GIBSON SG-Z GUITAR
Recommend this product?
Always striving to be innovative and cutting edge, can lead to some incredible design breakthroughs, as well as some dismal failures, and everything in between. No, I am not talking about the evolution of the Platypus, I am speaking of the evolution of the Gibson SG guitar, most specifically about one of its many incarnations, in this case, the Gibson SG-Z.
The SG-Z is a very rare guitar. Production of the SG-Z began in 1997 for the 1998 model year, and that was it. As such, it is a very limited edition in the truest sense of the word. There are several great things about this guitar, but there are also several problems in design. Rather than spending time and effort on correcting or modifying these design problems, Gibson chose to discontinue the SG-Z guitar and the SG-Z Bass. I shall be focusing on the SG-Z guitar in this review.
The body and neck of the SG-Z are made with solid mahogany, and the fretboard is Rosewood. In this regard, the SG-Z is similar to a traditional SG Standard, but that is where most of the similarity between these two SG model guitars ends.
The SG-Z has 24 frets, as compared to an SG Standards 22 frets, and that gives the SG-Z an extra advantage in those rare circumstances where that extra couple of frets can make the difference in your ability to creatively express yourself during a solo. The neck is a tapered slim 1960s style. The fingerboard has split Diamond shaped inlaid position markers, and the peg head has an attractive Z shaped pearl inlay that sort of resembles a lightning bolt. Adorning the neck is an attractive single-ply white binding. The SG-Z comes in two colors, Platinum (which actually looks like an off grey) and Verdigris, which is an unusual greenish color. I clearly prefer the Platinum colored model.
Adding to the unique design features of the SG-Z is a really stunning looking pearloid pickguard shaped unlike anything available on any SG made today. This very unusually shaped pickguard was also once used on a model called the Gibson SG-90, and it is a very attractive and distinctive design. The tuning pegs are Grovers, which really hold the strings in tune well. The hardware on the SG-Z is black chrome, which is also quite attractive and adds a distinctive look. The bridge is a Tune-O-Matic Bridge, the like of which is commonly found on most other SG models. However, the SG-Z has a string through body. The strings are pushed through the back of the body at the rear of the guitar, and they exit the guitar through the front of the guitar through a large Z shaped black plate which is anchored behind the bridge. This design adds slightly to the resonance and sustain of the guitar, as there is more of a marriage of the strings to the body of the guitar, and thus, there is an enhancement of the mid-frequencies due to the effects of the vibration of the strings running through the Mahogany body.
The electronics of the SG-Z have some significant plusses and minuses, depending on your own particular preferences and dislikes. Just about every SG ever made by Gibson has the output jack on the front of the guitar. The SG-Z has its output jack on the side of the body, in a similar position to where it would be found on a Les Paul. Personally, I like this positioning of the output jack very much, and prefer it to a traditional SG design.
The SG-Z has a three position pickup selector, similar to other SG models. However, the toggle switch is placed in-between the Tone and Volume controls, where as on other SG models it is placed before the Volume and Tone controls. When I was playing this guitar and was about to switch from one pickup to another, I on several occasions, inadvertently grabbed at the Volume control instead of the pickup toggle switch, because I am used to playing more conventionally wired SGs. Personally, I found the location of the toggle switch on the SG-Z to be located in an awkward position, but not as bad as to make it impossible to get used to.
The SG-Z also has only one Volume and one Tone control. The benefit or plus for this is that having one less Volume and Tone control and all of the related pots, wiring, and internal guts of the guitar, makes for a lighter and simpler guitar. However, it also cuts down on the players ability to control the sound of the guitar, especially in live playing circumstances, where split second sound changes can be more readily achieved by presetting one pickup for one tone or volume level, and the other pickup preset with a different volume and tone setting.
The SG-Z is most notable for its unique combination of pickups. The bridge pickup is a hot 500T Humbucker with Ceramic magnets, while the neck pickup is a Superstack 490R Humbucker. The 500T is frequently referred to as a Super Ceramic Pickup. This is one of the hottest or highest output guitar pickups that Gibson has ever made, and the 500T has more output or power than the Gibson Signature Toni Iommi Pickup or the Gibson Signature Angus Young Humbucker. The 500T is extreme in every sense of the word. It is loud, powerful, and vicious sounding, and has incredible sustain, bite, and crunch, and if you are playing a song that requires feedback, this pickup can deliver. Yet, when the volume is turned down below about 7-8, it also has clarity, character, and definition. I was very impressed with this pup.
