Introduced in 1937, Gibson’s Super Jumbos radiated star power and quickly became the guitar of choice for those who wanted to be seen; adopters ranged from Gene Autry to Little Jimmy Dickens, Nashville Skyline-era Dylan to every-era Emmylou. And, of course, the King himself played the “King of Flat-Tops.”
But, SJs have not been consistently stellar guitars. Early ones were typically spectacular, while the Norlin-era examples usually weren’t. How does Gibson’s current flagship flat-top rate? Built in the company’s Bozeman shop, the modern SJ-200 is a step back in time, both in terms of quality and features. That big body is constructed of exquisite flamed-maple back and sides. The sitka-spruce top is supported by traditional hand-scalloped X-bracing. The finish is nitrocellulose in Antique Natural or Vintage Sunburst, harking back to the originals.
The two-piece maple neck with rosewood fretboard features a 12″ radius and 25.5″ scale length with 20 frets and a 1.72″ bone nut.
Beyond the sheer theater of the body, it’s the details that have always stood out – even eclipsing the performers’ Nudie suits.
The fretboard and headstock are inlaid with grandiose mother-of-pearl crowns – this is royalty, remember. The distinguishing four-bar moustache bridge is like jewelry alongside that engraved tortoise pickguard with its flowers and vines.
Strum the SJ-200 for the first time and the sonic power will even outshout the star power. This guitar is loud. The body is roughly 4.5″ thick at its deepest and 17″ across the lower bout. But its voice is not just sheer volume; it’s also full, big, and wide – sonically rich and clear from high to low, with lovely note articulation. With an SJ-200 in hand, you hardly need a bassist in your band – or a band, for that matter.
To make sure you’re heard, the SJ brings an under-saddle LR Baggs VTC pickup with Volume and Tone controls in the soundhole. It’s unseen, unobtrusive, and suitably fine-sounding.
All of this proves the value of a modern SJ-200, especially compared with prices for the best vintage models. And the new guitar’s only going to open up and sound better with time. Every guitarist deserves to one day play a song on a Gibson Super Jumbo. If you seek proof we live in a new golden age of lutherie, look no further.
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.