Gibson J-200, ’55
Natural, Serial # A20043.
The “Singing Cowboy” phenomenon of the 1930s was the main inspiration for the “King of the Flattops”, Gibson’s J-200. Cowboy movie idol, Ray Whitley approached Gibson in 1937 about having a guitar designed to out-do rival western crooner Gene Autry’s fancy mother-of pearl adorned Martin D-45. The result was the prototype for the Super Jumbo (soon to be called SJ-200 due to its original $200 price).
The original Super Jumbos shared dimensions with Gibson’s 17” wide L-5 (the very earliest were 16 and 7/8” wide). Unlike on the L-5, rosewood back and sides were standard instead of maple (two maple pre-War SJ-200s are known to exist).
The guitar featured is one of 41 natural finished J-200s made in 1955 (the “S” had been dropped from the name by this time). This beautifully aged instrument has the characteristics typical of other J-200s from early 1955. It has the distinctive rosewood “moustache” bridge (changed from the original ebony in 1941), rosewood fingerboard with “cloud” inlays (also changed from ebony in 1941), and a two piece maple neck with rosewood center strip. The top is spruce, while the back and sides are maple (changed from the original rosewood spec after 1946). This guitar’s elaborately decorated flower and vine engraved pickguard still has the stripe along its border, which disappeared from later versions by the middle of ’55.
According the 1959 Gibson price list (the closest available in the DGS Archives), the list price of a New J-200N was $385. A brown Lifton hard shell case would have been an additional $52.50.