Review: Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-45ME Acoustic/Electric Guitar — Video


The J-45 is one of the most successful and popular flattop guitar models of all-time.

From its introduction in 1942 through the Seventies, the J-45 was known as a “workhorse” guitar due to its affordable price and reliable performance, but as time progressed both vintage and new models, which are still produced today, became too expensive for the everyday working guitarist.

Epiphone’s new Masterbilt AJ-45ME brings the price of this beloved slope-shouldered dreadnought model back down to earth without compromising the quality, playability, and tone that have made the J-45 a favorite of both pros (like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Jeff Tweedy) and average Joes alike.


The basic features and construction of the Masterbilt AJ-45ME are identical to those of the classic J-45, including the solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, mahogany neck with 24.75-inch scale length, rosewood fretboard with 20 medium frets and pearloid dot inlays, and 16-inch wide slope-shouldered dreadnought body.

Vintage-style appointments include five-ply body binding, Grover Sta-Tite 18:1 tuners with nickel-plated butterbean buttons, and the “reverse belly” rosewood pin bridge. The Masterbilt also offers a few modern improvements, such as its SlimTaper D-shaped neck profile, compensated saddle, satin finish, and built-in electronics, which consist of a Shadow NanoFlex under-saddle pickup and Shadow Sonic Soundhole controls.


The Masterbilt AJ-45ME’s natural acoustic tone is rich, warm, and vibrant with similar personality to coveted vintage J-45 examples. While the J-45 is technically a dreadnought, its sound is much more balanced and bigger than what is generally accepted as the norm for dreadnought tone. The midrange is more predominant, the bass more focused, and the treble more bell-like and less “zingy.” The tone is also quite impressively complex for a guitar in this price range, with reverb-like resonance, smooth sustain, and assertive attack. As a result the AJ-45ME is a very versatile guitar that equally suited both for aggressively strummed rhythm playing and more nuanced fingerstyle performances.

The built-in Shadow pickup and electronics also perform well beyond the systems typically offered in the AJ-45ME’s price range. Acoustic purists will appreciate how the controls are hidden from view inside the soundhole, but they’ll especially love how warm and natural it sounds during occasions when an amplified boost is necessary. The bass and treble EQ controls, anti-feedback phase switch, and master volume controls provide players with the essentials literally at their fingertips.


• The solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, and mahogany neck with 24.75-inch scale are all faithful to the original classic J-45 design.

• Built-in Shadow electronics consisting of an under-saddle NanoFlex pickup and sound hole–mounted controls provides warm, natural amplified tone.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Although the original “workhorse” J-45 has become a pricey object of desire, Epiphone’s Masterbilt AJ-45ME puts that popular, beloved model back in the hands of the working musicians that it was designed for.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Chris Gill, Video by Paul Riario

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.