In 1942, war-time production shortages prompted Gibson to totally revamp their acoustic catalog. For slope-shoulder dreadnoughts, the prewar J-35 and J-55 were replaced by the J-45 and Southerner Jumbo. According to Gibson lore, the sales rep who handled the Southeast region requested that the company build a flat-top especially for the Southern states. He felt that Gibson flat-tops were especially appreciated there, and apparently he was able to convince Gibson execs that a model dedicated to the South was just what they needed to boost sales.
The result was a 14-fret, slope-shoulder dreadnought originally called the "Southerner Jumbo," but quickly shortened to just "Southern" Jumbo or "SJ." With a Spruce top, Mahogany back and sides, and sunbsurt finish, the SJ shared the same size and basic construction as the J-45, but it featured fancier details: elaborate purfling, split parallelogram inlays, and fingerboard binding. The Southern Jumbo was Gibson's most expensive flat-top during the war years. After the war, it remained a popular model, and its specs didn't change much until the mid-'50s.
In mid-1955, Gibson substituted the earlier small pickguard for a large pickguard. While this was just a cosmetic change, it also accompanied a change in the bracing pattern. The earlier examples with the small pickguard rely on the same scalloped X-bracing influenced by the prewar J-35 and J-55. But those with the larger pickguard have stouter straight braces, which make the top stiffer and change the tone. The earlier scalloped braces are more responsive and expressive—they're more in touch with the prewar sound that pioneered acoustic guitar tone.
This 1955 Gibson Southern Jumbo is an excellent example of a small-pickguard SJ. Its tone is warm, sweet, and steeped in the classic Gibson "thump." It's a dry, unassuming sound that has become refined and nuanced with age. On the top, it features the earlier small pickguard, and under the hood, it has the preferred scalloped braces. With a lighter touch, it responds quickly with bell-like attack, and it doesn't take much effort to produce rich tone. When you dig in, it growls in a way that is instantly bluesy and distinctly Gibson.
This 1955 Gibson SJ was recently set up by Colfax Guitar Shop in Denver, and it has almost impossibly-low action. Its neck has been reset, and the neck angle is nice and straight. It also sports a new nut, new saddle, and new frets, and that all accommodates a low, inviting setup. There is one repaired back crack (properly cleated and 100% stable), and the bridge was likely reglued at some point. The back looks to be oversprayed, and the lacquer checking on the top, sides, and headstock provides authentic vintage mojo. There is a strap button on the neck heel, and the tuner buttons have been replaced (the remains of the original buttons are included).
This '55 Gibson Southerner Jumbo is an inspiring instrument with a lot of songs left in the tank. It's amazing to find a vintage guitar that sounds like this and plays with such effortless, low action. Original Lifton case included!