The Gibson SG: 50 Essential Facts


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Nov 26, 2010
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The Gibson SG: 50 Essential Facts

The SG has been played by a huge number of legendary guitarists, taking in blues, pop, gospel, metal and jazz, and remains a classic marque of the Gibson brand.

Do you need 50 essential Gibson SG facts to impress your guitar-playing buds? Of course you do! Read on…

1. The SG stands for “solid guitar.”

2. It was introduced to replace the single-cutaway Les Paul Standard. Although 1958-60 Les Pauls are now some of the most-coveted guitars ever made, the single-cutaway Les Paul’s sales were flagging by 1960.

3. In each of its first three years, the Les Paul SG model sold more than 6,000 units, easily eclipsing the total of circa 1,700 Les Paul Standards sold between 1958 and ’60.

4. The new Les Paul SG was originally advertised as having the “fastest neck in the world” due to a super-slender profile and virtually non-existent heel.

5. The body/neck join is three frets higher than on a ’58-’60 Les Paul Standard.

6. The design was by Ted McCarty, not Les Paul. The guitar was officially renamed the SG Standard in 1963, after Gibson had used up its stock of “Les Paul” signature engraved truss-rod covers and when Les Paul’s contract with Gibson had expired.

7. At launch, Gibson offered four variants of the Les Paul SG: the SG Standard, the SG Junior (a simplified version of the Standard, analogous to the Les Paul Junior), the SG Special and the top-of-the-line SG Custom.

8. The SG Junior originally was fitted with one single-coil P-90 pickup, the Special with two. The Standard had two nickel- or chrome-covered Gibson PAF/ Patent Number humbuckers, while the Custom had three gold-plated ’buckers.

9. The three-pickup SG Custom is a bling-of-choice axe for many. Users include Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Lenny Kravitz, Dave Grohl and Sister Rosetta Tharpe – all of whom played white SG Customs.

10. In 1962, some SG Les Paul Customs came with a pearl-inlaid ebony vibrato tailpiece.

11. Gibson’s EB-3, EB-0 basses and the doubleneck EDS-1275 also shared, or once shared, SG-shaped bodies, but these are not officially considered members of the SG family.

12. Gibson thickened the neck in ’62. Although wonderfully playable, early necks were prone to breakage at the headstock if mistreated. Original unrepaired ’61s and ’62s are very rare.

13. A super-rare ’61 LP/SG would be a black finish Standard fitted with a contrasting white scratchplate, the latter originally meant for a Custom.

14. Gibson started using six screws to fit scratchplates in 1964. Only four screws were used prior.

15. Britain’s Prince of Wales, Charles, has played a Gibson SG. Yes, really, he has! During a 2002 visit to young volunteers involved in a Wales project helped by his charity organization, The Prince’s Trust, Charles strummed on an SG borrowed from a band that had formed on a Prince’s Trust music course. (Note: Charles really does play guitar; he was given an electric as a teen birthday present. Cue “Prince of Wails” jokes.)

16. George Harrison played his red 1964 SG Standard on many Rubber Soul/Revolver-era Beatles tracks, and Lennon played it on “The White Album.” You can see it briefly in the films for “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” where Lennon is playing a nice Epiphone Casino. George’s SG sold at auction in 2004 for $570,000.

17. AC/DC’s Angus Young (5’2” tall) likes the SG for its lightness. “I tried the (single-cutaway) Les Paul, it was too heavy. Hip displacement!”

18. But Angus also loves the SG’s power. “Fenders, you’ve really got to do a number on ’em. They’re great for feel but the wiring just doesn’t [sic] got the balls.” SGs sure do!

19. Eric Clapton played a 1964 Gibson SG Standard, from March 1967 to mid-1968, while in Cream.

20. It was early 1967 when Eric Clapton commissioned “The Fool” (collective name for Dutch artists Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger) to paint his favorite SG.

21. In December 1968, Eric Claptonloaned his “Fool Guitar” to singer Jackie Lomax, when he played on sessions for Lomax’s album, Is This What You Want? In 1972, Lomax sold it to Todd Rundgren in a bad state of repair for just $500. Rundgren renamed the SG “Sunny,” played it regularly and in 2000, Rundgren sold a repaired “Fool Guitar”/“Sunny” at auction for $150,000.

22. In ’66, Gibson changed the SG’s neckset and heel, and enlarged the pickguard cover. This was done primarily for ease of wiring and assembly.

23. Gibson’s inexpensive Melody Maker model was given the SG shape in 1965. It came in two standard finishes, Fire Engine Red and Pelham Blue.

24. SG Standards also came in Pelham Blue as a limited 1960s run. Some guitarists say blue guitars are wrong: an SG in Pelham Blue is damn right.

25. Many of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classics were written by Gary Rossington on his red ’61 Gibson SG Standard. The Gibson Custom Shop recreated 250 of these, down to every detail, in 2001.

