The Party Guitar

Ray Whitley's Custom Gibson SJ-200


Ray Whitley, movie cowboy, singer and songwriter, is a familiar name to country music fans and vintage guitar buffs alike. As the writer of "Back In the Saddle Again" he has endeared himself to lovers of the country-western song. The guitar aficionado will always remember him as the owner of the Ray Whitley Gibson Custom SJ-200, the first SJ-200, which has been on exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame since November 1974. But this unique guitar -- which Whitley referred to as his "party guitar" -- was long out of public view. Since 1944 this guitar had been in the possession of Glenn Strange, musician and actor, perhaps best known for his role as Sam the Bartender on "Gunsmoke."

Cosmetically, this guitar resembles a miniature version of the Custom SJ-200 (body length is 18-15/16"). It features rosewood back and sides, spruce top and a maple neck with a dark center strip. The bridge is rosewood. Certainly, the peghead's design is the familiar flowerpot inlay, but different since it lacks the flowerpot's base, probably due to the shorter peghead length. The body shape is reminiscent of a late 1920s Gibson model like the L-1, but the lower bout width of 13-9/16" is unlike any other Gibson flattop we have encountered. Its depth at the endpin is 4-1/4".

This mini Whitley features crown inlay -- typical of SJ-200s -- set in an ebony board. The pickguard is like that of a J-55 or early J-100. Nut width is 1-1/4 inches. Scale length is 26 inches. Early SJ-200s share the longest Gibson scale length, a suggestion apparently proposed by Whitley himself. This instrument bears a factory work order number on the neck block of "923F" and beneath it in red marker, "1." This would indicate a manufacture date of 1940 and that it was number one in the work order batch, possibly the only instrument in the work order batch.

In spite of its relatively slight size this mini Gibson Custom SJ-200 has a full sound and deep bass. While this Ray Whitley Custom SJ-200 does not share the notoriety of being the first J-200, it is a unique instrument and an important piece of Gibson and cowboy memorabilia.

This instrument is SOLD