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Solid Guitars: Five Rad Axes Inspired by the Gibson SG

  • By Jamie Wolfert @tonereport
  • January 04, 2017
  • 0 Comments

Vintage guitar geeks know that the original Gibson SG was designed under the supervision of Gibson's famed ex-president Ted McCarty as "the new Les Paul." By 1960 the original Les Paul model was struggling with drooping sales numbers and Gibson was getting its ass kicked by Fender, whose wares were more basic in design and cheaper to manufacture, in turn being more affordable for working musicians. Ol' Ted's solution to this problem was to completely revamp the LP with a flat, double-cutaway mahogany slab body, a super-thin and blazing fast neck that met the body at the last fret, and a weird-ass sideways vibrato system (which thankfully didn't stick around for long). This new design, referred to as the SG ("solid guitar") around the Gibson factory, was much lighter and cheaper to build than the original Les Paul, had features that appealed to Fender devotees, and also happened to sell like hotcakes. Trouble is, no one thought to consult Les Paul himself about the drastic changes to his signature model.

Naturally, when Les Paul was introduced to his new instrument, he was not particularly impressed. Les had significant input into the design of the original LP, and his vision was that it would be the ultimate expression of the electric guitar, more akin to a Stradivarius violin than Leo Fender's bolted-together slabs of lumber. He found that the new Gibson Les Paul SG's devil-horn cutaways interfered with his deft playing style, and the neck was entirely too flexible for his liking, as merely pulling back-and-forth on it slightly could create a natural (and for him, unwanted) vibrato effect. It also didn't sustain enough to suit him. Given Les's feelings about the new design, and the fact that his contract with Gibson was coming to an end, he asked that his name be taken off the SG's headstock. Gibson complied, and by 1963 the SG bore no evidence of Les Paul's association. This did not prevent it from becoming a beloved and popular instrument in its own right, however. The SG sold more than 12,000 total units over the course of its first three years of existence, compared to the roughly 1700 total LP Standards that sold between 1958 and 1960.

In the years since its introduction the SG has forged a remarkable legacy for itself, second only to the Les Paul Standard or the Fender Stratocaster as the iconic rock guitar of choice. Its more pronounced mid-range bite, aggressive appearance, and distinctive attack have set it apart from its Gibson predecessors. There have been many notable SG wielders over the years as well, including Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, Angus Young, Frank Zappa, and Ian MacKaye, among many others. It has also been a highly influential model for competing guitar designers. The legacy of the SG can be seen throughout the electric guitar world, with elements of its unique shape and construction showing up in the lines of many major and minor manufacturers, as well as in the work of many small custom builders. Here are a handful of notable instruments that contain substantial amounts of Gibson SG in their DNA profiles.

 

Yamaha SG and SBG Series

One of the earliest guitar lines to be overtly influenced by the SG was Yamaha's own SG series, which originally appeared in the early seventies. As with Gibson's standard-setting design, Yamaha's SG designation also stood for "solid guitar" (this was the beginning of the "Lawsuit Era," after all). Early entries in the lineup were thinner-bodied, bolt-neck models, but as time went on the Yamaha SG became a first-rate instrument, with a set neck, carved top, and fancy inlays, among other accouterments. In 1975, Yamaha put one in the hands of Carlos Santana, who liked the guitar but suggested it should have a more substantial body and enhanced sustain. This partnership between Yamaha and Santana produced the SG2000, which was basically a marriage of SG shape and Les Paul girth and curvature. The Yamaha SG family thus gained quite a bit of positive attention, resulting in negative attention from Gibson's lawyers, and a rebranding of the line as the SBG series. The SBG series lives on today, and fine vintage models are ubiquitous.

Guild S-100

Another early and illustrious SG-influenced axe from way back is the Guild S-100, AKA the "Kim Thayil guitar." The S-100 was an affordable and pretty far under-the-radar instrument until Soundgarden began meeting with serious mainstream success—these days, not as much. A nice vintage example will sell in the 1200 to 2000 dollar range. The S-100 is beloved because of Guild's outstanding legacy of quality, but also because of some unique features that set it apart from the SG and other, similar guitars. For one, the body has the familiar double-cutaway shape, but is slightly offset, lending it a hipster swagger to go with those sinister horns. The hardware complement is also unique, with vintage '70s models featuring ABM roller bridges, distinctively slanted stopbar tailpieces, and Guild's HB-1 pickups, which are highly prized for their uncommon blend of low-output chime, PAF-ish grunt, and a touch of twang. The S-100 is still in production today, as the S-100 Polara, which is part of Guild's Newark St. Collection.

Reverend Sensei

Some of the best SG-inspired guitars being made today are from Reverend's Sensei line. Reverend took the basic double-cutaway design and perfected it, ironing out all the weak spots in the original SG formula and adding a number of clever tonal and playability enhancements. Like all Reverends, the Sensei's comfortably contoured, offset body is made from light, resonant korina. Unlike the Gibson SG, however, this body is quite substantial, which adds weight to the sound and better balance to the guitar, helping to prevent the so-called "neck-dive" that SG's are known for. Reverend has also beefed up the set-neck joint, alleviating the original SG design's unintended vibrato issue while also retaining the full upper fret access. The usual Reverend features, like passive bass contour control, a graphite nut, and pin-lock tuners are all there, as well as a variety of pickup options, including P-90s, PAF-inspired humbuckers, and Reverend's positively molten Railhammers. You can even get a Sensei with a Bigsby, or a stripped-down Sensei Jr. with a single gnarly, snarly P-90.

Hagstrom HIIN

Another early SG-inspired guitar that has become more popular and valuable over the years is the HIIN from our Swedish friends at Hagstrom. Originally manufactured from roughly 1969 through 1976, the HIIN was the harbinger of a new era for Hagstrom, one that would bring about the legendary Swede line, and focus the company's efforts on humbucker-equipped rockers with control that were much more straightforward than earlier designs. The HIIN came in a variety of finishes, and reflected sort of a mashup of SG and Strat characteristics, featuring a bolt-on birch neck, offset SG-shaped birch body, a pair of humbuckers with a three-way switch, and a Gibson-esque headstock with three-on-a-side tuners. Excellent woods were used throughout. Some were outfitted with a fixed bridge while others had Hagstrom's lovely Tremar vibrato system. Another cool feature of the HIIN is the killswitch on the top horn, which was way ahead of its time. Vintage Hagstroms used to be a bargain, but prices have surged upwards as of late. The HIIN legacy does live on in the current day, however, with Hagstrom's Pat Smear signature model.

Electrical Guitar Company Standard

Electrical Guitar Company (EGC) is making aluminum cool again. Actually, aluminum was always cool, but more players realize it now because of EGC. The company's all-aluminum and aluminum-necked models are highly coveted these days, especially among musicians from the heavy, noisy, and weird spectrum of the rock universe, like Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, Scott Kelly of Neurosis, and Duane Denison of The Jesus Lizard, among many other underground luminaries. EGC's flagship model, the Standard, is kind of an idealized, ultra-modern version of the SG, marrying its rock 'n' roll simplicity and streamlined double-cut curves to a solid aluminum neck-through design, with body and pickups mounted directly to the neck. It is an unbelievably resonant instrument and plays like butter up to the very last fret, where body joins neck. Prices start at $2900, and EGC will build the Standard as a guitar, bass, or baritone in a variety of scale lengths, and with an array of pickup, hardware, and electronic options. The company also has been known to custom build proper SGs with the classic Gibson body shape and layout, but entirely of aluminum.

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