Bard’s Guitar

The vintage-inspired Gibson Bob Dylan SJ-200 Player’s Edition boasts an outstanding voice

Even if Gibson’s Bob Dylan SJ-200 Player’s Edition hadn’t been designed in collaboration with the iconic singer-songwriter, it’d still be a special guitar. The instrument is deeply resonant and has a rather commanding voice—brawny and bright, but not overly so. Its thick, round bass notes are particularly impressive, and natural harmonics all about the neck, even the notoriously weak ones at the fourth and ninth frets, ring vividly and clearly.

Classic Designs

Gibson-sj200The SJ-200/J-200 has been Gibson’s premier flattop since its introduction, in 1937. (The J stands for jumbo and the S for super.) The model was called SJ-200 until the early 1950s, after which it was simply labeled J-200—possibly to distinguish it from Gibson’s dreadnought-sized Southern Jumbo line, a very different guitar with its own decorative style. Starting in the 1990s, reissues made with ornamentation closer to the earlier model were labeled SJ-200, and since then Gibson has produced both SJ-200 and J-200 models that are extremely similar, with only subtle cosmetic differences.

Players like Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, George Harrison, and Neil Young have favored this large-bodied guitar for its excellent presence onstage and in studios. Bob Dylan has owned a handful of Gibson jumbos, including one he purportedly received from Harrison, seen on the cover of Dylan’s 1969 album Nashville Skyline. And Dylan played a different SJ-200 when he performed acoustic numbers at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival’s Contemporary Songs Workshop (the same year as his infamous electric controversy). With its twin pickguards, that version is the inspiration for this new creation.

The Player’s Edition includes many of the same specs you’d find on a vintage example. As opposed to the Sitka spruce currently used on Gibson’s standard SJ-200, the soundboard is made from Adirondack spruce—the species found on most golden-era guitars, prized for its strength, stiffness, and tonal brilliance. The back and sides are made from AAA figured maple, and the set used on the review model is perfectly book-matched, with the flames running uninterruptedly across the back.

The guitar also sports the details historically found on a super jumbo: compound dovetail neck joint, adhered with hide glue; the distinctive, mustache-shaped rosewood bridge, inlaid with mother-of-pearl shapes; and an L-5-style scroll at the upper end of the fretboard. Nitpicking for sure, but it would have been nice for the neck to have been studded with vintage-correct tortoise side dots, rather than black dots.

Then there are the details unique to this signature edition. Silkscreened on the headstock is Dylan’s eye logo, whose meaning is still open to interpretation. The fretboard is embellished with what Gibson calls Bella Voce inlays, the floral shapes of which depart from the crown motifs on most jumbo examples vintage and new.

Top-Notch Build

The review model is beautifully built, to say the least. The handsome Vintage Sunburst finish, which appears not just on the soundboard but on the neck, back, and sides as well, is evenly applied, ranging in color from a rich, dark brown to a warm amber; the guitar’s clear coat of nitrocellulose lacquer is applied thinly and without any apparent flaws. The fretwork is impeccable, the nut and saddle are perfectly cut, and the guitar’s innards betray no sloppiness.

The Player’s Edition plays just as good as it looks and sounds. Its C-shaped neck profile is on the slim side, accommodating of barre chords and speedy runs alike. At 1.725 inches, the nut is a hint wider than Gibson’s standard of 1.6875 inches, giving the fretting fingers ample space while not discouraging the thumb-fretted chord shapes sometimes impossible on a wider nut.

It felt only natural to play Dylan fare on the Player’s Edition, and the guitar sounded so robust when I strummed the main chord progression to “Lay Lady Lay.” It also responded well to “Girl from the North Country,” both the version in G that Dylan recorded with Johnny Cash (on Nashville Skyline) and the earlier solo version, capoed at the third fret, from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In other words, the guitar works just as well for

Having recently heard the adventurous guitarist Nels Cline use a 1962 J-200 in a series of duets with the young jazz wizard Julian Lage, I also played through a few standards in a fake book, adding a little free improvisation as well. The guitar performed very well in this context, thanks to its evenness of tone, not to mention its detail and clarity—a sound that’s nicely preserved when the guitar, with its L.R. Baggs Anthem electronics system, is plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier.

At about $5,000 street, the Bob Dylan SJ-200 Player’s Edition might be a bargain relative to the Autographed Collector’s Edition, which costs twice as much, but it will no doubt have a limited audience. For those with the means, the instrument is an excellent choice for the performing or recording guitarist—and an absolute treat for the diehard Bob Dylan fan.

Contributing editorAdam Perlmuttertranscribes, arranges, and engraves music for numerous publications.

At a Glance:

Gibson Bob Dylan SJ-200 Player’s Edition

BODY

Adirondack spruce top with scalloped X bracing; AAA flamed maple back and sides; rosewood “mustache” bridge; custom Bob Dylan engraved pickguards; Vintage Sunburst finish (nitrocellulose lacquer)

NECK

Maple neck with rosewood stringer; rosewood fretboard; 25.5-inch scale length; 1.725-inch bone nut; gold Gotoh 15:1 tuners; Dylan eye logo on headstock; nitrocellulose lacquer finish

EXTRAS

Gibson light strings (.012–.053); L.R. Baggs Anthem electronics; certificate of authenticity; Custom Shop hard-shell case

PRICE

$6,448 list; $4,999 street.

Made in the United States. gibson.com.

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