Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.
The guitar we now all know and love as the Gibson SG debuted itself in 1961 as a Gibson Les Paul. So in fact, the SG was always a signature series guitar. But we don't find this line of thinking so useful today. In fact, Les Paul himself did not want his name on the guitar which became known as the Gibson SG.
Besides being a masterful guitarist who played rock and roll music before the term had been invented, Les Paul the man, was a man who knew a lot about a lot, and had strong opinions as any man will have. He quite liked the original Gibson Les Paul guitars, and in time, he'd be vindicated as being correct about the originals. But Les Felt the new guitar, the one which became the SG, was too fragile. All great guitars are somewhat fragile, but Les Paul was alarmed by the neck of the 1961 version. He felt it was dangerously flimsy.
It's true the early 1960s Les Paul/SG guitars often suffered neck fractures or all out breaks. they marketed the guitar as having 'the fastest neck in the world,' and such a thing is not without its hazards. The guitar would officially remain a Gibson Les Paul until Gibson ran out of truss rod covers which had Les Paul's engraved signature on them. After a couple years of production the people at Gibson would realize Les Paul was right about the SG's neck, and take steps to make the guitar more stable and durable.
Early stars of the Gibson SG guitar
By the later half of the 1960s the Gibson SG would wind up in the hands of a precocious young Englishman who was the chief guitarist for the biggest band on the planet, The Beatles. George Harrison was hardly alone in his English love of the guitar. Pete Townshend became enamored of the Gibson SG Special guitars with single coil P-90 pickups. Pete would bash his guitars against the amplifiers, or even the stage floor. Then he'd have them put back together again.
Rock and Roll music was born of the blues, and Eric Clapton had fancied himself as a blues purist. He still does to this day. After blazing away some of the most emotional soloing ever with John Mayall's band, The Bluesbreakers, on a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, Eric would join a super trio named Cream, and make the SG his guitar of choice.
Eric Clapton's 'The Fool' was one of the single most famous guitars in the world at the time, and it still is at this time. For reasons only Eric knows he seemed to fall out of love with Gibson guitars, and into love with Fender. It never mattered much, as music marched on along with the times, and though Clapton had played some heavy music with Cream, music which would be called 'heavy metal' was just around the corner; and another Englishman would become known as its father.
When Black Sabbath became known in the late 1960s Tony Iommi was always seen playing a Gibson SG. Fast forward to 2017, Tony Iommi is still forever playing one. It's true the king of metal riff making has a custom made SG by someone not affiliated with Gibson too, but there's no one who's had so long a career as Tony while primarily playing the Gibson.
1 Gibson Tony Iommi SGs
This page is not meant to be any sort of best to worst ranking of guitars or guitar players. I'm discussing the Tony Iommi SG guitars here first simply because Iommi has had the longest career of anyone I know of who's almost exclusively a Gibson solid guitar player. Also, the music of Black Sabbath has always meant quite a lot to me, personally. Were the Eric Clapton 'The Fool' guitar ever a production instrument it would probably be listed first because it was the first SG which was famous in and of itself, even after Clapton no longer used it.
Gibson Tony Iommi solid guitars are not going to be easy to find for anyone. Places like Reverb or Ebay may have them from time to time, but it won't be frequent. And insofar as Gibson Tony Iommi SG guitars go, the red ones are extremely rare, or rarest of them all. To be clear here, you could have Gibson Custom Shop build you one of these guitars, but at one time there were production instruments. You always know the Iommi guitars for the cross inlays on the fret-board.
His signature model SG is constructed using the ultrathin '61 Les Paul SG Custom body style with its slim-tapered neck. The 24-fret ebony fretboard provides a 2-octave range and is inlaid with Iommi's trademark sterling silver crosses. Electronics feature Iommi's high output pickups, and his signature is emblazoned on the headstock.
