Gibson SG Special vs Standard vs SGJ Guitar Review

The Gibson SG Standard sets the bar for the Special and SGJ.
The Gibson SG Standard sets the bar for the Special and SGJ.

The Legendary Gibson SG

The Gibson SG Standard is a tone monster, one of the coolest guitars ever made, and a rock ‘n’ roll classic. But, while they aren’t as hefty in price as a Les Paul, a new Gibson SG Standard will still run you a pretty penny.

Of course they are worth it: Gibson guitars are among the best in the world. But if you don’t want to drop all that cash on a new guitar, you might want to check out the Gibson SG Special.

The Gibson SG first appeared as a replacement for the legendary Gibson Les Paul. While the Les Paul wouldn’t be easily unseated as heavyweight champion of the guitar world, the SG carved out its own niche in rock history.

Today, both guitars coexist side by side in Gibson’s lineup, and both are great choices for guitarists looking for that thick rock sound.

The SG Special delivers on the Gibson SG tradition, while coming in at a reasonable price. You can grab some real Gibson tone and vibe without busting up your wallet.

If you want an SG but you’re finding you can’t justify springing for the Standard model, this could be the guitar for you.

But you probably have a few concerns about how the SG Special stacks up against the Standard, and this article can help you out.

What are the differences? (There are several.)

Is the price cut worth it? (Maybe.)

Will a new Gibson SG make you better looking? (Yes, but only when you’re holding the guitar.)

We’ll explore these questions and others in greater depth. Let’s look at some gear!

The Gibson SG Special

Mahogany is where it’s at with this guitar, specifically for the neck and body. Mahogany is the tonewood that accounts for the thick, legendary tone and resonance in both the Gibson Les Paul and SG, and it has not been forgotten in the Special. So, far that’s one big check in the plus column for the SG Special.

The SG Special sees some nice upgrades for 2015. The Gibson classic 490T and 490R pickup set are replaced with Gibson's '61 Zebra pickups with coil tap. They’re quality pickups that will deliver classic Gibson SG sound. I’d count this as another check in the plus column, though chrome covers would look much nicer.

The fingerboard is made of rosewood. Previous models featured a granadillio fretboard, a newish tonewood Gibson has been experimenting with. Of course the preferred option here is rosewood, so it's nice to see.

The standard two volume controls, two tone controls and three-way pickup selector switch rounds out the electronics setup, and the bridge is a Nashville Tune-o-Matic.

Mahogany body and neck, Gibson humbucking pickups, Tune-o-Matic Bridge, standard SG design and appointments. Gibson cut some minor corners on this guitar, but it sure looks like it's worthy of the SG name. So what’s the difference between this guitar and the Standard?

The Gibson SG Special is a great guitar, but how does it stack up against the SG Standard?
The Gibson SG Special is a great guitar, but how does it stack up against the SG Standard?

The Gibson SG Standard

Obviously, even though the SG Special is a great guitar, it’s missing a few things compared to the SG Standard.

The SG Standard has a pretty, bound fingerboard made from rosewood, complete with classic Gibson trapezoid inlays and with a somewhat thicker design for 2015. This is not only a cosmetic difference, but with a wider neck and higher-mass fingerboard the difference will be noticed tonally as well.

The Standard’s pickups are chrome-covered Gibson ’57 Classics. While many guitarists are perfectly happy with the classic Gibson 490T/R combination, some feel the ’57 Classics offer better clarity and definition.

This may be more a matter of personal preference, but apparently Gibson feels the Classic ‘57s offer a better voice for the SG Standard.

Generally speaking, from the woods used to the hardware, the Standard features better quality pieces. How much does this influence the sound of the guitar? While the average guitarist may not know or care what grade mahogany their SG body is made from, we tone geeks make note of these things.

Many guitar players agree: The better the wood, the better the sound.

The real question is: Are these differences between the SG Special and Standard worth an extra few hundred dollars? Personally, I’d say, heck yes! But if you’re budget-minded you may be looking for the easiest way to grab an American-made Gibson.

If so, Gibson has one more option for you.

Basic SG Standard Sounds

The Gibson SGJ

The Gibson SGJ, along with the Les Paul LPJ, hit the scene in 2013 and got a huge positive response right out of the gate. The best thing about the SGJ: You can grab a new one for around $600. Yes, seriously.

So what in the world has Gibson done to present a real, USA-made SG for so cheap? The SGJ has a similar “Modern Classic” 490R/T pickup set as the SG Special. These have black plastic covers, which makes them look a little like active pickups.

It’s not a bad look, though certainly not classic SG styling.

The SGJ also has a mahogany body, but instead of the mahogany neck Gibson has chosen maple. Maple will be a little snappier, so we know the tone of the SGJ won’t be exactly that of a typical Gibson SG. However, it’s close enough for most Gibson fans, and at such a low price who can complain?

It’s got a rosewood fingerboard, and a surprising 24 frets. Twenty-two is the standard for most SGs. What’s with the two extra frets?

Maybe Gibson is trying to level the playing field with some other guitars in the price range, but honestly, if I’m looking at an SG, I’m not expecting a two-octave range. Still, it doesn’t hurt.

The finish isn’t as pretty, the appointments aren’t as fine, and it’s a little rough around the edges, but there is no doubt the SGJ would meets the needs of anyone looking for the SG sound and vibe for around $500.

Which Guitar to Choose?

The SG Special has what it takes to get the job done in any genre from country, to blues, or rock and even extreme metal. Best of all, it’s a Gibson. And, if you eventually feel like swapping out the pickups or electronics to get it more up to Gibson SG Standard specs you can make that decision later on. On the other hand, you may never feel like you need to.

The Gibson SGJ
The Gibson SGJ

But for for the extra cash why wouldn’t you go for the SG Standard? When we’re talking about the difference between a Les Paul Studio and Standard, which could be a thousand dollars or more, it makes sense to consider the Studio, but a difference of only a few hundred bucks makes the Standard hard to pass up. This is the classic that made the SG name.

Then again, we all have to stick to budgets. If you really need to stick to a budget, maybe the SGJ is for you. It comes in around half the price of the Special, and has a lot of the same attributes that makes a Gibson SG so amazing.

Hey, it’s all up to you. You can’t go wrong with any of the three choices. You just have to decide which one best meets your needs.

As always, good luck and have fun!

Gibson SG Special, SG Standard or SGJ?

Which SG do you like best?

  • SG Special
  • SG Standard
  • SGJ
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More Guitars!

Here are a few more article you might want to check out in your quest for the perfect guitar:

Gibson SG vs Les Paul

  • How does the Gibson SG stack up against in the Les Paul? This review compares these two Gibson classics

Gibson Les Paul LPJ Review

  • The LPJ came out at the same time as the GIbson LPJ, and it's another great guitar to consider. It's the easiest way yet to land an America-made Les Paul.

Best Electric Guitar Under $1000

  • Check out the best electric guitar options in the $1000 range. You might even see a few of these Gibsons mentioned in this review!

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Comments 1 comment

Max 12 months ago

I own a gibson sgj and it is the best guitar i have ever owned!!!

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