Gibson SG Special Faded Review Still rockin’ and easy on the wallet for a USA Gibson!

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Gibson USA Faded SG Review

Gibson has some awesome 6-string hard-body electric guitars. Les Paul, Explorer, Vee, Firebird, and SG. My favorite Gibson? Any Gibson. (of course there are more, like the L6S and others…)

The Gibson USA Faded SG Special reminds me of some of the SGs I played in the early 1970s (sans shiny finish, though). VERY lightweight, mahogany, thin neck, bright rockin’ humbuckers, tulip tuners, fixed bridge, and tons of vibe. Every time you pick it up, you don’t want to put it down. Gibson has brought these things back in a modern-day form.

Free Shipping, the “love your guitar” guarantee, and more information about the Gibson USA Faded SG at zZounds.com

Quick Opinion: Like the Gibson Vintage Mahogany Les Paul, grab one. They’ll be gone and you will have missed a great instrument. This is the kind that will sell (30 years from now) on eBay for good bits of money because of the “vibe” and “mojo” of the lightweight, plain SG.

Playability: The experience of playing the faded Gibson SG is a treat. The body is very nicely balanced, very comfortable, and vibrant.
The neck gives a sense of ease – where some necks make you think about them as you play, the neck on the faded SG is effortless such that you forget about it entirely. For you thick-neck fans, this will be an adjustment – it is somewhat slimer than the big ’59 Les Paul. It feels good, and doesn’t have the roughness of many of Gibson’s “faded” guitars. It’s definitely bigger than the 60s Les Paul.

A note about necks: Gibson changes them from time to time, even year-to-year. You might find a 2007 SG Special to be big, while the 2009 might be slimmer… They aren’t always the same!

The body is comfortable, and makes itself comfortable up against your picking arm and your ribcage. The body is very light-weight, almost the lightest solid-body I’ve ever picked up. Incredibly, though, the balance of body to neck is just about 50/50.
I’ve found that the (fairly standard) setup of the bridge, stop-tail, and nut feel good, and are quite flexible. I’ve played one that was set up for slide – strings high, but still playable with fingers. I’ve played several others that were set up for easy action and quick fingering. In both cases, the guitar performed flawlessly with no buzzes or flat spots. (A few of the fret wires had fuzzy ends, but nothing that couldn’t be handled with some fret polishing paper and a little TLC.)

Features: The features of the Gibson faded SG are basic, simple, and uncomplicated. The instrument features a standard 4-knob control: neck pickup tone and volume plus bridge pickup tone and volume. This SG also has the three-way toggle pickup selector (neck, neck and bridge, bridge).
The finish is sort of a satin clear finish on brown or cherry-looking mahogany. Unlike the faded Les Pauls and faded double-cutaway Les Pauls I’ve played recently, the finish on the SG is still smooth, even though it is not gloss-polished. The faded SG feels like an old, comfortable, worn guitar friend.
This instrument is ideal for a double-humbucker split-coil plus phase modification. (Just remember! Keep all the original stuff untouched! The original stuff is pretty sweet. Future generations will appreciate an elderly instrument with its original bits.)
I like the original-style Kluson tulip/keystone green “Deluxe” tuners. They’re not the sturdiest tuners out there – but they feel like the old Gibsons I’ve played as a kid.

Sound: Simply put, this SG SINGS. When you strike a chord or pluck a low string, you can FEEL the sound. It feels like it was special tuned for its setup, strings, and woods. The set neck, unfettered mahogany, and stop-tail bridge give this guitar a VOICE.
It can be played overdriven, over-distorted, clean, reverb-y, warm and jazzy, and lots more. I’ve played several examples at my local guitar stores (I can’t purchase one at the moment – starving artist – so I researched my review with many months of “research playing” at my guitar stores) – and I’ve played them through Mesa, Peavey, Epiphone, Marshall, Fender, Crate, and others. Standing in front of a full Marshall stack (tube head), with everything on 5 and volume on about 4 – WOW – it makes every guitar player in the store salivate to hear the sound.
The Gibson USA 490R and 490T pickups are flexible and warm, but have more output than the vintage SGs around which I grew up. They’re bright without being harsh. They’re easy to push into breakup with a good amp, and they play clean/jazzy with abandon. They’re fabulous. many folks these days talk about the 490 series being dogs… I disagree. Plug in to a nice high-class Marshall half stack with a simple pedal or two for tone from Analog Man, set everything to about 6, and rip your face off! There is NO denying that these will get your jeans flappin in front of the cabs and get your feet movin’!

