Starting life as a radical costume change for the flailing Les Paul, the SG would go on to become a rock 'n' roll icon in its own right, earning accolades from guitar heroes such as Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Frank Zappa, among many, many more. These musical legends have used the SG's fierce mid-range bark to create some of the most recognizable tones of all time. Luckily, if you fancy following in the footsteps of rock royalty, now is the time, as the guitar giant is producing some of the best Gibson SGs ever, with more configurations than you can shake your devil horns at.
While its flashier, flame-topped brother is often thought of as the poster child for the brand, the SG has an enduring presence in the Gibson catalog, having never been out of production since it hit the scene in 1961. Today the Gibson SG's legacy is celebrated with a slew of era-specific reissues, modern updates and affordable variations – meaning there's most definitely an SG out there for everyone.
Join us as we walk you through our budget-spanning picks of Gibson's Solid Guitar, with some handy buying advice if this is your first venture into the wonderful world of the SG. So, for those about to rock, we'd advise you to start right here.
Best Gibson SGs: Our top picks
Gibson's SG Standard '61, for many, is the quintessential SG, and for us, it was the obvious choice for our number one slot. With its effortless SlimTaper mahogany neck and roaring '60s Burstbucker pickups, this electric guitar more than delivers on playability, tone and looks.
Now, if you are looking for the SG charm on a budget, the Gibson SG Tribute is the axe for you. The Tribute takes the SG back to basics with either a Vintage Cherry Satin or Natural Walnut Satin finish, a rounded maple neck and open-coil 490R and 490T pickups. Okay, it may not be the most traditionally constructed SG, but it certainly captures the spirit of this beloved guitar – and all while keeping the cost to a minimum.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Gibson 1963 Les Paul SG Custom Reissue. Gibson has recreated the striking beauty of this early '60s SG – specifically the last year the Les Paul name was used for this model – resulting in a guitar that will transport you back in time with a single strum.
Best Gibson SGs: Product guide
Coming from Gibson's aptly named Original Collection, the SG Standard '61 comes in a few slight variations. Now, while you have the choice of either the Maestro Vibrola or Sideways Vibrola, we've decided to showcase the Tune-O-Matic version, as we believe it will appeal to the vast majority of players.
As you'd expect, the SG Standard '61 follows the tried and tested formula that made the initial guitars so beloved. The SlimTaper mahogany neck is a joy to play, while the bound rosewood fingerboard has beautifully rolled edges, making it one of the most comfortable necks Gibson presents.
The tonal center of this stylish guitar is a set of '60s Burstbucker humbuckers, which deliver a fierce growl and a stunning amount of clarity. If you are in the market for the best SG, Gibson SG Standard '61 has to be at the top of your must-try list.
The SG Tribute from Gibson's Modern Collection is a stone-cold classic rock machine boasting open-coil 490R and 490T humbucking pickups, and it comes in a choice of two satin nitrocellulose lacquer finishes – a '60s-vibe Vintage Cherry Satin or 70s-chic Natural Walnut.
Now, the Tribute isn't the most traditional SG on this list. While it sticks to the typical mahogany body of the original, it forgoes the mahogany neck for maple, resulting in a different feel – that said, it's arguably a stronger design.
Rounding out the spec list of this affordable American guitar is a rosewood fingerboard, 22 Medium Jumbo frets, a Graph Tech nut and an aluminum Nashville Tune-o-matic bridge with an aluminum stop tailpiece.
This dual P-90 classic from Gibson's distinctly retro Original Collection now comes in a choice of four '60s-style gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finishes – Faded Pelham Blue, Vintage Sparkling Burgundy, Vintage Cherry and Ebony.
Aside from its head-turning good looks, the Gibson SG Special also makes sure it delivers on playability and tone, as well. With a mahogany body, a slim taper mahogany neck and a bound rosewood fingerboard, the guitar is sure to satisfy vintage gear hounds.
The duo of soapbar P-90s provides a broad base of tone with a virtually endless array of further possibilities available via the guitar's hand-wired volume and tone controls.
Read our full Gibson SG Special review.
Okay, so now we turn to see what the folks over at the Gibson Custom shop have been cooking up. Top of the line in '63 – and today – this Custom Shop reissue has been painstakingly recreated using Gibson's traditional building methods and is easily one of the best Gibson guitars money can buy.
Sporting a solid one-piece mahogany body and long tenon, hide-glue fit neck, Classic White vintage patina nitro finish, solid ebony fretboard, mother-of-pearl block inlays, and Custombucker Alnico III humbuckers, this guitar was built to turn heads and melt faces.
So, if you are looking for something a little special – and insanely versatile – then you'll want to check out the timeless classic that is the Gibson 1963 Les Paul SG Custom Reissue.
Black Sabbath riff lord, Tony Iommi is arguably one of the most iconic SG players of all time – and his heavily modified 1964 Gibson SG was the guitar that helped birth some of the most legendary riffs in heavy metal.
While Gibson did release a limited edition Custom Shop clone of Iommi's "Monkey" guitar, the restricted quantity and hefty price made it unobtainable to everyone except a very select few. Luckily there is now a more affordable Gibson USA version, which makes this iconic guitar available to everyone.
The Tony Iommi SG Special features a mahogany body, bound mahogany neck with a rounded profile, Indian rosewood fretboard, Graph Tech nut, Grover Rotomatic tuners and chrome-covered P-90 pickups – and yes, you do get the Monkey sticker in the case!
