Gibson J15 Review: Is It A Good Buy?

By Jodie Chiffey | Acoustic Guitars

In this Gibson J15 review we’ll find out what makes this acoustic guitar such a popular model.

Since its introduction in 2014, the Gibson J15 has been sneaking up through the acoustic guitar leader-board. Initially assumed to be a cheaper version of the J45, its individuality soon began to shine and it has a very loyal fan-base of its own. The combination of North American tonewoods gives a quite different sound – full and warm, easy to play, and with a phenomenal character.

In this review, we’ll have a look at the materials and make-up, the sound and the feel of this acoustic guitar. We’ll explore the pros and cons of this model and what the alternatives are. In addition, we’ll answer some key questions to help you to make the choice about whether it’s the right guitar for you.

Key specifications of Gibson J15

The Gibson J15 is a beautifully handcrafted solid-wood electro-acoustic guitar, made in Bozeman, Montana. It shares the same shape and size as the well renowned J45 but uses different materials, comes in at a different price, and has a different sound.

Find the main specifications for the Gibson J15 below.

Body Shape Jumbo
Body Material Top – Sitka Spruce,

Back and sides – American walnut

Neck 2 piece maple
Frets Standard
Pickup Under saddle LR Baggs Element
Warranty Lifetime for original purchaser
Our score 10/10
Latest price Click here to find the latest price.

Core features of Gibson J15

Let’s have a look at the size, shape, make-up, sound and reliability of this acoustic guitar, as well as some of the other features offered by this acoustic guitar.

Size and shape

The Gibson J15 is a full-sized dreadnought and has a 24 ¾” scale length. This is not a guitar for a child or small adult, who would be lost somewhere behind it. However, it’s size gives it the lavish sounds and abundant power and volume expected of a dreadnought.

The J15 has the characteristic round shoulders and voluptuous curvy shape one comes to anticipate from a Gibson dreadnought. The benefit of this is that it makes the guitar easy to hold in either a sitting or standing position. In addition, it has become an iconic simple design.

There are a couple of minor differences in shape between the J15 and J45, for example in the shape of the neck where the J45 uses Gibson’s Advanced Response and the J15 uses a slim taper, and the shape of the bridge: rectangle on a J15, and belly-up on a J45. In addition, the two use different tuners and pickups.

Sound

Clearly the crux of the deal – how does this guitar sound?

We think you will absolutely love the sound of the J15. The combination of spruce and walnut, with a maple neck provides warm tones and a welcoming feel. It provides the full sound you would expect from a dreadnought, allowing you to really get some volume, but you can get a lovely quiet sound too.

The resonance is awesome, with luxury in every chord and super clear string definition. This is a warm and soulful guitar. The tone spectrum is well balanced, providing a distinguished mid-range. There is a nice chime to the sound and a good amount of sustain. It’s a pleasant sound with a certain sweetness and intimacy to it.

The Gibson J15 comes into its own when strumming and flat-picking, but is fine for fingerstyle too. The guitar has wonderfully rich harmonies, making it a dream to record, and it doesn’t fight for attention alongside vocals.

While the J15 is generally cheaper than the J45, this has definitely not had a detrimental effect on the sound. Many players are actually preferring the ringing tones of the J15 to the J45.

Gibson J15

Other features

The manufacture of this guitar is second to none. Handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, the body of the guitar is made of Sitka Spruce and American walnut. The neck is 2-piece maple, also topped with walnut. Neck and body are joined with a traditional dovetail joint – structurally sound and allowing the vibration of the music to travel throughout the instrument.

The whole thing is held together with hide glue and traditional X-style scalloped bracing. In addition, you have the Abalone composite rosette, mother of pearl inlay dots on the fingerboard, and the guitar is bordered in a cream binding. A faux tortoise-shell pickguard and tusq saddle finish the look. We are talking about top-quality materials and exquisite craftsmanship.

