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 classic sunburst J200 look

The classic sunburst J200 look

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”.BoutChangesNThingsSoon, I noted fotos of Dave Van Ronk, the great fingerstyle blues artist, playing a J200:Dave Van Ronk Performing In NYI 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.

The Reverend, with one of the six J200 he owned over the years.

The Reverend, with one of the six J200s he owned over the years.

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!

ELVIS PRESLEYWhenever I’d see a foto of someone with a J200, I’d feel a little pang.

Emmylou Harris w/ her "Rose" J200

Emmylou Harris w/ her “Rose” 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:

1950 J200

1950 J200

j200-2

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:Everly-Brothers-bw_thumb1

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.

emmylou2-L200

Emmylou and the L200, both looking gorgeous.

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.

Suki the Dog w/Emmylou, her saviour.

Suki the Dog w/Emmylou, her saviour.

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???

Coming soon!!! L200!

Coming soon!!! L200!

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:

j200jrThis 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!!

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Posted on November 30, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I hope it is a good one. I’ve purchased 2 Goodalls and a PRS online and have not been disappointed

  2. Hey Rolly: Like you, I’ve always loved the Everly Brothers… beginning with theor brother harmonies which influenced me very deeply… and which I put into good use as the harmony guy in my old 60s group in South Africa, Mel, Mel & Julian.
    They toured South Africa in ’66, I saw their show and later met Phil at Johannesburg’s Troubadour coffeehouse, where he paid us lovely compliments, one of which I cherish: He said: “I like your voice a lot”, ’nuff said.
    Anyway, I too had a jones for a J-200 preferably black with twin pickguards like their matching instruments? But, alas, a friend had a blonde model like your’s which I too thought sounded lousy, but, who knows, maybe the smaller model might be a good idea one day.
    Wishing you much enjoyment with your’s.
    Mel

  3. I have total empathy here, Rolly. It’s a beautiful guitar, and totally iconic. My friend Tom Kimmel has a vintage J-200, killer looking, but he calls it “The Whispering Giant”, just doesn’t have the sound. My jones is for the Gibson O model from the early 20th Century. I think Big Bill Broonzy had one in a famous photo. Sunburst, with that curlicue like a Gibson F-4 mando, and a straight cutaway with a little curl on the end; I think it’s the most gorgeous guitar ever built. Have played several at Gruhns, and they all sound terrible, so I can’t bring myself to buy one, but still hope to find one that sounds good enough to be worth buying. Not expecting it to ever sound as good as an L-00, but will settle for less tone for the sake of the beauty.

    • Yeah, Jim, I know those “O” models, and the ones I’ve played have all been dogs…and not good dogs, like Shelby, et al, but lousy dogs…
      :^)
      It’s a shame that form and function don’t always go together. I have a friend who got a used, fairly recent L-130 that sounds really nice…not my fave look, but nice sounding. I’m hoping the L200 will be similar…we’ll see.

  4. I know what you mean, Rolly. Something about those burst 200s… I keep thinking of the cover of Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album. The early 50s ones have this deep, rumbly, woody sound that’s nearly shared by 50s J-45s and J-50s, but still deeper. Buzzy has a couple of early 50s burst 200s over at Lark Street – uh – not to further torture you … ;-[)
    -leecunningham

    • Hi, Lee,
      I always forget to check their site. You still work there? Of course, those two beautiful old J200’s are both outside of my price range, but very cheap compared to the ’38 OOO-45 he has there, which is even more attractive, since it probably sounds like $125K worth of guitar…

  5. Hi Rolly, I’m the same. I have that Eric Anderson album and when I first heard Gary Davis I was blown away and wanted one of those guitars. I eventually got one, like your first, from the bad period, from Donovan, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. Eventually sold it and even quit playing for about ten years or so before getting my hands on an AJ which I loved, followed by a trio of Martins, D35, D41 and now a 00028EC, a great guitar. Much prefer Martins these days. Good luck with the L200.
    Ernie Hawkins, of course, always plays J200s, with great success and style and skill!

    • Ernie inherited and cultivated the Rev’s heavy right hand, which is what it takes to pull some tone from those J200s. He has also lucked into a couple of Montana-built ones that sound really good…I’m hoping the L200 will be like that. I, OTOH, have had the good fortune to meet a few luthiers whose instruments meet my needs much better than any factory built guitars would, not that I wouldn’t like to have a 00028EC…
      :^)

  6. Yeah, boys and their toys! And just now you were contemplating on getting old!

  7. I have to say, every SJ 200 I have ever played has sounded like a bag of spanners. Impressive, boomy open low E string, but every other note on the board is weak, choked, and compressed sounding. They sound thumpy and squashed, and, when you dig in, only the volume of the pick attack increases, not the volume of the notes. Hummingbirds are only marginally better. To my ears, Gibson acoustics are just thumpy and compressed sounding, with poor sustain. I much prefer Martins, but don’t like paying that much, so I’ve opted for Sigmas. I always wanted an HD-28, but the price was prohibitive. I’ve got a Sigma DR-28H, and it’s as near as makes no difference, for less than a sixth of the price.

  8. its very beautiful…. i hope you can do more

  9. For an outstanding mix of price, quality construction, appearance, playability and satisfying sound, especially in an OM size, look into an Eatman. I went back and forth among several Martins, Breedloves, Taylors, and my Eastman. Had some hangups about wanting a Martin. FInally, a friend noted that if heard with my eyes, get one of the Martins, but if I heard with my ears, get the Eastman, hehe, Great way of making an obvious observation!

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