This was the first batch of acoustics to come out of Tom Murphy’s enclave at the Gibson Custom Shop, and it comprised the the L-00, J-45, Southern Jumbo, Hummingbird and SJ-200, all Light Aged to replicate the look, feel and sound of a decades-old instrument that has been well played and well loved over the years, with subtle checking on the nitro and thermally aged tops for that old acoustic sparkle to sell the illusion.
And it works. King and Smithers, who plays lead guitar in the Marcus King Band, are no stranger to vintage gear, using all kinds of Golden Era instruments in the studio – even if King is happy to take modern, off-the-shelf pedals on tour. King has a signature guitar through Gibson of his own, an ES-345 based on an 1962 ES-345 named “Big Red” that was passed down from his grandfather to his father, then to him.
"The ES-345 is a very special one to me," said King, speaking to MusicRadar in 2021. That is what my grandfather played and when he passed – unfortunately when I was 14 – he left it to my father, and when I was 18 years old my father give it to me as a symbol of support, a symbol of being able to take a little bit of my grandfather’s energy with me as I was embarking on what seemed to be a never-ending tour."
King and Smithers took turns on the 1957 SJ-200 and 1960 Hummingbird respectively, before auditioning the rest. “This is a new one? Smells like an old one!” says King as he takes the SJ-200 out of its case. “Wow. Could have fooled the hell out of me. That’s pretty.”
“It’s got George Harrison written all over it,” says Smithers.
It is a nice clip. King and Smithers sure make them sound good, and we could have done with more of King playing fingerstyle blues guitar on ‘The King of the Flat Tops’ while Smithers played slide on the Hummingbird.
The pair talk about their connection to the acoustic, the sorts of details they’re looking for on a guitar like this, and while they don’t give us an extended performance – more’s the pity, but there are five guitars to breeze through – this is definitely a video segment that could, and perhaps should, be censored as high-end acoustic guitar porn.
In the world of guitar we often talk about 'time machine' instruments but these really are – the Murphy Lab models are exacting replicas right down to the date of production. That J-45 is a ‘Banner era’ 1942 model. That Southern Jumbo, similarly dressed in Vintage Sunburst, is from the same year, while that little compact powerhouse L-00 is “from” 1933.
The L-00 particularly caught crosspicking bluegrass phenom Molly Tuttle’s eye when she stopped by the Gibson HQ a few weeks ago to try them out.
“This is awesome. I love small-bodied guitars,” said Tuttle. “This is so nice. There’s something just so cosy about them. And I do feel like I am playing an old guitar right now. It’s cool.”
You can read more about the new Murphy Lab acoustic guitars at MusicRadar and see more details at Gibson.