Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Father's Old Gibson J45

Somewhere around 1973 or 1974 there was a man who went down to the music store in Paintsville, Kentucky (on old US 23) and bought a brand new Gibson J45. He then took the guitar home and attempted to hide it. You see his wife 'belonged' to a church that didn't believe in having musical instruments. Musical instruments were tools of the devil.

Somehow his wife discovered the guitar that very same evening. I don't know for sure about all the details of what happened. I was only about 10 or 11 years old and recalling what my dad had told us. But anyway, there was some argument and finally the woman slammed the guitar against the floor or maybe a couch. She then demanded that he get that tool of the devil out of her house immediately.

This guy was a friend of my dad and they saw each other that evening. The man told dad what had happened and dad bought a brand new fresh out of the store $750 Gibson guitar for $100. The side near the bottom and the back were busted up pretty good. Dad pressed it together as best he could and used wood glue to seal it up. It was a bit rough looking but it worked.

Just before dropping the J45 off at Gary Cotten's
What you see is actually the wood glue my father
used to press this together almost 40 years ago
That big old Gibson J45 was the first guitar I starting learning to play on. It was the first one I ever felt those sore stinging fingers on. It was dads guitar, but I was allowed to "play" with it whenever I wanted to. Back then there was no Internet from which to download tablature and I had access to very little other than maybe an old Mel Bay intro book. I had a lot of family members who were musicians but they all lived more than 200 miles away. My exposure to playing music actually happened in a small country church in Wayland, Kentucky. I would sit back behind the musicians and watch their fingers. No one could hear me back there but I could hear myself. It wasn't long before I was up there strumming and singing with them.

A few years later my dad was killed. I was 14 and some folks in the family decided to steal everything I had. Everything I owned vanished; all the toys, books, souvenirs, guns, fishing stuff... You know just the usual stuff a 14 year old boy has accumulated. Anyway, I mention that only to bring up the fact that at the time my dad was killed that old Gibson just happened to be at my mothers place. She had borrowed it. My mother gave me that guitar and a pick that had belonged to dad. That was well over 30 years ago and I still have that guitar and that pick. Until just recently they were among the very few things I had from my life before dads death.

When I was a teenager I was hitch hiking up and down the Eastern U.S. and many times I was carrying that Gibson with me. Over the years the guitar saw some heavy hard times. It was even taken to jail with me. I was sitting in my cell and I could hear the jailer and his buddies out there strumming on my old guitar.

Somewhere in there I loaned it to my mother and she had it for 2 or 3 years or so. During that time my baby brother was allowed to play with it and it laid around in the floor just like another toy. When I saw it there were no strings and one of the keys was missing. The finish was full of chips and scratches. When I saw it, it actually hurt my heart to see it like that. I put strings on it and found an old odd key (Bought it at the Big Furniture Store in Morehead, Ky which is now long gone) but it wouldn't play very well. The neck was bent, the busted wood dad had pressed together had separated and the bridge was coming loose.

Through all the hard times and the living that old Gibson wound up in some bad shape. It started right out by getting busted up on the day it was taken from the store and it went on to have a rough hard life.

About 15 years ago I took the guitar to a Luthier in Floyd County Ky and I was told that the guitar would be worth around $3500 if it were in good shape. He also told me that it would cost more than that to restore it to "mint" condition. Well, this guitar means more to me than money so I'm not really interested in how many dollar bills it might be worth. I didn't want it to be restored to mint, I only wanted it to be returned back to a playable condition, but that didn't happen for years, in fact it just happened this month!

You might notice a defect in the binding. That is
where the binding was broken and a small piece
was actually missing. Other than that the repair
is perfect. Gary even worked the finish to match
the rest of the guitar very well/
Last fall I met a Luthier from the Grayson, Kentucky area by the name of Gary Cotten. Last month I finally decided to get that Gibson out of the closet and get something done with it. I have been playing a cheapie for awhile and the thought of buying a good guitar started to try to wiggle its way into my head. I listened to it for a short time but then I decided I would much rather spend some money getting the Gibson fixed than to get a new instrument. I ran into Gary at RudyFest and talked to him about the thing. It wasn't long at all before I was sitting in Gary Cotten's Luthier shop discussing the details.

To make a long story just a little bit shorter Gary did an excellent job and I really mean that. You can hardly even tell that it was ever busted up and only then if you knew it. The action is nice and smooth from one end of the neck to the other. I can actually enjoy this old guitar again. Some of you may understand how much this means to me, it's more than words can say really. I plan to pass this box to my oldest daughter one day and perhaps she will pass it on to her son. I hope my children and grandchildren will appreciate and enjoy this old flat top as I have.

Thank you Gary Cotten! Now, I need to write a song about this old J45...

By the way everyone, Gary is a master Luthier. He builds custom made guitars, mandolins and banjos. He also does setup work and repairs. Gary also has no idea that I am writing this or talking about him here! Check out Gary Cotten Acoustics at

David Slone

Feel free to scroll down a bit and post a comment. Choose "anonymous" you can also put in your name if you like.

UPDATE - I just found the Gibson Acoustic Serialization Page: ) and according to the list of serial numbers this J45 was made in 1967. I'm not sure how that affects the "story" but it seems that when the guitar was bought in 73 or 74 that it could have been a used guitar. That or it had sat in a warehouse for some years.


  1. Being from a musical family and knowing about guitars and how some have "stories" about them; I would like to hear some of the stories that Ol' Willy's could tell..muahaa...This is very touching David. I do not think you will EVER regret this move/he did a GREAT job restoring it. Enjoyed your commentary very much..

  2. The guitar looks great ! Loved reading the story about the guitar. I am glad you have something of your fathers to pass on.

  3. Great story Dave, Gary sure does work magic.
    - Josh Cantrell

  4. Thanks for the comments. I am tryign to recall what the name of that music store was. If anyone knows and reads this let us know. It was a big store and was located near the Heart O Highlands motel. I think there is an indoor "junk" store in the building now.

  5. David, I read your story about your beloved Gibson and I can just see the old church in Wayland. I personally never set foot in the church, but I have seen the outside of it and I know that mom played her Gibson in that very church a time or two with Lorie and / or Darla for accompaniment. I haven't seen you in maybe about 46 years now, but I feel a little closer to you after reading your story. I inherited my mom's old gibson and I love that guitar because of the memories it brings to me from a happy past. It too isn't in great shape, but it is priceless to me.

  6. Hello Debbie, I remember your mom and her guitar very fondly. I really think that it was because of her that I wanted to play guitar in the first place. Most of the memories I have of her involve her singing and playing. Dena was a very special person to me and just like family.