Hands-On Review:Gibson Songwriter Special Modern Classic Acoustic-Electric Guitar

Ideally suited for your modern and classic tunes

Dan Day
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.


Modern classic


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