I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
G-400 or SG?
The Gibson SG is one of the most iconic guitars in history. It’s a hard-rock tone machine, but easily at home in blues, jazz or country as well.
Musicians such as Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Angus Young of AC/DC put this guitar on the map, and for decades guitarists have flocked to the SG for its sound, looks and of course that awesome Gibson vibe. It is a true classic among classics in the guitar world, and if you play anything from hard rock to heavy metal the SG design might be exactly what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, while it is worth every dime, the SG comes with a price tag that’s a little too steep for some players. So, Epiphone gives us the G-400, their version of the Gibson SG. Epiphone is owned by Gibson, and makes some of the best budget alternatives to Gibson guitars.
This might make the comparison seem a little unfair from the beginning. Gibson is one of the finest guitar companies in the world, and Epiphone specializes in affordable guitars for beginners and intermediate players. It's a no-brainer, right?
Maybe not. I have long been of the opinion that you don't need to spend a bunch of cash to grab a great guitar, and I think Epiphone is one of those brands that proves my point. So, the question isn't so much which guitar is better, but which is better for your needs and budget.
I also think it’s important to avoid the notion that Epiphones are low-budget knock-offs. While the G-400 certainly will never be on-par with the SG, it is a quality instrument that just might be a better choice for some players, and one of the best electric guitars under $500. Are you one of those players? Well, read on and find out.
Birth of the SG
You might not know this, but the Gibson SG design first came about as a replacement for the Gibson Les Paul. In the late 1950s the Fender Stratocaster was giving Gibson heavy competition in the solid-body guitar market, so they set about redesigning a Les Paul with a lighter double-cutaway design that might be a little more appealing to then-modern players.
The Les Paul SG was born in 1961, but Les Paul himself was none too happy with this decision, and asked to have his name removed from the redesigned instrument. Gibson simplified the name to SG, for “Solid Guitar”. Needless to say, the Les Paul and SG both hung in the there and went on become two of the most beloved guitars in the world.
All of that information can bail you out if you find yourself on Jeopardy! but you might be wondering how it’s going to help you choose between Epiphone and Gibson. The point is the SG has a long lineage behind it, and in many ways the G-400 is a continuation of the magic Gibson created when it launched the original Les Paul SG.
The Epiphone G-400 isn’t a copy, and it isn’t a new idea. It is a classic, just like the Gibson SG itself.
Construction and Hardware
For the purpose of this article I’ll be comparing the Epiphone G-400 PRO and the Gibson SG Standard. There are different versions of each guitar, which we will get into below, but this ought to serve as a decent base for comparison.
At first look these two instruments appear nearly identical. One notable difference is the shape and size of the pickguard. Another is the shape of the headstock. Otherwise, unless somebody understands what to look for they probably won’t know or care if you are playing an Epiphone or a Gibson.
I think that’s an important point, because it’s all too easy to get hung up on the name on the headstock and not truly consider your needs and budget. Remember: A great guitar player can make a good guitar sound great!
Both guitars feature mahogany bodies with set mahogany necks. Gibson uses rosewood for the fingerboard, while Epiphone has switched to pau ferro. While the specs read like they are essentially the same basic guitar when it comes to tonewoods, this isn’t something you should take for granted.
While, admittedly, things get a little murky when trying to figure which woods guitars companies decide to use on which guitars, I think it is safe to assume the woods used in the Gibson version are of higher quality than the G-400 version.
Construction will certainly be, on average, higher-quality when it comes to Gibson instruments. They’re made in the USA to very high standards, and their guitars show it. It’s tough to compare the G-400 to a guitar three times its price, and made by one of the finest guitar companies in the world. Of course Gibson has the edge here.
Across the board, when it comes to appointments and hardware you’re going to see higher-quality components and craftsmanship on the Gibson. This doesn’t mean the Epiphone G-400 isn’t a quality instrument. What it does mean is you have to ask yourself if the difference in quality is worth the difference in price.
That is truly what this decision comes down to.
More on the Epiphone G-400 PRO
Pickups and Electronics
The Gibson SG Standard features a Gibson 490R/490T pickup set. I am a big fan of these pickups, and used them in my Les Pauls at one time. They are hot enough for metal and hard rock, but versatile enough for jazz and blues. I think they go well with an all-mahogany guitar, which makes a lot of sense. Not too much sizzle, and fairly articulate. All-mahogany guitars can get a little muddy and boomy with the wrong pickups, but I think these are a really good fit.
