Buying Guide:Gibson and Epiphone SG Electric Guitar Glossary

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Glossary of SG terms:

’50s neck » the rounded neck found on most SGs until about 1960. Collectors demand the rounded neck to keep reissues historically accurate.



4901R Humbuckers

’60s neck » flatter, slimmer neck than the ’50s neck. Also called “slim-taper” neck. Many players prefer a slim to a rounded neck.



490R » neck (or R for rhythm) pickup from Gibson’s lineup of Modern pickups that use Alnico 2 magnets providing traditional humbucker tone with enhanced highs. Usually paired with a display:inline bridge pickup.



490T » bridge position (or T for treble) pickup from Gibson’s lineup of Modern pickups that use Alnico 2 magnets providing traditional humbucker tone with enhanced highs. Usually paired with the 490R pickup.



496R » from Gibson’s lineup of Modern pickups that features a ceramic magnet for a hotter output. The 496R is used in the neck position. The R stands for “Rhythm”—which is how the neck position is labeled on the pickup selector switch on an SG. The 496R is usually paired with the 500T pickup used in the bridge position (“T” for “Treble” pickup switch setting).



498T » bridge position pickup from Gibson Modern line of pickups that uses ceramic ringed magnets for higher output, enhanced mids, and more highs (and less bottom than the alnico magnet BurstBucker).



Gibson SG Supreme with AA flamed maple top

500T » Gibson bridge position pickup from its Modern line uses ceramic ringed magnets for higher output and more highs, increased sustain and definition (and less bottom than the alnico magnet BurstBucker). Usually paired with 496R neck position pickup.



’57 Classic » from Gibson’s line of Historic Humbuckers. Uses Alnico 2 magnet material and balanced coil windings to produce vintage sound with rich, warmer tones.



’57 Classic Plus » from Gibson’s line of Historic Humbuckers. Uses Alnico 2 magnet material and slightly overwound coils for increased output.



Gibson SG Select with

AAA flamed maple top

A maple » single A rating for maple means the wood is perfectly clear with no mineral streaks or other defects. Has little or no figuring or “flame.” For example, the SG ’58 Plain Top uses A maple wood.



AA maple » predominantly figured, or what many call “flamed”—contains a fair amount of figuring (more than half).



AAA maple » significantly figured or flamed


AAAA maple » very heavily figured or flamed



ABR-1 Bridge

ABR-1 bridge » same as Tune-o-matic bridge. This was  the part designation of Gibson’s first fully adjustable bridge. See  Tune-o-matic. Used in conjunction with separate stop tailpiece.



Abalone » an ear-shaped shell lined with mother-of-pearl found in a sea mollusk—used for guitar inlays.



Aged Plastic Parts » treated to make them look as if they have seen extensive use. For example, discoloration and fading of numbers on knobs



Auto trim tuners

Alnico magnet » an alloy of aluminum, nickel and  cobalt, from which its name is derived. Used for magnets in pickups.  Alnico 2 produces a sweet, traditional humbucker tone, while Alnico 5  (also called Alnico V) is a little stronger, and gives a brighter,  hotter tone.



Appointments » the visual aspects of a guitar’s body, neck, and headstock that  enhance the guitar’s look and value. Appointments include binding,  inlays, and hardware.



Auto trim tuners » tuning keys that have cutters built in that trim string left hanging out of the tuning post.



Beveled » square edges on a guitar body, pickup or other surface that have been reduced to sloping edges. Beveled edges are usually compared to the visual appeal of facets on a diamond.

Gibson SG Special with beveled mahogany body

Bigsby vibrato » a tailpiece with a bar that lets guitarists raise or lower the tension—and the pitch—of the strings. Also called “tremolo bar” or “whammy bar.” The Bigsby vibrato tailpiece was used by guitarists such as John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service on his personally customized SG.


Bigsby vibrato tailpiece
Bigsby vibrato tailpiece


Binding » decorative appointment that covers the  join of the body and the top or the join of the fretboard and the neck.  Also used to cover the join of the fretboard to the neck. Ply refers to  the number of layers in the binding, e.g. 3-ply or 7-ply.



Bolt-on neck » a neck that is attached into a fitted slot in the body by means of  three or four wood screws running through the back of the body and into  the back of the neck. This method of attaching necks was critical in the  development of the electric guitar because it reduced production costs,  making electric guitars more affordable. A bolt-on neck can be  replaced, adjusted, or repaired with far less skilled labor than is  required for other neck types



Burst » abbreviation of the word sunburst. See Sunburst



BurstBucker » the name for Gibson pickups from its Historic Humbucker lineup.

