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Gibson SG Special Vs. Standard Vs. Faded Guitar Review

The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

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.

  • Note: This article discusses guitars that are no longer in production. Hopefully, it can be a reference should you encounter any of these instruments on the used market.

The Gibson SG Special T

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 T.

The SG Special sees some nice upgrades for 2017. The Gibson classic 490T and 490R pickup set are back, having replaced the '61 Zebra pickups on models from a few years back. The 490T/Rs are quality pickups that will deliver classic Gibson SG sound with a touch of bite and aggression. I’d count this as another check in the plus column, and the chrome covers look much nicer than the open coils.

The fingerboard is made of thicker rosewood. Previous models featured a granadillo 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 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 Standard T

The SG Special is a great guitar, and you can save a few bucks compared to the SG Standard. So where are those compromises coming from? Here is a look at the Standard:

The SG Standard has a pretty, bound fingerboard made from rosewood, complete with classic Gibson trapezoid inlays and with a somewhat thicker design. By comparison, the Special has smaller inlays and more of a vintage look. This is a cosmetic difference for the most part. Both guitars have slim-taper necks with identical measurements.

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, and a little more warmth.

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.

You've got chrome tuners instead of the vintage keystone tuners found on the Special. It has a gorgeous high-gloss finish, whereas the Special has a satin finish. And it comes with a nice Gibson hardshell case instead of a gig bag.

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.

The Gibson SG Faded T

The Gibson faded models have gone in and out of the lineup for decades. Last year's Les Paul Studio Faded T was a gem. This year the SG Faded is looking pretty darned good, and if you want a real Gibson for a seriously affordable price this is the way to go.

So, of course, the next question is: How does it compare to the Special and Standard?

The SG Faded has the 490 R/T pickup set we see in the Special, but in this case with open coils instead of chrome covers. Open-coil pickups tend to sound a little hotter than covered pickups.

Of course, it 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 Faded 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?

Much of the difference here is cosmetic as well. The Faded has a worn satin finish, not the shiny, glossy look of a higher-priced guitar. This cuts down on cost but still gives you a great guitar. Sound is what matters, right?

Honestly, I'd been very happy with the faded finish on my 2016 Les Paul Studio. In the past, I've thought Gibson's faded guitars looked awfully rough around the edges, but over the last few years, they really seem to be getting it right.

The bottom line: With the Faded, you can save a few bucks on a guitar that looks and sounds awesome, but maybe not quite as awesome as the Special or the Standard.

Which SG 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.

But 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 SG Faded is for you.

Hey, it’s all up to you. So what would I do? If I really wanted an SG I'd go with the Standard. In my opinion, along with the Fender Stratocaster, it is the most reasonably priced legendary guitar on the market.

But if I was in cost-saving mode I think I'd go with the Faded SG over the Special. When it comes to both sound and looks it is close enough to warrant the savings.

That's what I'd do? What will you do? 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 Faded?

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.


Guitar Gopher (author) on August 08, 2019:

@ Rob - The QC on my 2016 Les Paul Studio Faded seems pretty good, but you are not alone in your criticism. I expect and hope we'll see Gibson picking things up going forward. Based on the 2019 lineup it looks like they've been listening to the fans.

Rob Slaton on August 07, 2019:

I have the 2017 faded..def maple neck...I love the guitar but Gibson's quality control is horrible or they just dont give a shit on cheaper guitars.

Lance on April 24, 2018:

The faded is Maple

Guitar Gopher (author) on March 09, 2018:

@mrmstock - That hasn't happened to me yet, but I worry about it all the time!

mrmstock on March 08, 2018:

loved my gibson special the thing about gibson is if you accidentally ever knock it off the stand or drop it the headstock will snap and crack the neck of the guitar this happens to just about every gibson made today

Robert pote on December 13, 2017:

Very sharp fret ends on the faded don't know about the special but the standards frets seem to be ok I guess you have to pay more to get a finished guitar

Guitar Gopher (author) on October 24, 2017:

Hi Dany. Just double-checked the specs to be sure. The 2017 SG Faded T has a maple neck. The 2016 version had mahogany.

Dany on October 23, 2017:

The faded series has mahogany neck, it is not maple.

Max on October 19, 2015:

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