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Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird: Which Acoustic-Electric Guitar Should You Get?

Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird: Which Acoustic-Electric Guitar Should You Get?

Gibson acoustics are some of the best guitars in the world, but finding the right model for your style of play from the brand’s vast portfolio can be tricky. Today I’ll compare two of the most popular acoustic-electric options: Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird.

What makes a flawless acoustic-electric guitar? For me, it’s a perfectly balanced combination of seamless playability, robust sound in both acoustic and amplified modes, and a stage-worthy design that immediately catches the eyes of any audience.

But how do you choose from two almost-perfect guitars, such as Gibson J-45 and Hummingbird, that seem to have it all? In this case, it’s all about the details, slight nuances of sound, and personal preferences.

My Bottom Line Up Front: Gibson J-45 is an excellent acoustic-electric guitar for players of all experience levels. However, its mellow sound is slightly on the quieter side, making it less distinguishable. If you’re looking for a superior guitar with an unmistakable presence, go for the iconic Hummingbird instead.

Main Differences Between Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird

The main differences between the Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird are:

  • Gibson J-45 has a sloped shoulder dreadnought body, whereas the Hummingbird has a square shoulder dreadnought shape.
  • Gibson J-45 has a tusq (Graph Tech) bone and saddle, whereas the Hummingbird has a bone nut and saddle.
  • Gibson J-45 has a mellow and woody tone, whereas Hummingbird produces a slightly clearer and crispier sound.
  • Gibson J-45 is more affordable, whereas Hummingbird is quite expensive.
  • Gibson J-45 has a slimmer neck suitable for smaller hands, whereas Hummingbird has a thicker neck.

Before discussing the guitars in detail, I’d like to clarify which models I am explicitly reviewing. To make my comparison objective, since J45 and Hummingbird are available in several configurations, I chose both in their Standard acoustic-electric versions.

Key Specifications

 

Gibson J45

Hummingbird

Body Shape sloped shoulder dreadnought square shoulder dreadnought
Body Material Sitka spruce top with a mahogany body Sitka spruce top with mahogany sides
Neck Mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, 24.75″ scale length, SlimTaper neck shape Mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, 24.75″ scale length, 50s rounded neck shape
Frets 20 frets, nut width: 1.725″ 20 frets, nut width: 1.75″
Electronics L.R. Baggs, under-saddle transducer, 1-band preamp EQ, phase feedback filter L.R. Baggs, under-saddle transducer, 2-band preamp EQ, no feedback filter
Tuning machine Grover Rotomatics with kidney buttons Grover Rotomatics with kidney buttons
Latest price See here for the latest price info. See here for the latest price info.

Exploring Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird features

Now let’s focus on each guitar separately, starting with the gorgeous Gibson J-45.

Gibson J-45

Gibson J-45

If you’re into guitars with great tradition and history, Gibson J-45 will undoubtedly impress you. This iconic guitar was first introduced in 1942 as a slightly updated replacement for the Great Depression era’s bestseller J-35.

It was promoted as a no-trills yet super-reliable “workhorse” of a guitar. In some regards, J-45 keeps up with this reputation even after many decades of adjustments and upgrades.

J-45 has been played by many notable musicians throughout the years, including Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and David Gilmour, so buying this instrument will introduce you to a great company.

Nevertheless, you should know certain things about this guitar before you buy it.

Key Features

  • Acoustic-electric guitar with L.R. Baggs VTC pickup
  • Mahogany SlimTaper neck and rosewood fingerboard
  • ​​Sitka spruce top with mahogany sides and back
  • Sloped shoulder dreadnought shape
  • Nickel-plated hardware
  • 1-band preamp EQ
  • It comes with a lifetime warranty
  • Made in the US

Size and Shape

Gibson J-45 Design

Gibson J-45 is a classical sloped shoulder dreadnought guitar (see our guide to dreadnought vs concert guitars). Although it was introduced as part of Gibson’s “jumbo” guitar line, it feels compact and offers great playability even for younger or small-handed players.

J-45 has Sitka spruce top and mahogany sides and back. It also has a mahogany neck in SlimTaper shape, which conveniently simplifies fast movement across the rosewood fretboard.

The guitar has a traditional hand-scalloped X spruce bracing which contributes to the instrument’s well-balanced vibrating sound.

Gibson J-45 is available as both a righthanded and lefthanded instrument. It comes with a lovely vintage sunburst finish, dark teardrop pickguard, and natural gloss.

The instrument has a 24.75″ scale length and 20 frets, and it comes with a hard case.

Sound

Gibson J-45 is famous for its warm, mellow, and somewhat woody tone. It is a good match for numerous genres, including folk-rock, blues rock, and classic rock ‘n’ roll. Its versatility, in the end, makes it suitable for almost any music style.

Due to its smaller body build, though, this guitar stays slightly behind in volume and general presence on the stage or in the mix. It is especially obvious in combination with other dominant instruments.

