Gibson SG Special
Solid body electric guitar
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Have a closer look at this 1969 SG Special
From the 1962 Gibson electric guitar and bass catalogue
The first SG Special catalogue appearance Two ways new! A lovely new finish in a new shade of limed mahogany or Gibson's new cherry red... an ultra-modern new sculptered shape - the solid body double cutaway design that provides easy access to all 22 frets
From the 1964 Gibson electric guitar and bass catalogue
Outstanding for it's tone, versatility, and low fast action at a modest price
From the 1966 Gibson full line catalogue
Two powerful pickups with separate tone and volume controls which can be pre-set
The 1970 electric solid bodies catalogue
The ultra-thin contoured body is available in two finishes: Natural Walnut, or Gibson Cherry Red
The 1973 Gibson solid body leaflet
Two new design Gibson humbucking pickups
From the 1975 Gibson solid body catalogue
This was the last catalogue appearance of the SG Special for some time
The Gibson SG Special was a popular guitar, in the Gibson SG range, selling in high numbers in the 1960s and early 1970s. According to released shipping figures, over 30,000 SG Specials were shipped between 1961 and 1979, with 1973 (3534), and 1965 (2618) the peak years. It is still available from Gibson today, and there is also an Epiphone SG Special.
The model was first announced in the Summer 1961 issue of Gibson Gazette at a price of $195, though probably not yet available as it is described in the future tense: New contoured body design and light weight make the SG Special one of the best values in the solid-body market. This beautiful and wonderful sounding guitar will be available in two finishes: cherry-red and the ultra-modern light cream.
The SG Special was, in due course, included in the 1962 catalogue at $210 - and without any mention of finish options other than cherry red, although shipping figures suggest white SG Specials were shipped at least between 1962 and 1968.
Throughout the 1960s, the SG Special sold moderately well. Gibson had it's peak year in 1965, and expanded it's Kalamazoo plant to meet demand for 100000 instruments/year. Unfortunately sales then plummeted across the US guitar industry, with overseas competition, war, and recession all putting strain on sales figures. Gibson was losing money and something had to be done to overcome this. President Stan Rendell introduced a number of changes from 1966 onwards; most notably for the SG Special was the larger scratchplate introduced towards the end of the decade, covering much of the front of the body. Mounting pickups on a larger plate simplified production, in turn reduced costs.
The defining feature of the Special, over any other SG model, is the twin P90 pickup configuration. The SG Junior was similar, but having just one P90. P90s are single-coil pickups, unlike the humbuckers used in the SG Custom and SG Standard. Of course, there are always exceptions with Gibson, and for a time in the mid 1970s, the SG Special had small humbuckers too, though not identical to those fitted on the other SG models. Otherwise, differences between the models were ornamental; headstock and neck inlays, binding, etc. All had the same mahogany bodies, set mahogany necks, and all used the same control layouts.
Well known users of the SG Special include Pete Townsend of the Who, who played his SG Special for much of the late 1960s and early 1970s, most famously at Woodstock. The video on the left shows the Who live at the Isle of Wight festival, UK in 1970, the SG in full effect. Another well known user is Carlos Santana, who also played an SG Special at the Woodstock festival.
The table below lists a number of solid body guitars available in 1965 in the same price range as the Gibson SG Special. When you compare the guitars available, it is really no wonder the SG Special sold so well.
|model||pickups||neck joint||1965 price|
|Gibson SG Junior||1 P90||set||$165 (June '65)|
|Harmony Silhouette H19||2 single coil||bolt-on||$177.50 (April '65)|
|Fender Telecaster||2 single coil||bolt-on||$203 (Dec '65)|
|Rickenbacker 450||2 single coil||neck through||$224.50 (Jan '66)|
|Gibson SG Special||2 P90||set||$225 (June '65)|
|Gretsch Corvette||2 single coil||set||$240 (1965)|
|Vox Soundcaster||3 single coil||bolt-on||$250 (April '65)|
|Epiphone Wilshire||2 humbucker||set||$265 (July '65)|
|Fender Stratocaster||3 single coil||bolt-on||$252-$295 (Dec '65)|
|Guild S100 Deluxe||2 single coil||set||$280 (Oct '65)|
|Gibson SG Standard||2 humbucker||set||$305 (June '65)|
Each pickup alone has plenty of character - a typically funky bridge tone, and a nice fat neck tone. Have a listen to some Gibson SG Specials - through several vintage guitar amplifiers - just mic'd up and recorded.
1961 Gibson SG Special through a 1960s WEM ER15 - the first clip being neck pickup only, the second bridge only, and finally, both pickups.
1969 Gibson SG Special through an early 1970s WEM Clubman Mark 8 - both pickups, with the amp cranked sufficiently for some nice distorted tones. More SG Special/WEM Clubman soundclips here.
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