Personal Mythology, Personal Pathology, and the Gibson J200
When I was 8 years old, I was obsessed with the Everly Brothers. (This is how bad it got: I had two little monkey hand puppets with pompadours. I named them Don and Phil.) I mention this because it was the subconscious beginning of my obsession with the Gibson J-200.
A few words here about the J200. It is, beyond a doubt, the most beautiful, most iconic acoustic guitar of the 20th century. An American classic; big, flashy, striking, and unmistakeable.
The first time I remember being struck with the J200 was when I saw this picture on Eric Andersen’s album, “‘Bout Changes And Things”.Soon, I noted fotos of Dave Van Ronk, the great fingerstyle blues artist, playing a J200:I developed a great urge to own one of these guitars, especially if it was a sunburst. When I became enthralled with the masterful guitar playing of the Rev. Gary Davis, and subsequently found that his signature instrument was the J200, the mythological importance of this guitar grew in my mind.
It was the winter of 1970 when I finally wangled a deal, through a friend’s father, to purchase my first J200 at a big discount. We drove from Ohio to Long Island, NY, and took delivery of a brand new ’69 J200N (the N meaning “natural”…no sunburst…)
It was, indeed, a beautiful thing, and I was enthralled, but I soon realized that this guitar, built during one of Gibson’s worst eras, was a victory of form over function: It looked great, but did NOT sound great. I kept it for several years, and eventually sold it, opting for a smaller but better sounding Gurian guitar. And yet….the obsession never totally disappeared. Friends would give me Elvis memorabilia, thinking I was an Elvis fan, but, actually, I just coveted Elvis’s J200!
In the early ’90s, I traded my handmade Hoffman guitar to my old friend Chris Reitz for his ’50 J200…Still no sunburst… 8^(
Now THIS was, if not Gibson’s golden age, still a very good era for Gibson guitars. Surely, this one would meet my expectations. It was a thing of beauty, with the classic outlined pick guard and cut-out bridge:
I played this guitar for a few years. Never totally taken with the sound, but it just LOOKED so good!! Asked to do a radio interview about Martin Guitars, I played a student’s old small bodied Martin and compared it to my J200. When I heard the interview on the radio, I was appalled to hear that my big Gibson sounded like a cigar box compared to the rich, warm sounding tiny Martin. I ordered a Martin MC-28 and sold the Gibson. But the obsession never really went away. I discovered part of the reason when Jan and I rented a VHS tape (remember “VHS”?) on the Everly Brothers from a video store (remember “video stores”?) . This was the first image I saw:
So, every 10 years or so, I get a serious jones for a J200. In fact, I was pathologically surfing the internet for the past couple days, looking at various models on eBay, when I came across a reference to a pocket-size J200 built for Emmylou Harris, and dubbed an L200.
I became glassy-eyed and decided I was fated to own an L200. After all, I’d actually gotten to MEET Emmylou when we adopted Suki the Cattle Dog/Demon Dog from her wonderful rescue, Bonaparte’s Retreat.
AND, reviews said that the L200 LOOKED like a little J200, but had its own distinctive sound!! In a trance, I scoured the internet, and located an eBay link with only 30 minutes till expiration! I had to act FAST!!!! And it was a SUNBURST!!! How could I not buy it???
So, what happened next??? Could this little guitar finally meet my expectations? Well, I’ll report back when the package arrives. Life is short. If the fates want you to have a sunburst J200 (or maybe an L200), it’s pointless to resist. Stay tuned!!
Disclaimer: I own several fantastic sounding guitars, built by brilliant luthiers Mario Proulx, Ken & Virginia Miller, Rockbridge Guitars, and Chris Myers…but none of them look like a J200….this is my sickness, my personal pathology. I’m already holding a winning hand. I just WANT A GUITAR THAT LOOKS LIKE A J200, and maybe sounds half decent in the bargain….
NEWSFLASH UPDATE on December 9, ’13: Well, the L200 fell through…after ordering it, paying for it, even getting a tracking number, the seller wrote and confessed that the guitar was missing, either lost or stolen from his warehouse…I really don’t know what that was about, but he apologized profusely and refunded my payment immediately, so I’m thinkin’ it was an honest mistake.
Undaunted, I fell back on my second option, a ’91 J200 Junior:
This may end up being serendipity…it’s a “small jumbo”; halfway between the full size version and the Emmylou version, and it’s got rosewood back and sides, which I greatly prefer to maple…It’s supposed to arrive tomorrow, so we’ll just see what’s what then…stay tuned!!