Tony is famously left handed, but most of the Iommi SGs are right handed for the obvious reasons. Those high output pickups of his are not cheap insofar as pickups go, and this is because they are pretty special themselves. Epiphone's Iommi SG is a mainstay of their line of SGs, and are readily available for around six hundred dollars. Tony himself regularly plays the #1 and #2 prototypes Gibson built for him.
The Gibson Tony Iommi SG guitars were in production from 2001-2003. You're looking at five thousand dollars for a mint condition example. You can find a played and scratched one for less than three thousand, but again, they aren't common at all. What is much more readily available are Gibson SG Standard 24 guitars. Those have the Iommi pickups and 24 fret fingerboards, they just do not have the cross inlays, or the Iommi specific headstock inlay.
- Mahogany '61 SG body and fixed neck
- 24-fret ebony fretboard with sterling silver cross inlays
- Iommi high output pickups
2. Gibson Angus Young SGs
I'm certain this reveals something about either my age or musical preferences, but to my mind, only Tony Iommi is more closely associated with the Gibson SG than is Angus Young. Now, please be sure you understand that were you to see things in the exact opposite manner, we can still be friends, have some drinks, listen to some music. I get it. Angus Young is a masterful performer to this very day.
Australia's AC/DC has been a huge musical thing for me and people like me. I grew up with them on the FM radio being played constantly. While you could say their approach and style are too constant, unchanging; you can also say the formulae is very successful, and the consumer of their music seems perfectly happy with ever the more of it. Well, AC/DC is an act which is coming to its end. Time will take us all, but the rowdy and rough, fun loving rebellious music will live on longer than Angus, and probably will outlast me as well.
The Gibson SG will outlast more still. What needs to be known here is there have been multiple Gibson Angus Young SG models. The top image above shows a Gibson SG which is mostly the same as an early 60s model. Only the engraving on the vibrato tailpiece and headstock inlay clue you in that the guitar is a special edition. A bit of research will shed more light, the early 2000s Angus Young SGs had a slightly darker wine red color; and they packed the Angus Young model pickup in the bridge position. The neck pickup was the Gibson '57 Classic pup, one of their most premium pickups.
When you're Angus Young, you definitely have more than one Gibson to go to. If you're on stage and a string breaks, you need another guitar right away. The newer Gibson Angus Young model is a different guitar, as it is modeled specifically after Angus Young's 1968 SG Standard.
Angus Young acquired his 1968 SG Standard in 1970, and has used it on all major AC/DC recordings and many tours since the band’s inception in 1973. Young’s ’68 SG is known to be a superb example of this model, with an unusually slim neck, pickups that blend just the right proportions of power and sweetness, and a resonant, vocal tone that represents the best of the SG formula.
There were only 250 of these guitars made. Fifty of them were signed by Angus Young. They've all got slimmer necks than other SGs, they've all got the lightening bolt fretboard positioning marker inlay, and they pack Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups. These Pearly Gates by Duncan pups, holy wowzers, dudes and dudettes, those things are rock and roll royalty.
Gibson ran another edition of similar guitars which were alike in every way, but had the pickups configuration of a Gibson '57 Classic in the neck, and a Gibson Angus Young pickup in the bridge position. I have not been able to find out how many of those were created, but none of the three different Angus Young SGs which have been produced are in production at present.
3. Gibson Pete Townshend SG Specials
Pete Townshend played Gibson solid guitar Specials almost exclusively for a number of years. Pete has had a very long career, and over the course of that long career has played a huge variety of guitars. In the present day Pete is much more a Fender guitar player, but as iconic and long lasting as his legacy is, and the fact his most celebrated playing was done on Gibson guitars, Gibson had Pete Townshend SG guitar models produced.
The heart and soul of legendary Pete Townshend tone is the iconic Gibson P90 pickups. Made with genuine Alnico V magnets and 42-AWG wire, they produce the punchy midrange, thumping lows and sweetly musical highs that countless musicians have loved since the first P-90s of the late 1940s.