The Epiphone G-400 is equipped with Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers. These are good pickups, especially in this price range. They have a push-pull coil tap feature, which adds a little versatility.
While the Alnico Classics are fine, I’d really rather see Epiphone’s ProBucker pickups in this guitar, even if it meant a bump in price. I think that would be a big improvement to an already excellent guitar.
Both guitars have the basic controls you’d expect in an SG: Three-way pickup selector switch, and a volume and tone control for each pickup. As with hardware, you can expect Gibson electronics to be higher quality on average across the board. However, Epiphone has made many improvements in recent years, and the gap isn’t as wide as it once was.
Once again, of course Gibson has the advantage here. But you have to ask yourself if the difference in price is worth it. Pickups can be changed, and if you decided you weren’t happy with the stock Epi pickups you could swap them out for Gibsons or something else down the road. That’s one way to build an awesome custom guitar without spending custom guitar money.
Below is a table comparing the Gibson SG Standard and Epiphone G-400 specs. Remember that guitar companies change their instruments at times, so be sure to check out the respective company websites for the latest info on their guitars.
SG Standard vs G-400 Specs Comparison
|Gibson SG Standard||Epiphone G-400|
22 Medium Jumbo
22 Medium Jumbo
Epiphone Alnico Classic PRO
2 Volume, 2 Tone, 3-way
2 Volume, 2 Tone, 3-way, push-pull coil tap
1960s SlimTaper D
Heritage Cherry, Ebony
Cherry, Ebony, Alpine White
Versions of the Gibson SG
Aside from the SG Standard, Gibson has a few comparable versions in their lineup:
- SG Tribute: You can save a few bucks if you don’t mind a few corners cut. Stocked with a 490R/490T pickups set.
- SG Special: Features Gibson’s single-coil P-90 pickups instead of humbuckers.
- SG Standard ‘61: Another affordable option that brings you back to the origins of the SG.
- SG Modern: This is a guitar featuring premium components that have been developed by Gibson over the past few years.
The SG Standard '61
Versions of the Epiphone G-400
Epiphone offers fewer versions of their SG, but there are a couple of other options besides the G-400 PRO, most notably:
- Tony Iommi SG Custom: Black Sabbath’s legendary guitarist’s signature model comes with Gibson USA pickups and other upgrades.
- Worn G-400: A faded finish saves you a few coins.
- G-310: This is an even more affordable version of the SG, and not a bad choice for beginners with a few extra bucks to spend.
- SG Special: Along with the LP Special II, I think this is one of the top guitars out there for beginners.
The Tony Iommi SG Custom
Choose Your SG!
As I’ve said throughout this article, in my opinion the decision comes down to how much you are willing to spend for an increase in quality. I think this is true in general whenever we are making an Epiphone vs Gibson comparison. Epiphone is a guitar company that is great at what it does, where Gibson is a great guitar company period.
As always, I invite you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Here’s what I think:
It’s important to realize there is not nearly the same kind of massive price gap between the Gibson SG and Epiphone G-400 PRO as there is between the Gibson Les Paul and Epiphone Les Paul. In my opinion, the Gibson SG Standard is a pretty affordable guitar for what it brings to the table, and kind of a bargain. If it is at all reasonable, I think I’d much prefer to drop the extra cash on the Gibson. The SG is a legend, and well worth the asking price.
However, I know some players must stick to a certain budget, and I totally understand that. If your wallet dictates you must choose the G-400 PRO over the SG, I don’t think you should feel bad about it one bit. The G-400 PRO is among the best intermediate-level electric guitars out there, for an almost stupid-affordable price. You can mod it later on, but even left stock it is plenty good enough for bands, gigging and recording.
That’s my two cents. Of course the ultimate decision is up to you. So, which will you choose: the Epiphone G-400 PRO or Gibson SG Standard?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
James on August 24, 2020:
One thing I'd like to point out...
The alnico classic pro is in the same tier as the probucker
They use the same materials and construction methods save for the magnets... The classic pro is alnico v while the probucker is alnico ii
A noticeable difference in quality from the regular alnico classics
David P. Makowski on January 13, 2020:
I have played and owned many Gibson SG's. The pickup's are a major factor. The build quality of Epiphone guitars have gotten as good as it gets. If an Epiphone SG has really good pickup's then it will sound great.
Greg Privitt on December 22, 2019:
Been playing Epi SG's for 25 plus years and it's still my favorite guitar. Great playability and great sound for a hell of a good price.
