What do country music legends Gene Autry
, Lefty Frizzell
, and the Everly Brothers
all have in common? Answer: each played a Gibson SJ-200
, one of the most iconic acoustic guitars in Nashville’s—and Hollywood’s—storied history. Celebrating its 70th year, the instrument remains the standard by which other flat-top acoustics are measured.
Often called the “King of Flat-Top Guitars,” the first SJ-200s were produced in 1937 for “singing cowboys” Ray Whitley and Ray “Crash” Corrigan—both stars of TV and film. Each anxiously showed off his beautiful new acoustic to his cowboy pals, who subsequently formed a stampede to own the instrument. Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, and Eddy Arnold are just a few of the many prominent figures who quickly hopped aboard the SJ-200 wagon train.
From that auspicious beginning the SJ-200 made deep inroads into the classic pop and country music of the ’50s. With its decoratively carved Mustachio rosewood bridge, Mother of Pearl inlays, and multi-colored celluloid pickguard, the instrument was visually striking in addition to boasting a uniquely warm tone. Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly are among those for whom the SJ-200 became the acoustic guitar of choice during country-rock’s formative years.
The Acoustic Guitar played by John Rich in this Video is a Gibson Super 200
The SJ-200’s impact deepened even further in the ’60s and ’70s. Folk legends such as Dave Van Ronk and the Reverend Gary Davis plied their craft on SJ-200s, as did Americana forerunners Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. An SJ-200 devotee throughout her career, Harris has praised the instrument as “a thing of beauty, an American original—nothing else even comes close.” The revered acoustic can even be seen on a classic Harris album cover: 1979’s Blue Kentucky.
Fast forward to the present, and the SJ-200 shows no sign of losing its status among the renegade crowd. Country giants such as Brooks and Dunn, Gary Allan, and Clint Black all look to the SJ-200 as their main instrument. Moreover, Nashville composers such as Joe Diffie and Mark Collie—both regarded as songwriters' songwriters—pen their country gems on an SJ-200. Fittingly, the legendary acoustic continues to attract those artists most keenly attuned to country music’s richest traditions. Seventy years from now, that’s likely to still be the case.