The reaction to our two pieces on iconic Les Paul players here and here was so overwhelming that it’s only right to bestow the same treatment on another of Gibson’s signature axes, the SG. While the players on this list are a matter of taste, it’s difficult to argue the influence that this double cutaway axe has had on the rock world.
AC/DC’s Young is the architect of some of rock’s greatest riffs such as “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Highway To Hell,” but he’s equally as well-known for his schoolboy outfits and Gibson SG. The guitar has been integral to the stripped-down, dirty sound of the band’s most recognizable licks and is also light enough for Young — who is about to turn 54 — to be able to duckwalk across the stage with ease. In fact, Young’s playing seems to just get better with age, which is confirmed by the fact that the band’s latest album Black Ice debuted at No. 1 on charts all over the world. (Learn how to get Angus Young’s tone.)
If you had to name one guitarist who was single-handedly responsible for the heavy metal genre, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified than Iommi. As a founding member of Black Sabbath, Iommi’s sinister riffs would go on to influence everyone from Motörhead to Metallica, despite the fact that he lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers in an industrial accident when he was a teenager. We’d list some of the riffs that Iommi pioneered with his SG tone but it’d probably take up this entire column, so just trust us when we say that Iommi is more metal than any of us will ever be. (Tony Iommi on early Black Sabbath.)
If you’ve ever played air guitar alongside songs like “Light My Fire” and “Love Me Two Times,” you’ve already paid homage to Krieger whether you know it or not. Krieger’s unique fingerpicking style proved to be the perfect accompaniment for singer Jim Morrison’s larger-than-life vocals and the group would go on to sell over 32 million albums in the United States alone. In fact Krieger’s SG-fueled playing was so powerful that the band didn’t even need a bass player—and the Doors’ music can still be heard in endless rotation on every classic rock radio station in the country. Now that’s what we call a musical legacy. (Learn how to get Robby Krieger’s tone.)
Live albums are historically hit-or-miss, but it’s widely accepted that the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic rock masterpiece Live/Dead is a nearly flawless example of a band at the top of their game — and it’s no small coincidence that the band’s frontman Garcia reportedly favored an SG on the album. While Garcia utilized a varied arsenal of axes throughout his 30-year tenure, many of the guitarist’s finest moments of improvisation were facilitated by his SG, which proved how truly versatile the guitar can be when its tone isn’t obscured by walls of distortion.
Zappa is a member of an elite group of musicians who literally defy categorization when it comes to his music. Over the course of more than 60 albums (most of which Zappa also produced) either under his own name or with his band Mothers Of Invention, Zappa constructed an impressive body of work that was avant-garde and creative but also accessible and impressive enough for listeners to appreciate on a purely musical level. Often seen with an SG draped around his neck, Zappa didn’t just break the rules for how a rock band should sound, he completely reinvented them — and we’re all the better for it.
Trucks may still be in his twenties, but when your uncle is the Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks then you get your start early. In fact, Trucks’ first album with the Derek Trucks band came out 12 years ago, and he was made an official member of the Allman Brothers Band two years later. Tone-wise Trucks largely eschews effects, preferring to plug his Gibson SG directly into his amp, which creates the perfect tone for his slide-fueled Southern style. Just try not to think too hard about the fact that Trucks has probably accomplished more musically before he’s 30 than most of us will over the course of our entire lives. (New exclusive interview with Derek.)
If you’re not familiar with Marino and his work with Mahogany Rush, we can’t fault you. The band never had the mainstream U.S. popularity of some of their peers and former tourmates like Heart and Aerosmith, but this ’70s hard-rock act has maintained a healthy fanbase over the years. Marino favored SGs and his proto-metal playing style evoked the heaviness of Tony Iommi tempered with a prog-rock sensibility. If you’re looking for an introduction to this Canadian rock act, we recommend the band’s breakthrough single “Strange Dreams” — just don’t check out the music video unless you enjoy having nightmares.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
The history of female blues guitar pioneers isn’t exactly voluminous. Indeed, it doesn’t extend much beyond Sister Rosetta Tharpe and her own influential forebear, Memphis Minnie. Forging a musical bridge between gospel and the blues, the Arkansas-born Tharpe influenced a disparate array of later music icons, from pioneering rockers like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to R&B stalwarts Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes. Yet Tharpe’s blues muse was almost impossible to separate from her original calling as a gospel singer. Born Rosetta Nubin in 1915, she began singing and playing guitar at four. During the ’60s blues boom, Tharpe’s career had a brief upswing, resulting in this rare television appearance where she sings the gospel standard “Down By the Riverside,” accompanying herself on a then-new, fully tricked-out Les Paul/SG Custom with its distinctive row of humbuckers. (The untold story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.)
