Chances are when you think of Gibson, you think of one of their iconic solid-bodies in the hands of an iconic guitarist playing an iconic song. Jimmy Page, Les Paul, Stairway to Heaven; Angus Young, SG, Highway To Hell; you get the idea. Gibson's iconic solid-body guitars are built at the company's facility in Nashville, Tennesse. But the home of their acoustic range is located over 1000 miles northwest of the Memphis factory – in Bozeman Montana. Gibson's acoustics have also helped define modern music, from classic folk strummers to hard-rock ballads.
The Gibson Acoustic Models
There’s a chance you’ll recognise a Gibson acoustic when you see it – but what are the differences between them? let’s take a closer look at some of their most well-known acoustic models.
Widely regarded as one of the most recognisable acoustic guitars of all time, the Hummingbird is often given away by a burst finish, bright binding and a unique pickguard design featuring – you guessed it – a hummingbird.
When they were first introduced in the the ‘60s, they featured Mahogany back and sides, with a Sitka Spruce top. Since then, they’ve gone through several iterations and finishes, using everything from Maple to Koa. But for the most part, they remain Mahogany & Spruce guitars.
Alongside Martin’s D-28, it’s one of the most popular dreadnought acoustics available on the market, and has been for quite some time. Known for simultaneously boasting incredible projection and rich harmonic detail, it’s square-shouldered design is ideal for literally any musical style.
The SJ-200 (short for the Super Jumbo 200) was one of Gibson’s earliest flat-top guitars, introduced in 1937. Originally launched as the J-200, it boasted a much bigger, curvier body shape than other guitars on the market. This gave it a unique booming tonal character, and it took a bit of taming to play!
As with many Gibson acoustics (or guitars in general), it’s seen a number of design tweaks over the years, but its primary traits have remained the same. Maple back and sides give it a brightness and clarity, and Sitka Spruce allows warm sustain. The result is a balanced but weighty tone that suits hard hitters and strummers alike.
The J-45 was Gibson’s first foray into the dreadnought shape, and is considered to be Gibson’s most popular and widely-used acoustic. It offers a round-shoulder shape, as opposed to the Hummingbird’s square-shoulder. For many, this makes it a more comfortable playing experience but also takes away some of the top-end brightness. This results in a strummers dream! Perfect for singer-songwriters.
Notable for its subtle burst finish, warm low-end production and comfortable playability, it’s been used by countless artists across the spectrum. Introduced as a cheaper alternative to the J-200 in the 1940s, it used a similar combination of Mahogany and Sitka spruce – something that’s remained largely the same ever since.
The L-00 is the smallest of Gibson’s popular acoustic varieties. Originally developed in the 1930s, it offered something smaller and more affordable to a market that was suffering in the Great Depression. As was a popular choice at the time, it uses Mahogany for the body and Spruce for the top, and is often referred to as a Parlor (or Parlour) acoustic – not to be confused with Gibson’s Parlor model.
The smaller size meant Gibson were able to charge less for the guitar. It also meant it was perfectly suited for those on the move, performance on the streets or people with cramped living conditions. That appeal continues to this day; it remains one of their most compact acoustic guitars. It also meant that blues players could pick it up, travel, and drop their hat down and play.
Despite its small size and understated design, the L-00 offers a surprising amount of volume with a reasonable amount of low-end on tap. This makes it perfectly suited for contemporary and traditional playing styles alike! Finger pickers will appreciate its mid-range projection and singer-songwriters will find it's warm presence simply charming.
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t to be confused with the L-00, which many people class as a Parlor body shape. The Parlor is a particular model introduced in recent years to strike a balance between compact design and contemporary sound & feel.
It’s worth clarifying that despite its name, the Gibson Parlor does not use a Parlor body shape. It has a similarly small body, but is slim in depth with more pronounced curves. The aim is to squeeze as much volume as possible out of a relatively small body – and that it does!
The Songwriter was first introduced in 2003, following their dreadnought formula with a soft-shouldered design. It combines this classic dreadnought shape with Gibsons's time-honored bracing patterns of the 1930s. The result offers supreme tonal quality, most often featuring a beautiful Rosewood back and sides paired with a Sitka spruce top.
As with many of Gibson's modern acoustics, there are a few finishes to choose from, and sometimes you'll find 12-string, cutaway and left-handed versions of the Songwriter.