Raymond Reid on July 19, 2019:
I have the Tony Iommi epiphone and I can say it is one of my favorite guitars that I play it has incredible sustain you can hit one note and it'll hold for a long time i have to say it is an incredible guitar for it's price and it comes with a picture of Tony Iommi and a few other things if you are a fan of the riff master Tony Iommi.
Earth Dog C on January 09, 2019:
OK another couple of differences I have noticed:
1. Neck construction -- the Gibson's neck is shaped from a single piece of Mahogany, while the Epiphone's uses a scarf joint to join the headstock to the neck, and another joint to fill out the heel at the other end where it joins the body. You can find endless discussions about whether one approach is "superior" to the other. The scarf joint construction tends to be more resistant to breakage as the grain, which runs straight down the neck, will end up running across the headstock on the Gibson as it angles back, making it more prone to splitting.
Also, the Gibson's headstock angle is steeper than the Epiphone's (17 degrees as opposed to 14 on the Epi I believe). This may or may not have implications for tone and tuning stability.
Michael James (author) on December 27, 2018:
Thanks for adding your observations, Earth Dog. They are pretty much in line with the differences I've typically seen between Epiphone and Gibson guitars. Though, I think some things such as neck profile will vary depending on year and exact model. I also 100% agree with your bottom line conclusion.
Earth Dog C on December 26, 2018:
OK, I actually own both an Epi G400 and a Gibson SG (faded brown). Here are the significant differences:
1. Neck Profile -- the Gibson has a much thinner neck profile than the Epi. This is not necessarily good or bad, just different. The thinner Gibson neck is more prone to breaking when it slides off the front of the amp where you leaned it to go take a leak.
2. Finish -- the Gibson is finished in nitrocellulose lacquer while the Epi is finished in some sort of poly. Some say this makes a difference in the "resonance" of the wood. I think you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference if you could do a true A-B comparison. The nitrocellulose will age and wear like a vintage guitar from the 60's (finish checking, wear-through on areas where you rub on it like the lower bout or the back of the neck), so after 20 years it will look like a "vintage" guitar. The Epi's poly will probably not wear at all.
3. Pickups -- different pickups yield different sounds. Honestly both guitars sound pretty much the same unplugged although the Epi is a bit "darker". When plugged in, to my ear the Epi pickups don't sound as crisp or sparkly as the Gibson humbuckers. I'm probably going to swap out the Epi pickups some day; probably cost about $200 to put whatever set of pickup you want in either guitar.
4. Hardware -- the only significant difference in hardware between the two is the tuners. The Epi has very nice sealed Grover rotomatics; the Gibson has the traditional Kluson-style tuners with the plastic tulip-shaped buttons. Both styles are perfectly adequate although the Epi's Grovers are smoother and more precise. The bridge and tailpiece on both are pretty much equal as far as I can tell.
5. Electronics -- the internal components of the guitar (which let's face it are just 4 pots, 2 capacitors, a switch, and a jack) are of higher "quality" on the Gibson, although there's nothing wrong with the Epi's components. I put the word "quality" in quotes because these components are so simple it's hard to make a case that one is better than the other in most cases. I imagine the Gibson's selector switch is more robust and will last longer (although I have no evidence to support this since both switches work fine so far). You can buy a pre-soldered wiring harness that uses the exact same components as the Gibson for about $80 (CTS pots, Sprague capacitors, Switchcraft jack and switch) and drop it in the Epi and see if it makes a difference. The Epi's wiring cavity is fully shielded but the wires from the pickups are not. No noticeable noise difference.
6. Fretboard -- someone on here made a comment to the effect that they felt the Epi needed a bunch of fretwork (leveling, polishing, whatever). I can't speak to their experience but on my Epi the fretboard feels great and has no issues. Same for the Gibson.
7. Cachet -- Isn't this the real difference? You feel like a rock star playing the Gibson; not so much with the Epi. No way around that I guess.
I should say that I have played some Epi SG's that were pretty crappy, and some that were really nice. I had a 1973 Gibson SG Pro that sounded great but wouldn't stay in tune, and the strings would frequently slip off the bridge saddles (because of the design - the angle of the strings over the bridge was very shallow). I bought in the '80s for $200, played if for 25 yrs, and sold it for $1,200. No idea what the "resale value" of my Epi will be in 25 yrs. That might be another factor to consider. Bottom line: play both and pick the one you like.
