Buying Guide:Gibson and Epiphone SG Electric Guitar


Gibson and Epiphone SG Electric Guitar
Buyer’s Guide

How to Choose the SG That’s Right for You

Gibson SG Standard
Gibson SG Standard

Introduction

Know this guitar by its many good works: “Crossroads,” “Dark Star,” “Soul Sacrifice,” “Iron Man,” Live at Leeds, and School of Rock are just a few of the productions that have featured this iconic electric guitar. The Gibson SG has been, and remains, the guitar of choice for many hardworking hard rockers. From the Fillmore to the local club, from Woodstock to the garage down the street, the SG has been a sturdy, workhorse electric guitar for musicians who want a dependable axe that delivers. The SG is truly a solid guitar.

 

 

Gibson Custom Shop SG Special VOS
Gibson Custom Shop SG Special VOS


This SG Buyer’s Guide will give you the information you need to make the best choice by covering these topics:

  • Find out why SG guitars are so popular and who plays them.
  • Learn the family histories of the major models so you can tell a Custom from a Standard.
  • Become familiar with the features that go into an SG, so you can decide which guitar has the features you want.

Why the SG is popular

The SG combines two highly sought-after features: the sound of humbuckers and the easy upper fret access of a double-cutaway. Because it does not have a carved maple top like the Les Paul, The SG is lighter, which is a godsend for guitar slingers who play four sets a night.

Famous SG players

Among the legendary rock guitarists who have used an SG are: Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Pete Townshend, Dave Grohl, and Jeff Tweedy.

Basic SG Description

Although there are many variations and exceptions, here is a list of typical SG features:

Gibson SG Standard
Gibson SG Standard
  • Double-cutaway with sharp horns
  • Solid mahogany body
  • Set-in mahogany neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Lacquer finish
  • 2 humbucker pickups
  • Tune-o-matic bridge
  • 2 tone, 2 volume controls
  • 3-way pickup switch
  • 22 frets
  • 24-3/4" scale length
  • 1-11/16" nut width

You may already be aware of some exceptions: an SG bass and the one-pickup SG Junior, to name a couple. But for our purposes, we’ll build on the basic SG to see how features and appointments have been added.

SG features

Where and how the SG is made, the materials used, and the decorative and functional features are all used to tell one SG from another.

Here is a list of features and choices for most SG guitars.

  1. Body
    1. Mahogany
    2. Maple (on select models)
  2. Finish color – Choices vary according to model. Includes:
    1. Heritage cherry
    2. Ebony
    3. Natural Burst
    4. Wine Red
  3. Neck - usually mahogany
    • Profile – choose shape of neck:
      1. Rounded ’60s neck
      2. 1960 Slim-taper
      3. Classic ’61 SG neck
  4. Fingerboard (also called fretboard)
    • Rosewood or ebony
    • Inlays
      1. Dot
      2. Trapezoid
      3. Block
  5. 2 pickups (usually humbucker)
    • Modern Gibson pickups:
      • 490R, 490T, 496R, 498T 500T
    • P-90 (single coil)
    • Historic humbuckers:
      1. BurstBucker Type 1, 2, 3
      2. BurstBucker Pro
      3. ’57 Classic
      4. ’57 Classic Plus
      5. ’57 Classic Plus Gold
  6. Binding (if there is binding). Colors and number of plies varies by model.
    • Body
    • Neck
    • Headstock
  7. Hardware
    • Plating finish choices:
      1. Nickel
      2. Chrome
      3. Gold
    • Bridge/Tailpiece
      1. Wraparound (one piece bridge/tailpiece)
      2. Tune-o-matic /Stopbar
      3. Maestro
      4. Lyre Vibrola
    • Knobs
      1. Top Hat
      2. Speed
    • Tuners
      1. Chrome
      2. Grover
      3. Chrome Grover kidney
      4. Black chrome Grover kidney
      5. Green key
      6. Nickel green
      7. Vintage-style tulip
      8. Locking metal button Grover
      9. Auto-Trim

SG Family Tree

Because the SG is descended from the Les Paul, the initial selection mirrored the Les Paul model lineup: the SG Standard, the SG Custom, and the SG Special.

Gibson SG Family Timeline

The SG evolved from the Les Paul. Here’s how it happened:

1958Les Paul Junior and Les Paul TV (LP Junior with yellowish “TV” finish) are changed from single cutaway to rounded double-cutaway.
1959SG model name first used: Les Paul logo is removed from the TV and the guitar is renamed SG TV (SG stands for Solid Guitar). Les Paul Special goes to rounded double-cutaway and is renamed SG Special.
1960SG TV name first appears in Gibson catalog.
1961SG TV changes to SG-style double-cutaway with white finish. SG Special is changed to SG-style shape; name first appears in catalog. Les Paul Standard, Les Paul Custom, and Les Paul Junior change to SG-style double-cutaway body but keep the Les Paul name. All of these SG-styled Les Pauls are referred to as SG/Les Paul or Les Paul/SG.
1962Les Paul’s contract with Gibson ends. Years later, Les disavows the new SG-style Les Paul even though he is shown holding it in a Gibson catalog in the 1960s.
1963Mary Ford separates from Les Paul. Les decides he does not want his name on any new Gibson guitars to avoid having to split the royalties with Mary. Les Paul Standard (with SG-style body) renamed SG Standard. Les Paul Custom (with SG-style body) renamed SG Custom. Les Paul Junior (with SG-style body) renamed SG Junior. Between 1963 to 1968 there were no new Les Paul models produced by Gibson.

Here is a breakdown of each Les Paul’s transition to SG.

Les Paul modelRounded double-cutawaySG body styleSG name
Les Paul Juniormid-19581961late 1963 SG Junior
Les Paul TVmid-19581961late 1959 SG TV
Les Paul Special195919611961 SG Special
Les Paul StandardDid not have1961late 1963 SG standard
Les Paul Custom1961Later in 1961late 1963 SG Custom

Current SG Models

Gibson USA

As the name indicates, Gibson USA SGs are manufactured in the United States. Today, the four foundation models are the Special, Standard, Supreme, and Select.

 

Gibson SG Special
Gibson SG Special

SG Special

This is the SG for the guitarist who wants a rock workhorse without the frills.

  • Beveled mahogany body
  • Set mahogany neck with rounded profile
  • Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • Rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays
  • Open-coil 490R alnico magnet humbucker (neck)
  • Open-coil 490T alnico magnet humbucker (bridge)
  • 2 volume knobs, 2 tone knobs, 3-way switch
  • Chrome hardware
  • Scale length: 24-3/4"
  • Nut width: 1-11/16"

 

Gibson SG Standard
Gibson SG Standard

SG Standard

Compared to the SG Special, the SG Standard has neck binding, trapezoid
neck inlays, a hotter bridge pickup, and is available in Heritage Cherry finish.

  • Bound rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid inlays
  • 490R humbucker in the neck position
  • 498T humbucker in the bridge position
  • Crest headstock inlay

 

Gibson SG Supreme
Gibson SG Supreme

SG Supreme

The Supreme features a striking flamed maple top like that on Les Paul models.

  • AA flamed maple top
  • ’60s-style slim-taper neck
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • ’57 Classic humbuckers
  • Split diamond headstock inlay
  • Gold hardware on select models
Gibson SG Select
Gibson SG Select

SG Select

The prettiest of the SGs.

  • AAA flamed maple top
  • Antique top binding
  • AAA flamed maple neck
  • Antique fingerboard binding
  • Gold-plated hardware
  • 490R humbucker in the neck position
  • 498T humbucker in the bridge position
Gibson SG ’61 Reissue
Gibson SG ’61 Reissue

SG ’61 Reissue

Faithful to the features set of the SG Standard released in 1961.

  • Small pickguard
  • 1960 slim taper neck
  • Nickel-plated hardware
  • 1957 Classic humbuckers
Gibson SG-3
Gibson SG-3

In addition to these foundation SG models, there are several
other models you should become familiar with:

SG-3

Three pickup configuration for more tone choices.

  • 3 ’57 Classic Gold humbuckers (bridge pickup is “57 Classic Plus, a hotter pickup)
  • Gold-plated hardware
  • One volume, one tone, pickup select rotary switch with 6-position dial pointer
  • Antique fingerboard binding
Gibson SG GT
Gibson SG GT

SG GT

A racing machine with lots of chrome.

  • Classic ’61 SG neck
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Neck binding
  • Chrome-plated hardware
  • Chrome/Mirror trapezoid neck inlays
  • Chrome knurl knobs
  • Tone-Pro chrome Tune-o-matic tailpiece
  • Locking metal button Grover tuners
  • 490R humbucker in the neck position
  • 498T humbucker in the bridge position
Gibson SG Menace
Gibson SG Menace

SG Menace

A guitar that exudes the power of metal. Available only in flat black.

  • ’60s-style neck
  • Ebony fretboard
  • Gold-tinted alloy frets
  • Brass knuckles inlays
  • Black chrome hardwood
  • Black speed knobs
  • Black chrome Grover kidney tuners
  • 490R/498T Smoky Coils humbuckers with brass stud
Gibson SG Goddess
Gibson SG Goddess

SG Goddess

A part of Gibson’s female-oriented line.

  • ’60s-style neck
  • Bound ebony fretboard
  • Pearloid trapezoid inlays
  • Chrome hardware
  • Chrome top hat knobs
  • Auto trim tuners
  • 490R humbucker in the neck position
  • 498T humbucker in the bridge position
  • One volume, one tone, 3-way switch

 

Gibson Custom Shop

Gibson was the first major guitar manufacturer to establish a custom shop outside of its regular production line. The guitars produced by the Custom Shop are the result of even more hands-on craftsmanship. And for materials, the Gibson Custom Shop is even more selective—“hyper selective”—in choosing only the highest-quality mahogany.