In the days when The Who were known as the 'loudest band in the world,' it was the Gibson SG Special and those P90 pickups which provided the tone. When The Who was at Woodstock in 1969, it was Pete Townshend and his Gibson SG Special providing the guitar sound. 'Live at Leeds,' and Quadrophenia were further examples of Pete's love of the SG.
The red Gibson SG Specials which are Pete Townshend models were replicas of the guitar Pete played on The Who's album Live at Leeds. It's one of their most classic and well loved recordings. The guitar is basically a Gibson SG Special from that era.
Then there is the Gibson 50th anniversary Pete Townshend SG. This guitar is a 50th anniversary of the Gibson SG itself, and was a 2012 edition. These are all done in Alpine white. The biggest majority of Gibson SG guitars, and even Epiphone SG guitars, are cherry red. Those look great, but there seem to be too many of them. The Alpine white looks terrific on the SG.
You'll notice the older red Townshend SGs and the newer white ones both use a wraparound bridge with compensated "lightning bar" saddle ridge, a set up rather simpler than a tune-o-matic and stop bar tailpiece. This wasn't unusual for SG Specials, and the old school wraparound is still favored by some folks in the here and now.
These 50th anniversary Townshend SGs are going for prices between twelve and thirteen hundred dollars. The older red ones are fetching a bit more. I've seen the early 2000s red Townshend SG Specials with asking prices from sixteen hundred to over two grand.
- Solid Mahogany body with Alpine White nitrocellulose finish
- Slim, fast 60's style neck profile
- Two Gibson USA P-90 single-coil pickups
- Wraparound bridge with compensated “lightning bar” saddle ridge
- High-quality Mini Grover kidney button tuners
- Gibson USA hardshell case with silver block-letter WHO stencil
4. Gibson Derek Trucks SG
Derek Trucks is one of the modern stars of the Gibson solid guitar. Besides being a fine guitarist, who's been well known among his fellows since he was still a child, and being a Grammy award winner for his Derek Trucks Band, he's also married to another fine guitarist, Susan Tedeschi. The two and their band-mates form the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Lets not forget here that Derek had also been a part of the legendary Allman Brothers Band. You could say his southern blues rock credentials are very strong. Derek has already been thought by readers of Rolling Stone magazine to be, on two different polling occasions, one of the best one hundred guitarists of all time.
Derek Trucks was just eleven years old when he performed his first paid job as guitarist. The videos of that have been preserved, and are easily found on Youtube. In the performance he used his Gibson SG. The same guitar is still his instrument of choice today, and probably, it always will be. So there is little wonder Gibson would produce a Gibson Derek Trucks SG.
Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and everyone else who's had the pleasure to play with Derek all agree he is a damned fine guitarist. Utilizing a slide technique not unlike Duane Allman, and open tunings on his SG Standard, he achieves searing, soulful tones which inspire the listener. Derek's music is as American as the proverbial apple pie, or Chevrolet. He's a good guy, and a great representative of one of America's enduring brands of musical instruments.
Looking at the guitar you can see the vibrato cover tailpiece. This is just a cover, there is no vibrato on the guitar because Derek removed the one on his guitar, and kept the cover. These are 1960s profile SG necks, and those are very thin necks, and were once described as 'fastest necks in the world.' The pickups are the PAF style Gibson premium '57 Classics. These are widely lauded and desired for their creamy thick tone which produces distinct clean and overdriven sounds.
These fine guitars have a sell price of twenty three hundred and ninety nine bucks new. Derek is a young player, and we can hope Gibson will continually produce these for years to come. There are plenty of them available used.
Gibson Derek Trucks Signature SG Specifications:
- Neck Profile: .800" / .895" True "D" Shape Slim
- Slots: Gibson PLEK System
- Nut Material: White TekToid
- Frets: Cryogenically Tempered, 22
- Tuners: Tone Pro Vintage Style
- Tailpiece: Stop Bar w/Lyre-Style Tailpiece
- Knobs: Black Top Hat with Silver Metal Inserts
- Neck Position Pickup: '57 Classic (Alnico #2)
- Bridge Position Pickup: '57 Classic (Alnico #2)
5. Gibson Brian Ray Custom Shop SG
Brian Ray is a musician's musician who does a lot more than 'just' play a splendid guitar. You just don't get much session's work unless you can really play a wide range of styles, and play them well. It helps quite a bit when you're also a bass guitarist, know how everything in a recording studio works, and how to use the equipment to get just the sound your client wants. Such a man is Brian Ray.
