In 1960, Gibson Les Paul sales were significantly lower than they had been in previous years, so in 1961 the model was given a completely new body style that was thinner and had two sharp cutaway horns that made the upper frets more accessible. The neck was slightly heavy, which made it tilt downwards. The neck joint was also moved up about three frets. It was felt the new design could compete with the popular Fender Stratocaster, another benefit being lower production costs than that of the previous model. The guitar was advertised as having the "fastest neck in the world", due to its slender neck profile and virtually non-existent heel. The newly-designed Les Paul was popular but Les Paul, whose namesake was carried over from the previous version, did not like the new design and asked to have his name removed from it. Gibson renamed the model the "SG" which was short for "solid guitar". Even though Les Paul's name was officially removed from the model in 1961, the plastic Les Paul nameplates (positioned between the rhythm pickup and fingerboard) were in abundance in the Gibson factory and SG models having these nameplates were built and sold by Gibson up to the end of 1963.
Models and variations
Since its initial introduction in 1961, there have been numerous models and variants that carry the "SG" name. In addition to a "Standard" and "Jr" model, there was the top of the line "Custom". The 1961-1963 Custom models did not say 'SG', but they did, however, have a Les Paul signature between the neck pickup and the edge of the fingerboard where it joined the body. The "Standard" had a Les Paul engraved truss rod cover from 1961 to early 1963. Models produced between 1961 and 1965 have the original small pickguard; in 1966 the guitar was redesigned slightly with a different neck joint and a larger, semi-symmetrical "batwing" pickguard appearing on 1967 models. This design held until roughly 1970. In 1971 Gibson released a version with a floating "Les Paul" style pickguard and a front-mounted control plate, no doubt as a cost-cutting measure. "Maestro", "Lyre Vibrola" and Bigsby vibrato (tremolo arm) tailpieces appeared as options and several new models were introduced with this design, such as the low-end SG-100 and the fat single coil dual pickup gibson SG-200 guitars, and the more luxurious SG Pro and SG Deluxe guitars. In 1973 the design went back to the original style pickguard and rear-mounted controls but with the neck now set further into the body, joining roughly at the 20th fret. By the end of the 1970s, however, the SG models returned to the old design style for the most part, and current versions have returned to the 1967-1969 styling and construction with the large pickguard, which wraps around the pickups on the guitar body (though re-issues and variants of the small pickguard SG are still available). These guitars, unlike those from the 1960s they resemble, come standard with a stop-tailpiece with the exception of some custom shop models and limited production SG models.
In 1980, the first SG manufactured with "active" factory pickups was introduced. Gibson experimented with an SG that included the same Moog active electronics that had previously been used in another Gibson model, the RD Artist. The resulting SG had a slightly thicker body to accommodate the extra circuitry, and was dubbed the “Gibson SG-R1.” The Gibson SG-R1 was solid mahogany, sported a gloss black finish, no pick guard, dot neck inlays instead of trapezoid, see-through barrel knobs for treble and bass pots that went from zero to plus or minus five instead of tone pots going from one to ten, and an extra switch to turn on the active boost on the treble pickup. The bridge was fixed and included no tremolo/whammy bar. The Gibson SG-R1 was renamed the "Gibson SG Artist" in 1981, and then manufacture of this model was discontinued. Only about 200 active SG’s were ever produced.
The SG shape was also offered in a Junior model similar to the Les Paul Junior before it. This model had a single "dogear" P-90 pickup and an optional tremolo arm. The SG Special was introduced not long after, which featured two P-90 pickups and the optional tremolo arm; this model has shown up again recently as the SG Classic while the current SG Special now has two uncovered humbucking pickups. Recent models of the Gibson SG Special represent a value oriented model in their product line-up. Typically, it does not include the stylized neck binding of other models, or mother-of-pearl, trapezoid fret inlays. The wraparound stoptail bridge has been replaced with Gibson's standard Tune-O-Matic arrangement on the Classic and Special reissues, while the reissue of the Junior retains the original one-piece bridge.
Gibson has offered many variations and finishes on the basic SG body style and continues to manufacture special editions, including models such as the Special and Faded Special, Supreme, Tony Iommi Signature SG (model discontinued), Angus Young Signature SG, 1961 Re-issue, Menace, and Gothic, as well as the premium-priced VOS replicas of the sixties SG Standard and Custom. Epiphone, a company owned by Gibson, produces a less expensive replica known as the G-400 and also produced an "Elitist" model, a high quality '61 SG reissue made in Japan starting in 2003 up until the end of 2005. Some of these Epiphone models include the Les Paul signature plate featured on original SG's between the rhythm pick-up and the fretboard. The guitar has a bridge that will not usually work with a whammy bar, but there are some rare variations that have a compatible bridge.
SG versus the Les Paul
Physically, the SG has a shallower body than the Les Paul, and thus is much lighter; the neck profile is also typically shallower, although this varies from year to year and guitar to guitar. The body is usually made entirely of mahogany (a notable exception is the Swamp Ash SG Special and some walnut bodied 1970's models), and does not have the curved, maple top section of the earlier design; neither does it have the accompanying body binding. Perhaps the most striking visual difference is that the SG is a double-cutaway guitar. The standard SG shares the basic pickup and control layout (twin humbuckers with dedicated tone and volume controls, three position selector switch) with the standard Les Paul. The three main variations on the basic Les Paul design (Special, Jr., Custom) also had equivalent SG models.