BurstBucker  Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 feature Alnico 2 magnets and are replicas of  “Patent Applied For” humbucker pickups found on early Les Pauls. All  three types feature an airy tone. Type 1 pickups have unbalanced coils  that are slightly underwound. Type 2 has coils that are wound to specification. Type 3 has unbalanced coils that are slightly overwound.



BurstBucker Pro » pickups feature Alnico 5 magnets and wax potting and have an enhanced  “Patent Applied For” tone with more bite and brilliance.



Carved maple top » a 3/8" piece of maple carved into a curved shape and laminated to the  back section of the guitar body (the back is usually made of mahogany).



Carved non-figured maple top » maple top that does not have wood with figuring or “flame.”



Ceramic magnet » used in pickups such as Gibson’s 500T to produce an even “hotter” output. See Output and Alnico magnet.



Chambered » a guitar body with carefully selected cavities, or dynamic sound  chambers routed into the body. Not to be confused with “weight relief”  holes that are drilled.



Double-cut » a guitar that has two cutaways.



Double-potted » a pickup that has been dipped into wax twice for a tighter seal to  ward off unwanted vibrations that can cause microphonic feedback.



Ebony » very hard, dense wood used in fretboards of higher-quality guitars, such as the SG Custom.



Fingerboard » See fretboard.



Finish » protective and decorative coating applied to the wood body, neck, and headstock of the guitar



Fretboard » also called fingerboard; made of rosewood or ebony on SGs and  laminated on top of another piece of wood, usually mahogany. Metal frets  are carefully hammered into the fretboard.



Fretboard Radius » From the measure of the curvature of the top of the  fretboard from edge to edge is often incorrectly referred to as the  “neck radius”. Actually, the correct terminology would be either  "fretboard" or "fingerboard radius" and the actual neck shape and size  should be called the “neck profile.”

The fretboard radius can be  found by first drawing a circle with a corresponding radius (the  "radius" is the distance from the center of a circle to its outer edge),  and then cutting out a portion of that circle corresponding to the  width of the fretboard. For example, if you have a 7-1/4"-radius  fretboard, you could tie a piece of string to a pencil, measure out a  length of string to 7-1/4", and put a thumbtack on the other end of the  string. Secure the tack, stretch the string, and draw a circle. By  cutting out a piece of that circle the width of your fretboard, you will  have an example of an arc with the same curvature as that of your  fretboard radius.



Fret Size » determined by how high and wide the fret wire is. Low frets, while  easy on the fingers, can make it hard to bend string. High frets result  in a higher action. Narrow frets tend to wear faster; wider frets tend  to wear longer. Frets that are high and narrow are very popular. See  jumbo frets.




Gold hardware » an appointment found on higher-value SGs such as the Custom. Gold resists rust and corrosion.



Green tuning keys » also called “green vintage tuning keys,” this is a patina applied to tuning keys to make them look aged.


Grover tuners

Grover tuners » a higher quality brand of tuner than  the standard-issue tuners. Feature enclosed, permanently lubricated  machine heads so they tune more smoothly and holds the strings in tune  longer. Grover has been making machine heads for stringed instruments  since the late 1800s.



Headstock » the uppermost portion of a guitar neck, where the tuning keys are placed.



Humbucker » pickup used in most SG guitars. The humbucker pickup has two wound  coils next to each other that are wired out of phase. This eliminates or  reduces most electrical hum to which single-coil-pickups are prone. See  Seth Lover and P-90.



Intonation » the ability of a guitar to produce notes that are in tune from fret  to fret all the way along the neck. Can be adjusted from the saddles on  the bridge.



Jumbo Frets » also called wide frets or super-size, refers to width and height of  the fret wire. Preferred by some lead players who do lots of string  bending. The higher fret wires give the player more room on the  fingerboard to bend strings. See fret size.



Inlays » decorative appointments found in the fingerboard that are often made  of mother-of-pearl or pearl. SG inlays include block and trapezoid  shapes.



Kill switch » switch that completely cuts off signal from all pickups.



Kluson tuners » a higher-quality brand of tuner than standard-issue tuners. Has  better materials and construction so that they tune more smoothly and  hold the strings in tune longer.



Lacquer (also called nitrocellulose) » clear or colored coating that is sprayed onto the guitar body in several coats that produces a hard, durable finish.



Les Paul » legendary guitarist and inventor of multitrack recording. One of the pioneers of the solidbody electric guitar.



Limited edition » a guitar with a unique set of features produced in limited  quantities. Many times, the serial number is hand stamped on the back of  the neck to indicate where in the limited series that particular guitar  was produced—a feature sought by collectors to enhance the guitar’s  value.



Long-neck tenon » also called long tenon or deep tenon—part of the neck that extends  into the body for a more solid join when neck and body are glued  together.



Lyre Vibrola » trapeze-style tremolo tailpiece. This type of string termination  swings freely from the tail of the guitar, freeing the top from the  leverage of string tension.



Angus Young Signature SG with Lyre Vibrola

Maple » a very dense, hard wood used primarily for the top of most Les Paul models and some SG models. The maple is carved into a 3/8"-thick top that is laminated to the back (which is usually made of mahogany).



Mahogany » a very dense, strong, but not extremely hard, hardwood used primarily for the back and the neck of SGs. Emphasizes midrange and bass tones for mellower or darker tone.



Midrange » the middle of three ranges of tonal frequencies: low, midrange, and high. The overall sonic character of a guitar is determined by how strongly it produces sound in each of these three ranges. Generally, a good guitar will be able to provide a mix of all three. The exact mix—how much midrange versus highs, for example—is mostly a matter of individual taste or preference. Some of the features that affect tonal character of a SG include the types of wood used, how the guitar is constructed, the type of pickups included, materials used in the bridge and nut, and the gauge and composition of the strings.



Mini-humbuckers » smaller version of standard humbuckers, first used in the 1968 Les Paul Deluxe. The sound is described as a sweeter, more “centered” sound with greater emphasis on midrange.



Neck-through (Neck-thru) » guitar built around a single column of wood that extends from the tip of the headstock through to the strap button at the tail. This column can either be a single piece or several pieces laminated together side-by-side. The "wings" of body wood are glued onto the sides of this central column of wood. Neck-through bodies produce maximum sustain and have the huge advantage of no large heel where the neck meets the body, thus providing the freest access to the higher register frets. Neck-through guitars are more expensive to manufacture than bolt-on necks.



Nitrocellulose Lacquer Finish » a fast-drying synthetic finish used commonly in the 1950s and 1960s, it is now mostly used for reissue guitars from those decades. See thin nitrocellulose finish.



Nut » located where the headstock joins the neck, determines the spacing of the string and their height above the neck. A string nut can be made of bone, graphite, brass, nickel, Corian, or plastic.



Nut Width » the distance across the top of the fretboard which determines the space between individual strings. Players with bigger hands usually prefer a wider fretboard.


P-90 dog ear

Output » the amount of electrical signal produced by a guitar pickup. Higher output (or “gain”) means the pickup can more easily overdrive the amplifier and produce hard-edged or distorted guitar tones favored by many rock guitarists. An example of a high output-pickup is the 500T used in the Les Paul Classic.



P-90 » single-coil pickup that comes in two shapes: dog-ear and soapbar. The SG Special had dog-ear P-90s from 1959 to 1971 and the P-90 can now be found on the Gibson Custom Shop SG Special. It produces that warm, soulful, and historic ’50s tone.


P-90 soapbar


“Patent Applied For” » this legend was stamped on early versions of the humbucker. It was the sound of these pickups on the “Sunburst” Les Pauls from ’58 though ’60— especially when played through a Marshall amp—that produced the creamy sustain and warm distortion featured on many classic blues and rock recordings in the late ’60s. In its reissues of vintage guitars, Gibson strives to achieve the historically-accurate “Patent Applied For” tone in its BurstBucker Type 1, 2, and 3 pickups and what Gibson describes as “enhanced Patent Applied For tone with more bite and brilliance” from its BurstBucker Pro pickups.



Pickguard » usually made of plastic (celluloid, vinyl, PVC, acrylic) or laminated material such as parchment. Is located below strings to protect from the guitarist’s strumming or picking. Can also be made of plexiglas, glass, wood, fabrics, metals, or plywood. Can be made of a single layer (ply) or multiple layers, for example 3-ply or 5-ply.



Pot (potentiometer

Ply binding » binding that has multiple layers, such as 3-ply or 5-ply binding. Multi-ply binding is more attractive than simple binding and is found on higher-end guitars.



Ply binding » binding that has multiple layers, such  as 3-ply or 5-ply binding. Multi-ply binding is more attractive than  simple binding and is found on higher-end guitars.



Pot » potentiometer—an electrical component used to control volume and tone.



Quilt top » the pattern of figuring or flame on a maple top that resembles a quilt.



Radius » See neck radius.



Rosewood » wood used on fingerboards in SG guitars. Higher-cost guitars use ebony for their fingerboards.



Rounded neck » describes the neck profile on some vintage ’50s SG guitars as opposed to the slimmer, flatter shape on ’60s SGs.



Scale length » the measured distance of the vibrating string length between the nut  and the saddle. The 24-3/4" scale length of the SG is shorter than the  25-1/2" scale length on the Fender Stratocaster (and Telecaster) which  was taken originally from the standard scale length for steel-string  acoustic guitars. The shorter scale length of the SG (and Les Paul)  provides less tension which makes it easier to bend strings.



Seth Lover » developed and patented the humbucker pickup first introduced in the 1957 Les Paul.



Set-in neck » neck that is glued to the body, as opposed to a bolt-on neck. See through neck.



Signature guitar » Gibson Custom Shop models built to famous guitarist’s personal specifications, e.g. the Jimmy Page EDS 1275 Doubleneck SG.



Single-coil » a guitar pickup that has only one coil of wiring. The sound produced  by a single pickup is brighter with less midrange and bottom than a  humbucker and is more prone to hum. See P-90.



Slim ’60 neck » a slimmer, flatter taper or neck profile, than the rounded ’50s neck.



Slim-taper neck » flatter and thinner neck preferred by some players over the rounded neck.



Stopbar tailpiece » combination bridge/tailpiece introduced on the Les Paul in 1954, replacing the trapeze tailpiece.




Strap-Lock » prevents guitar strap from slipping off the guitar’s strap button.



Thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish (also called a “nitro” finish) » ultrathin, ultralight finish treatment that creates the patina of a  gently aged vintage guitar. The process is expensive because it takes  weeks to apply. A thin nitrocellulose finish allows the wood to breathe  and gets thinner over time. The best finish for tone, many feel.



Three-way switch » found on most guitars that have two pickups, it controls which  pickups are active—switching positions are usually 1) bridge pickup, 2)  bridge and neck pickups 3) neck pickup.



Through neck (also known as neck-through or neck-through-body) » the wood used for the neck runs the entire length of the body. The  rest of the body is composed of “wings” glued or laminated to the neck. A  through neck results in improved tone and sustain. Because a through  neck is more complex to construct it is more costly and so is mostly  found on high-end guitars. See also Neck-through.



Top hat knobs
Top Hat Knobs

Top hat knobs » style of volume of tone knobs that resemble a top hat. Found on  vintage SGs such as the ’58 and ’59. They come in either black or gold.  Vintage top hat knobs age to an amber color.



Transparent colors » a thin lacquer finish that lets the natural wood grain of the guitar’s top show through.

Tune-o-matic bridge
Tune-o-matic bridge



Tune-o-matic (also abbreviated TOM) » Gibson’s name for its adjustable bridge that was introduced in the  1954 Les Paul Custom. The length and height of individual strings can be  adjusted for better intonation.



Tuners » tuning pegs (also called tuning keys or machine heads) used to raise  or lower the tension and therefore pitch of individual guitar strings.  See Grover and Kluson.



VOS — Vintage Original Spec » Series of reissue guitars produced by the Gibson Custom Shop to the exact specifications of original vintage guitars.



Waxed pickups » during construction of the pickup, it is dipped (or “potted”) in wax  to eliminate microphonic feedback which is caused by unwanted vibrations  passing from the guitar body to the pickup. Used on all Gibson pickups  except BurstBucker Type 1 and Type 2, which are historically-accurate  replicas of “Patent Applied For” pickups found in vintage Les Paul  models. The “Patent Applied For” pickups were not wax potted.



Wide frets » Until 1959, most Gibson electric guitars had small, narrow frets.  Some players prefer wide frets that they feel are more comfortable as  they move their fingers along the strings. The Gibson Les Paul Black  Beauty has short wide frets, which some players prefer because it makes  the guitar easier to play.



Zebra pickups » resulting from mismatched colors of pickup bobbins. Originally found  in late 1950s Sunburst Les Pauls, the bobbins became visible when  players removed pickup covers to supposedly enhance the sound. Zebra  pickups are prized by collectors because they are a further indication  of a vintage guitar’s authenticity.