Gibson SJ-200 Review: “The King of the Flat Tops”

Now is a great time to get your hands on this top-of-the-line guitar from one of the world’s most renowned guitar brands. The SJ-200 is Gibson’s highest-quality jumbo acoustic guitar, and its design dates all the way back to 1937.

Gibson SJ200 front view

Okay, so it’s a bonafide classic, but why bring it up now in 2024?

Good question; it's because Gibson has released a new line of these guitars, combining modern technologies and sensibilities with its evergreen classic design.

Today’s article will give an in-depth review of the modern line of Gibson SJ-200s, discussing the product's pros and cons (although there aren't really any cons to speak of!).

After discussing what makes this such an impressive guitar, I'll explore how it stacks up against other similar guitars. Pound for pound, it's one of the best acoustic guitars ever made, so let's talk about why.

Product Overview

This classic-style flat-top acoustic guitar from Gibson sounds as beautiful as it looks. It's meticulously crafted to maximize tone, playability, and durability. This is a guitar you can use for decades and never have to replace.

Why I like it

  • High-quality tonewoods
  • Perfectly adjusted right out of the box
  • Gorgeous, vintage-inspired visual design
  • Great dynamics and articulation
  • Highly playable
  • Impressive natural acoustic projection
  • Cutting-edge onboard pickup and preamp

What I think could be improved

  • Large body may not be ideal for players who want a more compact guitar
  • Pricier than most other acoustic guitars on the market

Features & Benefits

Let's break down this guitar's most impressive features one by one to find out what makes it such a stand-out instrument.

High-Quality Tone Woods 5/5

Gibson SJ200 back view

It all starts with the wood. A company like Gibson, known as one of the greatest guitar companies to ever do it, is going to use only the best quality wood for their guitars.

The Gibson SJ-200 has a AAA Sitka spruce top (aka the highest quality spruce they could find). Spruce is known for its naturally loud projection, and it also happens to look great with Gibson's vintage sunburst design.

The guitar also has a maple back and sides, a maple neck, and a rosewood fingerboard. In my opinion, this rosewood fingerboard is the real all-star here. We'll discuss why in the next section.

Overall, Gibson's combination of high-quality tonewoods is part of what makes this such a premium guitar. It makes the instrument resilient and gives it a great natural projection.

Incredible Playability 5/5

When people say, "This guitar is really playable," they're referring to a combination of many factors that make for a good playing experience altogether. The Gibson SJ-200 is about as playable as acoustic guitars get.

Let's start with the neck. The round profile 2-piece polished maple neck feels great in your hands and provides a smooth surface for your thumb, with just enough resistance to keep it from accidentally sliding.

The rosewood fretboard with Graduated Crown fretboard inlays is another aspect of this guitar that I love. Rosewood is arguably the perfect material for a fretboard thanks to its smoothness.

And with the frets perfectly crafted and the action perfectly adjusted, you'll be able to get an incredibly articulate sound from this guitar.

Provided your technique is sufficient, your playing will be free of unwanted fret buzz, muting, or ringing out. This is a guitar worthy of a pro-level performance every time. It's no wonder this is such an iconic guitar.

You can expect your riffs, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and harmonics to sound exactly how you want them to. I think fluid playability like this is really what separates a high-end guitar like the Gibson from other guitars that blend in more with the pack.

Cutting-Edge Electronic Components 4/5

Strings of the Gibson SJ200

Here's where this new line of Gibson SJ-200s takes a powerfully modern turn. Gibson has seamlessly incorporated an LR Baggs Session VTC pickup and preamp system into the guitar, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the instrument.

If you're a relatively seasoned guitarist, then you're no stranger to electric-acoustic guitars. Most of them have had much more attention put towards the acoustics than the internal electronics.

However, the SJ-200 has impressive electronic components that far outclass those of most other acoustic-electric guitars. I'd expect nothing less from Gibson.

The volume and tone controls are located in the sound hole almost completely out of view. You can use them to fine-tune your amplified sound.

What's even more impressive is the guitar's internal dynamic EQ that acts as a multi-band compressor. This compression will level out the dynamic range of your playing, so that each note can be clearly heard at similar volumes.

Any producer knows the importance of compression, and to have your guitar effortlessly apply compression to your live performances feels like a luxury.

Not only does it give your fingerstyle or pick-strumming a professional-sounding presence, it also ensures that your guitar parts will sit perfectly in a live mix among other instruments.

It's a simple matter to set your desired volume and have the SJ-200 level out your playing if it starts to peak. Gibson really went the extra mile here.

The Session VTC internal electronics even have built-in noise reduction, which again is something you'll only find with top-shelf gear.

A high noise floor is a common shortcoming of electric-acoustic guitars, so I really appreciate Gibson's effort to solve this common problem. It paid off as well; there is practically no unwanted noise or hissing in the guitar's signal, even at full volume.