Now on to the Superstack 490R neck pickup. The 490 series of Humbuckers are made with Alnico II magnets. The 490R is often referred to as a modern classic, as it has many of the sound characteristics of a Gibson 1957 Classic Humbucker, but with increased emphasis on the midrange frequencies, thus giving it a more modern sound. However, the Superstack 490R Humbucker does not look at all like a conventional Humbucking pickup, and instead it resembles a single-coil pickup. As many of you who are reading this review may already know, a Humbucking pickup typically consists of two regular single coil pickups placed side by side, but with opposing North/South magnetic fields, which in effect serves to cancel out or buck the 60 cycle hum associated with being in proximity to noise emitting electrical devices such as florescent lights, computer screens, etc. The Superstack 490R achieves this same goal by simply stacking one coil on top of the other, instead of placing them side by side. The appearance of the Superstack 490R is that of a single-coil pickup, but the noise canceling features are those of a traditional Humbucker. How does the Superstack 490R sound compared to a conventional 490R pickup? I compared an SG Special with a conventional 490R in the neck position to the SG-Z with the Superstack 490R in the neck position, and found them to sound more similar than dissimilar. However, I found the Superstack 490R to sound a bit thinner, and slightly less richer sounding than the conventional 490R. However, one must also keep in mind that the SG Special and the SG-Z are two different guitars, and even two of the same model of guitars are apt to sound slightly different.
Another important point to consider regarding the Superstack 490R and the 500T is that both of these pickups do not have covers, and have exposed coils. Exposing the coils of a pickup by removing the cover can result in a pickup that sounds hotter, has more bite, more presence, and more clarity, and thus it can cut through a mix more easily. A downside of a coverless pickup is that exposing the coils reduces the shielding effects provided by the covers, and this can potentially lead to more noise or hum, as well as an increased tendency to feed back. However waxing or potting of the coils with wax can reduce these unwanted problems, and both the 500T and Superstack 490R are pickups with waxed pots, and thus, I did not discern any extra unwanted noise or hum from either of these pickups. To me, it seemed as if both of these pickups enjoyed the sonic advantages of being coverless, without the disadvantages that are frequently associated with coverless pickups.
How does the marriage of these two diverse pickups sound together? Well, there are several pros and cons here to discuss. A pro is that there is a great variety of sonic capability that a guitar with such different and diverse sounding pickups can deliver. For example, the Superstack 490R neck pickup can deliver many of the sounds that one associates with a classic rock sound. It had a rich sustain, good clarity, and could produce a very mellow tone and soothing sound when set to do so. The 500T in the bridge position was one of the most vicious, biting, snarling, aggressive pickups I have ever encountered, and could really do a superior job for heavy metal and very hard rock.
Individually, each of these pickups was great, but there were some problems in the marriage. One problem is that the volume or output of the 500T seemed to be meaningfully louder and different than the Superstack 490R, and when one switched from one to the other, the difference was very apparent. Although the marriage of the Superstack 490R and the 500T results in a guitar that is potentially very versatile, it seems to me to be an attempt to please everyone, but which may not please anyone.
For example, if you are a person who prefers a heavy metal sound, why would you want to have a Superstack 490R in the neck position of your guitar? Wouldnt you prefer a neck pickup that was more suited in output, balance and tonal qualities, to those of your neck pickup? That being the case, a marriage of a hot 500T in the bridge position and a hot 496R in the neck position would make a lot more sense. On the other hand, if you are a person who is into classic rock or blues, why would you want to have a 500T in the neck position of your guitar? A marriage of a 490T or a possibly a 498T in the bridge position, with a 490R in the neck position would make a lot more sense to me, as these pickups can produce a very classic rock and blues sound, and they are more sonically balanced in volume, output, and tonal characteristics.
Well, to sum it up, to me, this is a good mid-priced guitar. This guitar was adequately constructed, and appeared to be well made, but not as solidly as some of the older SGs I have played or owned. It plays beautifully, has great variety in tone, but also has some of the drawbacks I noted with regard to the choice of pickups that were used together, as well as the location of the Volume and Tone Control in relation to the pickup selector switch. However, I felt that the Gibson SG-Z was a very attractive and unique looking guitar. Because so few were made, it is likely to eventually be a collectors item. It can certainly hold its own against comparably priced guitars, and perhaps even more importantly, it will hold its value over time in the aftermarket, and might even appreciate with time.
I would like to thank you kindly for taking the time to read my review. But now, I must get back to my practicing. I really seem to need it lately.
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