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
This was the last catalogue appearance of the SG Special for some time
The 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. Another great user is Carlos Santana, who also used an SG Special at Woodstock.
1961 Gibson SG Special through a 1960s WEM ER15 - the first clip being neck pickup only, the scond 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.
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.