Gibson take a fresh look at a 70-year-old design – David Mead can’t ignore the Jumbo in the room!
As the 1941 tag on this guitar might imply, this relative newcomer to the prestigious Gibson range takes a backwards glance to the golden era of acoustic guitar manufacture and bears a distinct yesteryear vibe in the process. Gibson’s most famous Super Jumbo is, of course, the SJ-200 – a veritable all singing all dancing model used by players like Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. The more humbly appointed SJ-100 fills the role of that guitar’s less glamorous cousin, but is possessed of a personality all its own…
Straight out of the box this guitar shrieks classic design at you in much the same way that a piece of art deco furniture would; its simple lines and modest appointments underlining its status as a plainer version of the SJ-200. It’s a whopper, to be sure; a lower bout measuring 425mm and a 535mm body length with a 119mm depth isn’t going to suit everyone. But with guitar bodies it’s often a case of size is everything, with super jumbo dimensions offering a huge sound. For the moment, though, we’ll let the SJ-100 sit quietly on my guitar stand whilst we consider the building materials used in this monster acoustic.
Underneath the top’s very sombre vintage sunburst there lurks a Sitka spruce top, neatly bookmatched with some attractive feathering to the grain pattern. The hand-applied nitrocellulose finish is perhaps not quite so shiny as some modern acrylics, but any lack of a mirror-like gleam only adds to the overall vintage vibe, in my opinion.
Sitting underneath the soundhole there’s what Gibson refer to as a “firestripe terraced pick guard” – a replica of those found on the original models dating from 1941. The shaping of the rosewood bridge is another nod to the past in that this particular design was only found on a few models dating from the period. So plenty to keep the purists happy down this end of the guitar, then!
Back and sides are made from mahogany, its grain pattern all but lost underneath the darkish finish but from what I can see from holding the guitar body up to a strong light source, everything here appears to be in order and neatly finished. While I mention the finish, I ought to tell you that this instrument is available in Antique Natural as well and personally I think I’d prefer that, but obviously that’s just my subjectivity coming in to play.
The dovetailed neck is mahogany, too, and it looks like a one-piece affair with a rounded C to D profile. From the back, the headstock looks like a larger version of those found on many of Gibson’s classic instruments like the Les Paul and ES-175 with added slivers of mahogany at either side where the tuners are fitted, forming the infamous “shield” appearance when viewed from the front. There, we find the older style Gibson logo amidst the unbound front face – very plain, but effective.
The SJ-100’s fingerboard is rosewood with mother of pearl position markers and a 12-inch radius, meaning that it feels all but flat under the fingertips.
There are a few modern touches in that the nut and bridge saddle are both made from Tusq as opposed to bone which would have almost certainly been used on the originals.
All this adds up to a guitar that is aimed straight at enthusiasts for the bygone age of Gibson acoustics. A true 1940s model would be silly money on the collectors’ market, but with this revisit it’s possible to acquire one for just a tad over £2k. So let’s find out what it sounds like…
Acoustically, the SJ-100 doesn’t deliver too many surprises. As you would expect with this particular body size, the sound is big, woody and with good bass projection. That’s not to say that there’s any muddiness involved in the tone – far from it. In fact, strummed chords reveal a good amount of clarity and separation. There’s a great deal of mellowness to the acoustic sound, too; playing any new instrument with a pick often brings out a bit of brittle harshness in the trebles, but not here. Instead there’s a richness to the sound that should improve with age. Fingerstyle blues works well – that clarity and separation really coming to the fore, firing up some true Delta spirit as it does so.
Another modern touch is that the SJ-100 comes with an LR Baggs Element pickup pre-installed. This particular device has the preamp attached to the jack plug socket and so there’s no need to cut away any wood to surface mount tone or volume controls: the 21st Century is thus hidden from view, keeping the vintage chic as authentic as possible.
Through an amplifier? Well, you know I mentioned Mr Gilmour earlier? If you’re at all familiar with the acoustic guitar sound from the live version of ‘Wish You Were Here’ then you’ve got a good idea what we’re dealing with! It’s fat, but rich and full – I must admit I had to be careful with the EQ as the midrange to bass frequencies are so prominent that feedback occasionally became an issue. Once I engaged my AER’s mid-range cut, everything was fine and dandy. So, if you were looking at live use, a good amplifier or at least a sound engineer you can trust would be an asset.
I like this guitar; it delivers exactly what it needs to with a great deal of class and style. Naturally, it’s a case of horses for courses as you wouldn’t necessarily go after a super jumbo if you had the sound of a parlour guitar in your head. But the SJ-100 would be exactly right for anyone who is chasing the vintage ideal without the need to seek a second mortgage and wants superior build quality and great tonal virtue from one of the most esteemed brands on the planet. David Mead
Model: 1941 SJ-100
Retail Price: £2149
Body Size: Super Jumbo
Made In: USA
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Tuners: Vintage white button
Nut Width: 44.5mm
Scale Length: 648mm
Onboard Electronics: LR Baggs Element
Strings Fitted: Gibson Light Gauge .012 – .052
Gig Bag/Case Included: Gibson hardshell
Pros: A blast from the past with 21st Century build quality
Cons: Overall size might not suit everyone…
Overall: A great sounding super jumbo from a great maker with a lot of character and oodles of vintage chic!
Contact Details: Gibson