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What’s The Difference Between an SG Standard and an SG Special?


Upon its release back in 1961 the SG Standard was one of the most radical designs the guitar world had ever seen, and it still makes a bold statement today.

The diverse list of guitar stars that have taken variations of the SG model to heart over the years includes Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Angus Young, Frank Zappa, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Robby Krieger of The Doors, Gary Louris of The Jayhawks and many, many others. Today, Gibson USA offers the SG in two distinct varieties — the SG Standard and SG Special — siblings that are similar at their cores, but subtly different too. Both currently benefit from special reduced pricing, so it’s a good time to pick your flavor and make your move.

The SG’s beginnings

When Gibson revamped the Les Paul Standard of 1958-’60 into the Les Paul/SG of 1961 (later simply SG Standard), it introduced a wealth of features that continue to appeal to a wide range of players, long after the reintroduction of the single-cutaway model that it was intended to supercede, many of which are shared by today’s SG Special and SG Standard. The solid mahogany body was thinner and lighter than any solidbody Gibson had produced before, and it still provided a wealth of rich, warm, woody resonance, but with a little extra snap and zing to the tone — all without the back ache. Its slightly offset twin-horned double cutaways were more than just a radical adornment: The design offered better upper-fret access than players had ever experienced before, just one of the features that made SGs famously playable. Another, the fast yet comfortable neck, also survives on today’s SGs, which wear the more rounded “late ’50s” neck profile.

The SG Standard with a Heritage Cherry finish

Differences between the SG Standard and the SG Special

While the tone woods and construction of these two models are aligned, Gibson USA’s SG Special and SG Standard differ most notably in their cosmetic appointments. The SG Standard is equipped with two humbucking pickups with chrome covers, and wears a high gloss nitrocellulose finish in a choice of Ebony or Heritage Cherry. Its bound rosewood fingerboard carries the acrylic trapezoid inlays that it originally inherited from the Les Paul, and the headstock bears a mother-of-pearl Gibson logo and holly inlay.

The SG Special with an Ebony finish

The SG Special carries the same labor-intensive finish options as the SG Standard, but its pickups are uncovered for a more back-to-basics look, which is echoed in the simpler acrylic dot inlays on its unbound rosewood neck, and a headstock which is unadorned other than the silkscreened Gibson logo and SG model name engraved on its truss rod cover. More stripped down still, the SG Special Faded — the most affordable option in the SG stable — wears a thinner nitrocellulose finish over a Worn Brown or Worn Cherry stain, which results in the look of a hard-traveled yet well-loved guitar.

The SG Special Faded with a Worn Brown finish

All three of these SGs share time-tested Gibson hardware, including the versatile and tone-enhancing combination of a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece, and green tulip-button tuners. And, although the SG Standard has always been the humbucker-loaded option in the range, today’s SG Special has evolved from the P-90s it carried in the ’60s to also include humbuckers like the Standard. Both feature pickups from the popular Modern Classic range, units that are inspired by the vintage-voiced tone of the 57 Classics, but updated for contemporary rock. The SG Special carries a 490R in the neck position and a 490T in the bridge, a set made with alnico II magnets and calibrated for a balanced output. The SG Standard also carries the 490R in the neck, but has a hotter 498T in the bridge position, a pickup made with an alnico V magnet and modified coil windings for a little more punch. Both the SG Special and SG Standard also route their pickup selection through individual volume and tone controls and a three-way switch.

Whichever flavor suits your needs, the SG Special and SG Standard are both light yet powerful, radical yet nuanced, and primed to offer unparalleled performance at a price that’s now better than ever.

Compare these SGs yourself:

The SG Standard

The SG Special

The SG Special Faded

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