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.