Being made aware that a some money is coming in my direction, it opens up the floodgates for the guitar player who is always in search of new gear. Every single piece of musical gear that I see, I always think that I might want it. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it just seems that at some point in my life I’ll need it. It can be a guitar, it can be a contrabassoon; if I see it I want it. However, very few of them caught me like the guitar you see above. Having been listening to Derek Trucks lately, i’ve been curious as to where he gets his tone. It seems to be the perfect tone for slide guitar. I looked up what guitar he had, and it was this one. He along with Daron Malakian from System of a Down, Pete Townshend from The Who and Eric Clapton in his Cream years have all used an incarnation of this guitar.
I’ll put this out there before I get to the meat and ‘taters of it all, i’ve always hated Gibson SGs. I’ve hated the thick neck, i’ve hated how they felt to play, and i’ve hated the current users of them. It’s a very popular guitar for the new alternative/emo/hardcore genre, and that clouded my judgment towards the Gibson SG until I found out that all of those people are using Gibson SG Standards.
But this guitar changed everything. It’s taken the SG from my most hated guitar, to the top of my list of favorites.
The Specs: It looks like a normal SG, but it’s got a lot of differences. This is the reissue of the first SG ever made. When Gibson did a few modifications to the Les Paul to make a lighter, all-access, more visually striking guitar, this was the result. With the exception of the Rosewood fretboard, it’s all mahogany. The standard Gibson tuners, standard top hat volume and tone knobs. And that’s where the similarities end. Instead of 490 series pickups, they use 57 Classics. Instead of having the neck heel meet at at the 19th fret, it meets at the 22nd. It’s got a smaller pickguard than the Standard, a holly inlay instead of the usual crown, and nickel plating instead of chrome for the aged look. The biggest difference,- and the selling point for me – is 60’s era, slim-taper neck. All of which will be explained in a bit.
The Neck: It’s thinner and flatter than all other Gibson necks, and the best part is that access to the first fret is just as easy as the 22nd. There’s no wood to get in the way of fretting any notes. It’s comfortable everywhere. The neck heel at the 22nd fret means that there’s no giant chunks of mahogany to get in the way of any of the frets. The SG Standard connects at the 19th fret, and the neck is the same profile as the old rounder Gibson Les Pauls, something not meant for someone used to small necks. The binding job around the neck could use a little quality control, and it would be better if the frets were crowned properly instead of having a flat top. But all of these factors add to the mystique of the Gibson SG 1961 Reissue.
The Body: I’ve always loved the look of a Gibson SG. In the realm of guitars, it’s in the top three for most recognizeable body shapes out there. There are many things associated with a Gibson SG, and when most people see it, they know there’s going to be some rock played. The Beatles, Cream, The Who, The Allman Brothers, System of a Down, The Doors, The Derek Trucks Band, AC/DC, all have used an SG to define a look. If Gibson did anything to the body, it wouldn’t be an SG, and it would need a different review.
The Electronics: Plugging this in gave me the same electricity as the Charvel I reviewed, but for a different purpose. It had that great rock sound coming out of the 57 pickups, and they went with the classic 2 volume, 2 tone configuration. Again, not messing with a classic keeps it classic.
The Hardware: I’ve never been a fan of Gibson tuners. It always seem like they’re going to break or crack off. However, I have seen versions of the SG with sturdier, more sensitive Grover tuners, an option I might take advantage of if I get my own.
The Whole Shebang : The second I put this guitar in my hands, I could feel Rock and Blues riffs about to fall out of my fingers. It felt like Picasso had just been using a ballpoint pen and had been handed a palette and some brushes. (I’m definitely not Picasso, but if there’s any better metaphor for feeling almost unlimited in capabilities, I have yet to see it) All of a sudden, it just feels like there’s some form of supernatural entity in your hands telling you what to do with it. I had to keep the volume low so people didn’t know I was ripping off Eric Clapton with Cream riffs, but the guitar was just telling me “Do it. You know you’ll enjoy it. Forget the store employees.” I kicked on the neck pickup, rolled off the tone, and just started to play “SWLABR” by Cream. Had I brought my slide, I probably would’ve spent 3 hours butchering Derek Trucks licks. It felt perfect for almost every song I could throw at it. John Mclaughlin style, Santana style, Angus Young style: didn’t matter, it just seemed to flow out of it like water from a fountain.
I could spend a lot of time waxing poetic about the ’61 reissue, but i’d rather just cut myself off and make a summation of the stuff I didn’t like. Don’t make my griping seem like I don’t like the guitar, just pretend I had 15 pages of the things I liked about the guitar before this section:
-The price is a big issue; at $1800+ you’d think it would be made of gold, not using the cheaper materials involved with SG maintenance. They just slap the 61 reissue logo on there to make it cost more than the 1100+ for a standard.
-I’ve never liked the front mounted input jack. It just seems to be conducive to cable fatigue.
– More color variations would be nice. The red is GORGEOUS, but different colors would be even more enticing. They came out with a Sapphire blue version as a limited edition, but what self-respecting guitarist wants to play Jessica by the Allman Brothers with a guitar that’s “Sapphire” blue?
– Gibson, you’re the most well known company, couldn’t you have put some effort into the fretboard? Make it out of Ebony for the price? Finish the binding properly? Crown the frets? Try and put some effort into it if i’m going to pay almost two grand for it.
Those are really the things I had problems with. And even those things i’d probably forget the second I had it in my hands again.
The Pros: Gibson SG style without the standard fat neck, Slim taper neck, awesome pickups, amazing sound all around, looks spectacular. The best blues/rock guitar i’ve ever played .
The Cons: The price. Low quality neck workmanship in a “top of the line” instrument. It’s the reason there’s no plus next to the A.