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Why Gibson’s Elvis SJ-200 has us all shook up

Gibson Elvis SJ-200
(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Elvis Presley received his 1968 ebony SJ-200 as a gift at a 60s recording session and, according to his guitarist Scotty Moore, first used it on stage in Tusla, Oklahoma, on 1 March at the start of his 1974 tour. 

Presley had been an SJ-200 convert since obtaining his original 1956 model, and its massive size and opulent appointments could not have been more suited to the king of rock ’n’ roll.

Gibson Elvis SJ-200

The SJ-200’s cosmetic appointments, including hand-painted faux-tortoiseshell pickguard, combine to make it one of the handsomest acoustics ever built (Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The model has undergone constant change since its introduction in 1937, so Presley’s ‘Las Vegas’ era instrument was also naturally of its time. 

As such, it featured a three-piece maple back, an adjustable ‘closed mustache’ bridge with hourglass and teardrop pearl inlays, rosewood fingerboard with graduated pearl ‘crown’ inlays on a two-piece maple neck, plus a set of gold-plated Kluson ‘waffleback’ tuners.

Gibson Elvis SJ-200

The SJ-200’s cosmetic appointments, including hand-painted faux-tortoiseshell pickguard, combine to make it one of the handsomest acoustics ever built (Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

Our guitar has the unpopular ‘tone sucking’ adjustable bridge saddle replaced with a traditional bone ‘set’ version, the tuners are Grovers with the same ‘tulip’ buttons, and the rosewood ’board and bridge are exceptionally dark compared with the redder timbers on the King’s guitar. 

An instrument that’s designed to be used on stage, ours also comes with LR Baggs’s natural-sounding VTC system, with discreet soundhole tone and volume controls.

Gibson Elvis SJ-200

The controls to the LR Baggs VTC pickup and preamp system are hidden just inside the soundhole, with its multiple black and white purfling rings (Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

Other appointments include the beautifully applied ebony nitro finish, compound dovetail neck-to-body joint, multiple body and single neck and headstock bindings, and 20 vintage-style frets on the 305mm (12inch) radius fingerboard. It’s a real looker!

Often referred to as the ‘Whispering Giant’, this model is surprisingly not the loudest of guitars. But ours is beautifully balanced across its range with spritely trebles, punchy mids and a bass-end that vibrates through the ribcage.

The SJ-200 is a great recording guitar, too – legendary performances include The Who’s Pinball Wizard, The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun, and Jimmy Page’s gloriously fingerpicked Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.

It won’t be made in huge numbers, so the Elvis SJ-200 might appeal to collectors rather than players. And that’s sad, since it’s one of the most handsome stage guitars ever, the Baggs pickup only adding to its usability. 

So, why not grab yourself a ‘Big Hunk Of Love’ while you can, or you might end up in ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ or, worse, ‘Crying In The Chapel’...

Gibson Elvis SJ-200

Elvis was a big fan of Kenpo Karate and put a sticker for the society on both of his black Gibson acoustics (Dove and SJ-200) – a replica is included here. (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

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