The electric guitar was introduced to most of the world in the 1950s, but it was during the Classic Rock era that it emerged as a dominant instrument in popular music. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, electric guitarists took their craft to new levels. More than ever, riffs drove songs and the guitar solo became part of the vernacular. Gibson’s Les Paul and SG are two guitars that played a starring role during the Classic Rock period. Many cool riffs, great songs, timeless albums, and memorable concerts featured these guitars. Gibson’s Les Paul Standard and SG Standard represent an age when Rock guitar was not only being defined, but flourishing. This review is focused on tone. Each of these guitars is a passport in two directions: the vintage sounds that sparked the genre and the modern flexibility needed to perform in the present.
Gibson Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar
When listening to “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos, “La Grange” by ZZ Top, or “More Than a Feeling” from Boston, what stands out are examples of the Gibson Les Paul and its contribution to Classic Rock. The overall design of the Les Paul has not changed much since it was first introduced in 1952. This is a testament to the brilliance of the instrument; Gibson got it right the first time. But Classic Rock music is a patchwork of tones that has not always been completely accessible with this guitar. The Les Paul Standard reintroduces the instrument with its critical core intact and an important upgrade that extends the guitar’s reach way beyond what most might expect.
By leveraging their popular BurstBucker model, Gibson has found a way to capture the very essence of the original PAFs that were engineered by the legendary Seth Lover. But Gibson did more than just reissue warmth; they included wiring options that significantly expand the number of sounds possible. Each pickup can be turned into a single-coil by simply pulling up its volume knob. Classic Rock tones that previously eluded the Les Paul are now possible without switching guitars. Not only are these pickups surprisingly quiet when in single-coil mode, but when both the bridge and neck positions are selected, they are wired in series, which turns them into one humbucker that spans several inches.
No longer an afterthought, the neck pickup plays an active role in expanding this guitar’s reach. Its tone knob can be used to determine which coil is used when in single-coil mode — one pickup, three sounds. The bridge humbucker also has a unique feature; when its tone knob is pulled up, the volume and tone controls are completely removed from the signal path, leaving only two wires between the pickup and the output jack. Gibson appropriately calls this “Pure Bypass” mode. This kind of advanced wiring breaks with tradition, providing unprecedented tonal flexibility and further expanding the Les Paul’s capabilities in Classic Rock.
Some of the most celebrated guitarists of all time turned to the Les Paul for their sound. Musicians such as Jimmy Page, Randy Rhoads and Duane Allman influenced countless young players and did so with a Les Paul in their hands. These guitar heroes were known for a mostly thick tone. The Gibson Les Paul Standard provides that same classic sound, and more. Dramatically expanded wiring options lead to new tones never before associated with this guitar. This and many more impressive features are all presented at a reasonable price. For players who make their living replicating Classic Rock sounds, or for those who simply enjoy playing this music, Gibson’s Les Paul Standard is a perfect choice — a professional powerhouse and perhaps the most flexible Les Paul ever.
Gibson SG Standard Electric Guitar
When an unknown 22-year-old Carlos Santana took the stage at Woodstock in 1969, he and his Latin-infused Rock tone became an overnight sensation. 11 years later, Angus Young’s deceptively Bluesy acrobatics on AC/DC’s “Back in Black” permanently affixed his signature tone to the American FM radio lineup. These two events, and many in between, bear witness to the fiery role that the Gibson SG has played in Classic Rock. Born of Gibson’s need to boost sagging sales in 1961, rejected immediately by Les Paul himself, and modestly renamed “Solid Guitar”, the SG had a tough beginning. But young guitars grow up fast. In 1966 George Harrison became an advocate, followed soon after by Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton and Robby Krieger. By the time the “Summer of Love” was in full bloom, the SG was a common sight in the hands of great players on both sides of the pond.
The Gibson SG Standard is the modern-day SG. Its Classic Rock pedigree and up-to-date credentials offer tremendous value. Under the hood is an engine built on two humbuckers that kick up the kind of dust most players want on their shoes: vintage tone. This successful formula involves variables that are a bit surprising. The majority of early guitar-driven Rock music predates high-powered aftermarket pickups; low to moderate-powered models played a starring role in the genre. Gibson has employed their popular 61R (Rhythm) and 61T (Bridge) PAF humbucker pickups for the SG Standard. Ironically, their popularity is based on a manufacturing flaw. In the company’s early days, when pickup winding machines were left unattended, humbuckers ended up with bobbins that did not match. Gibson intentionally allows the bobbins of their ’61 PAFs to follow this same pattern so as to reproduce that coveted “vintage” tone as accurately as possible.
Although these efforts are focused on replicating past characteristics, there is an upgrade that makes modern sense: the ’61 PAFs are wax-potted. This is essential for eliminating any microphonic squealing that is sure to follow when high-gain or loud volume is involved. There is a second feature that adds great value as well: the choice of Alnico magnets, providing the warmth that is critical for Classic Rock.
The SG offers an alternative to Gibson enthusiasts whose focus is Classic Rock. Warm and biting tone commonly associated with the Les Paul is in hand, yet the instrument is noticeably lighter and more balanced. While this is a modern incarnation of a 50-plus year-old classic, efforts have been kept in the right direction. Players can count on the vintage-style tone most often associated with the architects of Classic Rock guitar.
The list of great Rock songs that feature humbucker pickups is virtually endless. In the early days of this genre, Gibson represented one of few options for that sound, and most would agree that they were the best. The Gibson Les Paul Standard and SG Standard are top choices when it comes to Classic Rock. Both offer the thick and creamy tone that is typical of this music. Gibson incorporated wise planning when they reintroduced two of the most cherished solid body electric guitars of all time and the result is twofold: the best of the past has been smartly celebrated, yet modern features are introduced that point the instruments forward.