Gibson SG Review: 50th Anniversary of a Legendary Guitar
Fifty years ago with a full moon in the night sky, the Gibson SG was born. Soon, wild men with lightning in their hands came forth and made it sing, howl, and roar. The earth trembled at their greatness!
The Gibson SG: Fast, Sleek, Powerful and Born to Rock
Incredible as it may seem now, the SG was created in response to flagging sales of the Les Paul during the late 1950s. In 1961, the Les Paul was revamped in the hope of competing with the popular Fender Stratocaster introduced in 1954. With its beveled mahogany body, devilish horn cutaways and superb playability, the SG has become Gibson’s best selling guitar.
Gibson’s first move was to revise the Les Paul Specials and Juniors in 1959 by giving them rounded double cutaways, often associated with the Melody Maker. In 1960, the Les Paul range was (temporarily) discontinued and the Standards, Customs, Juniors and Specials were given the SG horn cutaways. Les Paul wasn’t enamored with the SG shape and in 1961 Gibson officially removed his name and gave them the designation, the SG (solid guitar) series. However, due to an excess of Les Paul nameplates, SG’s continued to leave the factory bearing the Les Paul name which was fixed between the rhythm pick up and the fretboard.
In its first three years of production, over 6,000 SG’s a year were sold. Given that only 1,700 Les Pauls were sold between 1958 and 1960, the SG had established itself as a new thoroughbred in the Gibson stable. Advertisements by Gibson claimed it had, “the fastest neck in the world”.
What Makes a Gibson SG Tick?
- Double-cutaway beveled mahogany body – significantly lighter than the Les Paul because of the shallower body, but also with excellent resonance and sustain
- Set mahogany neck – joined at the 19th fret giving easy access to upper frets
- Bound rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid inlays – very fast to play with lower, smaller frets than many guitars
- Tune-O-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
- Humbucker pickups at neck and bridge positions (3 in the custom) providing rich, fat tone with loads of sustain
- 2 volume knobs, 2 tone knobs, 3-way switch
- 24-3/4" scale (SG standard)
The SG is known for its fiercely seductive looks, fast neck and explosive fat tone provided by the mahogany body and humbucking pickups. Many of rock’s legends have had an SG in their hands when delivering a searing solo, laying down thick waves of rhythm or ripping off snarling licks. Next year the SG turns 50 and is showing none of its age. With its strikingly radical looks and fat warm tone, the Gibson SG remains one of the most coveted and respected guitars available.
Eleven Famous SG Players
- Angus Young: riff master extraordinaire duck-walking across the stage in his school boy outfit while extracting other worldly sounds from his SG is a sight and sound to behold.
- Robby Krieger: using his iconic red SG, Robby’s unique finger picking style and flamenco background led to unforgettable melodies that harmonized perfectly with Jim Morrison’s shamanistic performances.
- Tony Iommi: Black Sabbath’s bone-crunching riff maker used his SG to create dark, unhurried leads in songs like Children of the Grave and War Pigs.
- Jerry Garcia: many of his finest moments of psychedelic improvisation were on an SG and the Grateful Dead’s masterful Live/Dead features Jerry on a SG in much of the album
- Frank Zappa: Frank Zappa’s music defied convention and with a kaleidoscope of influences he produced over 60 albums. He was most often seen with a SG draped around his neck.
- Eric Clapton: known more now for picking up one of his vintage Strats, it was back in the early days that Eric used a SG in Cream, famously on songs like White Room and Sunshine of Your Love, achieving sweet overdriven tones with plenty of note definition.
- Rivers Cuomo: in alternative rock band Weezer, Rivers is up front, and with his SG lays down crunchy chord progressions, then breaks into melodic solos that are an extension of the song rather than a departure from it.
- Tom Yorke: helping to keep the SG in the limelight, Yorke often uses an SG to express himself in songs like Bodysnatchers from the latest masterpiece, In Rainbows.
- Pete Townshend: of the Who, reported to be the loudest band in the world, ripped sonically like no other with his SG Special Plus and a Hiwatt amp stack
- Derek Trucks: the seriously talented blues man and nephew of Allman Brothers drummer, Butch Trucks, Derek uses his SG to improvise bluesy lead and is fond of slide, being influenced by Duane Allman’s work on At Fillmore East. Now 28, he began playing at just 9.
- Jimi Hendrix: Jimi was often seen playing his white SG towards the end of his tragically short career and live would interchange between a strat, an SG and a Flying V.
