There are few players – OK, maybe only Tony Iommi – who have done as much for the popularity of the Gibson SG as Angus Young. Sure, there have been other greats like Duane Allman, Gary Rossington and Robby Krieger who have taken the SG and made it their own, but if you show an SG to a non-guitarist, often their eyes will light up and they’ll say, “Oh! The Angus guitar!” The sleek contours, devilish pointy horns and no-nonsense electronics make the SG the perfect guitar for Angus’s blues-gilded rock and roll swagger.
Young adopted the SG early, preferring thin necks like on his original model (which was eventually retired from the road). “It had a really thin neck almost like a custom neck,” Young told Guitar World in 1984. “I liked the SGs because they were light. I tried Fenders but they were too heavy and they just didn’t have the balls. And I didn’t want to put on them DiMarzios because then everyone sounds the same. It’s like you’re listening to the guy down the street. And I liked the hard sound of the Gibson.”
Young replaced the pickups of this guitar with another set of Gibson humbuckers in 1971, and continued playing it until 1978, when it became too road-worn to go on. He replaced it with another SG, a Gibson second that had made its way to a pawnshop in New York, and with a similarly slim neck profile to his original axe.
The SG makes perfect sense, given Young’s playing style. It’s much lighter than a Les Paul, which suits his smaller frame; likewise the thinner neck enhances playability. The tone is more midrange-heavy than a maple-topped Les Paul, and the body bevelling makes it a particularly fun guitar to jump around with onstage. Also, the SG cooperates particularly well with overdriven tube amp power sections, whether cranking out chunky power chord riffs or kicking out screaming solos.
It’s hard to pick up any SG without evoking a little of Young’s attitude, but the Gibson USA Angus Young SG takes it a step further, with lightning bolt fretboard inlays and Young’s signature on the headstock. But it’s not just the Angus-inspired cosmetics that set this particular SG apart. It’s based on the short-lived 1968 SG spec, which includes a neck that’s just 0.775” thick at the 1st fret, and 0.850” thick at the 12th, with a nut width of 1.550”. This unusually thin neck is especially comfortable for high-speed playing and chording. The body is finished in hand-sprayed nitrocellulose lacquer at Angus’s request the model is fitted with a Gibson Angus Young Humbucker in the bridge position and a ’57 Classic at the neck. This model is similar to the now-discontinued Gibson Custom SG Standard, which kicked it up a notch with a pair of custom-spec Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbuckers, and with 50 guitars out of the total run of 250 aged in-house by Gibson and signed by Angus himself.
If you’re after Angus’s distinctive tone but the Angus Young signature SG is not on your shopping list – maybe you already have an SG, or you have another mahogany-bodied guitar that you’d like to “Angus-up” – consider the Angus Young Signature Humbucker. Designed for the bridge position, it’s based on an Alnico V magnet with special balanced-coil windings with vintage enamel-like coated wire, with shielded four-conductor wiring so you can hook it up for series, parallel or split coil operation. The pickup is also fully wax potted to eliminate microphonic feedback – which is of crucial importance if you play at Angus-approved ear-splitting volume levels. Pair it with a ’57 Classic in the neck position and you have a very Angus-approved setup.
If you’re on a budget, the Epiphone G-400 offers a similar design aesthetic to Angus’s Gibson SGs, while differing in a few points too. Both guitars feature mahogany bodies and set necks, 22-fret necks and classic SG styling. The Epiphone uses an Alnico Classic humbucker in the neck position and a higher output Alnico Classic Plus at the bridge, with a more traditional neck taper. These are fine candidates for pickup swaps, such as an Angus bridge humbucker and ’57 Classic in the neck, or the Tony Iommi humbucker, which can be used in both positions.
Angus Young live solo: