1993 Gibson J-200 "100 Years of Gibson", as made famous by Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison, because it's only a few years after he gave a sunburst J-200 a memorable spin with The Travelling Wilburys. Really, anyone from Elvis Presley to Alex Turner could take the accolade. The "king of the flat-tops", built for guitar gods.
Man-caves. Not a new thing. 1894, Kalamazoo, Michigan. A man in his late thirties crafts a 10-string mandolin-guitar in his home workshop. Not the first mandolin. Not the first guitar. But the first to have a carved top, back and sides. A pivotal moment, now some 125 years ago, that sowed the seeds for a new sound and style of popular music that has dominated generations and genres ever since. He was Orville Gibson. He was a genius. And just to put that in context, it was another 55 years before the next eureka moment for the guitar - the first mass-production solid-body electrics, courtesy of that other famous founder, Leo Fender. OK, pick-ups came before that. Oh, and Les Paul had come up with a prototype solid-body in 1940 (which, ironically, Gibson at the time rejected) . . . but even so.
Funnily enough, Orville wasn't deemed quite such a safe pair of hands by the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd., the company to which he sold his name in 1902. Apparently he had visions and dreams that were considered eccentric. Which has an obvious answer: thank the stars for our troubled geniuses. Where would we be (or any guitarist be), without them?
All that history just to set the context for this beautiful J-200. 1994 marked the centenary of Orville's first mandolin-guitar. Gibson pulled out all the stops. Including the release of a very special Centennial Anniversary edition of 12 of their most famous acoustics, 1 model a month, limited to 100 each model. For the true collectors. The good news is they didn't stop all other production . . . and continued to build some of the finest acoustics they've ever made in larger quantities throughout the centenary year. This is one of them. Beautiful dark sunburst, mother-of-pearl inlay, and huge projection and tone. Picker or strummer, this one's got it covered. A massively versatile and very special part of the Gibson story.
An early example of an artist-designed guitar. The S J-200 was first released in 1937, after Ray Whitley, country singer and horse-riding, guitar-toting western film star, came to Gibson with a design for a big-bodied flat-top. Gibson liked it so much they put it into production. And with numerous design changes and reversions - not to mention periodic name changes from SJ-200 to J-200 and back - they haven't stopped since.
And musicians haven't stopped playing it since. From Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan, from Pete Townshend to Alex Turner, the J-200 in either Natural or Sunburst finish has never been out of the spotlight.
This one comes from Gibson's Bozeman, Montana plant. Opened in 1989, the Bozeman factory restored the reputation for hand-built quality and tone that Gibson had lost in the profit-seeking 80s. Today, many say that the Bozeman guitars are as good as, if not better than, the prized acoustics Gibson built in the 30s and 40s.
This one has everything you'd want from a J-200. That beautiful sunburst, the hand-inlaid mother-of-pearl crowns, the gold hardware, the characteristic moustache bridge and inlaid pickguard.
But it's got something else. Accelerated, if unintentional, ageing . . . Not content to be a 100-year anniversary guitar, it's gone the extra mile to actually look 100 years old. At some point in its lifetime, it's been left in an environment that's turned up the dials on extremities of damp and heat. No mint model, with all that heavy lacquer cracking (love the swirled crazing on the headstock!). Given some rejuvenation by the Doctor, John Armitage at the Guitar Hospital, it looks and feels like you're picking up a bit of fabled history.
Which in many ways is true. The tone and projection of this guitar is just amazing. Whether that's the quality of the original design and build, the effect of the accelerated ageing, or a mix of the two, this guitar just sings. An old man with the tonal range of a full-on choir. Which you'd hope for in a guitar that new today would set you back £4000 or more - and which you'd never get from that newly minted model. Has to be seen, played, and heard to be believed!
See & Hear It In Action
In the zone.
Hirer Roo Thunderbear in the recording studio with our J-200
Noel Gallagher rarely seen without a J-200, with High Flying Birds at The London Palladium, 9 May 2019
* With huge thanks to Laura Topper & Jason Salmon who organised this very special session with John, Ollie at Monster Studios in Brighton for the space & sound engineering, and Katariina Jarvinen at Light Trick Photography for the video.
Handle With Care, 1988: A few years before the centenary, but just to see a Sunburst J-200 in supergroup action, here with The Travelling Wilburys. Roy Orbison with the J-200, alongside George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. Bless them all.
Paul Weller, Saturns Pattern Acoustic Set, 2016 : For the brilliantly conceived NPR Tiny Desk sessions, the Modfather on J-200 and bandmates play tracks from Saturns Pattern, and the classic Out Of The Sinking.
And for an enthusiastic review of the J-200 100 Years, this is unbeatable: OK, the challenge for most will be the Japanese, but as clear a testament to the love and wonder and joy that transcends all languages as you will ever get!
Sources & Links
A Short History Of Gibson Acoustic Guitars: No need to read a book, here's a short and great piece on Gibson's acoustic guitar origins and evolution, thanks to Adam Beaumont at Six String Acoustic.
Gibson SJ-200: All the info you need if you're thinking of buying a brand new model, direct from Gibson . . . though you might be more in pocket to hire this one.
The Full Gibson Acoustic Centennial Range: Yes, this one isn't one of the Centennial 100 J-200s. But for eye-candy, this video from the Chicago Music Exchange takes some beating!
If you've hired this guitar, please do leave us feedback on the experience. We'd love to hear it and it will help us improve what we do for you and others into the future.