If there’s an underdog of jumbo guitars, it’s the Gibson J-185. Its original production run was short-lived, lasting from 1951 to 1958, with fewer than 1,000 built. And while Gibson has continuously offered classics like the J-45, the company has only occasionally reissued the J-185.
But many players and collectors regard the J-185 as the choicest flattop guitar that Gibson has ever made. It’s not hard to understand what makes it so appealing. The spruce-and-maple-bodied instrument packs a punch with its 16-inch lower bout (slightly narrower than the 17-inch-wide flagship J-200) and deep body, and it looks sharp as well, with its parallelogram fingerboard inlays, a triple-bound soundboard, and an upside-down bridge studded with iron-cross inlays.
This particular 1956 example surfaced recently at Gryphon Stringed Instruments, in Palo Alto, California, and was priced at $11,350. It’s in excellent shape, with minor repairs and overspray; it still wears the original frets, pickguard, and Kluson tuners. The guitar’s blondeness (just 270 natural-finished models shipped in the ’50s) and the stunning figuring of its maple back and sides make it especially covetable.
Most important, though, this J-185 is said to have a stellar voice. Gryphon staff member Michael Simmons, a vintage-guitar expert, has played more than a few original J-185s and considers it the finest-sounding example he’s encountered.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.