We know that we included Clapton on our list of iconic Les Paul players, but Clapton’s work with the pioneering classic rock act Cream was largely defined by his SG — and we couldn’t write a column about the axe without including him. In fact Cream was deemed “the first supergroup” with good reason and Clapton’s soloing on tracks like “White Room” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” are a picture perfect demonstration of the way an SG tone can break up into a sweet overdrive without obscuring the sound of individual notes. It’s no wonder many diehard Clapton fans still believe that Cream was the legendary guitarist’s finest hour. (The saga of Clapton’s famous Fool SG.)
As the guitarist in System Of A Down, Malakian redefined heavy music for a whole new generation of listeners via albums like the band’s self-titled debut and Toxicity. While his playing was unabashedly distortion-drenched and groove heavy, there was also a cerebral element to Malakian’s playing that endeared him to us — and the fact that he was often seen jumping around strange with a Gibson SG didn’t hurt, either. These days Malakian is busy fronting his new band Scars On Broadway alongside SOAD’s drummer John Dolmayan.
From early British-beat classics, to rock-opera grandiosity, to “loudest band in the world” status (as listed officially in the Guinness Book of World Records for more than a decade), the Who have made an off-the-charts contribution to rock music. Alongside a larger-than-life drummer and bombastic bassist — the late Keith Moon and John Entwistle respectively — guitarist and chief songwriter Townshend made an enormous sonic impact with simple tools and a very basic — if undeniably inspired and energetic—technique. Townshend has used a variety of guitar and amp combinations throughout his career, and has embodied rock drive and power with each of them, but when I think “classic Who,” I go back time and again to the band’s late-’60s sound, and the guitarist’s set-up during the Live at Leeds era. Townshend plus Gibson SG Special plus Hiwatt amp stack equals colossal tone.
Hendrix used a ton of different styles and brands of guitars throughout his career, but we’ll always have a soft spot for the SG he used to make songs like “Red House” stand out. Hendrix’s unique playing style has already been described so many times that it’s pointless for us to try to summarize it in a few sentences, but we will say that watching him play his SG left-handed in this next clip still gives us goose bumps. These are the blues the way they were meant to be played — and we’re just happy that we could provide the conduit for the world’s most legendary guitarist to express himself. (Get the Jimi Hendrix tone.)
As the lead guitarist for the Cars, Easton’s SG can be heard on classic tracks like “Just What I Needed” and “Good Times Roll.” While his style wasn’t overly flashy, Easton has an amazing set of ears and was able to play just what, uh, each song needed in order to make many of these songs the classic tracks that they are today. Since the Cars broke up in ’88, Easton has collaborated with everyone from the Stray Cats’ Lee Rocker to his former bandmate Ric Ocasek and at one point even joined Creedence Clearwater Revisited (the touring incarnation of the Creedence Clearwater Revival). You can currently catch him in the new Cars alongside Todd Rundgren.
You may not recognize Box’s name, but we’re sure that you’d recognize the music he made in the ’70s as a member of Uriah Heep. Although the band was never as big in the U.S. as they were back in Europe, they did manage to score a few hit singles such as “Sweet Lorraine” and “Easy Livin’” and develop a cult-ish fanbase that still allows them to pack arenas in many parts of the world. Check out video below to see Box rock out on his tremolo-toting SG — just remember that despite the fact he used one of our guitars, Gibson refuses to take any responsibility for the band members’ fashion choices.
You’d be hard-pressed to argue that Radiohead frontman Yorke isn’t one of the most respected songwriters of our generation — and the axe he usually uses to express himself is a Gibson SG. Sure, Yorke may not have the charismatic energy of Angus Young or the genre-defining influence of Tony Iommi, but he belongs on this list because he’s helped introduce the SG to a whole new generation of listeners. Oh, and the fact that he’s the leader of one of the most successful rock acts of the past decade doesn’t hurt either. Check out Yorke getting cozy with his SG in this killer rendition of “Bodysnatchers” from the band’s latest album In Rainbows. (10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Radiohead.)