The Gibson SG: A Glorious Evolution
Construct any pantheon for history’s greatest electric guitars, and the SG will always occupy a spot right near the top. Once considered a sort of offspring of the mighty Les Paul, the SG emerged long ago as a powerhouse instrument in its own right. Indeed, without the SG, the very fabric of rock and roll would have a vastly different texture. From Pete Townshend to Angus Young, from Tony Iommi to Eric Clapton, from Robby Krieger to Derek Trucks—countless architects of the rock genre have turned to the SG to help build their bodies of work.
Let’s take a quick look at the SG’s history. Remarkably enough, at the turn of the ‘60s Gibson’s flagship electric, the Les Paul, was experiencing a sales slump. In response, the company reconfigured the instrument, giving it a thinner body, a slimmer neck profile and a double-cutaway design that allowed for deeper access to the upper frets. Billed as the “Les Paul SG,” and said to have “the fastest neck in the world,” the lightweight instrument proved hugely popular, selling more than 6,000 units in each of its first three years, beginning in 1961.
At launch, Gibson offered four variations of the Les Paul SG: the SG Standard, the SG Junior, the SG Special and the top-tier SG Custom. The early LP/SG Standard had mixtures of PAF and Patent Number pickups, while the SG Junior had one single-coil P-90 and the SG Special was fitted with two. The top-shelf SG Custom boasted three gold-plated humbuckers. Ironically, Les Paul himself was less than excited about the SG’s design. Honoring the legendary guitarist-inventor’s wishes, Gibson began referring to the guitar simply as the SG—Solid Guitar—although its nameplates and truss-rod covers continued to feature the Les Paul engravement well into 1963.
A modest redesign occurred in 1966, when the SG was given a slightly different neck joint and the larger “batwing” pickguard. These changes held firm until 1971, when variations were sold with a raised, Les Paul-style pickguard and a front-mounted control plate. The lower-priced SG-100 and the SG-200 (which featured two single-coil pickups) were introduced during this period as well, along with the higher-spectrum SG Pro and SG Deluxe models. Quality tailpieces—including the “Maestro,” the Bigsby and the “Lyre Vibrola”—were introduced as options.
Gibson reverted to the SG’s original-style pickguard and rear-mounted controls in 1972, while also fitting the neck further into the body, where it joined at approximately the 20th fret. By the end of the ‘70s, the original ‘60s styling was firmly in place on most models, and for the next several decades the Standard and Special models retained the SG’s 1967-1969 styling and construction. Of course, various innovations and notable reconfigurations occurred as well, implemented on a range of unique SG models.
Chief among these was the introduction, in 1980, of the first SG with active pickups. Dubbed the SG-R1, the instrument featured the same Moog active electronics that had been used on a previous Gibson electric, the RD Artist. Renamed the “SG Artist” in 1981, the guitar featured a slightly thicker body than previous models, in order to accommodate the circuitry. Approximately 200 of these guitars were made before they were discontinued.
Another notable innovation occurred in 2008, when Gibson introduced the “Robot SG.” Featuring “Robot Tuners,” the instrument boasted tuning pegs equipped with tiny servo motors that, when activated, served to “self-tune” the guitar. Through an ingenious design—including a “tune control” bridge that measured the individual tuning of each string via special saddles—the guitar could effectively tune itself in a matter of seconds.
2014 might well mark the most exciting year yet for the iconic SG. Boasting a deft balance of tradition and innovation, the 2014 SG models retain the characteristics that have made the guitar a classic, while adding new features that are already garnering rave reviews. Players looking for something simple and affordable, for instance, will find no better bargain than the SGJ14. Sporting a solid mahogany body, maple neck, SG slim profile and rosewood fingerboard, the instrument screams quality feel and visual excitement. In addition, a pair of new ’61 Zebra Humbuckers puts to rest any notion that its beauty is merely skin deep.
Like all the SGs in the 2014 rollout, the SGJ14 also features coated strings and cryogenic-treated fret wire for longer life and corrosion resistance. Cap it all off with a 120th Anniversary Banner inlay at the 12th fret, and you’ve got an instrument players will be talking about for years to come. Check out the complete family of 2014 SGs—many of which also feature the Min-ETune™ automatic tuning system—at the links below.
The 2014 Gibson SGJ
The 2014 Gibson SGM
The 2014 Gibson SG Special
The 2014 Gibson SG Futura
The 2014 Gibson SG Standard
The 2014 Gibson Derek Trucks SG