Grace and Style: The Southern Jumbo
Here’s another “instrument profile” from Gibson…
It’s 1942, and although America has just entered World War II and all manufacturing efforts in the country will soon be dedicated to the cause, Gibson is still—for a time—manufacturing guitars. New on the blocks, although soon to be suspended for four years with the rest of guitar production, are a pair of trendsetting models that will prove surprisingly enduring: the J-45, and the new prince of the Jumbo line, the Southerner Jumbo, not to be confused with the “Super Jumbo” SJ-200.
Gibson’s original “Jumbo” line has been in existence since 1934. The name was originally applied to guitars that have come to be known in more familiar parlance as “round shoulder dreadnoughts.” While the more workmanlike J-45 has always been the better known of the pair (alongside its natural-finished sibling the J-50, introduced after the War), the Southerner Jumbo—later shortened to Southern Jumbo—was the upmarket alternative, a flat-top designed to embody the style, grace, and gentility of the region it was named for, and of the wealth of great music that was emanating from below the Mason-Dixon line.
Like the J-45, the Southerner Jumbo was born in 1942 with solid rosewood back and sides, but the model is more commonly known for the solid mahogany back and sides it carried when it reappeared in 1946. This is the incarnation embodied by the Southern Jumbo True Vintage, crafted in Bozeman, Montana, by Gibson’s lauded acoustic division. Other features of the model include the solid premium Sitka spruce top, 6-ply top binding and 4-ply back binding, nitrocellulose vintage sunburst finish, tortoise Southern Jumbo pickguard, split-parallelogram mother-of-pearl fingerboard position markers, and period banner headstock declaring “Only A Gibson Is Good Enough.”
Feel-wise, the soft-V neck profile and 1.725-inch nut width yield smooth and evocative post-War playability while, sound-wise, it’s a flat-top that really kicks out some sound, but with a sweet, balanced voice. The thin, radiused spruce top is supported by hand-scalloped braces which work toward optimum projection and volume, while also allowing great playing sensitivity, whether you attack the strings with pick or fingertips. Partnered with a hand-fit, tapered dovetail neck joint that transfers a maximum of resonant energy from that big mahogany neck to the body, the Southern Jumbo is crafted from all angles to get you heard in premier style.
Talk about pedigree—the legendary Hank Williams himself played a Southern Jumbo in the early 1950s (photographed in Walter Carter’s fine book Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon, with young side man Chet Atkins in the background—how’d you like to have been in the house for that gig?!). It was the pick of the litter for numerous country, pop, and rock and roll players who wanted something a little less flamboyant than the SJ-200 but still desired a top-flight big-bodied Gibson flat-top, and the Southern Jumbo has contributed to formative music for 65 years now. For something just a little more tame styling-wise, although equally toneful, there’s also the J-45 True Vintage, or check out Gibson’s limited versions of both, represented by the Woody Guthrie Southern Jumbo from the Signature Artist Series, and the 1942 J-45 from the Legends Series.