a classic guitar should look: beautiful sitka spruce top, nice  vintage lacquer for a bit more character and a very recognizable Martin headstock. You could call it "plain", but it is so much more than that. It is just ‘right’, thanks to the beauty of simplicity making sure that this guitar will never ever get out of style.


Moving on to the Gibson J45. It starts at the top, with those curves on the headstock reminiscent of  an upper lip just about to give a kiss. A jet black headplate, that makes the Gibson logo pop,  very pronounced dots in the fretboard, beautiful round shoulders and then... that showstopping sunburst! *Sigh*. We have a winner!


Gibson: 1             vs             Martin: 0           




This is a bit precarious, because playability is very personal. One strummer swears by a slightly narrower neck, while the other fingerpicker prefers a slightly wider nut, to give the fingertips a bit more room. Small, or jumbo frets, a matte or smooth neck: there are just as many 'lovers' as  'haters' for all of these options.  But there is one decisive factor that we cannot ignore. The J45 has short  scale. This means that the neck is slightly shorter, hence creating a different distribution of the frets, bringing them slightly closer together.  This results in less acrobatics for your fretting hand. It also reduces  tension on the strings and that makes bends easier. Nine times out of ten, a short scale guitar is just easier to play.


Martin is aware of that and uses the same trick for a reason on smaller orchestra models, like the one for Eric Clapton.


But it is no longer standard for the D18. If you want to, you can order a short scale at the Martin Custom Shop. Want a Long Scale J45? This is also possible, through the Gibson Custom Shop.


But for the  'playability' component, the judges limited themselves to the 'standard' models, bringing the score to:  


Gibson: 2             vs            Martin: 0           




How a guitar feels also has a lot to do with the finish: are the frets nicely rounded and polished without sharp edges, is the action set up correctly,  do the tuning mechanisms work and does everything look and feel solid. It's no secret if we tell you that this is a bit of a thing with Gibson.  


On the internet you can read a lot of stories about poorly finished Gibsons.  We have to say, that in our experience, these criticisms are not entirely justified. Gibson is built in Bozeman, Montana at high altitude, on cold soil and in dry air. When such an instrument ends up in our cold, damp and low country, such a guitar will always swell up a bit. This will make the action a bit higher, but with a professional set up this is easily solved.  We set up every guitar that leaves our store for free and we'd love to see you back for an extra set up within a year.  Because almost all new and used guitars of all brands can use a nudge in the right direction. Because most, if not all, guitars continue to 'work', throughout their lifespan.  That is not a problem, it just requires a little extra attention from time to time to make sure they stay in shape. We offer this service  in house for all guitar brands.


Most Martins are built in the lower situated Nazareth and they also leave our shop only after a set up. But, thanks to the climate they have a slight edge over Gibson. A very slight edge.


Gibson: 2             vs            Martin: 1    




Both models have a mahogany body with a sitka top which makes them very similar in terms of sound. With the D18, Martin has set a standard that can be heard on hundreds of hits and is used in many studios to this day. Whether you want to play barky bluegrass, strum some nice chords by a campfire or play fingerpicking: on a Martin D18 it all sounds fantastic. A D18 will give you volume, without sounding overly loud or annoying . And the best gift for anyone who buys a D18 comes later: it will only  get better through the years. We are always amazed at how these guitars develop, when we see older models in our store. It really is an instrument for life.


All of the above you can also say about a Gibson J45. It is a real workhorse with which you can go in any musical direction. From the moment you buy it and for many, many years to come. It is a gift that will just keep on giving.


Are there no differences at all? Oh yes! Just watch and listen to this video by Iain Meadows



Both great! Difficult choice, really difficult…


The Gibson is the powerhouse in the middle, just slightly better for vocal accompaniment, because the bass and trebles do not compete with the voice at all. But if you want  bluegrass or fingerpicking, you will be tempted towards that thick, warm sound of  the Martin, which also sounds great when you just play chords and sing ….Aaarrrrgh! Impossible choice! But we must! Then we choose......


Martin, but only because you have to! With a torn musical soul, that gives us the score:


Gibson: 2             vs            Martin: 2           




Last but not  least: the price. This is easy:


Gibson J45 Standard Sunburst: 2599 euros


Martin D18: 2649 euros


There's a 50 euro difference between the two and a pre-installed LR Baggs pick up in the Gibson.  If you want to buy a D18 or J45 in our store and the price is a decisive difference, maybe we should talk about that over a cup of coffee.  So let’s call this a draw. This brings the final score to:


Gibson: 3             vs            Martin: 3           


Based on price, playability, finish, looks and sound, we cannot identify an obvious winner. Especially if you consider the number of available options. D18 with a sunburst? Yes, please!


 A very light sunburst on your J45? Why not?  Adirondack top instead of sitka for some  extra power? It is available an and much, much more.


Can you help us choose between a D18 and a J45? Let us know in the  comments or stop by Dedemsvaart and pass your own judgement on these two iconic guitars.


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