Pros: It is like owning a piece of history.
GIBSON SG 1961 REISSUE GUITAR
Although it may seem hard for any one to imagine today, back in the late 1950's the traditional Gibson Les Paul Model Guitar was not selling well. It was heavy, had a thick neck, and was not considered to be "hip" because of its association with older stogy traditional or jazz music. It did not have the flash and hipness associated with the Fender Stratocaster, which was taking over the music world, and was becoming known as "the rock guitar," and as "the surf music guitar."
Gibson recognized that something had to be done, and that some changes needed to be made. Gibson began experimenting by first changing the shape of the Les Paul Specials and Juniors, most specifically by giving them double cutaway bodies. Then in very late 1960, the three pickup Les Paul Custom was introduced, and it featured what was to eventually become known as the SG body shape. Beginning with model year 1961, the Les Paul SG Standard was introduced as a replacement for the conventional Les Paul Standard, and that changed everything. The new guitar still had the Les Paul name, but it eventually was given a new name, the SG Standard (which stands for "Solid Guitar"), and it eventually came to earn its own place in guitar history.
The guitar I will be reviewing here today is the Reissue of the 1961 SG. By the way, I do not wish to sound critical, but the picture of the guitar that Epinions is showing as the 1961 SG Reissue is not the correct guitar. The picture that appears here is that of the Les Paul SG Standard with a Maestro Vibrato, and not the 1961 Reissue. The Maestro Vibrato was not even invented at that time.
For those who may be a bit confused regarding the difference between a 1961 Reissue and a Les Paul SG Standard Reissue, they are basically in most respects the same guitar, with one of the exceptions being that the Les Paul SG Standard Reissue has a Maestro Vibrato. As some of you may know, Les Paul did not approve of the Les Paul SG guitar for a number of reasons, and he had his name removed from this guitar. I will not be going into Les Paul's reasons for having his name removed from the SG here, but will do so in my review of the Les Paul SG Standard Reissue.
The current incarnation of the 1961 SG Reissue differs from the original in several important ways. One of the most notable is that the guitar upon which it is based had a slightly larger body, and the manner in which the neck of the 1961 Reissue is joined to the body is more sturdy. Many of the original 1961 SG's had to have their neck joint repaired over the years for this reason. The neck on the original also had a tendency to "whip" a bit with hard playing, and one could actually pull on the neck as one was playing with the effect of giving it additional, and usually unwanted, vibrato. These problems have been eliminated in the Reissue, and the neck does not have a tendency to "whip" or bend, and thus holds its tune significantly better than the original. The original 1961 SG also had a "side-pull vibrato tailpiece" which is no longer used on Gibson guitars.
The current incarnation of the 1961 SG Reissue is made with a light weight rounded mahogany, with the classic double cutaways on the top and bottom. The guitar is only available in Heritage Cherry, which is fine with me, as that is my favorite color for an SG. The neck is also mahogany, and features the 1960's slim-taper neck profile and slightly wider fingerboard like the original. The wider fingerboard allows for greater ease in bending strings because there is more room to bend without bumping into the adjacent strings. The fingerboard is rosewood, and is adorned with Pearloid Trapezoid inlays. The guitar has 22 frets, and joins the body at the 22 fret, which is different from the modern SG Standard which has a 1962 shaped neck which joints the body at the 19th fret. As such, given that the 1961 Reissue's neck joins the body at the 22 fret, along with the double cutaway, permits a player easy reach to even the highest of the frets. The only binding to be found is on the neck, and it is an off-white color, which gives it an aged appearance. Adding to the attractive features of the guitar is a nickel plated finish on all the hardware, just like the original. The 1961 Reissue also features the small pickguard design found on the original, which I especially like, as it permits you to appreciate more of the beauty of the wood on this guitar.
The 1961 SG Reissue has two volume and two tone controls, one for each of its pickups, and a three way toggle switch. The placement of the toggle switch in the same line as the stop-bar, and just above the volume controls is, in my view, the ideal placement for this switch. It is close enough to where one picks the strings, which permits quick and easy access, but not so close that it interferes with playing power chords, and gets in the way. The bridge is a Tune-O-Matic, which allows for precise intonation settings of each individual string, as well as permitting easy overall height adjustment. The tail piece is a stop-bar, which provides for a very solid grounding for the strings, and thus adds to the sustain. The tuning pegs are Schaller Green Key Tuning Machines.
Now on to the pickups, which are of course an extremely important part of the guitar. Just like a finely tuned race car relies on the performance of its engine, the sound engine of any good electric guitar is its pickups. The Gibson 1961 Reissue SG has two pickups. Just like the original 1961 SG, the 1961 Reissue has two 1957 model PAF humbucking pickups. The first humbucking pickup was invented by a Gibson employee named Seth Lover in the mid 1950's, and it debuted in 1957. These pickups came to be called PAF pickups because on the back of the original pickups was a small decal that read Patent Applied For, accompanied by a number. Because of the radical design of these pickups, Gibson was able to apply for, and received a patent on the design.
The new versions of the '57 Classic PAF pickups are made with special Alnico II magnets. The Alnico II magnet technology is quite old, and Alnico II magnets are somewhat less powerful than some modern day magnets, such as are used in Bill Lawrence's Samarium Cobalt Magnet Pickups or Gibson's Hot Ceramic Magnet Pickups. But that does not mean they do not sound powerful, or that they do not sound good. Remember it was the Alnico II magnetic pickup that defined the sound of the early recordings of Eric Clapton, who used both Les Paul's and SG's equipped with PAF's in the early Cream days, or guitar blues legends like Mike Bloomfield. The new version of the Gibson '57 Classic PAF pickups deliver a sound that can range from a warm and silky sound (Cream's "Outside Woman Blues"), a snarling bite (Bluesbreaker's "Have You Heard"), or a psychedelic delight with powerful feedback (Cream's "I Feel Free"). Although there may be more powerful pickups on the market, to my ear, no humbucking pickup made today sounds as good for so many different types of music, and is as versatile as the Gibson PAF.
Simply put, the 1961 SG Reissue is a great sounding and versatile guitar. It was flawlessly constructed, with a beautiful cherry color, and gorgeous lacquer finish. It plays beautifully, has great tone, and has the Gibson sound we have all come to know. It is a bit more expensive than an SG Standard, but you get what you pay for. Namely the average 1961 Reissue right off the rack seems to be made with more attention to detail and is constructed with more care than an average SG Standard. I can say this with assurance, as I did a number of side by side comparisons before I decided to make my purchase. I also preferred the sound of the 1957 Classic Humbuckers that come with that model as compared to the pickups that come with the SG Standard which are a 490R (neck pickup) and a 498T (bridge pickup). If you wish, you may choose to read my review of the Gibson SG Standard which goes into more specific detail about the SG Standard, which is also a great guitar.
In closing, I love the Gibson 1961 SG Reissue. 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 should you ever decide to upgrade to a Les Paul.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review. I appreciate it. But now, I need to get back to my practicing.