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True Vintage and Modern Classic: The Preservation and Evolution of Gibson Acoustic Guitars

Dave Hunter

Thanks to the exacting standards and elevated achievements of Gibson’s acoustic guitar facility in Bozeman, Montana, Gibson acoustic models are today rated alongside the most esoteric “boutique” flat-tops of any small, low-production workshop in the country, or the world. Gibson truly is producing the finest acoustic guitars today that it has ever produced—a claim that few leading manufacturers are willing to make, and even fewer still are able to back up.

Kalamazoo-made classics like the L-00, SJ-200, J-45, and Southern Jumbo set the standards that put Gibson at the forefront of flat-top design and craftsmanship in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, but any forward-looking guitar maker knows that you can’t rest on your laurels. However great a brand’s heritage, the instrument needs to evolve. Alongside this, though, there’s never a shortage of players and collectors who just want a guitar built “the way they built ’em in the old days.” To satisfy all requirements, Gibson offers two main strands of acoustic guitar lines, all handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, USA: True Vintage and Modern Classic.

While every discerning guitarist appreciates the glories of hand-selected solid woods and the superlative tone that the master luthier’s craft can yield, many players today also require modifications to the traditional template—cutaways for upper-fret access, onboard electronics, modified neck profiles, and setups for the ultimate playability demanded of many crossover styles—all features that enable a professional performance tool to go straight to the stage or studio. Enter Gibson’s Modern Classics, a collection of Super Jumbos, Jumbos, Round and Square Shoulder Dreadnoughts, and original Small Body guitars. All are fully steeped in Gibson tradition and rendered with Bozeman craftsmanship, but hotrodded with cutting-edge features for 21st century performance needs.

“The Modern Classics are designed for the contemporary player, and particularly for crossover players who go between fingerstyle and pick,” says Mike Voltz, Production Manager of Gibson’s acoustic division. “Every model in the line includes the finest electronics available, and we are convinced these are also the most playable acoustic guitars available today.”

All Modern Classics feature:
• A new fingerboard edge, rolled over to the Bozeman workshop’s unique “Big Sky” radius for ultimate comfort
• The industry’s lowest action and finest playability
• Grover Rotomatic tuners
• The industry’s finest electronics, each selected as most appropriate to the model
• Bone nut and Tusq saddle
• Premium hardshell case 

Of course, build a guitar right and its beauty and desirability never go out of style. Plenty of traditionalists still seek a new instrument constructed exactly like the great originals of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Welcome the True Vintage series, comprising the SJ-200, J-185, J-45, Southern Jumbo, and Hummingbird. “These are for the true collector,” says Voltz. “They’ve just got that vibe,” Voltz explains. “We use aged vintage toner for a genuine vintage look, period-correct tuners, and historically accurate design touches like the advanced wide X-bracing on the Southern Jumbo and J-45, vintage thin back braces on the SJ-200 and J-185, and plenty more. Even the case is an exact model of a 1939 ES-300 case, with five-ply construction, pink lining, padded leather handle, and accurate nickel-plated hardware.”

Befitting their True Vintage purity, these models do not have electronics as standard, but Gibson will retrofit them for artists who require electronics. Also, all rosewood fingerboards and bridges are made from AAA rosewood, which Voltz says is the closest thing to endangered Brazilian rosewood (a wood listed on the CITES list of endangered species, and one which Gibson strictly refuses to use).

All True Vintage models feature:
• Traditional binding over fret ends
• Traditional tuners
• Genuine bone nut and saddle
• Extra dark vintage-look amber toner
• Traditional orange label

Whether you’re a demanding contemporary player or a collector who’s fanatical about precision and craftsmanship, Gibson’s got the acoustic guitar for you. Between the Modern Classics and True Vintage Series—not to mention the Signature Artist Series, Legend Series, and Custom guitars—the craftsmen in Bozeman, Montana, are creating instruments to suit all requirements, all of them among the finest acoustic guitars produced today.

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