If this instrument should act as a lead guitar in your band, make sure to balance the sound and amplification really well. On the other hand, it is ideal for mixing into a broader blend and fully adequate for solo play, whether on a gig or in a private jam session.

Electronics

Since 2019, Gibson has equipped its J-45 Standard guitars with an L.R. Baggs VTC soundhole-mounted under-saddle transducer pickup. It comes with a discreet yet easy-to-find tone and volume buttons.

L.R.Baggs VTC is a top-quality electronics that will capture each note you play with clarity and accuracy. The amplified sound of J-45 is also taking advantage of the Phase feedback filter and 1-band preamp equalizer.

If you’re planning to use this model as a concert guitar (especially as a soloist), there’s a lot of potential just waiting to be discovered.

Reliability

Gibson J-45 Quality

Gibson guitars are some of the most reliable instruments on the market. Unlike the more affordable Epiphone alternatives (Epiphone as Gibson’s economic division makes its version of J-45 too), the original instruments are made in the US and boast top-quality craftsmanship.

But to name at least one (although rare) issue you might encounter with this guitar; it is known to have a relatively delicate neck prone to breaking when not transported or treated with the right amount of care.

In any case, Gibson offers a lifetime warranty on all of its new instruments, so you are well protected in case of any factory faults or material defects. Many renowned resellers also offer additional coverage on mechanical damage or theft at extra costs.

Gibson Hummingbird

gibson j75

First introduced in 1960, Gibson Hummingbird is considerably younger than J-45 but still old enough to be considered vintage by contemporary players. It attracts on its impressive design, fantastic bright sound, and incredible versatility.

While J-45 was promoted as a “workhorse,” Hummingbird was perceived as a luxurious instrument from the beginning. It was Gibson’s second most expensive instrument until the release of Dove in 1962.

Gibson Hummingbird’s quality was proven by some of the best musicians in the world. Notable Hummingbird players include Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, William Orbit, and Thom Yorke.

But is it the right instrument for you too?

Key Features

  • Acoustic-electric guitar with L.R. Baggs VTC pickup
  • Mahogany 50’s rounded neck and rosewood fingerboard
  • ​​Sitka spruce top with mahogany sides and back
  • Square shoulder dreadnought shape
  • Pickguard with ornamental design
  • 2-band preamp EQ
  • It comes with a lifetime warranty
  • Made in the US

Size and Shape

gibson hummingbird design

Like Gibson J-45, Hummingbird consists of Sitka spruce top and mahogany sides and back. This guitar also shares a classic hand-scalloped X spruce bracing with its competitor.

What makes the guitars different at first sight is their shape: While J-45 is a sloped-shoulder dreadnought, Hummingbird has square shoulders that make it appear considerably bigger and more robust.

This directly affects the instrument’s playability if you’re a small-handed player struggling with larger instruments. This feeling is reinforced by the robust 50’s-style round neck, which might not fit into a tiny palm too well, resulting in slower action on the fretboard.

Nevertheless, with some practice, I believe you’ll be able to develop a functional play technique with this guitar regardless of your proportions (I did!).

Besides that, If you’re looking for unique looks, Hummingbird is pretty much unbeatable in its category. This guitar will immediately catch your eye with its characteristic ornamental pickguard. You can choose between vintage cherry sunburst and antique natural finishes.

Again, you can also buy both lefthanded and righthanded versions of this instrument.

Sound

The Hummingbird’s distinguishable sound is affected by several factors. First, the bone saddle and nut give this instrument a perfectly articulated clear and crispy height, making the guitar a natural lead.

The Hummingbird’s large body is also responsible for the bold presence of this guitar and extra boomy volume. This is a great choice if you’re looking for an instrument that naturally stands out in the mix or on stage.

In my personal opinion, Hummingbird sounds particularly good with chords and excels in complex melodic compositions. If your music is guitar-dominated, Hummingbird will add a lot of character and ensure that every note will be heard and felt even in the back row.

Nevertheless, it might be a bit too sovereign and dominant for seamless blending in the mix. Also, if you’re playing in a band with multiple guitars, Hummingbird might overshadow the other instruments easily, so make sure to test them together for compatibility.

Electronics

Hummingbird works lovely as a standard acoustic guitar. Still, its main strength is in its superior electronics, which makes it, in my opinion, one of the most stage-ready acoustic-electric guitars you can get.

Although it is the same LR Baggs VTC under-saddle pickup with volume and tone controls that can be found on J-45, I believe it fits the crisp, fresh, bright tones of Hummingbird even better.

Compared to J-45, Hummingbird also has an improved preamp equalizer (2-band), but be prepared that the Standard version of the instrument lacks any feedback filter.

Nevertheless, I have never encountered any severe feedback issues with this fine-tuned instrument, so I doubt you will be missing the filter in practice.

