Gibson J-15 Guitar – 2020 Review

Vlad
| Last Updated: December 29, 2020

When you say Gibson, Les Paul are the next two words that will come across anyone’s mind.

But, this company also has some decent acoustic guitar models in the premium tier, so let’s see how it stands against the competition.

Where are Gibson J-15s Made?

All Gibson J-15 are made in the United States - Bozeman, Montana to be more precise.

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Acoustic and electric guitar design
  • The J-15 special cutaway design for full sound
  • Advanced response neck profile and flat fingerboard radius
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews

PROS

  • Handcrafted model
  • Exceptional sound quality
  • Undersaddle electronics installed
  • Stripped down version, but still top quality features

CONS

  • Expensive model
  • Cutaway design would be welcomed

Gibson J-15 Specs 

List the specifications and dimensions of this product. Use bullet points.

Type of Guitar: Acoustic-Electric guitar 

Body Size and Type: Round shoulder body with a single cutaway

Number of Strings: 6-string nylon guitar

Tonewood: Sitka Spruce top and Walnut back and sides

Bracing pattern: Traditional hand-scalloped X

Orientation: Right handed

Neck Profile: 2-piece Maple neck with slim taper shape and 1.725 inches nut width

Fretboard: 20-fret Walnut fretboard 

Scale Length: 24.75 inches

Color: Natural Sunburst color

Pickup Type: L. R. Baggs undersaddle pickup 

Weight: 3.75 lbs

What Buyers Report 

As one may expect at this price, buyer’s expectations are quite high and professional and they all agree that Gibson didn’t disappoint them. Even those who are Martin fans agree that this model is an exceptional piece of gear and they find it the best choice if you’re interested in having a first premium Gibson model.

This is especially noticeable if you pay attention to the build quality and look at the wood pieces you’re getting or the grain details on the top. The neck feels really thin and quick while the pickguard is also described as one of the best they had the chance to use. 

They also appreciate the hand-made approach a lot. While all J-15 models will share the same sound quality, a hand-built approach will result in subtle differences so that you’re getting a unique instrument. But, in general, they most often describe the sound as deep and balanced. 

The only complaints we have found are addressed towards mini Grovers tuning machines and it’s more about aesthetics as they didn’t like the chrome layout. Luckily, spare parts are not so expensive and you will be able to change it on your own easily.

Pros

The following are some pros of this guitar:

Exceptional Sound Quality

With J-15, you’re getting that typical Gibson fat mid sound that many will describe as warm, mellow, and pleasant. On the other side, J-15 tonewood feels for fingerpicking as it has a lot of percussive & punchy flavor, so, in general, you’re getting a perfectly articulated instrument that can combine both of the worlds based on your skills.

The hand-scalloped X bracing pattern will result in having a more responsive body so you will have better dynamic control and will be able to pull out the same result with less effort. 

Stripped Down Version, But Still Top Quality Features

Those who are aware of Gibson acoustic guitars models know how good the J-45 sounds, but also know how expensive it is. J-15 seems to hit the sweet spot between being affordable without compromising all the important sound traits, so eventually, it may be as good as the premium model for your needs.

Handcrafted Model

Handcrafted production might be more expensive, but it’s always considered as the best choice for all kinds of guitars. The build quality of such a model is unprecedented and nothing can beat its quality control. In terms of sound, while they all share the same sound quality, every model has a slightly different sound so you can be sure that your specific instrument is unique.

Undersaddle Electronics Installed

Some users might find such electronics limited, but we find undersaddle pickup the best option for such a premium guitar. It’s somewhat expected that if you want to purchase a guitar such as J-15 you will probably have the rest of the outboard that would match its premium quality. 

And having the undersaddle pickup leaves the wood literally unchanged as the modifications done on the wood are minimal. They are discrete and almost invisible so they won’t harm the vintage look of your instrument.

Cons

However, it comes with some drawbacks, including:

Cutaway Design Would Be Welcomed

Cutaway design helps you to reach higher notes much easier. The part of the body from the bottom side is removed to allow you much better ergonomy and it’s such a shame to find that Gibson J-15 doesn’t come with such a feature since the sound and playability is so good.

