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.
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