Gibson's legendary J-200 acoustic has long been associated with the singing cowboys of the '40s and '50s, but in recent decades the instrument's most prominent player has been incomparable singing cowgirl Emmylou Harris. From her career beginnings in the mid-'70s, Harris has favored the J-200, calling the guitar "a thing of beauty." In late 2002, in the form of the L-200, Gibson designed the Emmylou Harris Signature version of the J-200.
"Robi Johns and Ren Ferguson of Gibson Acoustic in Bozeman, Montana, met with Emmylou and suggested a small-body guitar that she could write and travel with," says Mike Voltz, product manager for Gibson Acoustic. "For the original, they selected the LC-1—a model in current production—and then put all the signature art features of the J-200 onto that guitar. They added a smaller version of the signature J-200 moustache bridge, the J-200 binding, and the distinctive fingerboard inlays of the J-200. The guitar was first presented to Emmy at the Newport Folk Festival in 2003."
Flash forward five years, and the Emmylou Harris L-200 has just received its first substantial makeover. With Harris's blessing, Gibson has enhanced the L-200 by reshaping the body to more closely resemble the original J-200, while also updating the electronics.
"The new body-shape is exactly like a J-200, reduced by two inches," Voltz explains. "As a result of the new shape, the bridge is pulled more towards the center of the lower bout. That's an improved placement, given that the lower bout pumps like a speaker. The geometry and the physics of the new shape generate more sound.
"The other change involves the pickup system," Voltz continues. "Lloyd Baggs, owner of L.R. Baggs Pickups and a terrific designer, spent two days tweaking and adjusting his dual-source system until it was perfect for this guitar. The electronics reproduce the tone of the guitar—in amplified version—very faithfully."
No changes would have been made to the L-200 without approval from Emmylou Harris herself. Indeed, Harris's reverence for the Gibson J-200 is such that she was reticent, five years ago, to have a model crafted in her name.
"She was being modest," Voltz says. "She felt she might be pulling attention toward herself and away from this wonderful guitar. That's how much respect she has for the J-200. The truth is, we would have done anything for Emmylou."