Maybe it’s that unmistakable dark cherry stain and those one-of-a-kind curled cutaways, but for me, the Gibson SG will always conjure up images of otherworldly hard rock. Whether it’s Angus young of AC/DC, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, or Robby Krieger of The Doors, the SG is no stranger to the hands of rock n’ roll Hall of Famers. Yet, as its story attests, the Gibson SG has played an important role across genres and down through the decades.
Let’s rewind to 1961…
The late 1950s and early 1960s were a whirlwind for guitar designs at Gibson. While you would never guess it from the massive success of the Gibson Les Paul today, by 1960 its sales were fledgling. Gibson needed to give guitarists a new source of inspiration. Based on the design of Ted McCarty, the new design dubbed initially dubbed a “Les Paul” hit the market in 1961. By 1963, Gibson and Les Paul parted ways and McCarty’s design proceeded under the name Gibson SG (short for “solid guitar”).
Like any good sibling rivalry, the Gibson’s two flagship models jockeyed for position in their early years of parallel production. While the SG might be the underdog today, its early sales records show that Gibson shipped more than three times as many SGs than Les Pauls in its early years of production. Part of this success seems to have been Gibson’s ambitious move to launch the new line with four models (Standard, Junior, Special, and Custom) all at once. These came with a variety of pickup options from a stripped down single P-90 to a triple humbucking menace, truly something for everybody.
This certainly rings true when you look at the diversity of genres the SG served in its early years. By the mid to late-1960s, the Gibson SG took center stage with the likes of gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Eric Clapton.
The almost immediate popularity of the SG indicated Gibson had found a recipe that was near perfect. While the broad strokes of the design of the Gibson SG hasn’t changed much over the years, some of its finer points evolved in short order. For example, by 1962 it’s original slender, built for speed neck needed some fattening up to avoid easy breakage. The body shape of the SG also inspired several other now classic Gibson designs, such as the double-neck EDS-1275 wielded by Jimmy Page. By the 1980s, the continued success of the Gibson SG resulted in what is now an equally successful run of the mirror image Epiphone G-400.
As its history shows, despite its distinctive hard rock look, the Gibson SG’s sonic versatility meant it was almost chameleon-like in its ability to settle into any era and genre of music.
As always, make time for your gear today, have a great #RiffCitySunday.