For all the acceptance of Gibson acoustics as leaders in the field, you sometimes encounter a little confusion about the terminology behind some of the classic models. And it’s not entirely surprising, considering the Gibson company set much of the tangled terminology in motion itself back in the 1930s and ’40s by using names like “Jumbo,” “Super Jumbo,” and “Advanced” liberally to describe a range of different designs. Let’s try to unpick the knot a little and see if it all makes more sense.

Pete Townshend Playing A SJ-200

The main confusion seems to lie in the fact that, on hearing the term “Jumbo,” many players picture the seminal SJ-200, the groundbreaking curvaceous flat-top introduced in 1938, which had the largest body width of its day at 17" across its circular lower bout. Correctly speaking, however, this is the Super Jumbo, and was originally dubbed the Super Jumbo 200, later abbreviated to SJ-200. When first used all on its lonesome, the name “Jumbo” actually referred to a large-bodied, round-shouldered flat-top introduced a few years before, in 1934, which had echoed the shape of an even earlier model, Gibson’s large HG Hawaiian guitar of 1929. A few years down the road, this formative Jumbo style would evolve into the guitars more commonly referred to as “Round Shoulder Dreadnoughts,” a shape represented today by acoustics such as the Legends Series 1942 J-45, the Southern Jumbo True Vintage, the J-50 Modern Classic, and others. With its 16" lower bout, the Jumbo of the 1930s was king of the flat-tops, and—as its descendents are now—was the first choice of many performers seeking deep, rich tones and impressive volume from a dreadnought-styled guitar.

To make the distinction easier for players today, Gibson tends to refer to guitars in this camp as “Round Shoulder Dreadnoughts”, while describing their Jumbo lineage in the specifications for each individual model. Admittedly, though, the company didn’t do much to clarify matters back when many of these designs were originated. Upon ramping up production again after WWII, Gibson changed the SJ-200’s name to simply J-200, implying that it should now be called Jumbo 200—although its distinctive circular shape and 17" body remained—and soon after introduced the slightly smaller J-185, which originally had the 16" width of the largest round-shouldered Jumbos but in the shape of its big brother the J-200. Meanwhile, Gibson also tagged the term “Advanced” to certain model names to describe a range of different alterations to a predecessor in the line. For example, Advanced archtops of the prewar era were boasting of their enlarged bodies, while the Advanced Jumbo of 1938 (a round shoulder dreadnought) was declaring its use of alternate woods, in this case rosewood back and sides in place of the mahogany of its sibling the J-35.

If you check out the stellar line of acoustics made today in Gibson’s Bozeman, Montana, factory you’ll see a lot has been done to clear up the confusion: models in the Jumbo camp (headed by the justifiably “Super” 200 model, now again called the SJ-200) have the distinctive circular lower bout and oval-shaped upper bout, while the very different models that mirror the more archaic “Jumbo” of the 1930s are classified as Round Shoulder Dreadnoughts (which further distinguishes them from a popular series of Square Shoulder Dreadnoughts).