Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gibson SJ200 - J200 - L200 and J185 Everly Brothers Guitar

Throughout the history of the guitar, luthiers have been trying to coax more sound out of this wooden box with strings. In the middle ages European guitars were tiny and meant to be played quietly by elite young girls in a parlor or music room.






The first United States guitars were small "0" sized instrument, strung with gut string.  Because of their historical provenance these came to be known as parlor-guitars.

In the early 1930's, the modern guitar became larger and larger as it became a band instrument. Martin produced the first dreadnaught sized instrument.



Gibson was competing with Epiphone and Stromberg to produce a larger archtop guitar, which would better project the instruments voice over the horn and drum section.

Gibson's concept was similar for flat top guitars. The first models played by Nick Lucas and Robert Johnson were parlor sized Gibson instruments.  In an effort to compete with Martin, Gibson moved on to produce the slope shouldered J-50 model. But players wanted louder instruments. Gibson answered the call with the super jumbo model. The first instruments were the SJ-200.


The SJ-200 was a beautiful instrument, first produced in 1938 at Gibson's factory in Kalamazoo Michigan. It featured a 16 7/8" double braced red spruce flat top and rosewood back and sides. The top featured a red-sunburst finish. Nine years later the back and sides were changed to maple. Not many of these guitars were produced due first to the post depression ecomomy and later due to World War II's economy.


This was a top-end instrument with a big booming voice. It is highly prized. The SJ-200's from this era, made of rosewood are prized above newer models.


In 1948 the body depth was increased from 4 1/2" to 4 3/4".



In 1952 the bracing was changed to two X braces, scalloped and projected to the guitars front.



In 1955 the designation was changed from SJ-200 to J-200.  The back and sides were made of laminated maple.

In 1961 Gibson added an adjustable bridge and added a large wooden brace that ran under the bridge to the soundhole, which was screwed into the guitar's top.

The neck block extended to the distal edge of the fingerboard.


Perhaps this was done to make the guitar sturdier to decrease warranty work.  Who knows?  What it did was kill the guitars tone.



In 1963 the neck was changed to a 5 piece laminate.  This strengthed the neck.








One thing that sets this model apart is the distinguished mustache bridge.




It resembles an old fashion mustache, turned up on each end. It is made of rosewood. The bridge is highly decorative with mother of pearl or abalone and the strings are held in place by 6 bridge pins in a semi-cirular pattern ensconced by two mother of pearl dots.


The pickguard is also highly decorative with a distinguished cut. The 25.5" scale neck is bound and the fretboard has block mother-of-pearl markers that start at the first fret. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret with a dove-tail joint. The neck was topped with a bound headstock that had a crown inlay below the Gibson logo. The nut and saddle were made of bone.

The sound hole was encircled with dual rosettes.

Gibson changed the designation from SJ-200 to J-200 in later years. By 1963 the guitar was available with a natural top and maple back and sides that were finished in transparent red stain.

Later in the 1960's the guitar could be ordered with walnut back and sides. The line was discontinued in 1972 only to revived again by the companies new owners.

Gene Autry


The list of players who prefer the J-200 is very impressive. Ray Whitley, Emmylou Harris, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Gram Parsons, The Everly Brothers, Ike Everly (their father who was a wonderful fingerpicker) and Pete Townshend all play the Gibson J-200 Jumbo Acoustic Guitar.





Emmylou and Gram Parsons

Emmylou Harris’s love of Gibson Jumbo acoustics is well documented. She started her career singing duets with country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Parsons prefered the J-200 and owned a 1960s model.

Harris still owns this guitar and played it long after Parson's death.



Ms. Harris owns a number of J-200's, the most famous in my oppinion is her all black model with a rose on the body.

The other is her custom-painted pink J-200 which she used exclusively on her 1985 album, The Ballad Of Sally Rose. Infact, Harris’ career has been distinguished by her close association with Gibson.



In 2002 Gibson has designed a model for her based on the J-200 and named it the Gibson L-200 Emmylou Harris acoustic guitar. This guitar is smaller and thinner than the J-200 model and based on the Gibson CJ-165, only it retains all the fancy aspects of the J-200 model.

   Emmylou's L-200


Another model that sprang off from the J-200 was the Everly Brothers guitar.

Phil and Don both were playing J-200's throughout the 1950's when they got their start.


They had customized these with twin pickguards. Based on the Everlys' success Gibson offered them a guitar that would really stand out.


Gibson put together a guitar, which was actually based on the J-185, which was slightly smaller than the 200 model, it had a 16" body across the lower bout and had a plain rosewood bridge. The guitars were finished in glossy black and topped with two huge tortoise shell pickguards. The bound neck came with a rosewood fretboard that was topped with mother-of-pearl star inlays. The body was spruce and the back and sides maple. The neck was made of mahogany. These guitars really looked good against the brothers that typically wore black suits on stage. In 1963 the Everly model was offered in a natural finish with black pickguards.

The Everly guitar lasted from 1962-1972 before being discontinued until 1986 when it was renamed the J-180. In 1994 it was renamed The Everly Brothers Model.


The construction and quality of gibsons' SJ-200 and J-200 jumbo acoustic guitars during the 40s and early 50s are highly regarded and considered well made instruments.






The instruments from the mid 1950's and 60's are considered somewhat inferior due to Gibson's use of an adjustable bridge and laminated back and sides.

Gibson's current model for the most part has gone back to the original design, but feature gold rotomatic tuners instead of the ususal Waverly models. The guitar also comes equipped with a built-in Fishman Ellipse Aura electronics package.  The J-200 is a super instrument that is big, loud and sounds and looks beautiful.



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