Value: These SGs are very much worth their street price, maybe more. They’ve been marked down from the $700 range to the $579 range in the past few months. At the new price, they are very much a bargain. (that was back in 2007 – they fluctuate in price, between $699 and $599 – depending on the season.

Bear in mind: these do not come with a hard case at this price. They ship with a Gibson gig bag. The bag is really nice and not thin like the Fender gig bags that come with the low cost models – it’s soft-plush padded and lined, and is fairly sturdy. If you want to preserve your SG, the genuine Gibson SG case (about $189 street) is well worth every cent. If you can’t swing that, at least find a durable TKL or SKG case for it. I have seen some used Gibson USA cases (made in Canada by TKL) for around $100 plus shipping on eBay. I think they’re worth it.

As I said with the Vintage Mahogany Les Paul, go to your favorite get-in-trouble guitar store and play an example or two. If you don’t have a git-box store nearby, check out your favorite online haunt and pick one up NOW.


Wishes: I only have two simple wishes: I wish they came with a Gibson hard-shell case (even one of the Epiphone ones with different logo silkscreening). I personally think every Gibson deserves to live in a Gibson case. I also wish that the 490 pickups in this guitar came with German nickel humbucker covers. I’m spoiled by the looks of the old ‘70s SGs.

P.S. Gibson, if ever there was a Gibson sponsorship for “really great guys who review guitars”, this would definitely be one of the ones! wink wink wink nudge nudge

An Ibanez SZ520QM SZ520 Electric Guitar Review – Humbuckers, quilted maple, excellent neck and body

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I first wrote this review on February 19, 2007. I sold that first SZ520 to a guy just starting out. It has had a great second life. Six years later, I’ve found another one in the used bins and have re-made it with EMGs, Grovers, and excellent wiring… It’s a real player and is a joy to hear. Solid, sustaining, wide-open. Kind of like a Stratty Les Paul-y with a set-neck smooth-heel at the body/neck. Great!

Ibanez SZ520QM BBL Electric Guitar Review

When I was first looking for an electric guitar that I could use as a recording guitar and as a way for my son to cut his guitar-chops, I searched high and wide. I had a severely limited budget at the time I began playing again… and had to get some of the features I knew that I liked in a guitar from my early days.

I wanted a guitar that was tough enough to handle hard rock guitar but that didn’t fold on me over time. I also wanted an instrument with lots of sustain, plenty of output, and a nice neck.

I ended up settling on an Ibanez SZ520 for a number of reasons. For sure, though, the SZ520 is a remarkable instrument – one that is not given its true kudos in the world of guitars. It is an unsung hero and an excellent instrument.

Quick Opinion: The Ibanez SZ line of electric guitars (and, to an extent, the Ibanez S line of guitars) are excellent instruments. They have the quick feel of a rocker’s guitar, fairly good quality, and excellent features.

These guitars have excellent playability, great sound, and a price that puts them at the mid range between less-expensive set-necks, and inexpensive top-brands. SZs are not bargain-basement guitars – rather, they are at the top of their range. Whether or not to purchase an SZ will depend very highly on your personal feature interests, and your particular desire for a given sound. Let’s take a look at this fine instrument – with some comparisons along the way. Update: now that these are no longer in manufacture, they can be had affordably on the used market. I’ve bought one through online store used inventory, and of course, there’s always Craigslist and eBay.

The SZ is no longer produced as a new product by Ibanez, but you can see more about Free Shipping on Ibanez electrics at zZounds.com. They make it easy to love your new guitar.


Ibanez SZ520QM Electric Guitar Review

Playability: Several things strike you immediately when you first pick up and play the SZ520. The neck is a dream – and lacks a big heel. The staggered, string-through design rings with sustain. The body is very nicely balanced and is of medium to medium-heavy weight. The fretboard is comfortable. Think of an Epiphone Les Paul with a little less weight and a double cut-away, plus a tummy cut.

The neck on the SZ520 is nearly ideal for chord players, shredders, and slide playing. It strikes a nice, medium-width balance against just a deep-enough “C” shape to get a grip on it when you’re running up and down the neck. The neck back is painted to match the body, and has a nice, hard, smooth finish. The neck-to-body join is superb on this instrument – few electrics get anywhere close to this nice of a join. The heel-less feels fantastic when you’re flitting around above the 14th fret. I truly wish most Gibsons and Epis had this type of neck join on their electric guitars.

