Gibson SG Special “HH” Limited Edition Review!
In 2012, Gibson began shipping a variant of the non-gloss (some folks call it “faded”, but it’s not the official title) Gibson SG Special. The Gibson SG Special has a long history of bringing USA-made sound-wonder to the masses at more affordable prices. I think most folks wouldn’t turn down an SG Standard or Supreme if offered, but when the money sneaks out of the wallet, the budget-priced SG Special is the ultimate Gibson “gateway” guitar.
Rich, resonant, easy-to-play, priced competitively with Asian-made lookalikes, simple, durable (for the most part), and truly a work-horse guitar… I love the Gibson SG special line so much that I’ve “rescued” several “basket cases” over the years and turned them into some of the best sounding and playing instruments I’ve ever owned or used. The retail price of the Gibson SG Special has varied greatly over the years – this limited-edition “HH” model is VERY affordable at less than $600. They can occasionally be found on sale for as much as $75 off the street price. A bargain for handcrafted USA-made rock machines!
What do I think of the limited HH SG Special? I think it is a winner. It does just what it is supposed to do, does it well, and sounds fantastic.
You know, it actually helps me write more reviews and do more gear stuff if you visit zZounds through my links and buy cool stuff from them. Take a look at the Gibson SG Faded Special at zZounds. Although they don’t offer the Gibson SG Special HH with wrap-around tail piece, they offer the Faded and gloss series. zZounds’ folks are great peeps with really great policies and excellent customer service. I’m a customer too.
Quick Opinion: If you find one of these jewels new or used and you’re looking for your first Gibson or your next Gibson, give this serious consideration. They come in unusual colors and have the old-style semi-chunky SG Special neck from the old days. If you need your first USA SG, this is a strong contender!
On another note, as a person who plays lots of guitars each week, I actually like my HH SG Special very much! I’m enjoying the maple fretboard and the nice smooth feel of the dark cherry-finished body and neck. Nice!
Sound: Gibson SGs are known for their lightweight and resonant tone. The nice set neck with the small-ish light body makes the guitar sound resonate in your body as you play. There’s not much quite like it. The neck joint and body shape really make for great sound. But there’s more to the formula of that wonderful Gibson SG sound. There are reasons why Clapton, Townshend, Young, Trucks, and so many other awesome guitarists have played SGs over the years.
This particular variant of the Gibson SG is VERY light. It has a fairly thin body and is made of decent tone materials. The finish is actually smoother than the recent “faded” models – I don’t know if the finish makes the sound any different, but my ears tell me that the thin smooth (not glossy, though) nitrocellulose finish is a great breather. Give these a couple of decades and they’ll be very desirable for their sound!
Let’s get into details…
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) The lightweight simplicity of the SG Special
Pickups and Electronics: The Gibson SG HH Special Limited Edition electric solid body guitar has a slightly different configuration from many Gibson SGs. The HH has two volume controls and one tone control (master), with a traditional L-angle three-way pickup selector switch. The input jack is in its normal place as is the switch, and the knobs are about where they generally are (minus the second tone knob). Depending on to whom you speak, the tone control is or is not important. To me? Yes, it is. I like individual tone controls, too. In my case, I often leave the neck pickup at 10 on the tone, and sometimes put the bridge pickup at 5 for warmer sound. When I’m rockin’, all the dials are at 10+… So, I like a choice. For this little gem, I can give up a little of that flexibility for the price.
The HH comes with the basic Gibson 490R (neck or “rhythm”) pickup and the basic Gibson 490T (bridge or “treble”) pickup. These pickups use AlNiCo II pickup magnets and are wound a lot like the sound of the Gibson 57 – but with distinct characteristics that separate them from the ’50s pickup sound. In the case of the HH SG Special, the pickups are traditional single-conductor (plus braided shield ground) wiring that is soldered like crazy to the back of Gibson pots and electronics. They’re squarely in the mainstream voice, are medium output, and can push the tubes quite nicely. If you’re looking for that extreme output “metal” sound, you’ll find them a little on the vintage side for hard stuff – but I’ve been known to put a King of Tone (opens a new window) and some 12ax7s in a tune-able preamp between the guitar and amp to get massive tone of just about any shape and color.
One side note about Gibson’s 490 pickups: An opinion (remember what they say about opinions?): They’re like lower-priced AlNiCo II Slash pickups – more vintage-y, a little less defined, and a little more mid-rangy than the Slash pickups and the Seymour AlNiCo II pros – but a worthy contender nonetheless. These do the blues JUSTICE as compared to even some of Gibson’s more expensive pickups. And another thing? You can actually play clean on the neck pickup if you don’t drive them too hard. Nice.
The pickup selector is fairly standard Gibson toggle fare: Neck-Neck/Bridge-Bridge. It’s quiet, mechanical, and very sturdy. I’ve never replaced a Gibson-installed pickup selector because it was bad or didn’t work.
Tone woods The body and neck are mahogany. The fretboard is baked maple (looks a lot like an unusually-grained rosewood or red-walnut color). The body is thin and resonant. Mine was made with a minimal number of wood pieces, so it has a nice growly resonance that is very distinctive.
