Gibson SG Standard review
The Gibson is a classic rock machine.
he Gibson SG Standard says something doesn’t it? It says “rock!”…probably with a few expletives thrown in. Those dual horns, blood red (well they call it “cherry”) body and chrome pickup covers combine to remind us all of some of rock’s most iconic characters. I’m talking Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Frank Zappa, Pete Townsend, even Jimmy Hendrix used an SG. The simple and distinctive SG has drawn many of us in who love that raw, loud, sometimes harsh guitar tone. So when I pick up an SG, those are the thoughts running through my head. It’s amazing how the guitar you hold can inspire you to play certain styles or songs. Pick up an SG and try not to play something by ACDC or Black Sabbath, I dare you!
From a distance, a cherry red SG looks…well, it looks red. But up close it’s something more. The grain in the A-grade mahogany has a dark colour in it (I’m pretty sure that the process is to initially paint the raw mahogany black, then sand it back until only the grain is black). When the cherry red is sprayed on top and finished with nitrocellulose, the effect is that the guitar finish has amazing depth. You can only see this when up close, so I hope the image here gives you can idea of the effect.
Gibson ’57 Classic pickups are something we’ve looked at before, in our review of the Epiphone Les Paul tribute Plus. They are a classic rock PAF tone and perfect for the SG. Compared to the heavier Les Paul body in the Epiphone which is over 4kg (9 lbs+), the SG is featherweight at just under 3kg (around 6.5 lbs). This is of course part of the design of an SG which we’ll get into later, but there is an effect of the weight on the tone of the pickups (shock!). The resulting tone is brighter than on the heavier Les Paul. So the growl you will get is less throaty. I also found that clean tones are noticeably brighter. I only make the comparison as a matter of interest, the tone is great and is classic SG. I was quite surprised at how good the pickups were at responding to delicate finger-style. This shows that the SG has the versatility to be used in so many other genres other than the classic rock it is most known for. I also found that the clean tone from the ’57 classics sounded great with a little chorus thrown in.
The SG dates back to the early 60’s. Les Paul sales had started to fall a little, and Mr Fender had introduced the Telecaster, which was the first example of how to produce a great guitar cheaply. Compared to the complex carved maple cap on a Les Paul, the Telecaster was a breeze to make. So Gibson introduced the SG, partly in an effort to reduce production costs, and partly to address some complaints that customers had about the Les Paul, such as fret access and weight. The SG wasn’t called an SG at all when it first came out, it was called the Les Paul, as it actually replaced the now iconic Les Paul model in the lineup. Les Paul (the man) supposedly wasn’t a fan of the SG design, and when the company eventually re-introduced the original Les Paul model, they kept the SG in the lineup and gave it a new name (SG stands for “Solid Guitar”). It was actually a hit with customers straight away and in fact Gibson claim the SG Standard is their best selling guitar of all time!
Early advertisements for the SG claimed it had “the fastest neck in the world”. Whilst the neck, which is described as a “60’s slim”, is not as fast or slick as the necks that are now manufactured for guitars such as Ibanez and Jackson, I think it suits the guitar in that it has a slim comfortable profile, but isn’t wafer thin – so it suits the feel. Due to manufacturing being less progressed back in the 60’s, a lot of necks broke…so many that it is rare to find an original 60’s SG without a broken neck. Necks are stronger now, so this isn’t likely to be a problem for you.
For those who haven’t picked up an SG, the first thing that will strike you is that the body is SO thin. The jack is actually in the front of the body (you can see the whole next to one of the tone controls), and as you plug it in, it feels like the lead is going to push right through the back of the guitar. I’m not a fan of jack sockets in this spot (including Strats), I’d like to see the jack moved to the base of the guitar like a Telecaster or a Les Paul, I think it would clean the look up…but that’s the iconic design…who am I to say it should be different!
The build quality is typical from a top line Gibson. The beveled edges, fret ends and finish are all immaculate. Tunomatic bridge and Stopbar tailpiece combined with the vintage tulip tuners complete the classic look, though I’d suggest that the Tonepros tuners that are now used will keep the guitar in tune better than the originals.
I found the SG a real joy to play. Even though it has the Gibson scale length of 629mm (24.75″), the neck feels longer due to Gibson moving the neck join along 3 frets to improve fret access. If you’re not sure what I mean by “scale length”, check out our post here which explains what it is and why it matters. I did feel that the neck position gave the guitar a slightly neck heavy feel, mainly when seated. With a strap involved it just balances right, but when seated, it can have a tendency for the head to drop down. It wasn’t so much a negative as just something I noticed. The setup in terms of action was great, nothing to complain about there, but this is a fairly high end Gibson, so my expectation is that there is no issues in terms of fret level, action or fret ends etc.
The Gibson SG Standard is currently available in 3 colours, cherry red, ebony, classic white and a natural burst. There are upgrade options to include Min-ETune, which is a small device that sits snugly behind the headstock. It can automatically tune the guitar, it’s quite amazing, I recommend checking out the YouTube clips to see how it works. I’m not really a fan of this technology on a classic guitar like this, but the choice is yours. I also understand that the Min-ETune unit can be removed without really damaging the guitar, so if you’re looking at second hand and it has the Min-ETune unit, you may be able to remove it fairly simply.
The Gibson SG Standard is a light weight, classic looking guitar that is more than a rock icon. The ’57 Classic pickups suit it beautifully, with the light weight body combining to give it a bright tone, perfect for classic rock but able to adapt to pretty much any genre. The finish needs to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. There’s no real need to “sell” an iconic name like “SG”, it has made its name over the last 50+ years as one of the greats.
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