Gibson. Just say the name. Then, say it again. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Of course it does. Gibson Guitars has been unrivaled in brand recognition, lest maybe Fender, for many many many years. The Gibson Les Paul is the most sought-after electric guitar in the world, known for its playability, stunning choice in woods and finishes, and killer authentic sound by players the world over. Their sub-brand Epiphone offers players an absolutely killer line of affordable instruments that will be sure to please for generations.
This article will help you best determine the right Gibson acoustic guitar for your needs. To better help you, please check out our interactive table below that allows you to compare some of the top Gibsion guitars available against one another.
Gibson: A Brief History
Okay, so this article is all about their acoustic line. Here is a bit about their acoustic guitar history. So, Gibson started out by perfecting the arch top guitar. Back in their hayday, Gibson was a well-known manufacturer of mandolins and eventually some killer banjos. Their first “flat top” acoustic was offered in 1910, sometimes referred to as the “Army Navy” guitar in that it was marketed toward off-shore servicemen during the Great War. From then, Gibson released the flop “L-1,” which was really a beginner’s acoustic at best. It was lackluster in playability and dependability, lacking appointments such as a truss rod. I know, gross.
Gibson got serious with the Nick Lucas signature model to appease the blues belters of the day. This offered more considerations in the realm of proper tone, size/depth and functionality. Fast forward to 1957 (the same year the company bought out Epiphone), and we have a series of flat tops that can finally rival the king of acoustics – I’m looking at you, C.F. Martin. These included sizes made famous by MGC, such as the unmistakable Dreadnought, 0, and 00 models. But Gibson offered a size of their own in their SJ-200. This axe had some serious curves, as well as some intricate inlay work that rival companies didn’t even really think to offer at the time. This guitar was a countryman’s guitar: Big, Bold and Beautiful with curves that aim to kill. Gibson finally became a serious contender in the acoustic country/folk/bluegrass arms race.
They didn’t stop at the SJ-200. The J-45 and J-50 made their debuts during WWII, a time when all guitar companies were forced to slow production of their instruments to aid in war efforts.
Buying a Gibson Acoustic
If you are reading this, chances are you already know; buying a Gibson Acoustic Guitar isn’t cheap. But again, that is the beauty of the company; many of Gibson’s well-known acoustics are offered in their Epiphone line of guitars. If you’ve read any of my other articles, you will find that these are very serious guitars indeed. But if you want to buy into Gibson’s line of acoustics and have the money, you will be investing in a real timepiece that will last you many lifetimes.
My recommendation whenever you are set to purchase a guitar in this price range is to test and play at your local music store. The fact of the matter is that each Gibson acoustic is handmade in Bozeman, Montana by a shop full of absolutely stellar craftsmen and women. They say that from the instrument’s time as a log to your eager hands, only 12 people have touched that guitar before you. Well, unless you purchase from a music store, but these bad boys should be kept well above even the tallest shoppers’ heads, or even behind glass.
As these instruments are hand-made, each one will sound totally different to each and every player.
The Gibson Lineup
Here is a list of what I look for in the ideal Gibson Acoustic Guitar:
Sound – In order to be worth the strain on my bank account, any guitar needs to sound stellar. This is only decided by playing darn-near every guitar in your local music store. I do not recommend buying sight unseen, or even based on a review article such as this. You really need to be sure of what it is exactly you are investing in. Being as these guitars are handmade, no two will sound alike!
Looks – I need to be excited to show this guitar to my parents and invite out to dinner. There’s no shame in admitting that looks count for more than just a little bit of something. Gibson acoustic guitars should look classic, whether it be a particularly decorated model or not. They should age well into vintage timepieces, but also fit your own personal taste.
Feel – Handmade guitars have a tendency to feel great to one player and horrible to the next. One person’s trash certainly is another’s treasure, and that goes double for any handmade instrument. What I may like you may hate, and vice-versa. Any guitar should feel easy and fun to play and hold, which may vary depending on your individual body type.
Setup and Action – While it may seem similar to Feel, how a guitar is setup will drastically change how it plays and frets. This is as skillful a part of assembling a guitar as any other step in the process. If you hear stringbuzz, stay away. If the strings are miles above the fretboard, call 911. You don’t want to take it home just to have it worsen over time.