The majority of the guitars on this list fall under the vintage reissue category, but that's not to say that all Gibson SGs are stuffy old six-strings that can't shred. The bold Gibson SG Modern proves that this horned devil can deliver a contemporary playing experience.
Featuring a AA maple top and mahogany back, the SG Modern is clearly taking some style cues from its big brother, the Gibson Les Paul. It also differs from the classic SG design in other ways with an ebony, 24-fret compound radius fingerboard, which features an asymmetrical SlimTaper neck profile.
At the heart of this contemporary guitar is a pair of calibrated Burstbucker Pro Alnico 5 humbuckers, which feature push-pull controls allowing you to effortlessly switch between the fierce power of a humbucker to the bright attack of the P-90.
Pros and students alike have long favored the Junior for its sheer simplicity and killer tones, not to mention its comparatively low price. Everyone from Tom Petty and Ray Toro to Jake E. Lee has used this simple SG to great effect.
Recently revived for the Original Collection, the SG Junior has been reintroduced with a design that strongly mirrors its original '60s counterpart, including a Vintage Cherry gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish, mahogany body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, compensated wraparound bridge, single dog-ear P-90 pickup, and hand-wired volume and tone controls.
So, if you are looking for a no-nonsense approach to the SG design, then you'll most definitely want to grab the Gibson SG Junior.
The Gibson SG Standard '61 Faded Maestro is essentially the same guitar as our top pick, but this time in a "faded" finish. After a very short period of time, this satin nitrocellulose lacquer will start to look played in, giving the SG a vintage feel – something that would take years on the full gloss version.
While the "standard" Gibson SG '61 is available in three options – Maestro Vibrola, Sideways Vibrola and Tune-O-Matic – the Faded option is currently only available with the Maestro Vibrola. Hopefully, this will change in the future.
Read our full Gibson SG Standard '61 Faded Maestro review.
Best Gibson SGs: Buying advice
A brief history of the Gibson SG
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From a modern viewpoint, it's hard to believe that Gibson was having a hard time selling the Les Paul model, but the guitar-playing community of 1960 just wasn't interested in a heavy hunk of mahogany topped with flamed maple. Guitarists of the day were flocking to Fender's futuristic – and double cutaway – Stratocaster and Gibson knew they needed to do something radical to keep up with their Californian rivals.
The story of the Gibson SG: the first two decades of the Les Paul's double-cutaway successor
Gibson's answer would be to completely redesign the Les Paul into an unrecognizable slab of bevels and curves. Still baring the Les Paul moniker at this point, this new guitar was thinner, lighter and offered players the upper fret access they were crying out for.
By the end of 1963, the devil-horned Gibson would get a name change, becoming the SG, which stands for "solid guitar". Now, there are many reasons cited for this change, but there are two explanations that are most commonly used to explain the decision.
First of all, despite appearing in the adverts for the radical new Gibson, Les Paul himself wasn't a fan of the redesign, preferring the strength and feel of his original singlecut. It's also been said that as Les was in the process of divorcing his wife and singing partner, Mary Ford, Gibson wasn't happy with the negative publicity that the very public divorce was starting to garner. At the same time, Les was advised not to sign a new contract with Gibson while in the middle of a messy divorce, and eventually, the Les Paul name would be removed from the new guitars.
Over the years, the SG has gone through various iterations with slight tweaks to everything from the bevels and contours to the bridge style and pickups. Today Gibson makes a slew of SG models, from historic reissues that capture the magic of the original to contemporary versions that are perfect for modern shredders.
What notable guitarists play an SG?
We all know that the Gibson SG is a hard rock staple, with the likes of AC/DC axeman, Angus Young and the godfather of heavy metal, Tony Iommi relying on the SG to bring power to their iconic riffs.
That said, the SG is more than a rock 'n' roll tone machine, with the likes of Derek Trucks, proving that it can bring a touch of soul to beautiful slide licks, while Gary Clarke Jr uses his SG to seamlessly blend the blues with modern soul and hip hop.
Other notable SG players include George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Robbie Krieger, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mastodon guitarist, Brent Hinds.
How to choose the best Gibson SG for you
When it comes to selecting the best Gibson SG for you, the first thing to consider is budget. Luckily, Gibson offers plenty of options at various price points. If you want the SG look, feel and tone but don't want to spend a fortune, the Tribute series is most definitely for you. Of course, if even that is a little too much, there are affordable Epiphone options as well.
As you move through the range from Standard to Custom Shop, the guitars get progressively more expensive, adding more features and desirable additions.
Next, you'll want to consider the tone you are looking for. Despite looking very similar, the pickups vary wildly from SG to SG. Some are loaded with the retro-sounding 60s Burstbuckers, while others opt for the Alnico 3 Custombuckers, modern Burstbucker Pro + or even P-90s. So, our advice would be to spend some time thinking about the sound you are looking to produce and use that as a starting point.
Lastly, you'll want to decide on the feel. The most common neck shapes on the SG are the fan favorite, SlimTaper or the slightly chunkier Rounded profile. Now, this is a matter of taste, so there are no wrong answers here. Simply choose the one that's more comfortable for you.
How we selected the products for this guide
Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything guitar and bass related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.
When choosing what we believe to be the best Gibson SGs available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.
First and foremost, we are guitarists, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best Gibson SGs on the market right now.
Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.
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