He's played with lots and lots of folks, but when you are Paul McCartney's numero uno band mate, you tend to be known primarily for that, as Sir Paul is only one of the most famous music men in the entire world, and has been for decades. Brian isn't limited to Sir Paul's band, he'll share a stage with many another great time and again, and he'll put out solo work too.
When you think of the Gibson solid guitar in terms of money you've got to have to buy one, you tend to think of SG models as less expensive than Les Paul models. That's true in the general sense, but in terms of the Gibson Brian Ray SG, forget about it. You can get a very nice Les Paul for the price of this guitar. This is a nearly five thousand dollar SG.
This is an SG so fine it has a well known nickname, the 'Silver Fox.' So I'll put as much in the way of specifications below as seem useful. These will have the best of everything, and a level of attention to detail you should sure expect for nearly five thousand dollars. These are widely available used for less, as they're big sellers. That's what happens when you put a Bigsby vibrato on a Gibson, people start throwing money in your direction. It's like magic.
Gibson Custom Brian Ray SG Standard with Bigsby Specifications:
- Body Wood: 1 Piece Mahogany
- Body Contour: SG Standard
- Neck Wood: 1 Piece Mahogany
- Neck Profile: Brian Ray SG
- Peg Head Type: Holly veneer
- Peg Head Inlay: Pearl
- Headstock Angle: 17 Degrees
- Joint Angle: 4 Degrees
- Joint Angle Tolerance: .600-.625
- Nut Material: Nylon
- Nut Width: 4.28 cm / 1.687 inches
- Fingerboard Wood: 1 Piece Solid Indian Rosewood
- Fingerboard Radius: 12 inches
- Frets: 22
- Nut/End of Board: 1.687 inch at nut, 2.44 inch at end of board
- Scale Length: 24 3/4 inches
- Fingerboard Binding: Cream
- Side Dots (Color): Tortoise
- Fingerboard Inlays: Trapezoid
- Rhythm Pickup: Burstbucker 1
- Lead Pickup: 57 Classic Plus
- Pickup Cover: Nickel
- Tuning Keys: Reissue Kluson Deluxe Green Keys, Single Band
- Tuning Ratio: 12:01
- Gear Type: Closed
- Bridge Style: ABR-1
- Bridge Material: Nickel Plated
- Tailpiece Style: Bigsby B5 w/Vibramate
- Output Jack: 1/4 inch
- Strap Buttons: Aluminum
- Pick Guard: SG Standard w/b/w
- Truss Rod Cover: White
- Knobs: Black top hats w/Silver inserts
- Backplate Cover: White
- SwitchPlate Cover: White
- Switch Washer: Black
- Trim Rings: Black
- Case: SG Standard
6. Gibson Kirk Douglas 'Captain' model
Nicknamed 'Captain' by bandmates, Kirk Douglas is a guitarist and singer who's band is called, 'The Roots.' The band is not his only well paying gig, however, and you may be much more familiar with Kirk from The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. He's a versatile guitarist, a melodic vocalist, and an all out nice guy.
Kirk owns a lot of guitars, but his custom made SG is one of his primary instruments, and Gibson has offered identical copies of it to the general public for sale. You can't help but notice this SG has not two, but three humbucking pickups on it. All three are Gibson '57 Classics. In addition, the TogPot selector switch carries a blender pot within its ring, to dial in the middle pickup level to any position, as desired. All this clever wiring trickery gives the Kirk Douglas SG unseen sonic depths, while hiding within the traditional four-knob plus three-way switch control array.