Gibson SG GT
Gibson Custom Shop SG Standard Historic Reissue

Gibson Custom Shop SG Standard
Historic Reissue

  • Solid mahogany body
  • One-piece mahogany neck
  • Bound rosewood fretboard
  • Long-neck tenon
  • Burstbucker pickups
  • ABR-1 bridge
  • Lightweight aluminum tailpiece
  • Vintage tulip tuners
  • Holly headstock veneer
  • Acrylic trap fretboard inlays
  • 24-3/4" scale
  • 1-11/16" nut width

 

Gibson SG Stopbar
Gibson Custom Shop SG Stopbar

Gibson Custom Shop SG Custom Stopbar

  • Rosewood neck with pearl block inlays
  • Neck and headstock binding
  • Slim-taper mahogany neck
  • Ebony fretboard
  • 3 ’57 Classic humbuckers

Gibson Custom Shop VOS Reissues

To satisfy the exacting demands of collectors and other SG enthusiasts, the Gibson Custom Shop debuted its VOS reissues in 2005. Vintage Original Spec instruments receive a special nitrocellulose finish treatment yielding the patina of a gently aged vintage guitar. Careful handcrafting enhances comfort and playability. Each VOS model has a solid mahogany back; historically accurate long-neck tenon for strength and sustain; period-correct neck profile, and hardware (such as green tuning keys).

SG Special VOS
SG Special VOS

SG Special VOS

  • Solid mahogany body
  • Nickel hardware
  • Wraparound bridge
  • One-piece mahogany neck
  • 22-fret rosewood fingerboard
  • Pearloid dot inlays
  • Single-ply cream neck binding
  • 1960 slim-taper neck profile
  • 24-3/4" scale
  • 1-11/16" nut width
  • Button tuners
  • P-90 single-coil pickups
  • 2 volume, 2 tone, 3-way selector switch
  • Custom Shop case and certificate of authenticity
  • Custom care kit
SG Standard Reissue VOS
SG Standard Reissue VOS

Standard Reissue VOS

  • Burstbucker 1 & 2 humbuckers
  • ABR-1 bridge
  • Lightweight aluminum stopbar or Maestro tailpiece
  • One-piece mahogany neck with long neck tenon
  • Ebony fingerboard with acrylic trapezoid inlays
  • Single-ply cream binding
  • Holly headstock veneer
  • Vintage tulip tuners
SG Custom VOS
SG Custom VOS

SG Custom VOS

Same features as SG Standard with:

  • Gold hardware
  • 3 Burstbuckers
  • Ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays
  • Single-ply white binding

Signature models

Usually a guitar created with the input or specifications of a famous artist is called a “signature” model. The Gibson Custom Shop has produced a number of signature SGs built to the exacting personal preferences of famous guitarists, the most recent being the Jimmy Page EDS 1275 Double-Neck SG.

Other recent signature SGs include the Angus Young Signature SG.

Jimmy Page EDS 1275 Double-Neck SG
Jimmy Page EDS 1275 Double-Neck SG
Angus Young Signature SG
Angus Young Signature SG

Epiphone SGs

Just about every Gibson SG model has a “cousin” that bears the Epiphone name on the headstock. Epiphone got its name from its founder Epaminodas Stathopoulo, known as “Epi”. In the 1930s Epiphone was a competitor to Gibson, with the two companies going head-to-head in designing archtop guitars and developing pickups. In 1957, Gibson acquired Epiphone. In addition to high-quality standup basses, famous guitars from the Epiphone line include the Casino used by The Beatles. Les Paul’s early efforts at making a solidbody electric guitar incorporated Epiphone guitars.

Differences between Gibson and Epiphone SGs:

  1. Country of origin – Gibsons made in USA, Epiphones made outside U.S.
  2. Finish – Gibson uses thin nitrocellulose lacquer – ultrathin, ultralight (process takes weeks). Allows wood to breathe, over time gets thinner. The best finish for tone.
  3. Epiphones have polyurethane finish, which is more practical, takes a couple of days to apply, is not as labor intensive, and is a more durable finish.
  4. Materials – Gibson uses higher-quality materials such as mahogany from South America. Epiphone uses less expensive materials or combinations such as alder and mahogany for bodies.
  5. Tonality - Epiphone SGs have darker tone with more mids and bass while Gibson SGs have lighter overall tone.
Epiphone SG Special
Epiphone SG-Special

Epiphone SG-Special

  • Laminated alder/maple body
  • Bolt-on maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays
  • No pickguard
  • 2 Epiphone open-coil humbuckers
  • One volume, one tone, 3-way switch
  • Chrome hardware
  • Scale length: 24-3/4"
  • Nut width: 1-11/16"
Epiphone G-310 SG
Epiphone G-310 SG

Epiphone G-310 SG

Same as SG Special with:

  • Alder body
  • Bolt-on mahogany neck
  • 2 volume, 2 tone, 3-way switch

Epiphone G-400 SG

  • Double cutaway solid mahogany body
  • Set mahogany neck
  • Slim-taper neck profile
  • Dual alnico magnet humbuckers
  • 2 volume and 2 tone controls
  • Rosewood fretboard with pearloid
    trapezoid inlays
Epiphone G-400 SG<
Epiphone G-400 SG

Price ranges

Given what we now know about the various SG families and features, we can break them down in the several rough price categories, working our way up from basic, introductory guitars to more fully featured instruments.

Examples: