When you’re gigging every night and that Les Paul is getting heavier and heavier on your strap and your shoulder aches – it’s time to give an SG a go. First marketed in 1961 as the new Les Paul model, and soon after re-named the SG after Les Paul parted company with Gibson; the SG has been around for over 50 years in various incarnations.
My personal favourites are the P90 equipped guitars, either Juniors or Specials. There is something about the P90 and the SG design and construction that just sounds right. With humbuckers they’re still good (Angus Young seems to like them) but to my ears they can sound very bright with too much pickup and not enough guitar in the tone. A good alternative are the Mini Humbucker equipped SG’s that were popular in the Seventies.
Things I like are the access to all of the frets with the unique neck to body construction, the thin sculpted body and the light weight. The thinner body makes for a punchy, biting more mid-rangey push to the tone compared with the heavy bottom end of a Les Paul. Some classic examples of the SG tone are Angus Young (anything/everything) Eric Clapton on Live Cream vol 1 and 2, Ollie Halsall, Pete Townshend Live at Leeds, Derek Trucks, Carlos Santana at Woodstock, and one of my fave’s, Zal Cleminson with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – check out the definitive SG tone on Snake Bite or Faith Healer.
During the mid Seventies Gibson reduced the angle of the neck joint to almost zero, this makes for a guitar that feels more Fender than Gibson, one thing I’ve noticed is that these guitars seem to be very resonant and sustain well. Possibly because the wood grain is aligned between the body and the neck? They certainly feel different to play than the standard SG with the more pronounced neck pitch.
2011 SG Neck Pitch:
1974 SG Neck Pitch:
On most humbucker equipped guitars the pots are 500Kohm which work well with Les Pauls which generally sound darker than SG’s, for a time Gibson fitted 300Kohm pots on SG’s and they definitely sound warmer and suit the guitar, especially with mini-humbuckers and P90’s. Worth experimenting with if you think your SG is too bright and you want a more “woody” tone.
Top Tip when buying a SG: One common complaint is that some SG’s are neck heavy and don’t balance well, so if you are in the market for one, try a few as they vary in weight and balance.