In 1961, Gibson released the SG, which is a slimmer version of the Les Paul, with a thinner neck and a lower cutaway. This newly modified version was probably a response to poor sales of the ‘Standard’ the previous year, which may in turn have been due to the rising popularity of the more streamlined Stratocaster. Gibson who have always been quick on the mark when it comes to redesign saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the line and cash in on a modernist shift in ideas, and guitar styles.
Les Paul apparently didn’t like the design which is not surprising, as the SG lacks the ‘pizzazz’ of earlier models such as the ‘Gold’, as the SG has quite a plain aesthetic red finish. His distaste for the new version went so far as him asking for his name to be removed form the guitar, hence why it is called the ‘SG’.
Most SGs have a solid mahogany body and neck, and the traditional combination of bridge and pickup set up. In line with Gibson’s policy of appealing to as many players as possible, they released three versions; the Junior, the Standard, and the Custom, appealing to varying levels of playing experience and wallet sizes. The model was a success, and over the years Gibson has expanded this very popular range with modifications, reissues, and special editions.
When the sub-company Epiphone launched, it released a cheaper version of the SG, which was due to savings made by cutting down on costs for materials, incorporating less features, and hence, it is seen as an inferior model. Pick-guards on the standard were experimented with over the years, until in 1972 when Gibson went back to the original design which seems like a lot of time wasted, but then again that’s Gibson, they are willing to take a chance by putting it out there, and finding out what people think – the customer is always right! They had tried the larger ‘Batwing’, but it didn’t prove to be very popular. Vibrato (tremolo arm) tailpieces were also introduced as options, although more recent reissues have gone back to the pre-dated versions.
One highly innovative modification was the introduction of a motorized tuning system in the 2008 released Robot SG. This invention is obviously a boon for guitarists, especially ones in bands with other members who will even whine that the keyboard is out of tune, never mind the guitar (no joking, anyone who’s been in a band will have experienced this type of idiocy/egomaniac behaviour). But, as this technology comes with a pretty heavy price tag, it hasn’t been adopted on standard guitars.
Eric Clapton’s SG standard, the “Fool”, named after the artist who ‘decorated it’, was sold for half a million dollars, previously it had also been owned by Todd Rundgren who had bought it for five hundred dollars.
The SG has always been a favourite of heavy Metal guitarists such as Angus Young of AC/DC, and Tony Lommi of Black Sabbath, although Frank Zappa was also an SG player. While the internals of the earlier Les Paul and the SG are pretty much the same, it’s the body that separates them and the differing levels of playability due the specific neck that both models offer. The SG has been so popular that it is still in production today, and there are no signs of its popularity waning.