REVIEW: Gibson SG Special


Although the Gibson SG is an American design, for many decades it’s resonated particularly closely with we Australians. Put this down to one Mr. Angus Young. There’s something about those devilish pointy horns and blues-approved tones that appeals to the Aussie pub rock aesthetic. The SG Special is one of Gibson’s newest designs, adding a few little twists and turns to an otherwise straightforward but badass-looking take on the SG style. See Gibson SGs on eBay.

For starters, the SG Special has a mahogany body, as you would expect. After all, is an SG without a mahogany body even an SG? This one has a maple neck, and it’s a ‘60s Slim Profile design (which is different to the ‘60s Slimtaper neck shape found on many other models). It’s a little rounder than you might expect from a neck called ‘slim’ but it’s very comfortable. Colour options include Butterscotch, Heritage Cherry, Desert Burst, Ebony, Fireburst and Walnut. We reviewed the Walnut, and it’s beautiful in an understated kinda way.

The pickups are a 490R in the neck position and a 490T at the bridge. These pickups feature Alnico II magnets and are inspired by the original Patent Applied For (PAF) pickups of the 50s, but with modern improvements such as wax potting and four-conductor wiring which allows them to be split to single coil mode, which is effected via push-pull switches on each pickup’s volume control (and there’s also a tone control for each pickup, as you would expect). One interesting touch is the choice of dark cream pickup rings and pickup selector switch plate. They’re almost orange, although when seen against the Walnut finish of the review model they almost look like they’re also made of wood. This is one of those ’taste’ things that will probably turn off some players while simultaneously making others fall utterly in love, but hey, these particular parts are easily changed if you don’t dig the look.

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Other fun touches include new Supreme Grip Speed Knobs and a 120th anniversary inlay at the 12th fret. And note that because there’s no pickguard, there’s space for a few extra frets, giving you a full 24 frets – quite rare for an SG. Oh and the included gig bag is pretty nice!

The first thing you’ll notice about the SG Special is that it’s a very direct, rich, bold-sounding guitar. In fact, it’s pretty much screaming “Play stoner rock on me! No, no, play sludge metal on me! No, desert rock!” from the second you plug it in. It has that great clear attack and sustain that those styles demand. And yet it’s also articulate enough for psychedelic rock and jam-band excursions, classic rock, blues-rock and indie/alternative – especially when you throw in those single coils. Of the three Gibsons reviewed this issue, each of which has single coil capability, this one sounds the most authentically ‘single coil.’ It has the requisite twang and zing in spades. And whichever pickup mode you select, this guitar sounds great for lowered tunings, maintaining the clarity and punch all the way down. I must have played the low riff from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” tuned down to C for a good five minutes straight. And the access to the higher frets is exceptional. You can get right up to the 24th and squeeze it for all it’s worth.

Gibson is really on a winner with the SG Special – and that’s before you even look at the price tag and realise that it’s one of the most affordable SGs. Sure, some players might prefer trapezoid inlays for this price, but the dots work in the context of the overall look. Everything about this guitar just works, from the looks to the tone to the playability. Whether you play clean, dirty or utterly filthy, the SG Special is packed with usable, expressive tones.

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