The Gibson SG

Author: Mark Flys

The Gibson SG, launched in 1961, was originally a refined version of the Les Paul model, and was going to take that name, although the guitar’s designer, legendary blues guitarist Les Paul- after whom the guitar is named- disliked the shape and refused to have it associated with him.

Gibson decided to continue making the old Les Paul and to rename the new guitar the SG, which stands for Solid Guitar. The Les Paul has been continually made since 1952 and is still sold. The SG was launched to compete with Fender’s Stratocaster, the guitar Gibson had tried to take on in 1958 with the initially very unsuccessful Modernistic series- the Explorer, Flying V and Moderne.

It had a completely different body style- small, light, thin and with two bevelled cutaways and pointed horns. The neck was almost completely off the body with a very high neck joint. The body was always mahogany, as was the neck. The fingerboard was ebony or rosewood. The SG was marketed as having the fastest neck in the world as it was almost separate from the body and had a very slim profile.

The pickup options were one, two or three humbuckers, or one or two P-90s. Most did not have the optional vibrato systems, although some had Gibson-designed units. A rare feature is the Gibson-designed sideways vibrato, in which the notes were distorted by the player moving the arm from side to side, instead of up and down. This was short lived.

When the SG was launched the main models available were the Standard, the Junior and the Custom. The SG Standard had the truss rod cover from a Les Paul and the “batwing” shaped scratchplate. It was revised in 1966 and was fitted with a larger scratchplate and different neck joint. The SG Junior was similar to the Les Paul Junior in concept- a cheaper version of the SG, while retaining the shape. The SG Custom was the range-topping model.

Some famous SG players include Angus Young of AC/DC, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Elliot Easton of the Cars, (all of whom had signature models dedicated to them), Eric Clapton, (whose SG was hand-painted in a psychedelic pattern by Dutch art group The Fool) and Pete Townshend of The Who. Although not a regular user, Carlos Santana also played an SG at the Woodstock festival.

The shape of the SG originates from the 1961-63 Gibson SG/Les Paul Junior. This model, a version of the Les Paul Junior (a cheaper version of the Les Paul), had the same body shape as the SG would later have, but with the Les Paul Junior scratchplate. This model is not to be confused with the SG Junior.

Although Les Paul disapproved of the SG shape and refused for the guitar to have his name on it, on the Custom models his signature could be found above the neck pickup until 1963.

Models available at the time of writing are the Standard, Custom, Special, Angus Young Signature, 1961 Reissue and Vintage Original Series models. Also, the double neck Gibson EDS-1275 famously used by Jimmy Page is based on the SG. Although the SG has always been somewhat in the shadow of the Les Paul, it has achieved star status in the hands of several talented players.

Flyssy is webmaster and owner of the Online Guitar Guide and Guitar Collecting websites. The online resources for all guitar and bass information, online lessons, tabs and cheap instruments. http://www.onlineguitarguide.co.uk and http://www.guitarcollecting.co.uk

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