Hands-On Review:Gibson Songwriter Special Modern Classic Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Ideally suited for your modern and classic tunes
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
It’s not often in life that you have the opportunity to design a product from the ground up, especially a product as iconic as a Gibson acoustic guitar. But the guitar gurus at Musician’s Friend had an idea—what if you were to combine the contemporary cool look of a black cutaway guitar, with a vintage-style “wide–X” braced top for that powerful, but warm, “old guitar” sound, then outfit it with a state-of-the art factory-installed pickup system? I’m here to tell you right now that the folks at Gibson’s acoustic guitar plant in Bozeman, Montana, took the ideas of the MF staff and built a guitar that begs to be played and heard!
A dream guitar
When doing a hands-on review, first impressions are always very telling. When I opened the case and cast my squinties on the sample Songwriter Special, my immediate reaction was: here is the acoustic version of the Black Beauty Les Paul Custom. Despite its dark nature it’s not a nightmare; this guitar is a dream come true. Black acoustic guitars have been around for a number of years and just about every guitar maker has at least one model sporting a tuxedo. The white binding perfectly complements the black finish—like piping on a dark suit. The floret inlay design on the ebony fretboard was originally used in Gibson banjos in the 1930s and ’40s and has not been used by Gibson in the last seven or eight years. The Songwriter Special is the only Gibson currently sporting the floret inlays.
On the lookout for black acoustics being used by well-known musicians, I noticed Dave Matthews swinging out on a black Gibson on a DVD of Saturday Night Livehands-on review of the Gibson CJ-165EC, you will have seen that I usually prefer a sunburst acoustic, but I must say I’d be proud to sling this baby over my neck and make a new musical and sartorial statement. performances. Whether you’re a rocker or a rebel country singer playing an acoustic, having a dark black finish projects a no-nonsense, kick-butt, gone-over-to-the-dark-side message in a way that a natural wood finish can’t. OK, forget what I said about tuxedo earlier. IIf you read my hands-on review of the Gibson CJ-165EC, you will have seen that I usually prefer a sunburst acoustic, but I must say I’d be proud to sling this baby over my neck and make a new musical and sartorial statement.
The Special is latest in the Songwriter lineup that is now part of the new Modern Classic lineup introduced by Gibson Acoustic in Bozeman, Montana. You can read about the differences between Modern Classic guitars and the other new lineup, True Vintage guitars, in this Product Spotlight.
The Songwriter Special is placed in Gibson’s sub-group of Square-Shouldered Dreadnoughts and features a cutaway, solid Sitka spruce top, solid sapele back and sides (sapele is an African tone wood known for its warm, balanced response), mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard, and L.R. Baggs electronics—electronics being one of those Modern Classic features. The Songwriter Special also has an ebony nitrocellulose finish used on all Gibson acoustics since 1894.
Wider X = projection
Let’s talk sound. Right out of the gate I should tell you that although the Songwriter Special is a dreadnought, it sounds much larger. I handed the guitar to a co-worker who is an excellent acoustic guitarist to get his opinion. I stood in front of him while he played his arrangement of a piano composition by Mark Isham. His first comment was that the Songwriter Special sounded louder than he expected. I explained that’s because the wider-X top bracing is more than 5 degrees wider than standard X-bracing, adding projection. Wider-X top bracing is the same pattern used in Gibson’s Advanced Jumbo introduced in the 1930s.
With the guitar passed back to me I decided that, since I was still immersed in an intense Nick Drake fixation, I would play one of his tunes that features some complicated fingerpicking. But first I had to retune using one of his idiosyncratic tunings. The Grover tuners helped with the change and ensured the tuning stayed locked in. When I finished playing, we agreed the action was very smooth. The Modern Classic design reduces string height and creates a gentle radius on the fingerboard edge making the guitar especially easy to play. Usually lowered string height means loss of projection, but that is compensated for with the wider X-bracing in the top.
Strap on and strum
I took the Songwriter Special to one of my regular gigs where I play standing up. Because there is no strap button at the neck join, I tied the strap above the neck in the traditional folk style. Rockers may want to install a strap button to get that traditional rock look and feel; although come to think of it, Elvis tied his acoustic at the neck.
The electronics from L.R. Baggs are straightforward—the only control is a volume thumbwheel located inside the soundhole. In performance, to up the volume for solos, I ran the Special through a 10-band equalizer and set it for a higher output when it was switched on. The EQ was used to cut back any feedback-causing frequencies. The Songwriter Special blended nicely with the other guitars as it produced a rich, natural sound that responded well to vigorous flatpick strumming on such singalong favorites as “Country Roads.” There was no excessive bass, and it clearly enunciated the individual notes of fingerpicked instrumentals such as “The Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter.” The Songwriter Special is a unique instrument that combines the Gibson tradition of heirloom quality with design input from Musician’s Friend. It lives up to the Modern Classic name with modern enhancements that improve projection and tone, and the classic allure of the rich, dark ebony finish.
From your original composed strummers or fingerpickers to tried-and-true favorites, the Gibson Songwriter Special has the goods to deliver your tunes with projection and clarity. Order yours today from Musician’s Friend.
Features & Specs
- Top: Solid Sitka spruce
- Back: Solid sapele
- Sides: Solid sapele
- Finish: Ebony nitrocellulose
- Bridge: Squared ebony
- Neck Wood: Mahogany
- Inlay: Floret
- Binding: Back and triple-ply top
- Marketry: Strip on back
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Tuners: Gold Grover
- Scale Length: 25-1/2"
- Nut Width: 1.725"
- Neck Joint: Set-in
- # frets to body: 20
- Electronics: L.R. Baggs
- Controls: Soundhole-mounted volume control