Acoustic guitar models rarely attain iconic status, but in the case of the Gibson J-200, that designation is well-deserved. Introduced in 1937, the ‘King of the Flat-Tops’ boasts a lineage of players unrivalled by any other acoustic six-string. Distinguished cosmetically, by its Moustache® bridge, tortoise pickguard and unique shape, the J-200 also projects a beautiful tone that’s made it a favorite for both studio work and live performance. Below are 10 noteworthy artists who’ve embraced the J-200 as their go-to guitar.
Page used a 1963 J-200 – which he “borrowed” from fellow guitarist Big Jim Sullivan – to record such classic Led Zeppelin tracks as “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Black Mountain Sides.” In 1977, he spoke with writer Steve Rosen about the instrument. “It was a beautiful guitar, really great,” Page said. “I've never found a guitar of that quality anywhere since. It had heavy gauge strings on it, but it just didn't seem to feel like it. I could play so easily on it, get a really thick sound.”
For years, the J-200 has been Chris Isaak’s main guitar for songwriting. Not surprisingly, when he recorded last year’s Sun Records tribute album, Beyond the Sun, he turned to his trusty J-200 to capture that distinctive “Sun” sound. “I’m playing that guitar on about 89 percent of the record,” he told Guitar World, adding that he’s owned his distinctive J-200 since the late ‘80s. “It’s a great guitar and I play it a lot.”
Bob Dylan effectively testified to the glories of the J-200 when he featured it prominently on the cover of his 1969 album, Nashville Skyline. Dylan played the instrument, which was a gift from George Harrison, on such classic songs as “Girl from the North Country” and “Lay Lady Lay.” Dylan famously performed with his J-200 at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, his first live appearance since his 1966 motorcycle accident.
The Everly Brothers
“Bye Bye Love,” “Bird Dog” and “Wake Up Little Suzie” are among the classic hits The Everly Brothers recorded using their J-200s. The Everlys’ love of J-200s was passed down to them by their father, who, along with his wife and his two gifted sons, had a family band and his own radio show. Beginning in 1962, Gibson produced a smaller version for the Everly Brothers based on the duo’s beloved J-200s. The instrument was distinguished by such features as an adjustable bridge, a smaller lower bout and a black finish.
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy famously alternates between two beautiful J-200s – one with the name “Buck” inscribed on the pickguard, and the other inscribed with “Bob.” Both guitars fulfill Tweedy’s exacting requirements when it comes to sound and tone, especially on-stage. “I think having a lower overall stage volume is key to getting [the best sound],” Tweedy told Acoustic Guitar, in March of 2012. “I want to be able to hear the room and hear something that sounds like an acoustic instrument.”
“From the Beginning” and “Lucky Man” are among the classic Emerson Lake & Palmer songs Greg Lake wrote and recorded using his trusty J-200. “I’ve played Gibson J-200s all my life,” Lake told Guitar Player, in 2011. “If you’re strumming, they sound deep and rich, and if you cross-pick, they possess a really delicate quality. It’s a fantastic, all-around rock singer’s guitar that’s worked successfully for everyone from Elvis to me.” In 2001, Gibson presented Lake with a custom-made J-200 featuring a heart-shaped sound hole.
The Beatles’ George Harrison was a huge J-200 fan and once he acquired his guitar of choice he made full use of it on The Beatles, a.k.a. “The White Album.” “For You Blue,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Long, Long, Long” and “Piggies” all feature Harrison playing one of his Gibson J-200s.
Aaron Lewis, of Staind, owns an amazing collection of Gibson guitars – both acoustic and electric. Among the most cherished of those instruments is a 1950 J-200. “That would be Angie Langford’s guitar,” he told Gibson.com, in 2010. “I don’t know who she was, but boy, she played the heck out of that guitar and her name is carved into the back of the headstock, so I can’t really clean it off. That’s one of the main acoustic guitars that I use when I play out on my solo shows. It’s an absolute unbelievable-sounding J-200.”
Emmylou Harris’s longstanding love of the J-200 began with a ‘60s model given to her by her late duet-partner, Gram Parsons. In 2002, Gibson designed a smaller version for her, dubbing it the L-200 Emmylou Harris Signature model. Harris has said, of the J-200, “It is simply a thing of beauty, an American original with its shape and appearance. Nothing else even comes close."
Much of Pete Townshend’s distinctive rhythm style – as evidenced on “Pinball Wizard,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and other Who classics – was forged on a J-200 he bought in 1968. Townshend used either that guitar, or a second J-200 purchased in 1979, on virtually every acoustic-based recording he made for the next two decades. Townshend’s original 1968 J-200 is currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Appetite whetted for J-200 information? Check out this Smörgåsbord of J-200 trivia.