Learn the licks of 10 Gibson SG legends

TGR352 SG Greats Lesson
(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image; Stephen Lovekin/WireImage; Tony Evans/Getty Images)

60 years ago, Gibson introduced the SG as a new alternative to the company’s Les Paul models. Early examples still bore the Les Paul signature, until Les himself expressed a disdain for its radical design and the instrument was renamed SG (short for Solid Guitar). 

The SG is a thinner, narrower and lighter guitar than the Les Paul, with easier access to the higher frets, and, though long sitting in the shadows of its esteemed sibling, the SG has inspired an army of loyal users – and it’s a versatile beast... 

While legendary rockers like AC/DC’s Angus Young and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi chose it for its stinging leads and powerful rhythm tones, the SG is equally comfortable filling out The Roots’ layered hip-hop tracks courtesy of Captain Kirk Douglas and helping Brittany Howard provide soulful grooves for Alabama Shakes. 

It goes without saying that you don’t need an SG to play these examples. Any humbucker-equipped guitar will be fine. Alternatively, if your guitar has single coils, roll off a little treble, boost the bass, and experiment with neck and middle pickup positions. 

Example 1. Angus Young

(Image credit: Future)

This lick is typical of how SG-lifer Angus Young would play over a song’s final chorus. We’ve used screaming bends combined with rhythmic doublestops that complement the rhythm guitar. Be sure to employ trademark Angus-style fast, wide vibrato for an authentic AC/DC sound.

Example 2. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

(Image credit: Future)

Sister Rosetta spent a lot of her time hammering an acoustic guitar, and this transferred to her super-aggressive SG playing. Her leads often follow the songs’ chord progressions closely, using chromatic notes to lead into chord tones. Remember, fretting the right notes is only half the battle – hit every note hard! 

Example 3. Brittany Howard

(Image credit: Future)

Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard runs her SG through an Orange amp to produce a beautiful, warm tone which is perfect for her soul-inspired chordal embellishments. Make sure you play on your fingertips to ensure the notes ring into each other.

Example 4. Tony Iommi

(Image credit: Future)

Godfather of metal Tony Iommi gets his trademark riffing sound by relying heavily on the fifth and sixth strings. Because he rarely moves to the lighter-gauge strings, this creates a thick, consistent sound.

You’ll need to move quickly, so lock your fingers in the powerchord shape and move your hand while holding your fingers in place.

Example 5. Brent Hinds

(Image credit: Future)

A diehard Gibson fan, Brent Hinds has been smashing out riffs on Les Pauls, Flying Vs and, of course, SGs for over 20 years with influential prog-metallers, Mastodon.

We’re using one of the band’s preferred tunings, D standard (DGCFAD) here. Aim for a consistent attack throughout and use all downstrokes if you can. 

Example 6. Robby Krieger

(Image credit: Future)

The Doors’ fingerpicking, SG-wielding guitarist is difficult to sum up in a single example – throughout his career, he’s drawn from styles as wide ranging as blues and flamenco.

This example shows how he blends classic blues licks with jazzier legato lines. Pick with your thumb and index finger in true Krieger style. 

Example 7. Jake Kiszka

(Image credit: Future)

Jake Kiska’s biting, classic rock-influenced riffing shows off the SG’s raw power. The key to this riff is to ensure you cut the staccato notes (the ones with dots over/under them) short. Play close attention to the audio track to make sure you nail the phrasing. 

Example 8. Captain Kirk Douglas

(Image credit: Future)

‘Captain’ Kirk Douglas is the resident SG expert for hip-hop heavyweights, The Roots. The guitar doesn’t sit up front often on their tracks, but when it does you can hear Douglas driving things along with staccato chords like those in our example. To get the choppy sound, release pressure on the strings just after you hit the chord. 

Example 9. Derek Trucks

(Image credit: Future)

Derek Trucks’ masterful slide guitar work is so expressive you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a vocalist. His unique sound comes from the way he approaches and embellishes notes with quick movements to mimic the way a singer would approach a melody. We’ve tabbed the lick as we’ve played it, but the fluid sound of slide guitar invites experimentation. 

Example 10. Eric Clapton

(Image credit: Future)

Clapton has used Fender Strats almost exclusively for over 50 years, but earlier in his career, most notably with Cream, SGs were a mainstay of his arsenal – and a key part of his patented 'Woman Tone'.

Play our example with a light picking attack. Try not to create accents in the hammer-ons and pull-offs by hammering on too hard or pulling-off too aggressively.

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.