Overall Value – You already know Gibson is the stuff of legend. However, that doesn’t determine it’s value; your appreciation of it is. Only buy a guitar if you absolutely, positively love it, whether it be $200 or $2,000.
Gibson Acoustic Guitars – The Lineup
Let’s begin with the Gibson SJ-100.
Gibson SJ-100 Walnut – $3,000
I get super, super excited whenever I see a guitar made with walnut. It’s on my favorite list of tone woods, as they are primarily sourced in the Northeast. New to my list since playing is granadillo, which was used in the construction of the fingerboard and bridge. This is a wood I was previously unacquainted with, and I hope to become more than friends with it. The “King of the Flattops” looks stunning under a sunburst finish. What I like even more is that Gibson didn’t touch the back and sides with this formula, allowing the walnut to show itself off in all its natural beauty.
Overall, I found the sound of the SJ to be very bassy. While this doesn’t fit my purposes as a finger stylist, flat-pickers and strummers will be in love with the tone of this guitar. Keep in mind that this certainly does feel like what its name suggests; it’s a gigantic guitar. As such, the sound obtained was all part of its design. I highly recommend this instrument to the aforementioned audience, as well as anyone shopping for a Gibson as a method of compare/contrast. Really, I recommend anyone look at this guitar who appreciates art.
Gibson LG-2 American Eagle – $1,900
This is a small-body Gibson that will appeal to the right owner. Featuring mahogany back and sides and a sitka spruce top, it’s got a classic tone wood combination true to its roots. Overall, the aesthetic design is simple and classic: dot position markers, belly-up bridge, nitro high-gloss finish. Gibson chose to build with premium tone woods with straight, even-grained sitka with some light figuring on the mahogany. Vintage-style oval tuners decorate the headstock on either side of a dull-gold Gibson logo.
The LG-2 is a unique instrument in the Gibson Acoustic lineup in that it isn’t a large-bodied guitar. It’s true to its roots as I’ve discussed in that it offers players a modest looking addition to their collection. It’s this simplicity that makes this an instant classic, sure to age beautifully in due time.
It plays like butter. The v-shape neck is easy to tack onto in any position. The action is to Gibson’s exact specifications: 4/64″ on the first string at the 12th fret, and 6/64″ for the sixth, which I find to work well with the neck. Single-string melodies sang out and worked well with the boom-chuck of the bass.
Included with purchase is the discrete L.R. Baggs pickup system. All tone controls are located just shy of the sound hole’s edge. I prefer this to the bulky systems that require cutting gigantic rectangles into the upper shoulder of the guitar. L.R. Baggs never disappoints and does little to dress the overall tone of the guitar when plugged in. Your Gibson will still sound like it should without the trauma necessitated by other electronics.
If you are looking for a Gibson acoustic with vintage styling and can live without a worn sunburst finish, this is the way to go. This guitar proves that Gibson can kill the game with smaller bodied acoustic instruments.
Gibson S-J200 – $3,800+
“Wow.” That’s what I gasped when I saw it hanging on the wall. And again when I held it. A little louder yet when I played it.
At first glance of any 200, you see a big, bold and beautiful acoustic guitar that makes you think, “why don’t all guitars look like this?” Gibson wanted to accentuate the upper and lower bouts when designing their J’s and SJ’s. This creates stark contrast with other famous styles, most notably the Dreadnought developed by C.F. Martin which features squarer shoulders and hips. This also translates into an instrument that feels incredible to hold and play. Ergonomically speaking, long-armed individuals will find it particularly comfortable to hold, as their strumming/picking arm sits higher on the lower bout. This means that the arm can remain much more relaxed, as well as ensure the forearm isn’t diminishing the natural vibrations in the top.
Are you a Sunburst lover? You should be. I played a brand-new 200 and could see it/us aging beautifully into two vintage lovebirds. The flamed maple back and sides looked incredible through the finish; you can tell Gibson’s best stock was used to make this instrument. Aged herringbone is used to bind the guitar together. Lastly, beautiful crown inlays are set for position markers and bridge bling. Way cool.
