Gibson J-185 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1951)

Gibson  J-185 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar  (1951)
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Item # 11311
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Gibson J-185 Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1951), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # A-8941, sunburst lacquer finish, flame maple back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, original brown hard shell case.

The original Gibson J-185 has gained a formidable reputation over the years as one of the absolute finest of all Kalamazoo-made flat-tops, and remains a unique design. To some players, this is one of the very best flat tops ever made. In production for only through the 1950s, this 16" narrow-waisted Jumbo model never established itself properly with players at the time but has garnered a splendid reputation in retrospect. This model represents Gibson's second attempt to create a less expensive guitar to complement the top-of-the-line "King of the Flat-tops" SJ-200, the first being the virtually dead-on-arrival SJ-100 of 1939-41.

This 1951 example is one of the earliest J-185s made. Only 66 sunburst examples were built during this introductory year, along with 11 in natural. All of these first-year 185s shipped within the last three months of 1951, this one around the beginning of November. This very early model feels slightly lighter in construction compared with later 1950s examples, though it's hard to see specific differences. This guitar is one of only 648 total sunburst J-185's built in the entire decade. The model suffered from the "Midline Blues"; most folks who could afford one went all out and bought a J-200, while the rest stuck with the familiar and more affordable J-45 family. The J-185 was discontinued by 1959, never really having established itself in the crowded flat-top market.

The J-185 is basically a plainer 16" wide version of the more flat-out "yee-haw" 17" J-200. The slightly smaller body retains the same narrow-waisted shape and materials but has considerably lighter construction, resulting in a handier, much more responsive guitar. The cosmetics are a bit plainer, but still make for a relatively fancy and impressive-looking instrument. This beauty has lovely flame maple back and straight-grained spruce top under a subtly shaded sunburst finish. The top and back are triple-bound and the tortoise celluloid pickguard is the same shape as the J-200 but thinner, and not ornamented with any engraving.

The medium/slim round-profile one-piece mahogany neck is topped with a bound rosewood fingerboard sporting Gibson's classic double parallelogram inlay. The unbound headstock has a crown inlay on the face and mounts the earliest pattern gold-plated Kluson Deluxe tuners with keystone buttons. A unique feature of the J-185 is pearl Maltese crosses inlaid on the wings of the "belly-up" rosewood bridge, an attractive if eccentric cosmetic touch reserved for this model alone.

Since the 1950s the J-185's sound and feel coupled with its relative rarity has made it the most sought-after of all post-war Gibson flat-tops. A few name players had one in the 1960s, notably blues legend Skip James at the end of his career. A different blues connection made them much desired among fingerstyle players: Reverend Gary Davis favored Gibson's J-200 during the 1960s, but many of his students and acolytes do not play with the same driving force. The lighter and more responsive J-185 is a preferred instrument among many who revere the Reverend's style. This is a superbly versatile guitar with an exceptionally smooth, rich, and expansive tone for a maple bodied instrument. This is one of those guitars that truly lives up to its considerable reputation, simply one of Gibson's greatest if originally underappreciated instruments.
Overall length is 41 in. (104.1 cm.), 16 1/16 in. (40.8 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 4 5/8 in. (11.7 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This is a lovely all original and great-playing 70+ year old example of this much-desired instrument, showing some wear and light repair but remaining a truly spectacular sounding guitar. The all-original lacquer finish has some dings, dents and scrapes, most notably on the top. There is an area of deep pick wear into the wood on the lower sound hole rim, the rest is superficial. The neck finish has a bit of clouding but only very minimal dings and dents.

The only crack repair is to a tiny split off the forward top edge of the pickguard. The original bridge is intact and unaltered, including the securing bolts under the pearl dots. Internally everything is original, including the untouched thin maple bridge plate. Several back braces have been cleanly reglued, as have the top and back center seams. There is a line of discreet diamond-shaped cleats under the top seam. The neck has been very cleanly reset, along with an excellent refret done some time ago so playability remains perfect.

The fingerboard shows a bit of older wear but the newer frets very little. This is simply a spectacular playing and sounding guitar. It excels at the sort of ragtime and fingerstyle blues picking the model is renowned for, but also is a superb straight rhythm instrument for everything from old-time through honky tonk sounds to Pete Townshend style rock flourishes. Several of our staff members have pronounced it the best Gibson flat top they have ever played, and we see a LOT of fine older Gibsons here. This first-generation J-185 is one guitar that absolutely lives up to its stellar reputation, complete in its original classic brown Gibson HSC. Overall Excellent - Condition.