Expensive Model

This is undoubtedly a premium model that works great in all situations. But, it would be a lie that it isn’t an expensive one. too.

Unless you’re a professional player it might be overkill for your purposes to have such an instrument.

What Are the Components of the Gibson J-15? 

Gibson J-15 is an acoustic-electric guitar instrument made of Walnut back and sides and Sitka Spruce top with multi-ply binding along with traditional hand-scalloped X bracing pattern. It also provides you with the teardrop pickguard and nickel hardware with Mini Grover Rotomatics tuning machines.

The neck is made of 2-piece Maple and it has a slim taper profile with a black or white truss rod cover. The bridge and fretboard are made from Walnut and the fingerboard comes with 20 standard sized frets on 24.75 inches scale length and 1.725 inches nut width.

What Strings Are Factory Installed on Gibson J-15?

Factory installed strings are Gibson 80/20 Bronze alloy strings. They are also known as light gauge Masterbuilt Premium 80/20. But, be also aware that this instrument may come with D’Addario EXP PB strings instead.

What Pickup is in a Gibson J-15?

Electronics are handled by L. R. Baggs Element, undersaddle pickup. This passive pickup doesn’t provide any tone control onboard except for volume control placed on the sound hole. It runs on a 9V battery and one charge should provide you with 1,000 working hours.

What Types of Music is the Gibson J-15 Best For?

Gibson J-15 sound is a bit more oriented towards modern music so it will go great for country, blues, pop, and all kinds of rock oriented music. 

You can play in solo lounge events, accompany a singer or yourself while singing, or perform with all kinds of full-sized electric bands without any additional equipment thanks to the undersaddle pickup, too.

And while it could be used for jazz and classical music, too, we feel that it has a very punchy sound that won’t be ideal for this type of music unless you apply some EQ on it first.

What Ages and Skill Levels is the Gibson J-15 Suitable For?

This guitar will work for all kinds of players as it’s marvelous and sounds professional. Newbies will love its walnut fretboard as it’s softer than regular Rosewood, for example.

But, truth to be told, if you check the price you can tell that this model is more oriented towards advanced semi-pro to professional players. This mode could be easily seen in professional studio recordings or mid to large venue performances regularly.

So, unless you want a single long-term investment, J-15 would be a real overkill for younger and less-experienced players out there.

What Makes the Gibson J-15 Stand Out From the Competition?

First of all, Gibson J-15 is a bit of an underdog in the acoustic guitar world. It’s not so familiar, like its predecessor J-45 and that’s a good thing because it provides you a lot of bang for the buck. Having a model that saves you some money without compromising the sound is much appreciated in this tier.

It is a model that will definitely make a difference to your performance and you’re going to love that “made in USA” handmade craftsmanship especially because of that dovetail neck-to-body joint and traditional scalloped X bracing pattern. 

Comparison Overview 

Let’s check how Gibson J-15 stands against other comparable models:

Gibson J-15 vs J-45

Gibson J-45 is an iconic model and simply put, it's a more expensive unit with a better pickup, and it’s the one that put Gibson on track in the world of acoustic guitars.

J-15 was released a bit later as a more affordable solution. They share the same body size, top tonewood, scale length, and have the same pickguard. But, there are differences - J-15 comes with Mini Grover Rotomatics tuners while J-45 has full-sized Grover tuners. Next J-15 has the laminated Maple neck while J-45 comes with all solid Mahogany.

The fretboard, back, and sides parts are made of Walnut for J-15 while J-45 has a Mahogany body and Rosewood fretboard.  

And most importantly as you would expect, the sound is also different. J-15 has a much brighter tone while J-45 produces a mellow and warm sound that some would describe as full. This is especially audible with strumming the full chords.

Gibson J-15 vs Martin D-16

Both guitars are about the same price so at this level you simply can’t go wrong whatever you choose. However, the overall impression about Gibson J-15 is that it is definitely a tad brighter than Martin and it feels a little bit more versatile. If we focus on tone quality, then Gibson has a slight lead over Martin mode.

So, if this is your first professional acoustic guitar perhaps Gibson will be a better solution, otherwise, Martin could fill in your sonic palette much better based on what you already have.