Reliability

gibson hummingbird quality

Gibson Hummingbird sports the same quality and reliability as J-45 and other upper-range Gibson guitars. If you take proper care of this instrument, it should last a lifetime, and if it eventually doesn’t, you can take advantage of Gibson’s lifetime warranty.

Again, I suggest paying particular attention to the instrument’s neck, although Hummingbird (compared to J-45) has a relatively thick and robust neck that is not particularly prone to breaking.

Gibson J-45 vs Hummingbird – Pros and Cons

Gibson J-45

Gibson J-45

Pros

  • A sloped shoulder shape provides good playability
  • Thin neck for fast action even with smaller hands
  • A nice mellow sound that can perfectly blend with other instruments
  • Beautiful design and quality craftsmanship
  • Great electronics
  • Relatively affordable price

Cons

  • Lower volume
  • Not-so-distinguishable on-stage presence
  • Quite a delicate neck

Gibson Hummingbird

Gibson Hummingbird

Pros

  • Robust square shoulder design for powerful boomy volume
  • Beautiful design with ornamental pickguard
  • Bright and crispy sound, clearly distinguishable
  • First-class electronics
  • Iconic design
  • Versatility

Cons

  • Slightly harder to play due to its size and shape
  • It is an expensive instrument

Are there any alternatives?

Gibson has some other great acoustic-electric guitars too. Here are a few alternative models you should check if you’re not convinced about either of the two in my comparison.

Gibson J-15

Gibson J-15

Gibson J-15 is a lovely handcrafted solid-wood acoustic-electric guitar sharing the same shape and appearance as Gibson J-45. Nevertheless, this model is made of American walnut instead of mahogany and comes at a lower price.

The sound of the J-15 is also fairly similar to that produced by J-45: well-balanced with joyful heights, distinguished mid-range, and a nice sustain.

According to the experienced players, the difference between the two instruments is mainly their playability: J-15 slightly lacks the J-45’s finesse with its not-so-smooth neck and thicker pickguard. Still, this alternative is definitely worth consideration.

Learn more in our Gibson J-15 review.

Gibson Dove

Gibson Dove

If J-15 (above) is your perfect alternative to J-45, Gibson Dove will mostly speak to those looking for a substitution for Hummingbird. Both models share incredible tonal qualities and history: Dove was, for example, famously played by Elvis Presley, Tom Petty, or Billy Corgan.

This iconic instrument made of Sitka spruce top and flame maple back and sides looks just as good as it sounds. It has a slightly longer scale than Hummingbird (25.5 inches) and a three-piece maple neck, and it should suit even the pickiest players.

The main difference between the two is probably their price since Gibson Dove is even more expensive than Hummingbird. Check out our Gibson Dove vs. Hummingbird comparison for more details.

Gibson LG-2

Gibson LG-2

If you’re looking for a neat-sounding small-bodied acoustic-electric guitar, Gibson LG-2 might be the right instrument for you. Despite its smaller proportions, this lovely Sitka spruce top/mahogany body guitar produces a bold and self-confident sound.

Based on this instrument’s tonal characteristics and playability, LG-2 is ideal for blues and folk genres and traditional fingerstyle play. Played by Patty Griffin, Alex Turner, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, this guitar is no stranger to big stages either.

LG-2 also represents a slightly more affordable alternative to the other Gibson guitars I discuss in this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Does Gibson still make the Hummingbird?

Answer: Yes, Gibson Hummingbird guitars have been continuously produced ever since 1960. Although the instrument was updated and innovated over the years, it remains similar to its predecessor both in its appearance and sound.

Question: Is the Gibson J-45 only electric acoustic?

Answer: No, Gibson’s J-45 has been available in an acoustic-electric configuration only since 2019. Traditionally, this was a standard acoustic guitar model, and it is still available in a plain version without electronics.

Question: How can you tell a fake Gibson Hummingbird?

Answer: Knowing a fake Gibson guitar from the original is always easier in person than by looking at pictures in an online advertisement. If you doubt the originality of a guitar or the reliability of a reseller, don’t buy the instrument without seeing it with your own eyes.

Some of the signs suggesting that you might be dealing with a fake Hummingbird include improper dimensions, odd graphics of the brand’s logo, plastic wiring, and the absence of Gibson’s lifetime warranty inspection card.

Our Verdict: Gibson J-45 or Hummingbird?

Gibson J-45 is a classic, high-quality acoustic-electric instrument boasting all the constructional and tonal qualities you might expect from this iconic brand.

It has a lovely warm sound, top-of-the-class electronics, impressive history, and excellent playability. If you’re struggling with large guitars and massive thick necks, you will particularly appreciate J-45’s accessible fretboard and sloped proportions.

Nevertheless, compared to Hummingbird, J-45’s sound lacks the punchiness, crispiness, and volume you might desire if you’re looking for a truly distinguishable instrument.

Hummingbird might be a bit harder to tame at first due to its larger proportions, but I believe its unique appearance, sovereign sound, and strong on-stage presence is worth the efforts as well as the extra costs.

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