From 1942 to ’45, the period known as the “banner era,” Gibson had emblazoned on their headstocks a yellow banner that reads, “Only a Gibson Is Good Enough.” This J-45’s decal has proudly stood the years.

Photo by Kate Koenig

The historic manufacturer hit the nail on the head when, in the early 1940s, they released the J-45—a model that’s graced the hands and recordings of Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, and many, many others. Here, eight musicians, luthiers, and historians shed light on its near-mythical status in the lineage of acoustic guitars.

Tom Crandall was the first person I met in the vintage-guitar industry, when I wrote a profile on him for Acoustic Guitar magazine back in early 2018. In mid February of that year, I visited his shop, TR Crandall Guitars—then in New York’s East Village, now on the Lower East Side—and spent three hours chatting with him about his work as a luthier and playing some of the instruments in his collection. (I had some unconfirmed flu symptoms, and, by so carelessly breathing in his general direction, passed the sick onto him right before he went on a trip to Mexico with his now-wife, Renée. Miraculously, he forgave me for this.)

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When Yasmin Williams plays her Timberline harp guitar, she uses her fretting hand to strike the low-resonating strings on the upper neck. They're tuned to open G.

Photo by Kim Atkins

An emerging star finds peace and inspiration in the world of 2020 and, with her unconventional style and instruments (including harp guitar and tap shoes), distills it into the beautiful instrumentals of Urban Driftwood, her second album.

Acoustic guitar fingerstylist Yasmin Williams had a wide breadth of musical influences growing up in Washington D.C. Everything from go-go funk to Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana to hip-hop inspired her to pick up an electric guitar, and that amalgamation of styles remains the bedrock of the music she makes. But it's how she translates it all through her acoustic guitar, kora, kalimba, and a pair of tap shoes that makes the 24-year-old's latest release, Urban Driftwood, so captivating.

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The brighter side of the mahogany equation.

Bold voice for a small-bodied, all-mahogany flattop. Great value. Excellent build quality.

Strong midrange could prove too strident for some.

$899 street

Godin Fairmount Composer QIT


I'm a big believer in the all-mahogany, small-body acoustic formula. In the studio, through a nice microphone and signal chain, a mahogany concert-, grand-concert-, or auditorium-sized guitar can make the sweetest sound you ever heard. And in a good fingerstylist's hands they can exhibit a lovely dynamic range—albeit usually within what you'd call the "mellow" spectrum.

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