The finish is hand-sprayed nitrocellulose lacquer, giving a warm and bright look that will improve further with age. You can get two types of finish – Walnut burst and Antique Natural, both finished to a clean sheen as you’d expect.

If you want to play at a gig, there’s an LR Baggs Element hidden away, picking up the melodious sounds of the guitar without being obtrusive. In this system there is a sleek transducer beneath the saddle, removing any unnecessary coupling between the pickup and the guitar. Even the volume knob is hidden away rather than being drilled through the side.

They have taken the best bits of the electronics, but not ruined the simple look of the guitar. The result is a natural sound with wonderful dynamics that you can use as a pure acoustic or plugged in for recording or performing.

Reliability

As the Gibson J15 is a fairly recent arrival on the market, it’s difficult to speak with much authority on its longevity. Like any other acoustic guitar, the Gibson J15 sound is likely to change slightly as it ages. The theory is that as the wood ages, it becomes more responsive and resonant, but in a good way.

In theory, as a hand-built, high-quality guitar from a well-known brand proud of their product, this guitar should last for several decades to come, provided it is looked after properly.

To take the best care of it, it’s important to keep the temperature and humidity relatively stable and to store it safely (with strings loosened) when you are not playing it. More on how to maintain an acoustic guitar and how to store your acoustic guitar.

Pros of Gibson J15

The Gibson J15 is a really popular development and comes with some wonderful features and great advantages. Here are the main plus points of this guitar:

Design

While a very slight departure from the traditional slope shoulders of the traditional Gibsons. This curvy shape and simple design make the Gibson J15 somewhat iconic, a classic in the making. The same simplicity of design that made the Mary Quant jersey dress or the Vitra Eames Lounge Chair such a revolution is here in the J15 in bucket-loads.

The choice of woods used for this guitar is also all very pleasing on the eye. The aesthetic delight of the beautiful American walnut on the rear and sides of the guitar, where the grain of the wood resembles rain running down the outside of a windowpane.

Fantastic sound

The exquisite overtone balance of the Gibson J15 provides a wonderful acoustic sound somewhere between the depth of a Martin and the modern sounds of a Taylor. Bright and dynamic, with a full spectrum of tones from the lofty mid range to a ringing bass exemplifying the classic Gibson tone. In addition, there is a clear string definition, allowing your melody to sing out.

Mini-tuners

Despite its large size, the Gibson J15 has a light and airy look exemplified by the slim neck and clear lines. This is taken one step further by the use of the precise Grover Mini Nickel tuners on the headstock.

Hard case

You can tell you’re buying a high-end guitar when it comes with a hard case as standard. These are brilliant for protecting your guitar from both the elements and from the occasional bump. While a bit heavier and more awkward to carry than a gig bag, they are much better at protecting your guitar.

Great feel

The curved shape of the Gibson J15 makes it comfortable to use whether you are standing or sitting, so whatever type of player you are, this guitar will feel great. They have also softened the fingerboard edge to make it fit comfortably in the player’s hand.

Cons of Gibson J15

While the Gibson J15 is up there with the very best acoustic guitars, especially at this price and it has been very difficult to find any cons to talk about, there are one or two things you might want to know about before you buy.

Rough bracing

A bit of the bracing inside the guitar is visible in the soundhole from your playing position. Sadly, this was left rough cut and unsanded – a little detail that makes a difference.

Size

As a full-sized dreadnought guitar, this wouldn’t be suitable for a child or smaller adult as they would have to stretch with both arms to get around the guitar, making playing awkward and uncomfortable. They would be better looking for a smaller sized guitar.

Are there any alternatives?

Martin D18

https://www.amazon.com/Martin-D-18-Natural/dp/B0002GU6KG/ref=psdc_11971261_t1_B079H4XPQ9?tag=guitarspace-20

Another excellent American-made guitar if you’ve got the budget for it. The Martin D18 has a Sitka Spruce top and mahogany back and sides for a well-balanced tone, warm bass, and clear treble. This is a traditional dreadnought design (Martin was the first creator of the dreadnought) with all the power you need with incredible volume and projection while maintaining a warm tone and versatility.

