REVIEW: Gibson SG Special 60s Tribute

The SG Special, a Gibson SG loaded with P-90 pickups, has at one time or another been the axe of choice for iconic players like Peter Townshend, Carlos Santana and even Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. The SG is traditionally a somewhat trebly guitar, and P-90s emphasise this even further to create a sound that’s unlike anything else on the Gibson roster. The SG Special ’60s Tribute honours those old models in a much less costly manner, finding a low-cost solution to the pricey and time-consuming finishing process.

The Gibson SG Special ’60s Tribute is a limited-run instrument available in Worn Cherry, Worn Natural, Worn White or Worn Ebony. I reviewed the Worn Ebony model. It features a solid mahogany body with a set (ie: glued), quarter-sawn mahogany neck featuring unbound rosewood fretboard with simple, understated dot position markers. The neck shape is Gibson’s SlimTaper profile, which is .800″ thick at the first fret and .875″ at the 12th. It’s not really the slimmest neck you’ll ever come across but it’s certainly thinner than Gibson’s 50s profile. All the expected – nay, demanded – SG curves are here

At the heart of this axe’s electronics are of a pair of Gibson P-90 ‘soapbar’ single coil pickups made with Alnico V magnets and authentic 42 AWG plain enamel-coated wire. Controls consist of a 3-way pickup selector switch plus a 300k linear volume pot and a 500k non-linear pot (with .022µF tone capacitor) for each pickup.

The SG Special 60s Tribute is a pretty rockworthy little axe. The P-90s, although characteristically noisy in terms of hum, have a great ragged edge to them which is ideally suited to rock, punk, some of your more dirt-kickin’ country, and it makes them especially great for stoner metal if you whack them into a fuzzbox or turn down the tone pot. It’s easy to see why Tony Iommi dug the SG/P-90 combo once upon a time, as even the neck unit – traditionally a dark-sounding pickup location – has enough brightness to function as the basis of a metal rhythm sound. The guitar’s dynamics are great too – believe it or not, I used it for some fusion jamming that took me on various horn-inspired flights of fancy, and the SG Special 60s Tribute was more than capable of handling the swings from gentle to gutsy phrasing and back. It’s stuff like this that really hits home why an artist like Carlos Santana dug this model back in the day.
So what else? Well the SG Special 60s Tribute sounded killer while jamming along with Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” and I also gave it a workout on some bluesy, early-Whitesnake-style hard rock riffs. The thin finish works in the guitar’s favour here, allowing the notes to breathe rather than be suffocated or unduly evened out by a thick glossy finish.

I have two little problems with this guitar. They’re not horrendous glaring deal breakers by any means, but they’re both kinda bugging me. The first is, well… it don’t smell so good. The SG Special 60s Tribute is hand-finished in grain-textured nitrocellulose, and it, well, kinda smells like house paint. The smell seemed to reduce over a few days, and no doubt would further fade away over the coming months and years, but it’s still kinda offputting. Secondly, the same black stuff that rubbed off on my fingertips from an Epiphone Les Paul Nightfall I reviewed for a mag last year seemed to be used on the SG Special 60s Tribute too, because it darkened my fingertips noticably. I can only assume this is some kind of sealant on the rosewood, and a quick “Hey, any of you guys experienced this?” on Twitter reassured me that the problem goes away over time.

Stinky paint and black fretboard dust aside, the SG Special 60s Tribute is a ripping little guitar with great playability and an unquestionably rock-oriented tone. Indie players will dig the jangle, metal players will love the growl, blues players will adore the dirt, and fusion players will appreciate the sense of dynamics.

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]CLICK HERE to buy a Gibson Limited Run SG Special ’60s Tribute from Music123[/geo-out]

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of an article originally written for Mixdown magazine.[/geo-in]