Ibanez SZ520QM Flame 12th fret Inlay

The inlay on my current SZ520QM BBL


The body balance is above average, if not pretty close to excellent. After playing the SZ for several hours, you don’t feel like you’re struggling with an unruly animal. It just feels good where it is – especially since the weight is medium in the spectrum. A Fender Stratocaster is significantly lighter in feel, and a Les Paul is a bit heavier in feel.

The fretboard, string-spacing, and fret size are an interesting combination – almost unique when compared to the other manufacturer’s view on fretboards. The fretboard is subtly different from most any other instrument out there. For those who are familiar with Fenders: it is thinner than a Strat and wider than a Tele – very similar to the superb and underrated Fender TC-90. For you Gibson and Epi fans out there, the SZ is much more like an Epiphone SG with respect to its neck. The fretboard is extremely similar to the Epi G400s I’ve played.

Fingerstyle players or players who use a modified pick hand (like myself) will find the strings a bit close together. However, this is balanced out by overall comfort, and the ease of gripping chords. It’s a little wider “feeling” than a Telecaster, but more like a narrow 60’s Les Paul neck.

In order to get great sounds out of the SZ in slide, the strings had to be at least 10s with thicker middle strings (and better, 11s or 12s). Extra-light strings sound muddy and don’t tune well when applied to the SZ. Also, the tone and sustain are robbed with very-light-gauge strings. These days (2012), I like to play Ernie Ball Slinkys on these, either the coated variety or the regular variety. I’ve been waiting for availability of the new Cobalt Slinkys! Can’t wait to try them on necks like these!

The fretwork of the SZ I owned was superb in almost any respect. The current one is great, as well The frets are medium to jumbo in overall size and height, and the ends were reasonably well-dressed. The nut was well-worked and had no issues at all.

The bridge does a nice job of intonation variance. It’s as easy to adjust as a Tune-O-Matic, but sits differently on the guitar. Here’s my current guitar

Ibanez SZ520 Gibraltar Bridge Close

The Gibraltar bridge on my current SZ520

Features: The Ibanez SZ520QM (QM stands for “quilted maple” cap) is a high-feature guitar made in Korea. It has a gorgeous quilted maple cap on a warm and medium-thick mahogany body. The tuners are OK (not great), but the neck inlay is beautiful (my guitar got the name “blue flame” because of its 12th fret inlay). The finish on the guitar is deep and lustrous.

The heel-less neck feature is worth mentioning again. Feel it for yourself – most folks will absolutely love it.

The binding is light-cream, and is superbly done. I only felt the “edge” of the binding in one or two places on the front of the body, and none on the neck. My second SZ520 binding looks like natural wood. I don’t know what it is made of, but the (now 7-year-old) binding has mellowed out in a major way. I love it.

The Duncan/Ibanez open-face humbuckers are a nice feature. They strike a nice balance between being able to play stronger, more assertive music – and music that is marginally mellower. These guys were the precursors to the current (2012) “Duncan Designed” humbuckers on mid-priced models made in Asia these days. They’re excellent pickups for the money. My current guitar had terrible shorts in the electronics (moisture exposure), so I’ve changed mine out for a set of active EMG 81/60 pickups. Another article someday?

Ibanez SZ520 CUSTOMIZED Front with EMGs

The front of my current SZ520 - EMG 81/60 in ivory, awesome upgrades, Grovers

The string-end design is string through. The staggered string holes are of varied lengths from the bridge and its saddles. Unlike many string-throughs, there is no tailpiece – the strings feed directly from the bridge to the holes in the body.

The Gibralter III bridge makes intonation a fairly easy task, and is completely buzz-free. It is stud-mounted to the top of the guitar, so lots of sound emanates through the bridge very nicely into the guitar body.

Sound: The SZ520QM sounds wonderful. It has tons of sustain (although an Epi or Gibson Les Paul still have a longer and warmer sustain – the SZ is more like a set-neck SG in sound and sustain). The pickups and electronics are clean and noise-free. Sonically, the SZ is a good crossover guitar – from harder music to classic rock.

I found the pickups to be not as high on the output scale (sound-wise – I didn’t pull them and put them on a multi-meter) as you get with EMGs or more aggressive Seymour Duncan humbuckers. They are louder than my first Epiphone Les Paul’s original open-face humbuckers, but they are not as rich and creamy.

