You see some certain guitars, and visually they mean something. They either apply to a certain era or a certain style of music. And, some guitars crossed the borders between styles and genres being played in different situations.
Not so the SG series.
It has and always will mean one thing. Rock, Loud Rock.
We can’t remember who we saw use it first. It may have been Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, but he was followed by some excellent company.
ACDC’s Angus Young, of course, Frank Zappa, Robbie Krieger from The Doors, Allman Brothers, and Judas Priest’s Glenn Tipton. And we are sure Chicago’s Terry Kath used one at the Isle of Wight in ‘69.
Pete Townshend had one at the time of the Who’s Live at Leeds album but discarded it because he couldn’t smash it up easily.
Introduced at first in 1961, and believe it or not, over the years more SG’s have been sold than Les Paul’s.
So What Was It About The SG?
Well, its shape and design were different, somehow hovering between aggressive and downright nasty. Very rock n roll. It was much lighter than it’s stablemate, the Les Paul, much thinner in body size and generally easier to handle.
Then there was the sound. The SG is a little brighter in tone but really not a great deal of difference unless the SG was fitted with P90’s. Then it will bite your hand off for fun.
The SG has cemented its place as a favorite rock guitar. There are a few versions around at the moment, so let’s have a look at one of them…
Epiphone manufacture this guitar in a few colors, perhaps that iconic cherry red being the most prominent but we are going to look at the ebony version.
At first viewing it is impressive. It has the shape, the style, and the feel and the dark color adds to the mystique. We like it.
Epiphone has always been as a guitar manufacturer an interesting competitor for Gibson.
In the 60s they were owned by the same people but had separate offices, sales teams, and production lines. The products were remarkably similar and in some ways almost clones of each other.
Gibson fans will say they were always superior, but the answer to that is they weren’t.
On at least one occasion Epiphone was producing the better instruments as the 60s rivalry between the Epiphone Casino and the Gibson 330 demonstrated. The Casino being far superior.
Today though, Epiphone is considered as the premium range of Gibson guitars in much the same way as Squier is to Fender. But just like Squier, Epiphone is able to produce guitars that approach the quality of their more revered partner.
The Epiphone SG Special VE’s body is made from Poplar. Made to original dimensions, it features, of course, the famous double cutaway that gives the guitar its main styling point.
This wood is recognized as having great tonal qualities and richness of sound. To finish it off it has a mahogany veneer.
It is given a ‘worn finish’ which means it is not shiny or glossy but resembles a guitar that has been used. That doesn’t mean to say it is dull in its look. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as having a ‘matt’ finish rather than a glossy one.
It looks like a guitar that’s been around the block but without the chips and scrapes that would come with that.
Shaped and beveled for comfort and ease of playing it looks the part, but then it always has done.
The styling is finished off with its black pickguard.
Epiphone have gone with an Okoume wood neck on the SG Special VE. A ‘D’ shape profile but with its slim 60s taper it feels good, and it plays fast. The neck is bolt-on with its 24.75-inch length and has a single truss rod.
It has a satin finish to the neck and a Rosewood fretboard with 22 accessible frets. The traditional look is completed by the pearloid dot inlays.
The machine heads are chrome die-cast, and there is a LockTone Tune-o-Matic bridge. The tail end is completed with a stop bar tailpiece.
Simple and basic is all they need to be and all they ever used to be and with this guitar all you ever need. There is a master volume and a master tone and a three-way pickup selector switch. The two control knobs are traditional speed knobs.
As you might expect Humbuckers at the bridge and neck positions. At the bridge an Epiphone 700T which is an open coil ceramic with eight magnets, At the neck an Epiphone 650R again open coil ceramic with eight magnets,
Ceramic magnets are very bright, high output but make the pickup a little one-dimensional. This is great in the world of hard rock and even metal but not so good if you want a bit of subtlety. A little more on that later.
Subtle they won’t be, but then I don’t think the SG was designed with that in mind.
The 650R pickup is slightly less tonal in that you can manage the bottom end OK, but we would not say more than that. The 700T is the ‘killer’ humbucker that will make the neighbors put up the For Sale signs if you overdo it.
They are powerful together and give you what you want if what you want is that traditional SG power.
It looks good, and it feels the part in your hands. It’s not heavy to move around, and the body contours seem to just wrap around you. The neck, of course, was always a great thing with these guitars and this one is crying out to be played and played fast.
So having decided it is well made and designed there is one more thing perhaps we had better discuss.
The Epiphone SG Special VE can look as pretty as you want, but if it isn’t going to cut it and give you that SG power and scream then it’s not going to work.
Well, it does give it to you and plenty of it.
It will deliver shattering power chords, and it will scream in the solos. Humbuckers just doing their job.
The really noticeable thing about the sound was how warm the mids were. There is a lot of top from the bridge pickup, but the neck gives it depth so that when you hit those big chords, the sustain just stays and stays.
We mentioned the ceramic pickups already. They are a little one dimensional, and if we are honest, then there are better humbuckers around than the Epiphone’s fitted here.
Having said that they deliver a powerful sound and that is why most people will buy this guitar.
There are going to be some who will say that ok, but it’s Epiphone, not Gibson. Of course, they will be right. The materials might not be as good or the fittings not so upmarket, and the Gibson pickups are as you would expect, superior.
We would answer by saying this…
A Gibson will cost you around six times the new price of this Epiphone. Is it six times better? The answer to that is probably no.
Epiphone has produced a very good guitar with this. And, for the cost, it is excellent value. It is not a Gibson, but it is still very good and opens the door to an SG for those who may not have, or those who would not be willing to spend Gibson money.
Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials.
He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what is what most producers still want from him.
He is a devout gear hear and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".