It’s Gibson’s ‘hell raiser’ guitar, and it has a very interesting history…
The Gibson SG is one the most iconic guitar models ever made. Despite its association with rock, and reputation, perhaps, as the tool of choice for rock’s most rebellious and just plain noisy players, it started life as the replacement signature guitar for Les Paul.
Les Paul sales were waning, so in 1961 Gibson decided to update its range with a new, slim-line model. Though this was in part due to market trends, as always with Gibson, it had the kind of unique design that would set it apart from its peers for decades.
Slim, lightweight and with a blisteringly fast neck, it immediately found favour with players. It wasn’t until later, however, that it developed its ‘hell raiser’ reputation.
To celebrate this iconic guitar, here are 10 Gibson SG facts that you might not know…
Though it was launched in 1961, the SG only became known as the SG in 1963. Before then, it was known as the Les Paul (it was a replacement for the original LP). It was only after Les Paul’s involvement with the guitar ended that it became the SG – SG standing for ‘Solid Guitar’.
There are several stories regarding the removal of Les Paul’s name. One states that Les wasn’t fond of the guitar and felt it dishonest to put his name on something he wasn’t behind 100%.
Gibson state that it was named the Les Paul until it ran out of Les Paul truss-rod covers, and Les’ contract had ended. Whatever the reason, it was, and remains a great guitar.
These days, there are a number of SG pickup configurations available. At launch, there were four versions. The SG Standard had twin PAF humbuckers with nickel or chrome covers. The SG Junior had a single P90, whilst the SG Special had twin P90’s. Finally, the SG Custom had three PAFs with gold-plated covers.
Early SGs without broken necks are as rare as hen’s teeth. The SG’s neck was billed as the ‘fastest in the world’ due to its profile, which was far slimmer than the Les Paul. However, this did make it more fragile.
Headstock breaks were common in this era, and this led to the neck being made slightly thicker in 1962 (though still blisteringly fast). It also led later to the addition of neck volutes (a sort of ‘bump’ reinforcement around the neck/ headstock joint).
As a result, ’61 SGs with unbroken necks are ultra-rare, but ultra-desirable.
The SG established itself as the ideal weapon for raucous rock players- but why? For most, the main factor was sheer power. The PAF humbuckers delivered way more gain than their peers. Tone was thick, rich and powerful, particularly when driven.
Combine this with a construction that weighed considerably less than a Les Paul, and had a faster neck, and you had the perfect instrument for rock performance.
That double cutaway does look a bit like devil horns, too…
The SG Standard is, according to Gibson, their best-selling model of all time. Though the Les Paul Standards produced between 1958 and 1960 are now amongst the most valuable guitars on earth, only 1,700 guitars were produced in this period.
This compares to 6,000+ units sold in each of the SG’s first 3 years.
One of the rarest SGs ever produced was the SG-R1. This incorporated active circuitry, developed by Moog, and had a slightly chubbier body profile. It was discontinued in 1980, with only 200 or so units ever made. One to look out for at car-boot sales…
The most expensive SG ever to be sold was George Harrison and John Lennon’s ’64 model, fetching $570k at auction.
This particular guitar had been used extensively by the two Beatles when recording and touring seminal album, Revolver, and also when recording the White Album.
Because of their slightly less opulent construction compared to Les Pauls (no maple cap, flamed top, body binding etc.) they tend to be more affordable. Currently, an SG standard comes in at £999, and an SG Special is just £569.
Not bad for a true pedigree rock icon…
Though Derek Trucks’ ’61 re-issue SG might appear to have the Lyre tremolo system, if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s actually a hardtail. Though he loves the look of the metal tailpiece, he prefers things to be a bit more stable and in-tune…
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.