Again, you can expect the guitar to play like a dream. The neck was a tad more meaty than the LG-2, but again this is a meatier guitar. It felt as though all proportions were spot-on, and Fibonacci in execution. This guitar is made for flat-pickers, strummers, and singer/songwriter. The guitar sounds uniform from bass to treble without any harshness. One may fear that making a guitar this big will result in a “boxy,” bass-heavy sound, but it doesn’t. It would record beautifully in any studio setup. Where one may find fault with the 200 would be it’s lack of clarity for melodic lines. It won’t cut through any mix, but if dressed up via the included L.R. Baggs Anthem Tru-Mic, it can be EQ’d to do just about anything.
It’s a hefty guitar with a heftier price tag. Choose wisely. If it’s love at first strum, it’s an incredible value to cherish for generations.
Gibson J-29 – $2,400
If you are a fan of the classic combination of rosewood and spruce, the J-29 is your hero. The rosewood fingerboard brings the whole ensemble together in a very pleasing way. You’ll find the guitar to have a very unique shape to it with sloped shoulders and a dreadnaught-sized bottom end. It’s a proprietary design by Gibson, and it works well to deliver a unique product while still possessing these classic elements.
Much like the LG-2, this is a very clean-cut instrument. The rosette is a simple-yet-elegant WBW stripset, accentuated by the pickguard. I loved the feel of the neck, which includes a rounded-edge rosewood fretboard. It felt comfortable to fret complex bar-chords, as well as picking out melody lines.
As with many Gibson Acoustics, this includes an L.R. Baggs pickup system. However, I was not impressed with the plugged-in sound with this particular setup. This system utilizes an under-saddle transducer, which is essentially a ribbon placed under the saddle (located on the bridge). I almost always find that this setup results in a muffled, nearly electronic sound when played through a PA/amplifier. However, I found the guitar to sound very pleasant when played acoustically. If I were to own this guitar, I would consider using an external microphone when playing out, which carries it’s own headaches.
Gibson J-45 – $2,400+
“The Workhorse.” Gibson’s best-selling dreadnaught has been in production since 1942. It gives the Martin D-28 a run for its money, and it’s worth comparing the two for a quick minute.
First off, the 45 is a lot more decorated than the 28. The one I played featured trapezoid position markers, but I am also told it’s available with standard dot inlays (standard in all 28s). The 45 was composed of all-solid mahogany when originally designed, while the 28 was generally rosewood.
Today’s 28’s are true to origin and always classic looking. Depending on your favorite flavor, 45’s can come in all sorts of different color combinations. For instance, there will be a limited run of “Pelham Blue” and “God Top” color variations that impart a different look.
The model I played was impeccable in terms of finish. I could see myself in the finish – that is, if I wanted to, but I really just wanted to see the perfectly quarter sawn spruce under the tobacco sunburst. A look at the back shows straight-grained mahogany which blends beautifully with the sunburst. It’s an all-around stunning instrument; I can’t say I’ve seen a more flawless finish in all my years.
Sound-wise, I would easily compare it to a 28. I’ll simply state that you can expect a very similar sound between the two, particularly with a rosewood model. It’s expertly voiced in Montana to a perfect balance and harmony between bass and treble. I could do anything with this guitar, and it was a tough one to put down. It was the most comfortable to play on this list, and also the best sounding. As a percussive finger-stylist, I appreciated the harmonic response and never-ending sustain. This guitar takes the cake in all categories, and is much better priced than the J-200. It’s priced very similar to a Martin D-28, and I don’t believe that was unmistaken; it’s in direct competition with the most famous acoustic guitar ever built.
If you are in the market for a Gibson acoustic, chances are you’ve been a guitar player for quite a while. You know that you are investing in an instrument that you will one day be able to hand off to the next generation. I thoroughly enjoyed learning a lot more about the history of Gibson’s acoustic brand, and hope you did as well. I wish you the best of luck when playing and testing every single Gibson acoustic you can get your hands on. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your preference that counts. I hope this article serves you well in understanding some of the differences between each model, as well as informs you of their histories. Happy plucking.
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