writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Tag Archives: gibson j-200

A Tale of Two Guitars

So, when I was reviewing the two amplifiers I use recently, I mentioned I was planning to review my two main guitars, to compare and contrast, and I’m a man, at least in this regard, of my word.

I suppose before I start I should confess these are not my only guitars. The others that I own (I had a gorgeous Danelectro 12 string on loan from Mr Brutal for a while, but he’s borrowed it back at the moment) are: a Kiso-Suzuki copy of the Gibson J200, which I think I may have mentioned before, with a bridge so cracked it would cost more to repair than it’s worth; a Freshman Acoustic 12-string which these days is tuned to Open D and used exclusively for slide guitar; and a blues box guitar, picked up in a Black Friday sale at the Works bookshop, of all places, a couple of years ago.

Which leaves me with my two main guitars: A Lâg Tramontane T100 ACE; and an Epiphone EJ200CE.

Prices first of all, just to see we’re comparing like with like. I bought the Lâg a few years ago, but it currently retails at around £350 – £360 (although I found it quite tricky to track down in this country now; a lot of the sites were American). The Epiphone is currently on at £360, so, in other words, they’re pretty much both firmly in the mid-price range for acoustic guitars, not being the cheapest by any means, but certainly not up there in the stratospheric levels you can shell for a bit of wood and six strings.

Looks? Well, here they are together.  Both, to my mind, beautiful in their own way: the Lâg, at least so far as I know, not trying to copy any other maker’s guitar, and with that distinctive headstock and the wee Knights Templar stylee cross at the soundhole.

The Epiphone, of course, very definitely is trying to copy another guitar, namely the Gibson J200, a fabled model that’s been used by Elvis, Dylan, Lennon, Harrison, Jimmy Page, Emmylou Harris, etc, etc. Like the Lâg, it’s available in a range of finishes, and I was very tempted by the sunburst version before plumping for the all black model: a mean looking machine, indeed. (Gibson have 20 more facts about the original J200 if your curiosity isn’t sated).

As an aside, I’ve never quite understood how, or why, guitar makers put up with others making copies of their models: in any other context, you’d think the original makers would be suing the copyists’ asses just as quickly as they could make it to the patent office. However, every other guitar you see is a copy, often of famous models by either Fender or Gibson (Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, Hummingbird, etc etc). Time was, back in the 70s and 80s, when most of the copies were made in Japan (for example my Kiso-Suzuki); then, Korea became the cheapest place; these days it’s more likely to be China.

In the case of the Epiphone, it was originally a company in its own right. Originating in Turkey with a Greek owner, in 1903 owners and company relocated to the US where, by the 50s, it was a main rival to Gibson for archtop guitars, at which point it was taken over by Gibson’s parent company. However, far from being bought up to be closed down, the two companies were run separately. Epiphone guitars continued to have their own name and reputation – the Beatles used them, before inevitably, trading up to the bigger cachet of the Gibson name.

And there’s the thing for me. Every guitar band you see on the telly these days are either toting Gibsons or Fenders and, contrary chap that I am, that just makes me all the more determined to play something different. Plus, of course, the Gibson equivalent of my guitar costs £5,000. Yes, that’s £5,000. Could it sound nearly 14 times better than my Epiphone? No, I really don’t think so either.

Because the Epiphone is a beauty in every sense. As you can see from the photo, it’s a big beast of a thing (the J, dear reader, stands for Jumbo) so it wouldn’t be for everyone (interestingly, Emmylou has her own smaller equivalent made by Gibson, the L200. Do hope the L doesn’t stand for ‘lady’). Played acoustically, it’s surprisingly quiet, with an even, pleasant, but unremarkable tone. Indeed, in the shop it nearly lost out to the Epiphone Hummingbird. And then I plugged it in.

Where the EJC200 really wins out is in the quality of its electronics. With an under-saddle and under-bridge pick up, and nanoflex technology (no, I don’t really know what it means either) it sounds just fantastic when amplified. The Lâg, in contrast, sounds great played acoustically, but its electronics are, well, a bit french. So much so, that when I’m recording with it these days, I mike it up rather than using pickups. That’s not so easy live, and the best I can get from it is using the Vox amp, as described in the review of the amps.

Bottom line? I’m really pleased to have both of these. For finger picking and the generally quieter stuff I do with Tribute to Venus Carmichael, the Lâg is a superb instrument. For playing in the house, again it’s a pleasure. Its tone is gorgeous.

