1965 Gibson-made Epiphone FT-45 Cortez Flattop Guitar

There are guitars that I'll pick up and play for a half-hour or so before working-on and think "that sounds pretty good!" -- but I know they have a lot more potential. This is one of those. It had this nice, mellow, woody vibe going on with its fretting-out board, worn-out strings, loose bracing, and peeling-off bridge, but after work it's turned into a guitar worthy of a mid-'50s LG-2. That's not surprising in one sense because this is basically an Epiphone-branded Gibson B-25 (the LG-2's renamed '60s successor), but it is surprising because the '60s guitars generally sound tubbier and warmer with scooped highs. This one is more mids-focused, punchy, and forward -- but has bite on the top and chunk on the bottom. It makes a great fingerpicker and a good, old-time-flavored flatpicker.

I picked this guitar up in trade, but I remember spying it on Reverb.com about half a year ago and thinking that it looked promising at the time. I like the Epiphone-branded, Gibson-made flattops from the '60s for a number of reasons -- one being that they're cheaper in the market, two being that they're identical guitars to Gibson models save the trim, and three being that they usually have thinner, '50s-shaped pickguards as opposed to the thicker, '60s types used on the Gibson-branded models.

Work included: fret reseating, a fret level/dress, cleats for the three "repaired" old top cracks, a bridge reglue, saddle recarve for proper compensation, and brace reglues to a couple of the finger braces and one of the main X braces on the top. After that it got a setup and cleaning and it now plays on-the-dot with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE action at the 12th fret, strung with 54w-12 gauges. The neck is straight and the truss works as it should.

Scale length: 24 5/8"
Nut width: 1 9/16"
String spacing at nut: 1 3/8"
String spacing at saddle: 2 1/16"
Lower bout width: 14 1/4"
Upper bout width: 11
Side depth at endpin: 4 3/8"
Weight: 4 lb, 0 oz
Top wood: solid spruce
Back/sides wood: solid mahogany
Neck wood: mahogany
Fretboard: rosewood
Neck shape: 12" radius to the board, mild-to-medium C-shape rear
Bridge: rosewood
Saddle: replacement bone

Condition notes: repaired old cracks (amateur fill-job on them, though) to the top, replacement bridge pins (ebony), replacement adjustable saddle (new bone, properly compensated) though original rosewood one is available, replacement pearl dots in bridge -- otherwise guitar is original. The finish has lots of marks and scuffs and scratches on the top but the back and sides are cleaner. It shows the usual weather-check/finish cracking that Gibsons tend to get throughout. The headstock has some finish flaked-off near its top and around its edges. There's a cute anarchy "A" inscribed between the tuners on the back of the headstock.

Interestingly, the Epiphone-branded FT-45 retained the '50s-style sunburst finish while Gibson used a cherry-red-sunburst finish on their Gibson-branded B-25s at the time.

I had to shave a most of the fretboard extension frets a bit to get the fret heights even overall. Gibsons tend to have a weird "kink" as they age from around the 10th fret to the 16th fret and you either have to remove material from the board or the frets to even it out a bit. Still, fret height is good and they're all leveled and dressed and play well.

The big cracks look worse than they are. All have been cleated and are stable.

The bridge is in good shape but has a shallow, hairline crack across the pinholes (very typical for this bridge design). When it came in, the bridge itself was actually just held-on by the original bolts hidden under the pearl dots. Gibson often sprayed finish and then bolted the bridge down with some glue -- as in the case of this one -- on top of that finish. That, obviously, doesn't work very well. When I reglue these, the whole base goes down with fresh wood to fresh wood and they'll then stay pat.

Here you can see just how proud that saddle is over the bridge. There's plenty of adjustment room down for a summer setup when the top swells from humidity.