1943 Gibson ‘Banner’ SJ

A stunningly clean Gibson Banner SJ with a powerful, balanced, and forward voice; a fabulous neck feel, and a great set up. We’re fans of this one. The guitar has a clean and clear fundamental, strong trebles, and well supported basses. It’s a great flatpicker, and a carries a fiddle tune really well.

The first Gibson Southerner Jumbos were shipped in late 1942. By mid to late 1943 - when this guitar was built - the SJ featured mahogany back and sides, a one-piece mahogany neck without a truss rod, a two-piece red spruce top, firestripe guard, and a belly-down bridge. Now, if you’ve already looked at our photos of this guitar, you’ll notice the tortoise-pattern pickguard and red gumwood rectangle bridge – which don’t match 1943 spec. You can’t likely tell from the photos that this guitar’s top looks like Sitka spruce, not Adirondack, to our eyes.

Well, we do love a good mystery, so we went digging through the factory shipping records to try to figure out why this guitar has a 1943 FON, neck specs, and tuners, but a 1944/5 top, bridge, and pickguard.

Now would be a great time to direct your attention to our YouTube channel to watch the video on ‘Skunk Stripe’ Banner SJs that Mark posted about a year ago. It’s a good one and will help you better understand the quirks of Banner SJs.

When flipping through the pages of shipping ledgers from the wartime years it becomes clear that certain batches of Gibson guitars were sent back to the factory for repairs more than should be expected. The SJ Factory Order Numbers (FON) 910, 2110, and 2139 are significantly overrepresented in repair shipment entries from 1943-6. This suggests that there were more problems with certain batches than others; and, from this we can speculate that top-failure must have been somewhat common in early SJs. This possibly ties in with the reasons Banner SJs were commonly finished with Skunk Stripes in the first year of their manufacture. Are you following along?

We couldn’t find this exact guitar listed in the repair entries of the shipping ledgers (not all guitars have their FONs noted), but we did find three others from batch 2139, and one guitar that was two numbers away from the guitar listed here. Our theory is that this guitar suffered top failure early on and was shipped back to Gibson in 1944 or early 1945 for repairs where it received a new top. This top would have been Sitka by that time and would have been finished with a 1944/5 spec pickguard and bridge. The guitar would have then been partially refinished. The headstock shows a double-applied Gibson gold stencilled logo, too, which fits in perfectly with this history.

Guitar Forensics. Interesting stuff, huh? It should be noted that we've recently been contacted by a previous owner of this guitar who holds a different theory of why this guitar is inconsistant with 1943 SJ specs. His hypothesis is that this guitar actually has an particularly nice Adirondack spruce top, and was started in 1943, with the rest of batch 2139, but wasn't actually completed until a year or two later, hence the later style bridge and pickguard, and the single Klusons instead of the strip-tuners that should be on a batch 2139 SJ. This is a completely plausible theory as well, and may be the true story, however it's really impossible to know for sure.

Today, some 80 years on, factory finish repair is indistinguishable from original finish, and whether it was done or not is something of a moot point. It’s an old guitar with old finish and it sounds great. This SJ is a remarkable specimen, regardless of its early history. We’re suspecting that, had this guitar landed in any other vintage shop, the next owner would know nothing of its history or oddities.

For all intents and purposes, this guitar is completely original but for a new saddle and a set of Antique Acoustic bridge pins. The finish is gorgeous and the guitar shows almost no playwear. Prior to landing at Folkway, its neck was reset, its bridge was cleanly reglued (bolts not reinstalled), a few minor side cracks were repaired, and a section of X brace was reglued. While on our bench the guitar’s frets were dressed, a top crack along the fretboard extension was properly repaired, the back’s centerseam was pre-emptively glued, and the set-up was brought to perfection. The string action is 5-6, and the neck relief is just right. The guitar’s only real flaw is a small repaired impact on the treble side’s lower bout.

The neck has a deep and full carve but is somewhat smaller than the majority of Banner Gibson necks we’ve had our hands on. The nut width is 1-23/32”, and the depth at the 1st fret is a manageable .989”. It’s big, but not excessively so.

With period hardshell case