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!