I like rosewood like most folks, but I am really enamored of ebony and maple. The new “baked maple” fretboards of recent vintage feel a lot like good old hard maple and have a nice consistent bright sound and smooth feel. I know many people will be glad when rosewoods and some ebonies go back on the market, but I have the guilty pleasure of always wanting a few Gibsons to play that have real blonde maple fretboards and necks. I guess I’m a sucker for that smooth and bright wood…
Rosewood, ebony, and many in the family of these dense dark woods are in short supply worldwide. Much of the (increasingly rare) woods of these types are getting forested for clear-cutting, illegal trade, and for creating junk wood products. The thing is, these woods take a LONG time to repopulate and to re-forest. Some ebony trees take a hundred years just to grow a few inches of diameter, some even longer. We can’t just cut down these woods, replant them, and harvest them again in a few short decades. Some of the best woods out there are older than even the Iron Age. We have to do our part: love the woods you love, but remember that we have to start becoming more sustainable.
Neck type and bridge Starting with the bridge, this is the old-style bridge: it’s not a tune-o-matic style with adjustable saddles and a separate stop-tail: These HH Specials have the single bridge-and-tail wraparound tailpiece that is placed very near the bridge pickup. These are reminiscent of the Melody Maker guitars of recent vintage and of the original series. It’s cheaper and simpler to have a single bridge piece and one set of studs in the body. The intonation is barely tune-able and the individuality of the tunable saddles is sorely missed, but the simple direct-to-body idea of the wrap around is fine. It sounds wonderful and resonates in the main body wood very well. I’m 50/50 on these bridges. On the one hand, they’re simple and sound fine. On the other hand, it’s very hard to set the intonation up correctly.
The neck is not the thickest Gibson neck I’ve held, but it is very much that chunky “D” sort of shape. I like V and D and deep C necks, so this one feels right at home. It’s just wide enough to make it easy to go from most any Gibson to the HH Special Limited Edition. As far as sound? Acoustically, when you play the guitar unplugged, it sounds fantastic. It has sustain that is unusual for guitars this light and of this setup. The neck actually plays a strong role in this guitar’s sound. It reminds me VERY much of my 2003 Gibson SG “moonie” Special. It’s a joy to play and sounds fantastic. Plugged in? It rings like crazy and feels very much alive in your paws when you’re playing loud OR soft.
The SG Special Sound: Simple. Resonant. Light. Awesome woods. Rings like a bell in your hands. Wonderful. Breathable finish. Buy one. (Subliminal: buy one!)
zZounds also sells the nicer, upscale gloss Gibson SG Special in ebony and cherry. VERY nice! They have a great ‘love your guitar’ guarantee! If you buy your gear after visiting my site and using my links, it helps me out (just being honest – no funny agenda or anything).
Quality: My Gibson SG HH Special Limited Edition electric guitar is built like a tank. Bear in mind that all aspects of it were actually nicer than the faded models I’ve owned and played. The finish is a real plus! They did a GREAT job of the nice nitro satin finish!
Even though this is a low-end Gibson (well, in some folks’ eyes), the frets were done RIGHT on mine. I didn’t have to dress them or mess with the ends. VERY nice, smooth, shiny, and no jagged edges for my fingers to snag. I also found that there were no buzzy spots – the frets were seated very nicely.
The hardware is perfect and the solder joints were tough as nails. The soldering wasn’t as pretty as my LP Standard’s soldering joints, but they’re VERY strong and nicely applied. This new VVT (volume-volume-tone) arrangement made for a smaller control cavity and a little cramped-ness between the switch and pots. If you’re like me and you love to mod guitars like this, you’ll find that you have to be VERY careful about your planning as to what components to use and how the wiring will be routed. I think they could have put another two inches of bridge-ground wire in them for us modders… for the players out there, the ground is excellent and as quiet as a passive HH system gets.
Gibson seems to be using different kinds of tuners these days when it comes to the traditional “green Key” or “keystone” type tuners. Mine came with genuine Kluson Deluxe tuners. I’ve seen others with Gibson Deluxe tuners (last time I was in touch with the Kluson folks, they told me that they’re not the same… I believe them.) I’m glad either way, because I grew up with old Les Pauls and 60s SGs with those lanky crazy green-key tuners. They’re not the most accurate or smooth tuners in the world, but hey work OK and they’ve gotten better over the years.
Overall, my Gibson SG HH Special is built first class. Other than the gloss of many comparable Asian look-alikes on the market, my HH is better built than any of the ESPs, and even upper-crust Epiphones I’ve played and owned. Rock on Gibson. Thank you for doing such a great job on these low-cost wooden babies!
Value: The value of these guitars is an 8.5 out of 10, where 10 is a screamin’ steal and a 1 is “forgettable.” My only reason for these not being a 9 or 9.5 is the stop-tail config (and, I must admit, the brown color). I think these guitars are a must-buy for the budding guitarist. Remember: these days, the street price for many Chinese guitars with chock-a-block glue-hog bodies and cheap electronics are in the $500 range. No offense to the other guitars meant: I’m just saying that if you’re going to get out there and rock out ’til the clock’s out, a genuine Gibson USA SG is actually competitively priced to mid-line imports.
Interestingly enough, these street-price at less than the single-coil Melody Makers and only a little more than the 2011 single-humbucker Melody Makers (when they first hit the street).
Very high value, easy to play, sounds great, looks great, and worth the extra money to go get it a hard case – sold!
Wishes: I wish the wrap-around tailpiece had little adjustable saddles like those funky comb-shaped bridges of the 70s and early 80s. I almost want to put a Maestro Trem on it and feed the strings across saddles, but no go with the smooth simple wrap-around.
White (not distressed or TV white) and Pelham blue would have rocked the house! I don’t mind the walnut-type colors of the brown “faded” Gibsons, but I honestly felt like the dark brown of the HH Special looked like too-dark Minwax walnut over plywood – I would have preferred a black semi-gloss like the Goth series over the brown of these guitars.
Last wish? Do a Firebird and Explorer like this! I would totally eat up an HH Explorer Special!