Monday, December 24, 2012

NGD - Gibson 50th Anniversary SG

As a long time fan of The Who, I've occasionally thought I ought to get myself a Gibson SG just because Pete played 'em during what are arguably the band's most creatively productive years (mid-1968 - 1972). The model he played, an early 60's SG Special with P-90 pickups, has been difficult to find, particularly the iconic cherry finish model made famous at Woodstock. (Not to mention the cost of such a "vintage" instrument.) Even scoring a P-90 equipped SG has been difficult at times, as Gibson tends to focus on the more popular humbucker equipped models. That's all changed in the last couple years.

Late last year, however, Gibson issue a 50th Anniversary Pete Townshend SG in Arctic (Polaris) White at a fairly reasonable (for Gibson) price. Of course, some Who fans complained about the color (Pete played the white models only on a relatively short tour supporting Quadrophenia). I thought it rather attractive and started to watch the usual websites for deals. Most dealers had it for sale at about $1299 - not bad, but that was a little expensive given I already own three other electrics and don't have a band to "justify" buying another instrument.

About a month ago, some dealers started offering the Townshend SG at $999. I was sorely tempted. Then last week, Musician's Friend, the mailorder arm of Guitar Center, put the darn thing on sale for $899. Beth said OK, and three days later the big brown truck delivered.

Do not leave on porch...
So... it showed up about 3:00 in guitar size box with Gibson printed on the side, so it's a pretty good thing I happened to be home sick.  Inside, supported by bubble wrap, a black "thermometer" case, complete with "WHO" stencil:

and inside that:

Everything's fine, but of course the poor baby has spent the last 9 hours or more in the back of a UPS truck so she's a touch cold. So just a quick tune up to check that the electronics are OK. Fit and finish look excellent - no scrapes, globs of glue, or misplaced binding. The finish is fairly thin nitro, so a little of the mahogany grain is visible up close.

Three hours later...

OK, let's see what we've got here. First thought - order straplocks. Yes, SGs do exhibit neck dive. This one's no exception. Second thought: P-90's are hot. Volume wise, they're quite close to the pickups in my Santana III. Let's see... not as light as I'd imagined based on reviews and yep, you don't have to be Townshend to bend the neck.

Now let's try to sound like 1969. Set my little Blues Jr. (stock speaker, BillM mods) to "Who" tone (Bass 6, Mid 5 (Townshend's custom HiWatt amps didn't have a "mid" control), Treble 8, "clean"), a touch of reverb, and plug straight in. Yeah, that's it. P-90 is the live Who sound from the good old days. Which of course everybody knows, but it's still pretty cool to hear it coming out of your amp for the first time.

More thoughts: Intonation is pretty darn good for a fixed (though compensated) bridge. Gibson's specs say the nut is PLEK'd but it is tight - a few touches with a sharpened pencil cleared up a couple of tuning pings. I'm toying with the idea of an adjustable bridge - they cost less than $40 from StewMac, but I'll keep her stock for a few months before I make up my mind.

The all mahogany construction is very resonant. Back in the day, there was an idea that very heavy electric guitar bodies (e.g. solid maple or the massive Alembic style "hippie sandwich" construction) coupled with brass bridges and nuts would result in a guitar with a very clear tone and tremendous sustain. (And yes, I was a believer too.) It's pretty obvious that very few people actually sat down and compared instruments side-by-side.

This SG is noticeably more resonant than my PRS Santana III (a guitar built in the Les Paul style with a 2 piece maple top and mahogany body and neck). That's likely due to the fact that the SG is a couple pounds lighter and the PRS tremolo partially decouples the strings from the guitar body. I can feel a plucked open A string vibrating for 11-12 seconds on the SG as opposed to about 8-9 seconds on the Santana.

Conclusions: This is the best price/performance instrument Gibson makes outside of the studio line. Every guitar playing Who fan needs one of these.

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