Gibson J-15 vs J-35

Gibson J-35 was made before J-15 and it was offered as a budget solution for those who couldn’t afford J-45. That’s why they actually share the same neck profile.

But, the main difference is hidden beneath the top - the J-35 bracing pattern uses Forward-shifted bracing which results in bass more freely top movement which eventually resonates with more bass and has a slight impact on the treble part of your sound.

That being said, J-15’s traditional hand-scalloped X bracing seems to be superior in every way and results in much fuller sound. But it is also more expensive. So, if you want to save some money J-35 could be a nice substitute. 

However, Gibson J-35 was discontinued in 2019 so you may have a tough time finding a new model on the market. 

Conclusion 

Gibson has done great work to provide an alternative model for its flagship line. J-15 could be considered as one of the best all-around professional acoustic-electric guitars on the market and a true showcase that you don’t have to go over 2 grands to get pro features.

People Also Ask

Now, let us cover some technical and trivia questions regarding J-15. We’re going to list the most famous artists performing on this guitar and cover the questions about tonewood, nut, strings, serial number, scale length, and overall afterthought impression about this specific model:

Who Plays a Gibson J-15?

We have noticed the next artists performing live with Gibson J-15 so far:

  • Chad Kroeger from Nickelback

  • AJR Brothers

  • Folk rock act Passenger and

  • Tyler Connolly, a frontman of the Canadian Theory of a Deadman (also known as TOAD).

Is the Gibson J-15 a Short Scale?

No, Gibson J-15 has a scale length of 24.75 inches. While such length is a bit shorter than the usual guitar scale, it’s not considered as a short scale. It also comes with 20 frets so even the fret size is pretty much regular.

Will My J-15 Gibson Support Medium Strings?

The Gibson J guitars are lightly built and you should be cautious using a heavier string gauge. We have found a couple of reports that confirm using medium strings on a budget J-35 model. But, we would advise you to try Curt Mangan PhosPhor Bronze Bluegrass Set first.

How Good is the Gibson J-15?

Gibson J-15 is considered to fill the gap between J-45 and J-35 models in both price and sound quality range. If you’re into modern music, we would dare to say that it’s good enough to be your only acoustic guitar in the arsenal.

How to Date a Gibson J-15

Take a look at the back of your headstock, you will notice an eight figure number. The formula for reading it is quite simple: YMMDDRRY

  • First Y - last digit of the year
  • MM - Month
  • DD - day of the month
  • RR - ranking number
  • Last Y - decade 

What Type of Bone Nut and Saddle For a Gibson J-15 Acoustic Guitar?

Gibson J-15 already has a nice nut and saddle setup. But if you would like to upgrade it at some point, consider Stew Mac unbleached bone saddle along with Bob Colosi bridge pins. It will provide you with deeper bass and better sustain.

The Walnut Stink From My New Gibson J-15 is Very Strong. Will it Get Less?

Of course. Gibson J-15 is a handmade instrument and this is the nature of such instruments. Some users wouldn’t even agree about the term “stink”. Anyway, as you play it the odor will wear off. If it’s too intense for you, perhaps you could put it outside to reduce the smell a little bit.

Does a Gibson J-15 Have All Solid Woods?

Yes, whole tonewood is made from solid wood. Top is made from Sitka Spruce with a Walnut Burst finish and the back and sides are made of Walnut with Gloss finish. The only laminated part is the neck and it’s made of Maple.

Vlad

I'm a 35-year-old rock-oriented professional musician from Belgrade, Serbia with 20 years of field experience in various areas of the music industry. After graduating from elementary music school I joined my first band Alogia in 2001 which had incredible initial success with the debut album and became one of the greatest Balkan heavy metal acts ever. We have recorded several studio and live albums and played as an opening act for Whitesnake, Apocalyptica, and Paul Di’Anno. Meanwhile, I got a chance to collaborate with Roland Planet shop and get familiar with various music equipment for more than a decade. For the last eight years, I have done live audio mixing for numerous bands and other live and studio events, including some TV audio mixing for national television broadcast as well. Currently, I’m playing keyboards for one of the most authentic Serbian music rock legends - Dr. Nele Karajlić, also known for his work with Zabranjeno Pušenje and No Smoking Orchestra.