The American-based Gibson Guitar Corporation has been producing musical instruments since 1902. Gibson is a popular and highly respected brand for both acoustic and electric guitars; the electric Gibson SG is the guitar of choice for many professional musicians due to lasting quality and distinctive style. Vintage Gibson SG guitars are highly prized, as they continue to produce excellent sound quality and have become a collectors' item due to the comparative scarcity of many of the vintage models.
Origins of Gibson SG Guitars
Gibson first began producing electric guitars in 1932. However, manufacture became much slower during World War II, due to a shortage of materials. The appointment of a new president in 1950 led to an expansion of guitar ranges on offer, in particular the Les Paul design, endorsed by the popular guitarist of the same name and with his collaboration in the design stage. This was released in 1952. However, by the end of the decade sales had slowed and a more modern design with a double cutaway body (compared to the single cutaway on the Les Paul model) was created. This was originally intended as a redesign of the Les Paul model, but Paul did not like the design and requested that his name be removed. The new model was renamed as the Gibson SG (standing for “solid guitar”), although Les Paul was involved in advertising and SG guitars featured Les Paul nameplates for the first few years of production.
Different Types of Gibson SG Guitars
The Gibson SG Guitar was released in a variety of models, with each being subject to a number of changes over the years. There are a number of distinguishing features to each model and release, which can be used to identify and date any vintage Gibson SG guitar. Additionally, these guitars can be identified using a serial number; on vintage Gibson SG guitars, this is impressed into the wood and is between three and six digits long. This number can also be used to verify the authenticity of the guitar, so remember to check it before making the purchase.
Gibson SG Standard
The Gibson SG Standard was originally released in early 1961, and was the cheaper of the two models originally announced. As with most Gibson SG guitars, vintage standard models consist of a solid mahogany body, with a 24 3/4” scale mahogany neck, joining at the 19th fret. The fingerboards on vintage Gibson SG guitars are rosewood, with the exception of the SG Custom. The SG standard is distinguished by its two humbucker pickups, which have individual volume and tone controls, and a switch which allows use of either the bridge pickup, neck pickup or both together. Superficially, the SG Standard can be identified by the appearance of its fretboard: the fretboard has pearl inlays, which are trapezoid in shape and fretboard binding. The SG Standard also has an inlaid “Gibson” logo.
Gibson SG Special
The Gibson SG Special was a lower cost version of the new model, being released in late 1961. The basic style was identical to that of the SG Standard, with an alternative pickup type and a number of cosmetic differences. The pickups on vintage Gibson SG Special guitars are a twin P90 configuration, which are single coil (humbucker pickups being double coil). To enable the lower selling price, the appearance of the early model SG Special guitars was produced more cheaply. The inlays on the fretboard are white dots, and the “Gibson” logo is silk-screened rather than inlaid.
Gibson SG Junior
The Gibson SG Junior was the cheapest model upon its release in 1961, at the same time as the SG Special. It was the basic model, and became the best-selling SG model throughout the 1960s. The SG Junior was produced to offer a more accessible model to the general public, whilst maintaining the same standard as other Gibson guitars. Cosmetically very similar to the Gibson SG Special, the primary difference is in the pickup. The Gibson SG Junior has a single P90 pickup, in the bridge position, compared to the twin pickup on the SG Special.
Gibson SG Custom
The Gibson SG Custom was the top-of-the-range model, with a number of high-end features compared to the Gibson SG Standard. This was noticeably more expensive than the other models, and was intended as a high quality, luxury guitar. Although made of the same type of wood, and in the same style as the other Gibson SG models, the SG Custom featured both higher-quality sound technology and a more luxurious style. The Gibson SG Custom guitar had a triple humbucker pickup, at the neck, middle and bridge; these were the same type as those used for the Standard model, with the same type of threeway switch, to select neck, back or middle and back together. The Gibson SG Custom has an ebony fingerboard, rather than the rosewood used on the lower range model, with mother of pearl block inlays. The SG Custom has an inlaid split diamond and “Gibson” logo at the headstock. The metal throughout this model is gold-plated, including that of the pickups, to give an eye-catching contrast to the original white body.
Changes to Features in Different Releases
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Gibson SG series had numerous alterations. These cosmetic differences can be very useful in dating a Gibson SG guitar. Remember to check these features against the guitar viewed. If in doubt that the potential purchase model is authentic, these features could be vital in ensuring its authenticity.
Les Paul Nameplates and Truss Rod Covers
Although Les Paul requested that his name be removed from the new series prior to its 1961 release, he was still under contract to Gibson, and was photographed with the new model numerous times. Les Paul's name was removed from the product name. However, Les Paul nameplates and truss-rod covers continued to be used on Gibson SG guitars until 1963.
The original SG series had a small-sized scratchplate or pickguard. This was replaced in 1966 by a larger size semi-symmetrical pickguard in a batwing shape, with the pickups now mounted on the pickguard rather than the wooden body. This continued until 1972, when the original pickguard design was reinstated. During 1971, a variation was available with a raised pickguard and front-mounted control plate.
The original SG series had the guitar's neck joining the body at the 19th fret. This was altered in 1972, with the neck being set deeper into the body: the join was around the 20th fret. The original styling was reinstated at the end of the 1970s.
The headstock of the Gibson SG guitar series was originally made from wood. However, in 1970 the overlay was changed to resin. Some additions were made to the headstock at this time: the words MADE IN USA were stamped on the back of the headstock, below the serial number, and a volute was added. The latter was intended to reduce the possibility of accidental damage without affecting the overall look of the guitar.
Purchasing a Vintage Gibson SG Guitar
As many vintage Gibson SG guitars are valuable collectors items, one option is to purchase through a specialist retailer. Owing to the scarcity of certain models, purchasing via the Internet can allow customers access to a greater range of guitars and the potential to trace particular models. eBay is a popular choice for buying and selling specialised items such as these.
How to Find Vintage Gibson SG Guitars on eBay
From the eBay homepage, open the sidebar at Sports & Leisure, and select Musical Instruments. Underthe heading Guitars, click on Electric. From the sidebar, click on Gibson, then check the box in the sidebar, under the heading Subtype, marked SG. From here, refine the search if required by using the heading Brand from the sidebar and checking the box marked Vintage. Alternatively, search from any eBay page using the search bar at the top of the page, entering specific requirements, for example typing "vintage Gibson SG guitar" and clicking search or pressing enter.
There are many different vintage Gibson SG guitars on offer, suitable for players or collectors. Due to the different types of guitar and numerous releases, they are available with varying features. The guide above will assist with identifying and dating the guitars on offer, and matching them to those used by popular musicians. As vintage Gibson SG guitars are often rather valuable, it is of paramount importance to research thoroughly before making a purchase, to ensure that the item is authentic and meets with one's expectations.