Friday, April 27, 2018

1996 Gibson SG Special Electric Guitar Review


In recent years I have had much better luck finding good playing SGs than Les Pauls, and the 1996 Gibson SG Special we are looking at today is no exception.

The Gibson SG is a classic guitar that was introduced in 1961 as a cheaper version of the Les Paul. It has not really changed much over the years, and to be honest I think they play a bit better (easier) than the Les Paul models. They have never been as popular as Les Pauls, and everybody thinks you want to be Angus Young or Tony Iommi when they see you playing one.

Now, the SG Special is a little bit different than the SG standard, which is what I have always owned in the past. It has the same Mahogany construction, nitrocellulose finish, green tulip button tuners, Tune-O-Matic bridge, and stop bar tailpiece. And it certainly has the distinctive SG profile.

But the factory simplified some of the construction to make this guitar more affordable, so there are some cosmetic differences. The pickups are uncovered, there is no binding on the neck, there are small plastic fretboard dots instead of trapezoid inlays, and the headstock has a silkscreened logo instead of the mother-of-pearl Gibson logo and flowerpot.

There is also a slight difference in the electronics package. SG Specials long ago abandoned the P-90s that they had in the 1960s, and this model uses a balanced set of alnico-magnet pickups: a 490R at the neck and a 490T at the bridge. You will find that the SG Standard also uses a 490R at the neck, but has a hotter 498T at the bridge. There is no difference in the controls, which includes individual pickup volume and tone controls and a three-way switch.

Enough of the history lesson – how is this guitar?

This particular instrument is a very well kept SG Special that was built at the Nashville factory in 1996, and is finished in glossy Cardinal Red over its mahogany body and neck. This is not too common, as it seems that almost every other SG I have see is wine red or black, and all of the specials have been black. Hmm.

The neck is what makes this SG very good, as they got this one right. The fretboard is true, and the frets are dead nuts level. The fret edges are smooth as silk, and the action is low and buzz free with Ernie Ball 0.010s. There is almost no wear to the frets, despite its age. It also sounds amazing, and I do not notice that the bridge humbucker is not as powerful as on the Standard models. That is what you have a volume control for, after all…

As I said this is guitar is in really good shape, and I would call it collector grade if people actually collected low-end model SGs. It has no scratches or dings, and over the past 22 years it has been spared the indignity of ill-advised modifications (brass nut, speed knobs, etc.). I also have a Les Paul Standard and an Explorer (plus Japanese clones of all 3), and this is by far the best player of the bunch.

So, if you are looking for a good Gibson electric, think about extending your search beyond the sexier Les Paul models, and give a SG a try. You might like it!


1 comment:

  1. I'm looking at an ebony 96 special. Was it unusual for their to not be a "Made In USA" stamp? Or was it always a sticker at the bottom of the tuners?