From the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By James Volpe Rotondi
In recent decades, the soundport—a secondary, smaller soundhole on the upper bout or bass side—has been seen with increasing frequency on acoustic guitars of all styles and price points, from classicals by luthiers like Kenny Hill to fancy archtops by Linda Manzer to affordable flattops by Cort.
You wouldn’t expect to see a soundport on a Gibson, but the venerated guitar maker has a surprising history with this feature. Back in the early 1960s, the company’s then-president, Ted McCarty, is said to have designed a soundport for the popular J-45. And now Gibson has finally found a new home for the idea—redubbed the Player Port—in its new U.S.-made Generation Collection series of all-solid-wood acoustics, which includes models based on the J-45 slope-shouldered dreadnought, SJ-200 jumbo, small-bodied 00, and Songwriter dreadnought.
With the ported designs, Gibson has retitled these the G-45, G-200 EC, G-00, and G-Writer EC, respectively. All boast Sitka spruce tops, walnut back and sides, utile necks, scalloped X-bracing, and striped ebony fretboards, and all come in a natural satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish. The G-200 EC and G-Writer EC also ship standard with the L.R. Baggs Element Bronze undersaddle transducer pickup system. I got the chance to check out both the G-45 and the G-200 EC.
The idea behind a soundport is pretty simple, even if the physics of how it distributes sound may be a bit more challenging to explain. What you need to know is that a Player Port is a kind of personal monitor. After all, we’re terribly used to knowing that only people sitting in front of our guitar are really hearing the natural acoustic sound of the instrument faithfully, while we, the very ones writing and playing the stuff, are only getting a fraction of the frequency spectrum and volume that the guitar projects straight out of the soundhole. In other words, the main beneficiary of a soundport is you.
While my own experience with soundports is fairly limited, I can tell you that based on a few weeks playing and recording with the G-45 and G-200 EC, the Player Port does create a somewhat brighter, lusher, and more harmonically rich sound for the player than the similar models I compared it to without soundports.
Updating a Classic
The J-45 is generally celebrated for its powerful midrange presence, slightly dark overtones, and a tight low-end without too much boom. The G-45 follows that basic recipe, but the port sends more of those bronze top-end colors to your ears, and adds a certain air to the sound. A possible analogy might be the way an open-backed combo amp sounds when compared to a closed-back design; that is, the Generation G-45 sounds a bit more open than a typical J-45. You get that nice creamy midrange focus and that natural roll-off on the top, but without the boxiness of some J-45s.
Could this have something to do with the walnut back and sides? Sure, but the port is opening up those tonal characteristics in unexpected ways, too. I was, incidentally, a bit disappointed to find that the ring that seals the edges of the elliptical port is made of a kind of plastic—some other kind of material, another tonewood perhaps, would have been less of an aesthetic downer.
Still, the G-45 (not to be confused with the no-frills G-45 Standard and G-45 Studio models that Gibson released a few years ago, and since discontinued) has other features that make it a solid buy. I especially loved the 24.75-inch-scale neck’s Advance Response profile and found its shape, 16-inch radius, and heft to be immensely pleasing, both substantial enough for larger hands and supple enough for moving up and down the neck freely. In fact, it played considerably better than many traditional J-45s I’ve tried.
Flat Top Forensics
The G-200 shares most of the materials and many of the principles of the G-45. This thing would be loud even without the Player Port; with that auxiliary soundhole, it’s got some nice extra weight to the tone, and the sound spreads out in a way that you’re unlikely to hear with a traditional flattop. How cool to hear such full lows and low-mids—try palm-muting some acoustic rock riffs; wow!—balanced by an airy top that almost nods to Taylor territory. And again, along with that extra bit of dimension, natural reverb, and definition that the Player Port provides. Plus, the G-200’s Venetian cutaway allows you to easily access the highest frets.
With all that said, you’ll want to be born reasonably tall to play this guitar. Though the neck shape, scale, and radius are quite close to the G-45, the jumbo body and 25.5-inch scale length means operating this bad boy requires a little more physicality. The cowboy chord zone lives a little further from your shoulder, and the body’s lower bout stretches well past your right thigh. Depending on your height, the G-200, like any jumbo, is one you’ll want to hold and play before buying. (If that body style and sound is something you gravitate to, be aware that Gibson has also produced a J-200 Mini over the years, with much the same styling and tone in a smaller package.)
Like the G-Writer EC, the G-200 EC comes with a proprietary L.R. Baggs Element Bronze undersaddle pickup system, which, while not delivering quite the premium tone I’ve come to expect from Baggs’ Element Active and Element VTC pickups, is a solid choice that supports the G-200’s low-end, high-end detail, and string nuances admirably.
The Bottom Line
If there’s one area the Generation Collection feels like a letdown it would have to be the aesthetics. That natural satin finish is rather common, and the appointments are minimalist to say the least. Despite the arguably radical inclusion of the Player Port, these guitars just don’t boast a lot of attitude.
That said, the instruments are well-built, sound great, and play extremely well; even single-note shredding up the neck without a capo to bring the action down is absolutely doable. Do you really need a Player Port on your acoustic guitar? That’s going to be up to the settings you play in, how often you use your internal pickup system, and what extra bit of joy you want to glean from playing your guitar at home.
You know the vibe: working on that song late, letting your chin drop down so it’s right against the guitar’s top shoulder, truly feeling the hum and vibrations of this organic chunk of wood and steel as it reminds you of why you do this in the first place. The Gibson Generation Collection G-45 and G-200 will surely deliver even more of that delightful up-close experience directly to your ears.
BODY Slope-shouldered dreadnought; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; solid walnut back and sides; striped ebony bridge with Tusq saddle; satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
NECK 24.75″-scale utile with Advanced Response profile; striped ebony fretboard with 16″ radius and acrylic dot inlays; 20 frets; 1.73″ Tusq nut; satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
OTHER Coated phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053);gig bag; available left-handed
MADE IN USA
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Generation G-200 EC
BODY Cutaway jumbo; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; solid walnut back and sides; striped ebony bridge with Tusq saddle; satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
NECK 25.5″-scale utile with Advanced Response profile; striped ebony fretboard with 16″ radius and single bar inlays; 20 frets; 1.73″ Tusq nut; satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
OTHER Coated phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053);L.R. Baggs Element Bronze electronics; gig bag; available left-handed
MADE IN USA
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.