Gibson revealed the 'Generation' line of acoustics in 2019. These US-made acoustic guitars are aimed at the next generation of guitarists. At the time of writing, you've got the G-45 Studio and Standard models. These guitars combine the classic with the modern at a price point that won't break the bank - especially for a US-made instrument.
The G-45 models are hand-built in Gibson’s Bozeman, Montana factory using time-tested Gibson build techniques like hide-glued dovetail neck joints and domed top braces. They also feature slimmer body depths and J-45-inspired round shouldered profile, providing a comfortable take on the dreadnought design.
The G-45 range represents a new point of entry into Gibson acoustics and a new precedent for affordable quality.
The Best of the Rest
These are the honourable mentions. Behind Gibson’s flagship acoustic models are a number of lesser-known, unsung heroes, each with their own traits.
Introduced in the ‘60s as an alternative flat-top to the Hummingbird, it boasted a few design tweaks that set it apart. Maple was used for the back & sides rather than Mahogany, and Gibson opted for a longer scale length. This gave it a brighter tone with more midrange projection. In terms of aesthetics, the Dove features an unmistakable combination of natural and reddish finishes (on the top and back respectively), and a hand-carved pickguard with a Dove design.
The Avant-Garde Range
Gibson introduced the term Avant-Garde to their acoustic offerings in 2017, leaving many asking ‘what does Avant-Garde mean?’
Avant-Garde was essentially the new term for HP, or high-performance; Gibson acoustics built with cutting-edge design and modern playability in mind. These features include Richlite fingerboards, Advanced Response neck profiles and multi-piece neck designs – though not all of these features appear on every model.
The J-15 & J-35
As the name may suggest, these instruments feature very similar designs to the J-45. With tweaked woods (Walnut back & sides on the J-15) and binding/neck-profile tweaks (the J-35 has a round profile), they offer a different playing experience and aesthetic for those looking for an alternative to the norm.
Who plays Gibson Acoustics?
The Gibson acoustic guitar has become something of a musical icon. Since their pioneering days of the early-mid 20th Century, the brand has established itself as a key player and major influence on the music industry. Here's just a handful of notable Gibson acoustic players over the years:
- Johnny Cash – the Man in Black played a Gibson J-200 (an earlier version of the SJ-200) with a unique scratchplate and his own name for an inlay.
- John Lennon – Lennon’s prized J-160E acoustic played a part in writing some of their biggest hits. It was sold to an anonymous bidder in 2015 for a cool $2.4 million!
- Paul Weller – the Modfather himself is frequently seen brandishing a Gibson J-45 alongside a 12-string model.
- Robert Johnson – known as the King of the Delta Blues Singers, Johnson famously used a Gibson L-1 flat-top, a small-bodied acoustic produced in the ‘20s and ‘30s.
- Sheryl Crow – Crow is the proud owner of a 1962 Gibson Country Western, a dreadnought that’s proved popular among various artists over the years.
- Emmylou Harris – the legendary US singer-songwriter has used a number of Gibson Jumbo acoustics over the years. Most notable is her L-200, a smaller version of the SJ-200 with Maple construction.
- Elvis Presley – the King needs little introduction, but one of the constants in his illustrious career was his use of Gibson acoustics. He used a number of guitars, from Jumbo to Dreadnought, over the years.
- Bob Dylan – Dylan is often seen using his trusty SJ-200, a variation on which was later released as a signature model by Gibson.
Made in Bozeman, Montana
Gibson set the bar for flat-top acoustic guitars in the 1920s. Throughout the Great Depression, they honed their manufacturing techniques with the aim of producing world-class guitars that were within reach of the masses. Over the decades that followed, Gibson further cemented themselves as titans of the music industry, producing some of the world’s most iconic instruments.
Fast forward to the late ‘70s, and production techniques were tweaked to keep up with a changing industry and shifts in manufacture trends. These changes hit the company harder than they were expecting, with the momentum behind their acoustic business all but grinding to a halt.
It was in the early 1980s that, under new management, Gibson acquired a small mandolin manufacturing facility in Bozeman, Montana. It quickly became apparent that this was a golden opportunity to breathe new life into Gibson’s acoustic offerings. Combining the skilled mandolin luthiers with a newly trained team, the company set about producing their first handmade acoustics for almost a decade.
And as they say, the rest is history. The company employs more than 875 people between is Montana facility and the Memphis factory (the home of the hollow-bodies), and to this day, all of these instruments are lovingly crafted by hand.