By Dave Hunter

With its streamlined mahogany body and sharply pointed offset double cutaways, the SG Standard is still a radical-looking instrument today. So just imagine how it must have appeared back in 1961 when it rolled out of the factory, originally as the entirely revised Les Paul model. The new instrument was a bold design for Gibson back in the day, and it’s a bold performer 46 years later.

The guitar that replaced Gibson’s biggest endorsement model in 1961 was a complete redrawing of the blueprint. The original Les Paul Standard of 1958-’60, with two humbucking pickups, a single cutaway, and a sunburst finish on its carved maple top, is recognized as one of the all-time classic solidbody electrics today, but its sales were flagging in the late ’50s, and in fact the instrument wouldn’t be fully appreciated until a handful of British blues-rockers picked it up in the mid 1960s. In order to revive the Les Paul, Gibson undertook a radical departure from the original form, and the new SG landed with a major splash. In each of its first three years of availability, the model (officially renamed the SG Standard in 1963) sold more than 6,000 units—swamping the total of approximately 1,700 Les Paul Standards sold between 1958 and ’60.

Given that the majority of their electronics, hardware, materials, and design parameters are the same—two humbucking pickups, mahogany neck and body, tune-o-matic bridge, 24 3/4” scale length—you might expect an SG and a single-cutaway Les Paul Standard to sound pretty darn similar. Sit down with each for a while, however, and a surprising number of differences emerge. They’re in the same ballpark, sure, but while the SG possesses a lot of the Les Paul’s warmth, it’s also a little snappier and perhaps more explosive, with plenty of woody resonance, but a silkier mahogany edge verses the maple-topped Les Paul Standard’s ringing solidity. Of course both guitars are fat and rich, sustain like crazy, and offer up tone for days. Plenty of players also value the weight reduction found in the SG’s slim body, which is made from pure solid mahogany, entirely flat on top but with highly contoured edges.

Having become such an iconic rock and roll tool, embraced with gusto by the heavy rock and metal fraternities in particular, it’s amazing to think that the SG was designed mainly for the same guitarists that Gibson was trying to court with the original Les Paul, namely jazz, pop, dance-band, and even country players. With its smooth, easy playability and surprising versatility it fit the bill perfectly for a wide range of demands, but this guitar was born to rock, and rock it did. Over the years an SG of one variety or another has been the choice of Eric Clapton, Woodstock-era Carlos Santana, Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Robby Krieger, Pete Townshend, and even Jimi Hendrix for a time. In more recent years, an SG has been wielded by everyone from contemporary blues master Derek Trucks to alt-country artist Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, to too many indie, alt-rock, nu-metal, and hardcore players to mention.

A major departure and a landslide of a hit, the SG Standard has remained in production continually since its release in 1961 and Epiphone is now offering no less than 9 versions of the classic guitar to accomodate the playing styles and price points of all players.

 

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