Gibson is synonymous with the electric guitar. Go into any music store or live concert venue and you are almost guaranteed to see the Gibson name across multiple headstocks. Here we are going to take a look at two of the most prevalent series from Gibson’s storied history, the Gibson Les Paul and the Gibson SG. Both the SG and Les Paul continue to rank among Gibson’s most popular models and have been produced essentially non-stop since their creation. We will explore both these models in detail, discussing their similarities and differences to help you decide which model you need. Of course, as many guitarists have learned, you might just need both.
History of Gibson Electric Guitars
Orville Gibson started the company we now know as Gibson back in 1902, originally naming the company The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Ltd. Based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, the company started out making Mandolins and arched top guitars that they designed themselves. In 1936 Gibson introduced it’s first “Electric Spanish” model, the ES-150, which was then followed by a variety of other electric instruments like Banjos, mandolins, and steel guitars.
Development Of the Gibson Les Paul
Less than two decades after they were founded, in 1952, the Gibson Guitar Corporation produced the first Gibson Les Paul. Although many people were involved in the design, credit for the design primarily belongs to Ted McCarty, who was Gibson’s president at the time, factory supervisor John Huis, and inventor/guitarist Les Paul. McCarty saw the popularity and demand of Fender’s new electric guitars and brought in Les Paul to help him design Gibson’s response to Fender’s new instruments. After numerous prototypes, the model was finalized and production began. Les Paul’s name was added to the headstock to help sell the guitars, as he was a known recording artist at the time. The Les Paul would see many models for years to come.
Development of the Gibson SG
The design process of the Les Paul gave birth to another famous Gibson model called the SG or “Solid Guitar”. Once again inspired by competition from Fender, the Gibson SG was created to compete with Fender’s lighter, slimmer guitars. Gibson was facing declining sales with the Les Paul in the midst of these popular Fender models and reacted promptly. Both the SG and Les Paul are two of Gibson’s most popular models and have been produced essentially non-stop since their creation.
Les Paul Design:
The Les Paul is one of Gibson’s longest running production models and has seen a large variety of changes and configurations over the years. Despite all of the different styles and options that were available, the look of a Les Paul is unmistakable. Typically, the Les Paul in constructed of a mahogany solid body with a maple top, a single cutaway, Tune-O-Matic bridge, 1-3 humbuckers or 2 P90 pickups, rosewood, ebony, maple or richlite fretboard, and either Gibson Deluxe or Grover tuners. The guitar has a set neck and can also come as a hollow or semi-hollow body style as well.
The SG is a solid body guitar that was first produced in 1961 as the Gibson Les Paul. It has remained in production since then and has seen a wide array of designs and options over the years. It should also be noted that the SG Standard is Gibson’s best selling model of all time. Typically, the SG is made of a solid mahogany body with a flat top, has a double cutaway, either a hard tail or vibrato bridge, can have 1-3 humbucker or 2 P90 pickups, rosewood, ebony, maple or richlite, fretboard, and either Gibson Deluxe or Grover tuners.
The Differences Between a Les Paul and a SG
The biggest and most noticeable difference between a Les Paul and SG is the physical size of the instruments. Les Pauls are typically heavy guitars and most weigh more than a typical SG. The SG has a slimmer body shape, and doesn’t have the maple cap that a Les Paul typically has. Both guitars solid body is typically made of mahogany wood. The SG’s neck joins the body at the 22nd fret, verses the Les Paul which joins at the 16th fret. This provides you with easier access to the higher frets, which can be very useful for your lead guitar playing. The two guitars also sound different from each other. I would say that tonally, the SG is brighter and has a more pronounced mid and high range frequencies. They both have two humbucker pickups in the neck and bridge positions, and similar tone and volume controls. The SG’s output jack is located on the front of the guitar verses the Les Paul’s jack located on the bottom of the body. Both guitars can essentially be used for any type of music, from rock to jazz, and blues to metal. It all depends on the guitarist’s personal preferences.
Famous Les Paul Players:
You say you want to be a rock n’ roll star? The unmistakable sound of the Gibson Les Paul has been played on some of the most famous rock albums of all time. I can’t name them all, but here is a short list of some of the most famous guitarists that are known for their sound and use this iconic guitar. Jimmy Page, Slash, Joe Perry, Pete Townshend, Paul Kossoff, Alex Lifeson, Ace Frehley, Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, Jeff Beck, Michael Bloomfield, Billy Gibbons, Peter Green, Paul McCartney, Zakk Wylde, Gary Moore, and of course Les Paul himself!
Famous SG Players
Although the list of Gibson SG players may not be as long as that of the Les Paul, some of the most influential guitarists in history preferred Gibson’s lighter, sleeker creation. It’s hard to imagine Angus Young of AC/DC or Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath without an SG over their shoulder. Robbie Krieger of the Doors, Frank Zappa, Derek Trucks, Jerry Garcia, Mike Ness, Eric Calpton(before he played Fender Strats), Mick Taylor, Eddie Vedder, Pete Townshend, and Rivers Cuomo are also fans of the SG. If you’re thinking of playing “Back In Black” in your cover band, you better get yourself an SG!
Gibson Les Paul Recommendation
Take a trip to any Sam Ash Music store and you will notice many different looking models that all display the Les Paul moniker. Today we have Gibson Les Paul Standards and Gibson Les Paul Tributes that honor the specific specs of the original models from the 50s and 60s respectively. We would need a separate article to go through all of the options available to you. After getting the chance to play some of the latest Gibson models, my pick is the 2017 Gibson Les Paul Standard in Heritage Cherry Sunburst. Gibson’s latest creation of this iconic guitar is a thing of beauty, style and perfect tone. A tight AAA flame maple top, gives this guitar it’s famous distinguished look. Locking tuners ensure you stay in tune with confidence, and coil tapping provide even more sounds than you would typically get with a Les Paul.
Gibson SG Recommendation
My pick for a Gibson SG is the Gibson 2017 Standard T in an Alpine White finish. The combination of a white body, black trim and pick guard, and chrome hardware makes this guitar stand out in the crowd. It has a classic look and differs from the black and red models most people are accustomed to. The guitar also comes with locking tuners, which is a huge, plus for any active musician.
The Sam Ash Difference
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of the differences between the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG, and that you received some clarity to help you decide what instrument is best for you. When it comes to these types of guitars every individual instrument is somewhat unique. I would always suggest taking a trip to your local Sam Ash Music Store to try some different models and speak to me or my fellow associates. We have the largest selection of Gibson Guitars and all the amplifiers you would want to connect them to. Try out a Les Paul against other brands we offer to make sure it is best for you. Not near a store, not to worry, we have experts standing by at 1-800-472-6400 that can walk you through the selection process. Now that you’re all caught up, also be sure to check out our Guitars of Distinction collection to explore just some of the possibilities available to you.