Super 400N (Second Model) Guitars

1940 Gibson Super 400N (Second Model)

Color: Natural, Rating: 9.25, Sold (ID# 01890)
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"The Art Of The Fine Guitar"


1940 Gibson Super 400N (Second Model).


This second generation Super 400, 18-inch-wide, 3 1/3 inch deep acoustic archtop weighs just 6.80 lbs. Two-piece parallel-braced, close-grained carved spruce top. Two-piece book-matched quilted maple back and quilted maple sides. Two-piece highly-flamed, maple neck with mahogany center strip, a nut width of just under 1 11/16 inches, a scale length of 25 1/2 inches and a wonderful thick profile. Ebony fretboard with 'pointed-end', 20 original medium frets and inlaid pearl double and triple split-block position markers. Nine-ply binding on the top, five-ply binding on the back, triple-bound f-holes, triple-bound fretboard (plus a single white line), and five-ply binding on the headstock. Black-faced headstock with inlaid pearl "Gibson" horizontal script-logo with pearl five-piece split-diamond inlay. Specific black plastic truss-rod cover edged in white and secured by two screws. Three-piece pearl split-diamond inlay on 'black-faced' back of headstock. Individual Kluson Sealfast tuners with amber-colored, tulip-shaped plastic buttons. Engraved "Super / 400" triple-layer ivory heel plate. Frequensated rosewood bridge on rosewood base with matching serial number "96112" in pencil on underside of base. Original Gibson brass "Y" shaped tailpiece with model name "Super 400" on cross-bar and "Pat. Applied For" engraved above strap button. Inside the bass 'f' hole is the Gibson white oval label with Style: "Super 400" written in black ink and the serial number "96112" stamped in black. The FON (factory order number) "333 F" is stamped in black with a "2" hand written in red pencil inside the treble 'f' hole. All hardware gold-plated. This guitar is in near mint (9.25++) condition with virtually no playing wear whatsoever. Apart from the removal of the Allen Screw on the Varitone tailpiece (which is a plus) and having a strap-button fitted by the neck heel this guitar is almost as it was when it left the factory around February of 1940. This is most probably the finest example extant. Housed in the original Gibson five-latch shaped brown hardshell case with maroon plush velvet lining (8.75).

This exceptionally rare 'under-the bed' for seventy-five years guitar is one of just seven 'Second Generation' Natural Super 400s ever made.

"The neck of the second model Super 400 retained the same appearance as that of the first model, except that it was slightly longer to accommodate the increased scale length of 25 1/2 inches. This change required an increase in the length of the neck and the distance between the individual frets. Additional changes include a less pronounced fretboard radius and a slimmer neck contour resulting in the standard neck width of 1 11/16 inches at the nut. These subtle changes made the second model Super 400 much easier to play than the first model, while the aesthetics of the original design - binding, inlays, and materials - were retained. The same inlay patterns were utilized, and the same materials were also included throughout - ebony for the fretboard, a two-piece book-matched curly maple section for the neck itself, two "wings" of matching curly maple for the edges of the headstock, and a center mahogany strip separating the halves of the neck. The heel cap was also engraved with "Super 400," and the neck joined the body at the 14th fret. This basic design was continued with minimal changes through approximately 1960. The same style three-ply binding was used on the fretboard, and the same shell dots were inlaid into the binding at the fret spaces that corresponded with the fretboard inlays… It is in the body of the second model Super 400 that the most dramatic changes were apparent. The upper bouts of the body were enlarged from 12 1/4 inches to 13 5/8 inches across, theoretically to increase volume and improve the aesthetics of the instrument. The instruments top initially retained its X-braced pattern. The f-holes were altered to be somewhat more open or wider than those of the first model, also to increase projected volume from the guitar… As production of the second model Super 400 began to increase, Gibson engineers continued to make further changes in the instrument to enhance its already noticeable appeal. In 1939, several additional changes were made in the instrument. Some were permanent, while others were offered as options for the first time. The permanent changes in the instrument included a change in the top bracing pattern from the X-bracing utilized from 1934 to a parallel bracing pattern. I have examined several instruments from 1939 and have found both X-braced and parallel-braced instruments in approximately the same numbers. According to Julius Bellson, the parallel bracing was introduced at the request of top management, heralding a return to a similar bracing pattern used on the 16-inch L-5s. Additional permanent changes included the standardized use of the larger Kluson Sealfast tuning machines and addition of the new Varitone tailpiece sometime during 1939. The Varitone tailpiece got its name from its ability to vary the tone of the instrument. This was accomplished by inserting an Allen wrench into a hole in the top of the tailpiece and turning an Allen screw in a small, cylinder-shaped piece of brass attached to the underside of the tailpiece that contacts the top about one inch above the end of the body. As the Allen screw in this cylinder is raised, it forces the cylinder down onto the top of the guitar, which exerts an upward pressure on the tailpiece, raising it slightly away from the top of the instrument. Conversely, by screwing the Allen screw down into the brass cylinder, the tailpiece's height could be lowered closer to the top of the instrument, with some relief of the upward tailpiece pressure. Such changes actually do produce an audible difference in the tome of the instrument. When the tailpiece is elevated, the guitar has a slightly more treble quality. Conversely, when the tailpiece is lowered closer to the top, the instrument seems to produce more sound in the midrange and lower frequencies. Apparently the sound differences are due to varying pressure on the bridge as the strings are either elevated or brought down towards the top by the large crossbar on the end of the tailpiece.  (Thomas A. Van Hoose, The Gibson Super 400, pp. 15-16).

Jerry Garcia owned a 1939 Gibson Super 400N…"But perhaps the most fascinating ironic twist is that the very last guitar that Garcia may have ever played was not one of his iconic custom electric creations but rather an uncharacteristic — for Garcia — vintage archtop acoustic 1939 Gibson Super 400N that he used to record “Blue Yodel #9.” This performance, recorded in the studio with his good friend David Grisman on July 16, 1995, was Garcia’s last recording session before he checked into a drug rehabilitation facility a few days later. About four weeks afterward, Garcia passed away after suffering a heart attack, on August 9, 1995." (

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