Which is not to say the Epiphone doesn’t get played in the house too. Although the Lâg isn’t hard to play, the bigger guitar is particularly easy: someone said it plays like an electric, and it actually is as easy as that to knock out chords on. Plug it in, though, even with a loud electric band, and it comes into its own.

Here’s a wee instrumental I’ve put up on Freesound, the excellent sound sample site. It’s basically a song that didn’t make the cut for my next album lyrics-wse, but I’ve put a bit of both the Epiphone in strum mode, and the Lâg in finger-pick mode. I’ve not done anything clever effects-wise in the production process, deliberately: just a bit of light reverb to take some of the dryness out. On other tracks, though, I’ve used the Epiphone much more extensively because, with its dual inputs and better electronics, it produces a very handy, malleable signal for tweaking.

If I had to have only one of these guitars, I’d have the Epiphone. But I don’t, and for my purposes at least, they’re a near-perfect complement to each other.

Finally, should you wish to hear more from these guitars, a Youtube review of each:

The Epiphone review’s long, but I love Topdazzle’s no nonsense approach.











Ignore the adverts below here. Actually, I have a plan for adverts on this page…



One thing I plan to do over the next couple of months is lob up the occasional piece of fiction. This piece was written for the Scottish Book Trust’s Treasures anthology, but for some reason didn’t even make the website – I didn’t think it was that bad! Many fine pieces did, including my Dad’s story, which I would recommend to you.

Anyway, it kind of fits the theme of what I’ve been rabbiting on about recently, so here it is.

Two Guitars

My treasure is two guitars.

The first is a copy of a Gibson J-200, made by a long-gone Japanese outfit called Kiso-Suzuki. She’s a big, booming acoustic guitar, blond wood body, abalone inlays on the fretboard and a red pickguard, decorated with a floral motif. Various people from Elvis downwards have played a J-200.

My Mum and Dad gave me it for my 21st birthday. Having made no impression on the world of piano and violin playing, I decided for myself to take up guitar when I was about 17. The J-200 was my reward for four years of hammering away on my brother’s nylon string, shoe-horning muscle memory into my hands.

The J-200 served me well in bands at university, then jamming with others over the years. I swapped my dream of being the next Dylan for being a part-time Hemingway, but she was still there, my main guitar of choice, when I started to combine music with spoken word, first at the Free Fringe, and then the Book Festival.

She’s always been a harsh mistress to play. Even with the action – the gap between strings and fretboard – lowered, you needed a firm hand for barre chords not to buzz like crazy. But she was a beautiful beast, with a great big body, and a pair of lungs to match. She was loud enough acoustically; but fitted with an old Schaller pickup, she was a foil for any electric guitar.

The Suzuki started to fail around the same time Mum died, in 2011. The bridge had cracked along the line of the pegs that hold the strings in place. Brían, my guitar repair guy, shook his head. After thirty-odd years, the string tension was pulling the guitar apart. The Book Festival gig was the J-200’s last.

Dad arranged things so that the family all got some money from Mum’s estate. While it was being wound up, a music shop opened for the first time in town. I haunted it and its acoustic guitars, asking for one, then another, to be taken down, so I could try them.

I told the guys about the J-200, about how it was beyond repair. I even told them about where the money for the replacement was coming from. I think I told them so much because I  thought they’d think I was a tyre-kicker.

The money eventually came through. For reasons I couldn’t quite explain, I wanted it in my account before I bought the new guitar.

My replacement treasure is a LAG T100 ACE. She’s smaller and quieter than the J-200, designed to be finger-picked rather than strummed. She’s an original design, by the French luthier Michel Lag, rather than a copy of an American classic. She’s thick honey gold and warm caramel colour, and that’s a pretty good set of words to describe how she sounds.

She’s not without her quirks, mind. The on-board pick-ups are fussy beasts, and need a proper acoustic amp to bring out the tone properly. I’ve recorded with her now, and played her live. I don’t expect I’ll need to replace her.

The J-200 hangs on the wall of my study now. I’ve left the strings on – there’s something indefinably lost to me about a guitar without strings – but I don’t keep her in tune. She still has a voice though.

The study doubles as a recording studio. Conventional wisdom has you record everything ‘dry,’ that is in a small space without too many hard surfaces that would reflect the sound and give you echo, or ‘reverb.’

But every sound in the study goes into the Suzuki’s body and comes out again, creating the faintest of echoes of whatever is played or said in the room. The J-200 lives on, adding the ghost of reverb to any recording, or ringing out when I raise my voice to answer someone downstairs.

That’s why my treasure is still two guitars.