There’s something magical about a Gibson SG.
That distinctive horned design screams rock and roll. It’s unmistakably devilish, and it’s the “Highway to Hell” guitar for a reason.
Given that look – as well as its thunderous, PAF-driven sound – it’s unsurprising that the SG became a mainstay of the masters of hard and heavy during the late ’60s and ‘70s.
Gibson SG Standard Cherry 1989
Eric Clapton staked his “guitar god” claim with one during his Cream days. Tony Iommi practically invented heavy metal on an SG while with Black Sabbath. And then, of course, there’s Angus Young from AC/DC. So inseparable is Angus from the horned Gibson axe, we’ve long suspected it’s actually a part of his anatomy.
But how did this guitar icon come to be? What birthed the SG and how did it take over rock and roll? Dive in, and let’s find out.
It’s strange to think now, but there was a time when the Gibson Les Paul looked decidedly uncool.
In 1960, Gibson guitars had hit a sales slump. For axe-slingers of the day, the full-on-mahogany monster that was the Les Paul seemed passé. It was Leo Fender’s new kid on the block – the Fender Stratocaster – that had the rock and rollers lining outside the instrument shops. The Strat was sleek, sexy, and looked like the future. And, thanks to that ingenious cost-saving construction, it was a damn sight cheaper to produce than the Les Paul to boot.
1970's Gibson SG Deluxe
So, in 1961, Gibson took the Les Paul back to the drawing board. Still made of mahogany, the instrument was remodeled with a thinner, flat topped, contoured body. A double cutaway was introduced, which made the upper frets more accessible. And, the neck joint was moved by three frets for further ease of access to those upper frets, just like on a Fender Strat.
Pushing the guitar as a direct competitor to Fender’s Stratocaster, Gibson threw down the gauntlet in their ad copy for the new instrument. Headlines boldly proclaimed that the instrument featured “the fastest neck in the world.” It wasn’t untrue either. Compared to Gibson’s previous model, your fingers moved like greased lightning.
With that, the SG was born. Or should we say, the “Les Paul.” Gibson originally positioned the instrument as the new, redesigned Les Paul guitar. That was, until the man himself had something to say about it. Les, reportedly unhappy with the deviations from his original design, asked Gibson president Ted McCarty to remove his name from the headstock and for his $1 royalty per guitar to be withheld.
Gibson SG Standard 2019
Gibson agreed, and the new “Les Paul” was rebranded as the SG. Somewhat imaginatively, the SG stood for “solid guitar.” However, up until 1963, there was still a chance that you’d pick up an SG with Les Paul branding. Gibson had a surplus of “Les Paul” truss rod covers, and continued to use them on the instruments until they ran out.
And with that, the venerable SG was born. A hit on its release, it’s gone on to become one of the mainstays in the electric guitar world today.
Do you play a Gibson SG? Do you prefer it to a Gibson Les Paul? Share your stories in the comments!
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.