Design Details 4/5

Gibson SJ200 neck

Gibson has fit an impressive amount of detail into the SJ-200's visual design while keeping the overall aesthetic simple.

The guitar is available in several different styles, but my favorite is the Vintage Sunburst. It looks like a classic, straightforward guitar with just enough decoration to turn a few heads.

The pickguard also has nice traditional artistic flourishes on it to add just a bit more visual character.

The rosewood neck even has sun-shaped mother-of-pearl inlays, which elegantly elevate the guitar's overall look. You don't see inlays like that every day!

Gibson guitars tend to have really nice headstocks, and the SJ-200 has one of the nicest of them all. While simple and unassuming, it has the classic Gibson headstock shape, complete with the Gibson logo in mother of pearl.

The beveling around the headstock is nice and sleek as well. It's little details like this that make the guitar stand out without being too distracting.

Things to Consider Before Buying

Let's be honest, you don't just buy a high-end acoustic guitar like this on a whim. No doubt there are going to be considerations to make before you buy. Here are some to keep in mind.

Amount of Use You Plan to Get

This is probably the most important thing to consider before making a purchase of this magnitude. How much guitar playing will you actually be doing?

Chances are if you're reading this article, you're at least somewhat passionate about acoustic guitar. Who knows, maybe you're the next Mark Knopfler! Whatever the case may be, I'll say this: The Gibson SJ-200 is a top-of-the-line guitar, and it's designed for serious players.

I can't in good conscience recommend this Gibson to someone who has never played before and is looking for their first guitar. The reason is that there are plenty of other great acoustic guitars out there that are suitable for beginners and cost a fraction of the price.

The Gibson SJ-200 is, however, a solid choice for intermediate and advanced players who play a lot of acoustic guitar. It feels effortless and rewarding to play music on, and it makes everything you play sound just a little bit better. So if you want the best of the best, then give the Gibson a try.

Do You Want Acoustic Or Electric?

When looking for your first guitar, or just your next guitar, this is probably the first major choice to make: acoustic or electric?

If you're planning to join a rock band that plays punk or metal, then an electric guitar might be a better fit. You'll want to be able to apply enough distortion to get a tone that works well for these genres, and electric guitars are great for that.

Electric guitars are incredibly versatile; they work for softer genres as well. Jazz, fusion, funk, and pop bands all want talented electric guitar players to help bring their sounds to life.

However, electric guitars do have one obvious drawback: They need to be plugged in to work. If you want to bring your guitar to a friend's house or studio, then you'll also need to bring your cables and amps. Jams on the fly can be somewhat cumbersome to pull off.

That's where acoustic guitars really shine. They allow you to spontaneously create music wherever you go, with no additional gear required. There's also just something super rewarding about being able to naturally create chords and notes from the strings' vibration alone.

For singer/songwriters and musicians who may not have a full band to jam with, acoustic guitars can be the perfect solution. People expect electric guitars to have bass and drum accompaniment, but an acoustic guitar can stand alone if it needs to.

The Gibson SJ-200 is an electric-acoustic guitar, so it works solo or in an amped-up ensemble. Still, I wouldn't make the mistake of thinking an electric-acoustic guitar can fill the same role as a standard electric guitar such as a Fender Strat or Schecter Reaper 6.

The Gibson SJ-200 does have a beautiful clean tone, but it might sound a little wonky if you try to apply distortion. This goes for all electric-acoustic guitars. (But if you can experiment with distortion and make it work, more power to you!)

All in all, if an acoustic guitar is what you want, and you have the budget for it, then the Gibson SJ-200 will not let you down, that's for sure.

Instrument Maintenance

A guitar this valuable is definitely an instrument you'll want to maintain properly. This is as far from a beater guitar as you can get. But if you take good care of it, it will sound good forever and retain its value as well.

The consideration here is: Just make sure you're prepared to take good care of your instrument. Here are the ways to ensure your guitar doesn't break or lose its quality over time.

Proper Storage

Acoustic guitars are meant to be stored in cool places to avoid warping of the wood. If you store the guitar in a hot car or dry attic for too long, you risk the wood drying out, shrinking slightly, or becoming brittle over time.

Fortunately, the Gibson SJ-200 comes with a hard shell carrying case, which makes it much easier to properly store the guitar. The case will cut back on potential heat damage, not to mention keep the guitar safe from getting dropped or banged around.

Routine Adjustment

Be prepared for a bit of routine maintenance for your Gibson SJ-200, or any other acoustic guitar you plan to buy.

The truss rod determines the slight curvature of the neck so that notes can be fretted cleanly. From time to time, your guitar may need a truss rod adjustment, which can be done at home or with the help of a guitar tech.

Other routine adjustments that may come up include wiping the guitar down for dust, which will preserve the electronics and further ensure the wood stays in good condition.

