Thursday, July 5, 2012

From A (Angus) to Z (Zappa)


By Michael Tanaka

Let me begin with full disclosure. We’re trying to sell this guitar. Actually, I’m trying to sell this instrument for a friend who’s in a financial jam. It’s listed on Craigslist and ebay, but it’s also on display at POP. This, however, isn’t just some run-of-the-mill used guitar. I happen to find this instrument quite interesting as a pop-cultural artifact. This particular guitar may not have celebrity provenance, but it’s a cool time capsule reflecting rockin’ days gone by, and was a very specific model played and popularized by some pretty interesting (and diverse) current and bygone guitarists. In other words, this guitar has a backstory.
The guitar you’re looking at is a  cherry-red 1969 Gibson SG Standard. Quirky guitar. Ever play one? Like the iconic Gibson Les Paul, you get the trademark sound of twin humbucking pickups, but the SG’s lightweight body gives it a totally different resonant quality, creating a very unique tone and different sustain. And if you’ve never played one of these babies before, take a moment to note where the neck (and fingerboard) join the body. On an SG it’s at the 21st fret. Few guitars give you a skinny neck that absurdly long. This does more than make playing in the upper registers easy—it makes high note diddling a requirement. This SG also has the cool, engraved Lyre tailpiece vibrola unit (missing the arm, I’m sorry to say), but you don’t really need it to bend notes. The neck is so long, all you have to do is pull back a little on the neck after hitting a note or chord, and you get instant pitch dive. Very cool.
I won’t bore you with the history and development of the Gibson SG… introduced in 1961 during the Ted McCarty era as a thinner, double-cutaway Les Paul… name officially changed to SG in 1963, blah, blah…. But I will mention some of the players who have made the SG their trademark instrument. Call it their “signature” guitar. And in most cases, the SG is the only instrument you see them play. That says a lot. I’m not sure what, but it says a lot.
For SG players, you probably want to start withTommy Iommi of Black Sabbath. He’s a big SG guy, and Gibson currently sells a Tommy model, based on his personal favorite-- an SG of similar vintage to the one you see here. Then there’s Angus Young of AC/DC. He’s ALWAYS seen playing one. Gibson also sells a version of the Angus SG. Others…? Robby Krieger of the Doors played an SG, as did acid-rock blues-man John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Carlos Santana onstage at Woodstock… he’s playing an SG. For a long time, Frank Zappa played SG’s exclusively. There’s Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult and Elliot Easton of the Cars. And while Eric Clapton will forever be associated with the Fender Strat, his main axe during the Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire Cream period was a pop-art painted SG that he dubbed “The Fool.” 
And it’s not only 60’s and 70’s dinosaurs who are partial to the SG. Contemporary players often add the SG to their axe arsenal, although few besides Derek Trucks make it their main squeeze. I recently saw the Jayhawks in concert, and Gary Louris still plays his SG. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi proved that you can thrash hardcore pretty good on an SG. Ask Darren when you’re in the store—doesn’t Westerberg fancy SG’s too? I could go on and on…I can go deeper… remember the guitarist in Mahogany Rush? OK, I’ll stop now.
So there you have the Gibson SG. It’s an interesting guitar, and while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea-- if you’re a player and you’ve never strapped on one of these extra-long-necked babies, you might want to check one out. Break away from the crowd. Everybody we know plays Strats, Teles, Les Pauls. Get bold, get crazy… try an SG. This guitar is at POP right now. Go play it. Please buy it. I won’t give you all the details about condition, price and collectibllity now— you can find that info on the Craigslist or ebay listings, or Darren can tell you. I won’t go into all that jazz because then this wouldn’t be a blog. It would be a classified ad. And we don’t want that, do we?