Gibson J-45 PureVoice

Gibson's J-45 acoustic was first produced in the early 1940s, a time when America - and the world in general - was coping with the social and economic realities of war. As such the J-45 was a relatively austere model, with various cost-cutting features such as a sunburst finish (for concealing multi-piece tops) and basic dot inlays. But the model had a particular magic that players responded to, wartime budgetary considerations or not. The J-45 soon became a classic, and now you'll have a very hard time tracking down original versions that players want to part with.

The J-45 PureVoice Custom is a limited edition version of this much-desired guitar, and while it stays very much true to the original J-45 ethos, it incorporates one of the most finely-honed acoustic transducer systems available. The PureVoice A3 system, by Trance Audio, employs two triple-shielded 'acoustic lens' transducers under the bridge, and each is paired with its own preamplifier for optimal clarity and balance. This 'dual mono' approach involves using one transducer and preamp for the low E and A strings and another for the D, G, B and high E. It's powered by a 9 volt battery and it uses a regular mono guitar cable. The noise floor is > - 100dB while the dynamic range is ultra-wide at >100dB. Total harmonic distortion is < .006%. So it's a very high-performance system.

The controls are very simple: just knobs for volume and tone, hidden just inside the sound hole and easily accessible mid-strum yet hidden away just far enough out of reach that you're not going to bump it in the heat of the musical moment. Roll the volume toward the neck to increase the output level, and roll it back to reduce it. Similarly, when the tone control is towards the neck it's letting through the full amount of high end: roll it back towards the bridge and the high end is gradually reduced. There's a precision-engineered low-cut filter to remove the woofiest frequencies too. It's all geared towards presenting the natural tone and dynamic response of the guitar's own various interactions between the strings, bridge, top, frets and nut, but without the unpleasant 'quack' sound which plagues typical under-saddle piezo elements.

Trance's systems have found their way into guitars used by Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow, Beck, Aerosmith, Michael Hedges, Yusuf (Cat Stevens). Interestingly, without him knowing I was going to be testing this system, a professional tech friend happened to mention in passing recently that he'd been working with this system and was very impressed.

The manual recommends plugging the PureVoice A3 system into a mixer (acoustic amps can work too, but the manual does go out of its way to stress the benefits of a mixer, where you're given highly responsive tonal control and the ability to add parallel effects via a dedicated bus. So that's what I did. I compared it back and forth with my old acoustic with an under saddle piezo pickup, using a little stereo reverb on an effects bus.

What I immediately noticed about the PureVoice system was that the sound was present and direct, but even though the high end was clear, the treble was not brittle in any way. Typically I would have used a preamp or at the very least an EQ plug-in to take away some of the extreme high-end that manifests itself as a sort of white noise on my other acoustic. I didn't need to do that at all with the J-45. Have a listen to these two clips: they're completely unprocessed with the exception of the subtle reverb.

You'll hear a few points in both clips where I vary the dynamics to emphasize the ease with which the system. I even whack the strings pretty hard, and the sound becomes tough and tight but not quacky or brittle. Once again, this is recorded strait into the desk with no compression, EQ or limiting.

I especially liked the midrange content of the J-45. Many electro-acoustics seem to not really have much actual midrange content, and they rely on graphic or parametric EQs to add some in. But the midrange here is so vibrant and musical that there's no need for external EQ at all unless you're going for a specific sonic effect.

The J-45 PureVoice may take some getting used to for some players: specifically those who do most of their acoustic playing through an amp or mixing desk via regular piezo transducers. The dynamic range (and the way the system handles the high and low frequencies) is so much more like what you actually experience coming right off the guitar in an acoustic or mic'd environment than what you're probably used to from typical piezos. But of course that's what's so much fun about it: it uses sophisticated engineering to make itself sound like it's not using sophisticated engineering.

Available for a limited time at your local Gibson Acoustic Five Star Dealer or online at