A class act with historical inspiration and modern appointments
By Jon Chappell
Harmony Central Senior Editor
I may have raised an eyebrow when I read Gibson's tagline describing the new Jackson Browne signature model as "The Grand Piano of Acoustics." But once I pulled the guitar out of its case, I could think of no better description. Looking like a six-string version of a concert Steinway, the Gibson Jackson Browne is highly polished, darkly elegant, and freakin' huge—both in dimensions and tone. You don't need a white tie and tails to play this guitar, but unamplified it will fill a concert hall. And you will look—and sound—like a million bucks when playing it. The Gibson Jackson Browne is as classy as it is commanding.
The Gibson Jackson Browne is designed after the round-shouldered jumbos of the 1930s, but with a deeper body (4.55" and 4.83" at the neck and tail blocks, respectively). It's constructed of an Adirondack red spruce top (with scalloped X-bracing of the same material), solid and eco-friendly English walnut for the back and sides, mahogany for the neck, and rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge.
The legendary songwriter and acoustic performer Jackson Browne was inspired by the Roy Smeck model for this modern rendition because of its big body, wide fingerboard, and classic Gibson appeal. Gibson Montana worked on the guitar with Browne and added some period-appropriate extras, such as the use of hide glue to join the different wood sections together. A nice touch is the vintage-style Waverly exposed worm gear tuners, which enhances the traditional look. To complete the picture, the guitar features a high-gloss vintage-sunburst nitrocellulose finish.
The Jackson Browne is listed as a Jumbo model, but this instrument is really jumbo. For starters, it's the deepest-bodied guitar Gibson makes (and quite noticeable to anyone who catches it in profile). It's also a 12-fret guitar, which means that though the scale length is the familiar 24-3/4" of many Gibson acoustics, the body is extended in the direction of the headstock, joining the neck at the 12th fret instead of the typical 14th. Given that the guitar is also a non-cutaway, that gives you just about the largest body you're going to find in a standard model. And yet, the sound is not overly boomy—in fact, it has quite a nicely balanced low end, certainly enhanced by the larger resonant chamber, but with that "Gibson acoustic sound" of a rich midrange and articulate highs. It's like a bigger J-45, both in size and sound. And how can you have too much of a good thing?
The neck is constructed of quarter-sawn mahogany and topped with a rosewood fingerboard. The neck profile is a modified "V," which I liked, as it nicely complemented the fingerboard. At 1.805", this fretboard is palpably wider than a more typical 1-3/4" (1-12/16") one. Consequently, fingerpicking and open-position lead and rhythm are really where this guitar shines. The openness of the fingerboard really lets your right hand stretch out. It also gives people with larger fingers ample room to play left-hand chords cleanly. Though this guitar is really meant for songwriters, rhythm guitarists, and traditional-music lead players, you can play up to the 10th position with no problem. It should be remembered that one of the greatest bluegrass lead players of all time, Norman Blake, plays a 12-fret guitar.
All plugged in
Two versions of the Jackson Browne are available, with the Model A having the built-in electronics. It sports a Trance Audio Amulet Pickup system, which contains stereo acoustic lens transducers, an onboard preamp, and an external controller (the blue box) for processing the signal. No onboard battery is necessary, as the preamp is phantom-powered through the cable. The box itself can be powered through either a 12V AC adapter or a 9V battery—for those times when you have a simple stage setup of just a combo amp. The single cable is a special five-pin design, which carries the power to the preamp and stereo audio from the guitar to the box. The box has a volume control and Left and Right Outputs, or it can be used as just a mono feed to a mixing board, guitar amp, preamp, or audio interface.
The sound from the Amulet is stunningly realistic and transparent. There's no onboard EQ or other circuitry to get in the way: you achieve your treble/bass balance by adjusting the output of the lens transducers themselves, which are placed strategically inside the guitar. And if you really need to crank the guitar to be heard, an optional low-cut switch inside the box helps keep feedback at bay. The best part is that with the power supply and moving parts (really, just the gain knob) relegated to the box, once you unplug the guitar, it's a normal acoustic from the outside—completely pristine and free of any electronic trappings.
The Gibson Jackson Browne may be huge, but it doesn't overpower. It still sounds like a Gibson, with the extra volume and slight bass push that will make it a welcome stage instrument when you really need to move some air. I loved having the bigger sound in rehearsal, and when plugged, in the Amulet preserved with integrity the sweet acoustic sound I had established in acoustic mode. The Gibson Jackson Browne retains the sweet clear sound of a vintage Gibson acoustic while bringing with it an historical aesthetic, state-of-the-art electronics, and a vision of grand beauty.