If you find yourself getting fret buzz, you may also need to adjust the guitar's action (or how far the strings are upraised from the fretboard). This is a relatively simple adjustment that can be done with an Allen wrench.


The Gibson SJ-200 sure is a great guitar, but there are many other beautiful guitars in the same range of price and quality. Here are the top 4 alternatives to the Gibson SJ-200.

Martin D-28

Martin D-28 Acoustic Guitar

The Martin D-28 is a no-holds-barred dreadnought-style guitar from one of the best acoustic guitar companies around. This "tone cannon," as it's become affectionately called, is considered by many to have set the benchmark for acoustic guitars.

Its simple, straightforward design has the iconic Martin look, and only high-quality tonewoods will be found here. With a spruce top and East Indian rosewood back and sides, the body generates a ton of resonance, even in the lower bass frequencies.

The ebony fingerboard is another key feature here. It's neck and neck (no pun intended) with the Gibson SJ-200 in terms of playability.

The Martin D-28 is slightly more affordable than the Gibson. It may not be as striking visually, but its sound is every bit as pristine.

Another consideration here is that the Martin does not have electronic components, so you'll be better off with another guitar if you're planning to amp up. Check out our full review of the Martin D-28 to learn more.

Takamine Pro JP4DC

Takamine Pro JP4DC Acoustic-electric Guitar

Takamine is a brand that doesn't quite have the gravitas of Gibson or Martin, but the Takamine Pro JP4DC is an incredible guitar in its own right.

For starters, the headstock and fretboard are absolutely gorgeous, with a simple yet elegant design. Also, the nut is divided into two components to ensure optimal action for each individual string.

It's a slightly less standardized setup than Gibson acoustics have, but some guitar players will prefer it. What sets the Takamine apart from other less premium guitars is the attention to detail that's been put into every aspect of its design.

It keeps its tuning very well and maintains great intonation all up and down the neck. It has a sapele back and sides, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, and once again, a solid spruce top for powerful natural projection.

The Takamine's tone has a very defined, shimmery upper midrange. Try it out for yourself if you get the opportunity; it's fantastic for solos, reggae-style upstrokes, and finger-style techniques like Travis picking. Read our Takamine P4DC review to learn more.

Guild F55

Guild F-55 Jumbo Acoustic Guitar

The Guild F55 Jumbo Acoustic Guitar once again rocks the winning combination of a spruce top and an ebony fingerboard. It also has SE700 open-gear gold tuners that look great and function perfectly.

With a slightly wider body shape than the alternatives, the Guild F55 is definitely worthy of the classification "jumbo guitar." It's also particularly loud and resonant, providing a powerful natural projection that will make buskers feel right at home.

Because of its clarity and natural acoustic volume, the Guild F55 is a go-to choice among folk, country, and rock musicians who want a straightforward acoustic guitar with no electronic components.

The mother-of-pearl inlays are a nice touch as well, adding just enough elegance to this guitar's overall simple design. Not much more to say; it's a great guitar, and it's definitely worth trying out if you're a Jumbo acoustic aficionado.

Taylor 814CE V-Class

Taylor 814ce Acoustic-Electric Guitar

No list of high-end guitars would be complete without a Taylor. With abalone inlays in the headstock, along the neck, and around the sound hole, Taylor really went the extra mile in terms of aesthetics.

But where this guitar really shines is its natural tone.

The spruce top, rosewood back and sides, and mahogany neck are all meticulously crafted for a perfectly balanced sound. It creates a natural compression that will level out the dynamics of your playing, giving it a noticeable edge over lower-end acoustic guitars.

The notes also have higher sustain than those of most other acoustic guitars, which is great for all sorts of applications, such as acoustic solos.

The guitar even comes with the Taylor Expression System 2, which is Taylor's pickup system that offers a 3-band EQ and some feedback suppression for amplified playing.

The body is beveled on the top to cut down on the friction to your arm during long playing sessions.

It's an all-around great guitar that makes for a unique playing experience. Taylor has always marched to the beat of their own drum, and I definitely recommend you try one out if you haven't already. You'll instantly see why many guitarists consider them to be their favorite brand of acoustic guitars.

In Conclusion

Close up of the Gibson SJ200

Now let's get back to tonight's headliner: The Gibson SJ-200. Of all the high-end guitars mentioned today, the Gibson remains the most iconic and historically significant of them all.

For almost 100 years, it has proven itself to be a tried-and-true acoustic guitar model. Very rarely can you find a product with no shortcomings, but the Gibson is about as close as you can get.

The tonewoods are impeccable, the attention to detail immaculate, and the overall result: A guitar that sounds as amazing as it looks.

There's not much I can say that hasn't been said; this is an extremely popular guitar for a reason. If you're able to get one, just remember to take good care of it and it will never go out of style.

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