26. In 2001, a man from Dayton, Ohio, was buried with his favorite Gibson SG. “We like to think families are like a snowflake or fingerprint; no two are alike,” said Funeral Director Tommy Routsong. “We try to customize each funeral to meet the family’s need.”

27. Tony Iommi started to record Black Sabbath’s debut on a Fender, but its neck pickup failed so he reached for his red 1965 Gibson SG Special. Sabbath’s sound would never be the same again.

28. Iommi’s original SG was nicknamed Monkey.

29. Iommi had a Gibson Custom Shop SG built in Nashville in 1997. One of two made as prototypes for the Gibson Custom Shop Limited Edition Iommi Special SG, the guitar features a neck with 24 frets and four control knobs, of which only two are active.

30. But, in July 2010, this guitar was stolen after Iommi played a tribute set to former Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio at the U.K.’s High Voltage festival. Truly the work of a devil.

31. Kid Rock had a Gibson Custom Shop SG Custom that was also stolen. It had a unique Stars and Stripes finish and Rock had shipped it to play for U.S. troops. Damn, thieves are mean!

32. Tony McPhee of the U.K.’s blues-rockers Groundhogs toted an SG Standard played through a Laney Supergroup amp. The final track on ’87’s Back Against the Wall album is called 54146, his Gibson SG’s serial number. That SG was also later stolen.

33. A theme is developing here. Ex-Smith Johnny Marr had his favorite red Gibson SG Standard (a ’64) stolen in 2000. The thief eventually confessed to police, returned it, and was sentenced to 200 hours community service. Watch a rarity: Johnny Marr singing and playing his ’64 SG on The Late Show with David Letterman.

34. Two people, somewhere, own Gibson SGs signed by Johnny Depp. The actor, who is a keen guitarist (he played on Oasis’ Be Here Now), signed two ebony Gibson SG Specials in an auction to promote Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

35. Derek Trucks loves his Gibson SGs. If he had to save one guitar in a house fire, he told Guitar Techniques, it would be his favorite ’61 Reissue SG. “It’s a classic vintage guitar and they’re not making any more of those.”

36. Trucks’ Gibson SG is tuned in open E (low to high, E, B, E, G#, B, E).

37. Trucks’ ’61 Reissue SG was built in 2000, but he replaced the vibrato bridge with a stoptail. “I love the look of that big silver plate on the front, but I found I was breaking strings and my tuning would go haywire.” Watch Trucks’ jaw-dropping skills on his Gibson SG in this epic tribute to Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan…

38. The first SG manufactured with active pickups was introduced in 1980. The Gibson SG-R1 included the same Moog active electronics previously used in the RD Artist, and had a slightly thicker body to accommodate the circuitry. It was renamed the SG Artist in 1981 but discontinued shortly afterwards. Only 200 or so were ever made.

39. Another rare SG is the Gibson SG90 Double, introduced in 1988, with thru-body construction or the option of a Steinberger KB-X tremolo. In 1989, the tremolo option was changed to a Licensed Floyd Rose Tremolo Tailpiece. The model was discontinued in 1990.

40. Gibson SG legend Robby Krieger of The Doors didn’t learn to use a pick until the band’s demise. His fingerpicking style was inspired by flamenco guitar lessons he had as a kid.

41. The earliest live appearance of Pete Townshend’s Gibson SG Specials, used on classic late-’60s to early ’70s Who recordings, was in July 1968. The Gibson SG was recommended to Townshend on a visit to the legendary Manny’s music store, New York City.

42. Townshend loved the SG’s slim neck and physical flexibility: “That’s when I started to develop that [neck-bending] technique because you didn’t need a tremolo arm. You could do it by just shaking the guitar,” he told Sound International. Live versions of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” show the SG’s versatility.

43. The Short Lyre Vibrolas fitted to some early SGs operate completely differently to a Bigsby or Fender vibratos. The Lyre moves the strings from side-to-side. Original SGs with Lyres are highly collectible.

44. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is an SG/Lyre man. He has vintage Standards from ’62 and ’65 as well as a 2007 Custom Shop model and a 2008 Custom Shop Vintage Original Spec (V.O.S.) – all are fitted with Maestro/Lyre vibratos.

45. U2’s Edge’s main SG is a 1966 cherry red Standard. Hear it roar, together with an Ampeg Scrambler pedal, on the live version of “Elevation.” Lucky man also owns a ’65 Pelham Blue SG.

46. 1970 was a boom year for the Gibson SG, with 12,914 units shipped *– more SGs were sold than in any other single year in the period 1961-1979.

47. 1970 saw new words stamped on the back of the Gibson SG’s headstock: Made in USA.

48. It was 1972 before Gibson placed magazine advertising for the SG.

49. The 1961 list price for a Gibson SG Les Paul Standard was $310.

50. SGs branded with the Epiphone name started in the ’80s. The current Epiphone G-400 is almost identical, looks-wise, to a 1962 Gibson Les Paul SG. What goes around comes around…

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