A modified oval neck profile with a high performance taper for ease of playing, and a smooth black ebony fingerboard.

This guitar is very popular with session musicians, perfect for both intermediate and advanced players. It sits well when combined with other musicians and vocals, neither overpowering nor getting lost, and can also really bring out the definition when picking in folk or bluegrass styles. It’s a real pleasure to play.

Another model in this vein is the Martin D28.

Gibson J45

We’ve already mentioned the Gibson J45 a few times. It’s like the big brother to the J15, was there first and wants you to know it. As the best-selling acoustic of all time, the Gibson J45 certainly has a pedigree. Since its introduction in 1934, this has been the workhorse of the music industry. The J45 is well balanced, with warm bass and super projection, a really dynamic guitar.

The main difference between the J45 and the J15 is materials. The J45 has mahogany back and sides rather than a walnut, and a mahogany and rosewood fingerboard. While originally a purely acoustic guitar, most modern J45s are electro-models with a pickup system fitted.

Really, J45 is the classic large acoustic Gibson. If you close your eyes and imagine what a Gibson looks like, most people will be picturing the J45.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the Gibson J15 be plugged in for gigging?

Yes. The Gibson J15 comes with an LR Baggs pickup system fitted. This system, unlike most guitar pickups that sit under the saddle, uses a transducer to track the movement of the soundboard. Therefore, instead of getting the brittle, lifeless sound that is so often the case with electro-acoustic guitars, you get a rich tone, truly reflecting the voice of your guitar.

Is there a left handed version of the Gibson J15?

Yes, you can get the J15 in left or right-handed versions.

Are there different finishes available on the Gibson J15?

Yes, you can get Antique Natural or Walnut Burst finishes. Some people really like the clean looks of the Antique Natural, which contrasts nicely with the teardrop faux-tortoiseshell pickguard and the walnut back and sides, while others love the look of the walnut burst finish on the front of their guitar.

What material are the nuts and saddle?

Along with the bridge pins, the nuts and saddle are made from precision engineered TUSQ. This material gives great transfer of vibration from the string to the sitka spruce top.

What size is the fingerboard of the Gibson J15?

The Gibson J15 has a 12” radius fingerboard made of walnut. This size allows for easy playing of a wide range of performance modes. There are 20 standard frets and mother of pearl inlay dots.

Does the Gibson J15 come with a case or gig bag?

Yes, the Gibson J15 comes with a hard-shell, black case with the Gibson logo on. It also comes with a Gibson Accessory kit. You can also buy a top up Gibson Guitar Care Kit containing metal cream, fretboard conditioner, finishing cream, polishing cloths and a nylon guitar strap.

Final thoughts – the Gibson J15 is a superb guitar in its price range, perfect for singer-songwriters and recording guitarists.

Given the popularity of the J45, the J15, with very similar shape and size, has a lot to live up to. Despite this, it really does stand out on its own merit.

The materials used for the Gibson J15 – the Sitka Spruce combined with the gorgeous American Walnut for the body and the maple for the neck – provide such a warm and welcoming sound that you’ll be itching to sit down and play. The lovely full bass response and bright but balanced tone make it a pleasure to listen to and it really does fit in with any ensemble.

Gibson J15 Review Opinion

A beautiful acoustic to play, the subtle and unobtrusive electronics mean that this guitar is just as at home in the recording studio and on stage as it is being quietly played at home.

There really are very few draw-backs to this guitar. As with any acoustic, you’ve got to play it to get the feel of it, but for an affordable price, you can step up with the big boys with this first-rate guitar.

Overall, the Gibson J15 is a super, hand-crafted, all-rounder guitar. Great volume, great sound for vocals, for recording and for harmonizing, and a really lovely feel.

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