The text and video footage below are adapted from Interactive Gibson Bible, published August 2008 on Jaw Bone Press and distributed by Hal Leonard.
When Gibson set about revising the Les Paul in 1961 in the wake of declining sales for the model, the exercise produced an instrument that was far more unlike than like the guitar that had preceded it.
The Les Paul Standard of 1961 retained its predecessor’s two PAF humbucking pickups, tune-o-matic bridge and 24 3/4-inch scale length, but it looked entirely different and was constructed very differently too. In place of the thick, solid mahogany back and carved, arched maple cap was a thinner body of pure mahogany, flat on top but highly contoured at the edges, with two very pointy, asymmetrical cutaways that offered access right up to the 22nd fret. It was also, arguably, a less elegant looking guitar, initially offered in a translucent cherry finish rather than the sultry sunburst of the 1958-’60 Les Paul.
Radical departure or not, Gibson calculated right. The new Les Paul far outstripped the sales figures for the single-cutaway sunburst model that had preceded it, making it a surprising hit for such a radical-looking guitar, considering how flat the ultra-modern Flying V and Explorer had fallen just before its release. When Les Paul failed to resign his endorsement agreement with Gibson in 1963, the company changed the model name to SG.
Guitars made between 1961-’62 are, therefore, are usually referred to as SG/Les Pauls, while those after are SG Standards, pure and simple. Actually, the SG model name had first been used on the rounded-double-cutaway SG Special of 1959-’60, formerly the Les Paul Special (the name by which it is still often known). The full range of Les Paul models was translated into the SG format in the early ’60s: the SG Special with two P-90 pickups (and pointed cutaways from 1961), the SG Junior with a single P-90 and the SG Custom with white finish and three humbucking pickups.
Whether it benefited from the redesign, the general boom in guitar sales of the early ’60s, or the increased production capabilities of Gibson’s newly expanded factory (a project begun in 1960 had doubled the size of the Kalamazoo plant by the time of its completion in ’61) — or a combination of all three — the new-shape Les Paul, and the SG that followed it, sold in far greater numbers than its predecessor. While it might seem criminal, with hindsight, to have deprived the world of a ‘real’ Les Paul for a full eight years, from 1961 to 1968, when it was finally reissued (although not quite in ‘Standard’ form yet), the SG became a popular model in its own right through the course of the 1960s, and had evolved into an iconic tool for heavy rock and the newly emergent heavy metal genres in particular by the end of the decade, a position it retains to this day.
Check Out Today's SG Line-Up:
The SG Standard
The SG Special
The SG Special Faded
The SG Raw Power
The Interactive Gibson Bible package includes a DVD with more than 80 minutes of demonstration of rare and vintage Gibsons, presented by author/guitarist Dave Hunter and first-call L.A. session musician Carl Verheyen. The book, written by Hunter and Walter Carter, includes a chronological listing of the specs of every Gibson electric guitar ever made, along with brief histories detailing seminal moments in the Gibson story.