New On the Bench Project: ‘Ugly Duckling’ ’40s Gibson J-35

1940s Gibson J35 acoustic guitar, close up

Jim's latest fixer upper is this well-loved J-35 from the '40s


This Gibson J-35 is from the 1940s. Mass St. Music co-owner and luthier Jim Baggett below discusses what he called the ‘Ugly Duckling’ and how he’s breathed new life into it. Check out all of our ‘On The Bench’ instruments here.

From Jim:

About six months ago, this not so pretty 1940s Gibson J-35 showed up at Mass St. Music. Frets were worn to the nubs and the top finish had been botched up with some pretty crude finish work and repairs.  I didn’t pay much attention to the guitar at first, but being a J-35 fan, I finally picked it up.  I was pleasantly surprised with the tone and realized that in spite of the cosmetics, the guitar was in pretty decent shape.

Bridge 1940s Gibson J-35

The toothy saddle here won't win any beauty contests...


bridge with saddle replaced

New saddle in place, lookin' good.

The original owner must have appreciated the tonal characteristic, as the play wear was all the way up the neck. I just recently refretted the guitar and replaced the deeply worn, but original saddle. The guitar has completely jumped back to life. I have decided to do nothing about the cosmetic appearance of the top. I may fill the open control knob hole in the top, but realizing that it has no effect on the tone, my current thought is to stick to my original objective of dealing only with the the guitar’s strengths, which are tone and playability. It has become like a comfortable pair of shoes.

front Gibson J-35

The Ugly Duckling 1940s Gibson J-35 'before' photo - new frets are in but saddle yet to be replaced.


Jim Baggett working on a vintage Gibson J-35

Jim at his bench working on the J-35


Headstock 1940s Gibson J-35

The homely headstock


Close up of hole in top of 1940s Gibson J-35

Formerly housed control knob, now just a hole.


New frets (close up) on Gibson J-35

The J-35 with some spanky new frets


Gibson J-35 1940s refretted and new saddle in place

Unmatchable tone and now great playability is restored.

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