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Serial number A20043— a stately 1955 Gibson J-200 in natural finish.
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 outdo rival Western crooner Gene Autry and his fancy motherof- 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 archtop (the very earliest Super Jumbos were 16 7/8" wide). But unlike the L-5, with its maple back and sides, the original SJ-200 came standard with rosewood back and sides. Interestingly, two pre-war SJ-200s with maple back and sides are known to exist.
The guitar featured this month 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), a rosewood fretboard with “cloud” inlays (also changed from ebony in 1941), and a two-piece maple neck with a rosewood center strip. The top is spruce, while the back and sides are maple (this was changed from the original rosewood spec after 1946). This guitar’s elaborately engraved flower-andvine pickguard still has the stripe along its border, which disappeared from later versions by the middle of ’55.
According to the 1959 Gibson price list (the closest to ’55 in our archives), a new J-200N listed for $385. A brown Lifton hardshell case would have been an additional $52.50. The current value for a 1955 J-200N in excellent, all-original condition is $12,500.
1. The elaborately engraved pickguard still has the stripe along its border, which disappeared from later versions. 2. Though the original J-200s had rosewood back and sides, the spec changed to maple in 1946. 3. Our featured J-200 was built in Gibson’s Kalamazoo, Michigan, factory—the home of so many classic acoustic and electric models.
You’ll find a detailed history of J-200s and other Gibson acoustics in Gibson’s Fabulous Flat-Top Guitars by Eldon Whitford, David Vinopal, and Dan Erlewine; Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon by Walter Carter; and The Acoustic Guitar by Nick Freeth and Charles Alexander.
Those interested in singing cowboys should check out Douglas B. Green’s article in This Old Guitar: Making Music and Memories from Country to Jazz, Blues to Rock, edited by Margret Aldrich and Michael Dregni. Information on Gibson production can be found in Gibson Shipment Totals 1937-1979 by Larry Meiners.
Original price: $385 in 1959,
plus $52.50 for hardshell case
Current estimated market value: $12,500
Dave ’s Guitar Shop
Dave Rogers’ collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Dave’s Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601
Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.