Steven White on December 14, 2018:
The Best thing about the Epiphone G400 Pro is the price. At that price you don't mind doing things to it that you simply would not do on your precious Gibson Standard! Firstly with the Epi,unless you are really lucky, you will have to level the majority of the frets to stop it buzzing all over when you attempt to lower it's action to something more useful than the one they gave you in the factory:set high to disguise the un-levelled frets. Next you will have to rip out the poor quality pickups and sort out the wiring. You will have to wire up your next set of pickups to Gibson 50's humbucker wiring specifications to max the output. Get better pickups there are loads available some at reasonable prices. My choice is the Alnico II magnets. The Epi's pickups really lack any decent sustain on them and the way they are wired up leaves a lot to be desired . All in all they sound cheap and lack definition and sustain and if you played the Epi without these mods with the strings catching the frets you will soon realise that your guitar has no sustain at all because of these factors. In fact you could not even classify it as an instrument.
Well the good news is that it will not cost you a packet to fix but will need some time and know how investing in it if you don't want to take it to a guitar tech. So because you are not paying top whack Gibson prices don't be too precious about it and be prepared to rip out the guts of your new Epiphone G400 Pro to get a better guitar. Believe me it is worth it but just don't expect your Epi to play with factory set ups straight out of the box.
After all these mods I love my Epi G400 Pro and it is now simply the best guitar I own. It is not yet totally finished. I still need to replace and rewire my Bridge humbucker. I kept it on to compare directly with the new pickup I put in on the Neck side. Really there is no comparison and I can't wait to ditch and replace the bridge pup. It just validated what I thought I was hearing.
Elijah on October 30, 2018:
I have a Epiphone G400 1966 edition and its awesome has a great sound and feel the pickups have a good clean tone and have nice crunch/muddy tone when you put a amp in overdrive all and all its a great guitar for $400
Randy on May 30, 2018:
Sg is my favorite Gibson. I can sit down and play it. It’s light and well balanced. And has a unique town that resonates like no other on full bends I’m not that proud of Gibson Qc though. Friend has one that feels like a Louisville slugger. It’s pretty rough.
And Greg la Cruz the Fender Strat is not over rated. it’s a fine piece of American history. A wonderful invention that changed the industry With a distinctive tone you will recognize without a doubt. Every studio guitarist will find a strat useful in their collection. And the American Qc has proven to me they are more reliable than Gibson lately. Read up and Pay attention
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on September 16, 2017:
I own a 1971 Gibson SG Standard. For that year they had slide switches instead of a toggle, the only time Gibson has done that, I think. Anyway, my favorite is the Gibson SG Les Paul Custom made in the early 1960s, about 6,000 of which were produced. On eBay they go for around 25K or more. Later!
j parker on July 02, 2017:
I think all u less Paul owners are so sad that the sg g400 looks and sounds better than all 3000.00 dollar over priced and over rated golden nugget guitars go ahead and bring them to the pawn shop and get your 150.00 put another 200.00 with it and get all a good guitar Lol. My opinion don't mean nothing but we all know its true Lol
Michael James (author) on April 10, 2017:
@Naetharu: This is hardly an "unfounded, speculative claim". Having played dozens of Epiphones and dozens of Gibsons over the past 30+ years, including both of these guitars on many occasions, I'm pretty darned certain that Gibson quality and construction is (typically) better.
Naetharu on April 10, 2017:
"Construction will certainly be, on average, higher-quality when it comes to Gibson instruments. They’re made in the USA to very high standards, and their guitars show it. It’s tough to compare the G-400 to a guitar three times its price, and made by one of the finest guitar companies in the world. Of course Gibson has the edge here."
Isn't the point to actually review the guitars rather than make unfounded speculative claims. If the Gibson really is better quality then demonstrate that. Here you've just assumed it without any evidence at all.
tommo on February 04, 2017:
As stated the price differences are unreal and the quality is not worthy of that price gap.also the playing and materials (i.e..woods.) are of a exceptional high standard (I am a retired joiner. ) I have a Joe pass & a ej200sc and can't fault them
absolutely magic.&my 16yr old gradnson has just bought a epiphone sg pro.
which he has always wanted. DID I SAY HE'S BOUGHT.! (my wife & I bought him)
Well that's my opinion.
Greg de la Cruz on April 25, 2016:
Both guitars are really underrated. The Strat's been too overrated I guess. Mostly because of the players that played it.