The pickup-selection-and-tone part of the guitar is pretty good. The SZ has the often-used Tone-Volume-Volume plus pickup switch hardware setup. With the SZ520QM, there is one master tone knob, the middle knob controls the bridge pickup volume, and the knob closest to the neck controls the volume of the neck pickup. The SZ also uses a fairly standard (but extremely well-made) pickup selector toggle switch.

Value: Value for the money is where the SZ is not quite a clear winner. I don’t think the guitar is terribly over-priced, but it is not a bargain in any sense (at 2006-2007 prices, mind you). The Fender TC-90 (albeit with Black Dove P90 pickups) and the Epiphone Explorer and Epiphone Flying V are much better performers – yet they all cost less. A similarly-equipped ESP, Jackson, or Schecter is generally a better bargain for sound and price. (UPDATE 2012 – now that these are on the used market almost expressly, they are about the same price as their competitors… things have equalized in the favor of the player – snag one: they’re a bargain!)

As I said in 2006=2007 dollars: “With that said, and in all fairness, the SZ520 does have a great feel, and does a decent enough job for the sound. I am a fan of Ibanez guitars, and there are many models that are great… I just think the SZ 520 should be a little lower in price. – or should have higher-end Seymour Duncans to bring up the value.”

Wishes: Some nickel-covered and upgraded Seymour Duncans would be great (or, even better, some EMG HZ passive pickups, perhaps H4s). I really think Ibanez should choose to use some nice Grovers as tuners, or at least some locking tuner/locking nut offerings on this guitar.

The Epiphone EB3 Bass Guitar Long-term Experienced Review – Still rockin’!

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Epiphone by Gibson EB-3 “SG” Bass Hands-on in-depth review

I like to have different sounds in my daily guitar/bass playing. I also like to hear different sounds in my myriad recordings… I find it inspiring to have different instruments from time to time as I grow as a musician and an artist.

I could enjoy having one super-killer bass and one of each kind of guitar, but… I’m totally psyched when I pick up something different almost every day.

My basses are no exception. I really like picking up something different and recording what comes to heart – fretless, fretted, long-scale, short-scale, beautiful, bizarre, humbucker, single – you name it… If it is a bass that plays, I generally enjoy it.

With that said, I sometimes have a strong hankering for a particular feel or sound. To wit: there’s nothing like the feel of an EB bass (be it EB3, EB0, or other!).

The EB3 looks like a really long EB3 with a couple of funky humbucking pickups and giant clover tuners. It has a super-slim neck that sits in the edge of its o-so-familiar body. These are a gas to play. And my Epiphone EB3 fits the bill and then some! Great bass!

I play D’Addario Chrome flatwounds on my EB3 and enjoy the thrill of the old 60s-70s bass sounds and can still get that flatwound “mwah” if I play the strings just right. Love it. I do enjoy roundwounds on these, but I’ve got a Thunderbird for the smashing growl sounds when I need them.

Quick Opinion: The Epiphone EB3 is a modern implementation of a decades-old design that stands the test of time. It’s easy to play, relatively light, sounds great, and is really inexpensive. It even looks really cool.

The Epi EB3 is an unsung hero for bass players, and is a real treat even for beginners and pros alike. In most cases, other bass and guitar players have smiled when they pick up my EB3 (cherry gloss). I keep it well-adjusted and clean, ready to play… It often gets a coveted spot on one of my Hercules auto-grab guitar stands in one of my recording spots in our house.

Read more details about the Epiphone EB-3 electric bass here at zZounds.com. They’re awesome folks.

Playability: The Epiphone EB3 is a pleasure to play. I could end this part of the review with that one sentence… but it would be nice to talk a little more about why…

I haven’t played too many basses that aren’t neck heavy or don’t neck dive a little. Bass players the world over like to argue about “your bass neck dives and mine doesn’t.” Truth be told, almost all of them do. With that said, the neck and headstock on the EB3 is light enough that it actually is one of the more playable models. If you add a strap button to the tip of the upper horn and hang your strap from that, it gets VERY comfortable (don’t alter your guitar based on my advice… YMMV, I’m not responsible for errors you make to your instrument, etc. Please.). I am used to the way my EB3 hangs and plays, so I find it to be just right…

The neck is thin in width, more so than a Fender Jazz. But it is also thick-ish so it is easier to get a good grip. If you have small hands, this might be a good bass for you (as opposed to something like a metal bass or a P Bass – another alternative is the short-scale EB0). I have huge paws, so in my case, the neck is a delight – kind of like a big long Tele neck in most ways. The profile feels like a “D” to me.