SG Models Currently in Production
Gibson SG Standard – based on the 62 original and one of the most popular forms of SG. MSRP: $2,517.00
Gibson SG Classic – inspired by the SG Special of the 60’s and prevalent during the psychedelic era in the US and Britain. P-90 humbucking pickups. MSRP: $1,537.00
Gibson SG '61 Reissue Electric Guitar (Heritage Cherry) - 60s slim taper neck profile, ’57 classic humbuckers made to capture the tone of the original PAFs. MSRP: $3,299.00
SG Standard with Coil-Splitting - BurstBucker pickups with coil-splitting for screaming single-coil tones. Pickup coil-splitting is activated by push/pull tone pots giving sonic range. MSRP: $2,200.00
Gibson SG Special Satin Ebony – offered at a lower price than other models because fewer coats of finish are applied to the body. Neck pickup: 490R and 490T bridge pickup giving a boost to the upper mids. MSRP: $1,350.00
Gibson Faded SG Special – the faded finish provides a vintage look. Alnico magnet humbuckers; 490R and 490T. MSRP: $1,164.00
Gibson Custom SG Standard Historic Reissue (Faded Cherry)- from Gibson’s custom shop it is fitted with BurstBucker humbuckers, ABR-1 bridge and vintage tulip tuners. MSRP: $4,656.00
Gibson Angus Young SG Electric Guitar (Ebony) – made to the specs of Angus Young of ACDC, including lightning bolt fret markers. MSRP: $3,617.00
Gibson Custom Angus Young SG VOS Electric Guitar (Angus Cherry)- limited edition of 200 Vintage Original-Spec (VOS)and equipped with pearl lightning frets inlays, Duncan Pearly Gates humbuckers, bone nut, Schaller tuners and aged chrome harware. MSRP: $6,115.00
Gibson Custom SG Custom Stopbar Les Paul – from the Gibson Custom Shop it’s equipped with gold hardware, mother of pearl inlays, 3 humbuckers, and bound ebony fingerboard. MSRP: $5,880.00 - $6,116.00
Gibson Custom SG Standard with Maestro VOS - includes pickups and long neck tenon modeled accurately on the original. VOS aging treatment gives it a vintage complexion with a slightly aged finish and aged hardware. Equipped with Burstbuckers and vintage tulip tuners. MSRP: $4,421.00 - $5,009.00
Gibson Custom Korina SG Standard- instead of mahogany this model is constructed in the custom shop using korina giving it a brighter, cutting tone that gives a lot of note to note definition when playing chords.MSRP: $4,656.00
Gibson Custom SG Special VOS – a recreation of the economy model of SG fitted with P-90s and a wraparound bridge. This model has period correct construction with a tenderly aged vintage guitar appearance. MSRP: $3,998.00 - $4,233.00
Gibson Custom SG Standard Historic Reissue Electric Guitar with Maestro (Faded Cherry)- a reissue guitar from the custom shop featuring a mahogany body, 1960 slim-tapered neck profile, BurstBucker pickups, Maestro tailpiece and vintage tulip tuners MSRP: $4,892.00
Gibson Custom SG Elegant Quilt Top – constructed with a quilted maple top, bound fretboard with abalone trapezoid inlays, glossy nitrocellulose lacquer finish, gold hardware, vintage tulip tuners and Classic ’57 pickups
Gibson Custom Custom Robby Krieger 1967 SG VOS – from the custom shop this guitar combines the features of Krieger’s favorite SG models into the one guitar. The vintage treatment is modeled on his beloved 1967 SG Standard right down to the most subtle scratches, belt rash and dings. MSRP: $4,774.00
Gibson Custom Les Paul SG Custom Maestro – from the custom shop, this model is a careful re-creation of a legendary guitar, the Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul SG Standard. The faithful reconstruction includes holly peg veneer, vintage body shape, heel shape, tapered peghead, and scarfing. It’s equipped with gold hardware, bound neck, ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic Bridge with short Maestro tailpiece, and three ’57 Classics. MSRP: $6,116.00 - $6,351.00
Gibson Limited Run SG Carved Top Ocean Blue Burst – the only SG model with a maple top finished in nitrocellulose and providing the extra sustain for which the LP is famous. It’s fitted with BurstBucker Pro pickups which provide an even more explosive punch.MSRP: $4,442.00