It’s hardly surprising that many of rock’s most legendary guitarists have plied their craft on a Gibson SG. With its warm sustain, silky fretboard, and sharp cutaways, the SG is conducive to all types of playing—from searing solos to chunky rhythms to sinewy leads. Moreover, the SG’s sleek, lightweight design and striking beauty makes it a much-favored instrument for live performance.
At various points such notables as Pete Townshend, Todd Rundgren, and Elliot Easton have all been smitten with the SG. The guitar’s tone, in particular, has inspired transcendent riff-making. Among the devotees of the instrument are the five greats below, each of whom has used the SG to create some of the best music of our times.
It’s not simply by chance that the Rolling Stones’ most essential albums were made during Mick Taylor’s tenure with the band. Using the SG as his choice instrument, Taylor pushed the Stones’ blues-rock aesthetic to the level of genius on such classics as Sticky Fingers, Goat’s Head Soup, and Exile on Main Street. The latter album, especially, ranks as one of rock and roll’s finest achievements. Playing his SG with an authenticity gleaned from an apprenticeship in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Taylor employs stinging bottleneck runs, emotive leads, and some of the dirtiest country-blues licks ever committed to vinyl, as he plays ying to Keith Richards’ yang. With all respect due Ron Wood, the Stones have never since integrated blues, country, and rock as effectively.
“When I first started playing guitar, everyone was playing Chuck Berry and B.B. King licks,” Robby Krieger once said. “I decided I was going to find other avenues of expression.” During his tenure with the Doors Krieger did just that. Utilizing his iconic red SG, Krieger brought to the band a distinctive style based on a fascination with flamenco and a deep assimilation of blues and jazz. Showcasing the melodic gifts evident on “Light My Fire,” “Touch Me,” and “Love Me Two Times”—all of which he wrote—Krieger could make his SG sing with abandon or subtly serve the song. In keeping with his flamenco background, Krieger played his SG without a pick—the better to shift easily between bass, lead, and rhythm parts. And his interest in Indian music—as exemplified on “The End”—served as a perfect backdrop for singer Jim Morrison’s shaman-like persona.
Angus Young may be one of the most diminutive guitarists to ever pick up an SG, but his gargantuan bag of riffs belies his physical stature. Tapping the essence of hard rock’s swagger and humor, the AC/DC maestro testifies to the endless permutations to be found in just a handful of notes. As evidenced on the signature licks for such classics as “Highway to Hell,” “Back in Black,” and “You Shook Me All Night Long,” Young has used his SG to craft some of the most memorable riffs in rock history. “I’ve always found it a challenge to come up with something that’s nice and simple,” he once said. “A lot of it has to do with rhythm. Our riffs transport you—although to where, I don’t know.”
Some have credited Tony Iommi with inventing heavy metal. That’s an open question, but there’s no denying that Iommi, while in Black Sabbath, used his SG to introduce an element of thunderous foreboding into the genre. The architect of some of the most bone-crunching riffs ever, Iommi specialized in slow, menacing leads that were the aural equivalent of the movements of the Frankenstein monster. “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and “Children of the Grave” are among the classics that attest to the indelible mark made by Iommi with his SG. “I love the SG,” Iommi once said, explaining his preference for the guitar in simple terms. “It’s light and I can get to the top frets really easily.”
No contemporary guitarist is doing more to ensure the vitality of improvisational, blues-based guitar rock than Derek Trucks. As the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, the 28-year-old SG devotee was profoundly influenced by Duane Allman’s slide work on At Fillmore East and on “Layla.” Taking up the guitar at age 11, Trucks honed his skills as an on-stage presence in his uncle’s band, and has since become a solid recording artist in his own right. Trucks frequently alternates between slide playing and conventional fretting on his SG—oftentimes within a single song. “The slide is really expressive,” he said recently. “Even in a straight blues context, it can really sound like a human voice.”
Anyone in search of the link between alternative-rock guitar and heavy-metal shredding need look no further than Rivers Cuomo. As frontman for Weezer, Cuomo uses his SG to craft crunchy, hook-laden chord progressions, then spices that rhythmic foundation with virtuosic solos that have more in common with, say, Iron Maiden than Nirvana. The fusion makes perfect sense, given that Cuomo’s original intent was to become a guitar-hero in the fashion of the late ’80s shredders. “I spent a lot of time practicing technique—scales and arpeggios and all that stuff,” Cuomo said not long ago. “All I did in high school was play metal songs. I can’t imagine not having a guitar solo; that’s just what happens after the second chorus.”