Here at Thalia, we’re big fans of the Gibson SG. Winning out in both playability and aesthetic departments, it’s an iconic axe for a reason.
With that in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that an iconic axe has so many iconic players.
Today, we’re spotlighting three Gibson SG wielding guitar legends, and the stories behind their signature instruments.
Few guitarists are as synonymous with the Gibson SG as Angus Young. The AC/DC lead guitarist has used the horned guitar since the band’s inception. Over 50 years later it’s as integral to the Aussie Rockers’ image as the lighting bolt logo or the guitarist’s iconic school uniform.
Angus got his first SG in 1970, and since then, he’s used a variety of the instruments, with a preference for those from the late 1960s. On the band’s Rock or Bust tour in 2016, he used a 1967 SG as his main axe with a 1970 SG Custom – the same guitar he used on the Back in Black tour – as his backup.
Back in 2013, Gibson guitars released the aptly named “Thunderstruck” – an Angus Young Signature SG built to the guitarist’s spec. Modeled on his preferred late 60s instruments, it featured an extra slim, narrow neck profile, with a classic ’57 humbucker in the neck and an Angus Young signature in the bridge. Oh, and of course, there were Angus certified “Lightning Bolt” inlays in the neck – a feature originally introduced on a custom JayDee SG that Young used in the early 1980s.
You wouldn’t expect anything less!
From one Devilish guitarist to another, it’s hardly surprising that Tony Iommi gravitated towards the demonic SG. Black Sabbath’s initial intention, after all, was to scare the Bejesus out of the record buying public, and Gibson’s scariest six-string was another tool in their arsenal.
But, the SG wasn’t actually Iommi’s first choice of instrument. During his brief tenure with Jethro Tull, and in the early days of Black Sabbath, Iommi actually used a Fender Strat. But, thanks to a pick-up failure during the recording of the band’s first album, he made the switch to an SG.
During the early Sabbath years, Iommi used a 1965 Gibson SG, named “Monkey,” which featured a Gibson P-90 in the bridge and custom wound John Birch Simplux P-90 style single coil in the neck.
By the time the late 1970s rolled around, Iommi started favoring custom built SG variants over Gibson Models.
During the recording of Never Say Die in 1978, he utilized a John Birch Custom SG. And, by the time the recording of Heaven and Hell rolled around in 1979, he switched to a JayDee Custom. Known as N.1 Old Boy it was, as Tony Iommi Fantastic notes
“…equipped with 24 fret neck with the cross inlays, four control knobs, three of which are functional, a disconnected second output jack, a hole for a master volume knob on the pick guard covered up with a black stopper and a highly distressed maroon finish.”
There have been several Tony Iommi signature models over the years. The latest, the Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Tony Iommi Signature SG Custom, was released in 2015. Fitted with Gibson USA Tony Iommi Humbuckers and featuring a 1960s Slim Taper D Profile Neck, it’s finished off with the now-iconic cross inlays.
Unlike the other entrants on the list, Pete Townshend is hardly synonymous with the Gibson SG. The Who main man used and abused plenty of guitars in his time, including Rickenbackers, Les Pauls, Teles and Strats (in fact, the Rick was the first guitar Townshend ever smashed, as detailed in our Psyche of a Guitar Smasher article from a while back).
But, while the SG isn’t Pete’s only iconic axe, it is the one that features in many of The Who’s most iconic moments. He played one during two legendary filmed performances; Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival. And, it’s the guitar he uses on the Live at Leeds and Tommy albums, as well as The Seeker single.
Townshend first used an SG guitar for one performance in 1966 – a loaner from support group The Tages. But, it was in July 1968 that he first purchased an SG Special for himself from Manny’s in New York.
By late 1968, the guitar was his axe of choice in the live arena. Between 1968 and 1971, he used SGs pretty much exclusively, favouring models from 1966-1971 with the full black wraparound pick guard. As TheWho.Net notes, Townshend went through dozens of SGs between 1969 and 1971. In fact, as ’71 rolled on, he found himself switching to small-pickguard, pre-1966 models as he was exhausting the available supply.
After 1971, when Gibson changed the production specs of the SG Special, Townshend largely switched to different instruments. His last known use of a cherry-finish model SG Special was on 9 September 1972 at a show in Paris. Townshend wasn’t entirely done with the SG, however. In late 1972 and early 1973, he briefly flirted with using ‘60s model Polaris White Gibson SG Specials before switching permanently to Gibson Les Paul Deluxes in 1973.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the SG in 2011, Gibson released a Pete Townshend SG special, finished in Alpine White in honour of the models he used in ‘72/’73.
Who is your favorite SG player of all time? If they weren’t in this list, let us know and we just might cover them down the line…
Cal Jam doesn’t get the same love as festivals like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the late ‘60s countercultural cred, happening a full five years after the summer of love reached its peak. Maybe it’s because it was staged to be filmed for television (as part of ABC’s legendary “In Concert” series). Why do I love California Jam so much? It is because it established the record for the largest concert sound system ever assembled? Was it because it featured the first ever appearance of the Good Year blimp at a music festival?
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.