Thanks to the shallow set-in of the neck and the double cutaway, I can reach any fret on all four strings. It’s easy to play the high notes, and the low notes are all just a stretch away… With the strap button in its factory position (the back of the bass at the neck/body joint), the body seems to push forward a bit on my strap, but it’s really nothing different than any of my SG-shaped instruments… This is largely true whether you’re playing an EB3 or a Viper or a Samick “SG bass.”

My EB3 is nicely finished, so it feels great in my hands – I really like the smooth finish and the “new” feel it has kept. If you like a satin finish (particularly on the neck), Epiphone (as of this writing) offers a “faded” satin version of the EB3 for the same price…

Epiphone EB3 Cherry Bass Jim Pearson

Sound: Here’s one of the many places the EB3 shines: It sounds great. It has a quiet humbucking nature with a mixture of strong thumpin’ and mild warm funky vintage sounds. It has a pair of very different pickups, with the bridge pickup being a tiny mini humbucker and the neck pickup being a giant heavy big-box humbucker. These sound resoundingly different than Thunderbird pickups, Fender singles, Stingray big-slug humbuckers, or Rickenbacker pickups… These are in a class of their own.

You get a nice mixture of that old warm thumpy sound you get from upright basses and that jeans-ruffling blowback THUMP of a humbucker-bred P Bass. Nice. The three-way dial pickup selector lets you choose between the two or a blend of both… It works like it should and it doesn’t disappoint.

I am a person who likes to upgrade or fiddle with his less-expensive instruments – generally to make them sound better. To tell you how I feel about the sound, I’ve left my EB3 alone, even though I’m a tech and could pop some real Gibson or DiMarzio replacement pickups in it. I like it just like it is.

The first time I plugged it in to my combo amp, I was pleasantly greeted with a sound I’ve been hearing for decades. Wonderful. Once I fed it through my tube preamp into my computer-guitar interface, I was blown away! The benefits of a 12ZX7 and a little dialing are huge! It does sound fine on its own, but with a little help it rivals my Gibson experiences.

Quality: My Epiphone EB3 bass is flawless. I have one of the older ones, and have played many of the recent makes as well. Every single one I’ve played or owned (I’ve owned two and played many more) has been pretty much perfect. The neck is solid, the body is good, and the hardware and electronics are above par.

I do wish Epiphone would stop making so many of their guitar bodies from a zillion pieces of wood and veneering the body with thin sheets… My particular bass isn’t too bad, but it still has that funky composite body. I guess that the price of the guitar is reflective of how it is made… Don’t get me wrong: the sound and heft of the bass guitar is great. It just isn’t a nice slab of mahogany.

The hardware is, in particular, top notch. The bridge works great, came almost intonated, and is nicely adjustable. The nut, tuners, plastics, and metals all are as good as most $500+ guitars. The electronics are fine, with the usual chicklet tone cap and the typical Asian pots and switch. For the most part, the guitar is reliable and is wired as good as or better than the vintage classic Asian guitars. The pickups are excellent and very consistent from individual instrument to individual instrument.

Value: This guitar is easily worth $399 or more street. I think they are under-priced in general. They are an excellent bargain at the current street retail ($299 as of this writing). You can plug it in and play it on day one without spending another nickel on it for a long time. This instrument delivers on value and bang-for-the-buck.

I have had two and will probably buy a third…

Features: The neck is a real feature on this instrument. It is a pleasure to play, and is actually a real selling point for this bass. I love my Jazz, Thunderbird, Precision, ESP Surveyor 404… but this guitar is a treat to own and play.

I like the rotary pickup switch. I don’t often have to do a blinding-fast pickup switch flip, so the rotary works fine for me. It is like it should be, and the chicken-head knob is easy to grab when you’re gigging…

The guitar’s tuners stay in tune very well, the hardware stays adjusted just fine, and the guitar has just what it needs.

Wishes: I don’t really have any wishes for this guitar. I like it pretty much just like it is.

If I were to be able to make minor adjustments to the guitar, I’d say that the body could be made of better wood construction and that the bridge pickup could be wound a little tiny bit hotter.

That’s it for now. Rock on. Buy one if you want a nice bass! It’s a plus that it is inexpensive, too!