Over the past few months, I’ve written over 200 posts and have gone through them to give my favourite ones another airing. This is the review I did for the truly great pocket-money Gibson SGJ. Originally split into 2 parts, here I’ve published it complete. Enjoy!
The SGJ is, at the time of writing, the cheapest Gibson you can buy and has a street price of £499. This is for a full-fat US-made guitar, with all import taxes and VAT paid. It is astonishingly cheap so there has to be a catch.
Body and Hardware
Certainly it scores on it’s looks. The one I played had a rich cherry finish that complemented the classic SG shape very well. The solid mahogany body was a little open pored but the thin nitrocellulose finish was very well applied and the matt effect gave the guitar a no-nonsense look that was very attractive. It felt good to hold and you sense that with a little care, the finish would age well (hey, just like me).
The neck is maple and has a mortise and tenon join to the body. It’s finished in the same cherry and the nitro gives the neck a lovely satin feel. I’ve played a few otherwise lovely Fenders with thick urethane coated necks recently and they just felt sticky. The SG felt lovely, warm and smooth.
You get 24 cryogenically frozen frets (they did not feel any colder). Frets were well laid and nicely polished, which impressed me as this was a random guitar just pulled off the shelf. The 2014 SGJ has a nice slab of rosewood with a 12” radius so tempered enough for chord work but speedy for soloing. Gibson seem to have abandoned their experiment with baked maple boards – I played a few and they seemed fine but the traditionalist in me always liked rosewood.
The neck shape is described as a 50s Rounded. What this meant to me was a nicely meaty neck that really filled the hand nicely. The satin finish worked really well with this neck and it was supremely comfortable. This is a really great neck to play and if you are intimidated by the idea of a big neck, give this one a go, it is an absolute peach. The extra neck mass will help the tone along as well.
You get a silk-screened Gibson logo on the headstock and lovely green-tinged tuning pegs (much, much nicer than the ones on the similarly priced Melody Maker. There is a white tek-loid nut, which is pretty standard for Gibson.
Bridge is a classic tune-o-matic unit. There is a curious satin look to it that looked machine tooled – it gives this end of the guitar a very modern and attractive look.
New for 2014 are what Gibson call ’61 Zebra humbuckers. These are Alnico V units so should give you a vintage tone with a bit of bite. Visually, they are an improvements on the matt black units on the 2013 model. You’ve got 2 tone and 2 volume speed knobs (I’ve always wanted a speed knob). Not much more I can say about that – even I cannot get too excited about tone knobs. If I wanted to be really fussy, a coil tap would have been nice.
One word – neat. The thin finish means that every join is visible and there is no hiding place for dodgy joinery. But every joint, every angle is nicely finished and there is a simple pleasure to be had in just handling the thing and admiring how well the whole thing has been assembled. SGs always look delicate but there is a pleasing solidity in this one.
I don’t need to tell you that this is not always the case with Gibsons, who still are frustratingly inconsistent with quality control. But this SG is as well constructed and finished as any Gibson I’ve seen recently.
o it looks like a well-crafted and well-though out guitar, but what does it sound like. Picking the thing up it immediately feels light and balanced and that neck does feel big, but also warm and comfortable – that light nitro finish just makes the SG so nice to hold.
Played acoustically there is a surprisingly clangy roar to the tone, it feels very springy and lively – is that the effect of that maple neck? This suggests that the wood has been properly seasoned and bodes well for the amplified tone.
I’m using the clean tones from Tonestack and the heavy amps from Bias for this. And the Torpedo Reverb from Tonestack loves this guitar. The bridge pickup clean is clear and bright and harmonically rich. Played lightly there is a really very good snappy country tone in there but it is touch sensitive enough to add a touch of grunt with hard picking for a nice Robben Ford clean-ish tone.
Both pickups can give you a nicely compressed funk tone with chord work or a nice, thicker blues-country sound for solo work.
The neck pickup, despite being pushed back by that 24 fret board, is rich and plummy without any hint of that Les Paul murk. There is a subtle brightness here which is a long way from a strat but much more usable than many other Gibsons I’ve tried.
Do you get the idea that I like the clean tones here? Lets whack it up and push it through the pretty good Boogie in Bias. Now the neck pickup has a lovely warm flutey smoothness that is wonderful for legato lines (the neck is perfect for this, it feels wonderful and relaxing to play even at high speed, and of course that SG shape gives you superb access to all of those 24 frets) and yet always has a tightness and definition.
So that neck 61 humbucker is really, really good. The bridge unit is simply sensational. Revved up it’s searing, cutting but with a creamy top that stops it ever being shrill. Even at heavy distortion there is a clarity and separation to chord note and lead playing is lovely, saturate it as much as you like and it never falls apart into mush and the comfortable bridge allows very effective muting, Knock off some volume on the guitar or clean up the amp a little and you have all those classic SG noises – I spent an hour just doing the best Angus impersonation I’ve ever done. At lower output, the tone controls really kick in too. These 61 pickups are sensational, a huge step forward than the units used on the 2013 model and frankly compare well with any pickup Gibson use these days.
It’s perhaps not quite set up for the most extreme, densely saturated extreme metal out there – but for everything else, and I mean everything from country, jazz to Metallica’s greatest hits, it attacks it with enormous enthusiasm and a sense of joy.
So the UK street price is £499, it has utterly fantastic pickups, looks beautiful, has a dazzling neck and has that name on the headstock and “made in the USA” stamped on the back. In turns of tone, it is the best sounding Gibson – of any price – I’ve played in years. And even if you don’t like it, resale value will stay high. In terms of quality, it is outstanding, in terms of value, there is nothing to match it.
All this is said on the understanding that the example I played was picked at random by me from a wall stacked with SGs – but you know that with Gibson, the one consistent thing about them is their lack of consistency. With a Gibson, always check the guitar you want to buy and thing long and hard before buying one online. This one was a peach, the next one along may not have been…..