Some folks find great utility in having three pickups, and there is no doubt you can get more versatility in tonality from such a guitar. What is amazing here to me is the guitar only lists for a tad more money than the SG Standard does. These are priced at fifteen hundred bucks even, when you can find one.
Gibson Captain Kirk Douglas SG Features:
- Grade-A mahogany body with iconic double-horned design
- Mahogany neck with slim, fast profile
- Rosewood fingerboard with pearloid block inlays
- Three '57 Classic humbucking pickups in the neck, middle and bridge positions
- Top pot for the middle pickup blend
- Coil tap on neck and bridge pickups
- Grover keystone tuners with 14:1 ratio
- Tune-o-matic with Lyre tail
- Roses and "Captain" engraving
7. Gibson Elliot Easton SG
Starting in the late 1970s and cruising all the way through the 1980s, the music of The Cars brought us joy on the highways and in our homes and everywhere else. These were no head bangers, but bubblegum pop rockers. The Cars employed lots of tongue in cheek humor even, into their many hit songs.
Elliot Easton was far and away a different sort of musician for that era where guitar music often dominated. Mr. Easton always had a quirky and highly individual style. He simply was not part of the contest for 'greatest six string gunslinger.' His soulful style was very impressionable, however, and left a definite mark in the minds of the masses.
It was a time when silly music videos on MTV, a place that literally used to play music, and music videos, were the keys to success. Elliot Easton was an educated musician though, he'd went to the Berklee School of Music. The man has a very diverse set of guitar skills. When The Cars died out, he went on to play in a more country rock sort of outfit, Credence Clearwater Revisited.
The Elliot Easton 'inspired by' SG is one which can be had in either left handed or right handed versions. Elliot is a left handed guy. It would be strange for the guitar to not be offered both ways, but you're still most likely to see a right handed one if you look.
Most SG Custom style guitars have three pickups. Elliot wanted one with two, and he wanted his in Pelham Blue. It's a popular color with players of Gibson these days. Also understated from a typical Custom is the hardware here is not gold plate, but chrome.
You can see from the images the guitar comes with a tremolo bar. This isn't just any trem though, this is the ABR-1 Maestro tremolo system, and the tailpiece is ingraved with the words 'Tiki man.' There is a spacer piece between the neck pickup, and the fingerboard engraved with the name of Mr. Easton.
Those are two '57 Classic pickups. Elliot loves those particular pickups for their wide frequency range. Versatility and diversity of sound to be had in spades. These guitars are available used, but you want a new one, you best bring around five thousand bucks.
Gibson Elliot Easton SG Specifications Body and Hardware
- Solid mahogany body
- Gold hardware
- ABR-1 bridge, Maestro tailpiece with engraved Tiki Man Cover
Neck and Headstock
- 1-piece mahogany neck with long neck tenon
- 22 fret ebony fingerboard
- Pearl block inlays
- Single ply white binding
- 1960s slim taper neck profile
- 24.75" scale length
- 1.6875" nut width
- Vintage tulip tuners
- Gibson 57 Classic pickups
- 2 volume controls
- 2 tone controls
- 3-way pickup selector switch
© 2017 Wesman Todd Shaw
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 16, 2017:
Hey thanks Kosmo!
The problem with the first couple years of SG, when they were called Les Pauls, is the necks were pretty fragile. Gibson figured out they needed to make the neck more stable before much time had passed. What's extremely rare is seeing one of those from the first couple of years which hasn't had extensive neck repairs. Be careful about ebay. There are folks misrepresenting all kinds of stuff there.
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on January 16, 2017:
The article is so well-written and comprehensive it should be on a Network site. Anyway, I own a 1971 Gibson SG Standard and like it a lot, of course. But my favorite SGs are the early 1960s SG Les Pauls. I seem to recall that only about 6,000 of these were made. One of them shows up on ebay from time to time, sometimes costing as much as 25K or more. I'm getting hot just thinking about them. Later!