Gibson produces some of the best guitar models ever made and is a beloved brand by many famous musicians. The Gibson Les Paul and the Gibson SG are by far the most popular Gibson guitars on the market. While the guitars are fairly similar, they have a few key differences. So, if you are on the fence between buying a Gibson SG or Gibson Les Paul, this article is for you.
I will go over the different features and variations of these two popular guitars and discuss the key differences between them!
Main differences between the Gibson SG and Les Paul
- Les Pauls are thicker and heavier instruments than SGs, weighing 2-3 pounds more and measuring half an inch thicker.
- SGs have a brighter overall sound with more mid-range frequencies, while Les Pauls have a warmer sound.
- Les Paul necks join the body at the 16th fret, while SGs join at the 22nd fret, allowing players to access high notes easily.
- SGs have a distinctive double cutaway design compared to the Les Pauls single cutaway.
- The output cable on a Les Paul is on the bottom of the guitar, while an SGs is on the front of the body.
- Les Pauls are generally more expensive than SGs. With Les Pauls averaging between $1,000-$4,000 and SGs ranging from $1,000-$2,000.
|Feature||Gibson SG||Gibson Les Paul|
|Cutaway||Double cutaway||Single cutaway|
|Pickup Selector Location||With volume and tone nobs||Above neck pick-up|
|Thickness (body)||1.2 to 1.4 inches||1.75 to 2 inches|
|Weight||6 – 7 pounds||8 – 10 pounds|
|Neck Stability||Headstock prone to break||Headstock prone to break|
|Average Price||$1,000 – $2,000||$1,000 – $4,000|
|Tone||Midrange bite||Warm midrange|
|Original model release date||1952||1961|
|Whammy bar||Select models||Only if custom made|
Gibson Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul is a classic electric guitar model that was first introduced in 1952. It was designed by jazz guitarist Les Paul and Gibson president Ted McCarty, and it quickly became popular among musicians for its tone and elegant design. Over the years, it has undergone several changes and modifications, which we’ll discuss later. Today, the Les Paul remains one of the world’s most iconic and beloved electric guitar models.
The Gibson Les Paul is known for its thick, sustaining tone, which is due in part to its construction. The guitar typically has a solid mahogany body with a carved maple top. The neck of the Les Paul is usually made from mahogany, and it features a glued-in joint at the body for added stability and sustain. The Gibson Les Paul generally has a rosewood fretboard and a “Tune-O-Matic” Bridge.
The construction of the Les Paul gives it a warm, rich sound with plenty of midrange punch. Additionally, its two humbucker pickups provide a powerful, high-output sound that’s great for driving tube amplifiers into overdrive and distortion. It’s particularly well-suited for rock music and has been used by countless guitarists over the years.
The Gibson Les Paul has a dark and warm sound that is very versatile. Many guitarists love the sound of this guitar because it is thick and powerful.
Here are some of the key features that have helped hold the Gibson Les Paul up as one of the best guitars in history.
- Single-cutaway body design
- Mahogany body and neck
- 2 humbucker pickups
- Tune-O-Matic Bridge
Variations of the Les Paul over time
The Les Paul guitar’s features are multifaceted, and they have evolved to adapt to both technological advancements and economic trends.
While the basic design of the Les Paul has remained largely the same, there have been some changes and variations in its construction and features.
Gibson Les Paul Standard
For example, in the late 1950s, Gibson introduced the Les Paul Standard model, which featured a sunburst finish and a more luxurious appearance with gold hardware and binding on the body and neck. The Standard also had a slim-taper neck profile, which was different from the chunkier necks found on earlier Les Pauls. Gibson stopped making the Les Paul Standard in 1960 but started producing them again in 1976.
The original Les Pauls from the 1950s had P-90 single-coil pickups, which provided a bright, punchy sound with plenty of clarity and definition. In 1957, Gibson introduced the humbucker pickup, producing a high-output sound.
In the 1960s, Gibson faced competition from the Fender Stratocaster. They introduced a thinner, more contoured body shape and various finishes and pickup configurations.
Gibson Les Paul Studio
The Gibson Les Paul Studio is a super popular and cheaper alternative to the Les Paul Standard. It is slightly lighter in construction, has slightly different pickups, and does not have the maple cap seen is Les Paul standards. The Les Paul Studio sounds very similar to the Standard; however the Studio has a warmer, more mellow sound.
Custom Shop Les Paul
There’s also the Custom Shop Les Pauls. Custom Shop Les Pauls are highly sought-after guitars that are made in small batches by Gibson’s Custom Shop division. These guitars are often based on vintage Les Paul designs and feature high-quality materials, excellent craftsmanship, and attention to detail.
Custom Shop Les Pauls often has unique finishes, such as hand-stained and hand-sanded nitrocellulose lacquer finishes, as well as exotic woods and custom inlay work. They may also have unique hardware configurations, like aged nickel or gold-plated hardware, or unique pickup combinations designed to emulate the sound of classic Les Pauls from different eras.
Custom Shop Les Pauls can be expensive due to the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into their production. On average, they cost between $5,000- $10,000.
However, many guitarists consider them to be among the finest Les Pauls ever made, and they are highly valued by collectors.
The control nobs and switches on a Les Paul are usually very basic, which is part of their charm and playability. A rock guitarist usually just wants to be loud when needed and quiet… sometimes.
A typical Les Paul has four main controls, which are located on the guitar’s top, near the bridge. Two volume knobs, one for each pickup, control the level of the signal sent from each pickup to the amplifier. There are also two tone knobs, one for each pickup, which control the amount of high-frequency content in the signal sent from each pickup to the amplifier. Turning the tone knob down can produce a darker, more mellow tone, while turning it up can produce a brighter, more cutting tone.
In addition to these four main controls, some Les Pauls may have additional switches or controls for further tonal options. For example, some Les Pauls have a three-way pickup selector switch, which allows the player to select between the neck, bridge, or both pickups simultaneously.
Some Les Pauls may also have coil-splitting controls, which allow the player to switch between single-coil and humbucking modes for each pickup, providing a wider range of tonal options.
The price of a Les Paul can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the model, the year it was made, and the condition it is in. Gibson Les Pauls can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the specific features and finishes.
Custom Shop Les Pauls, which, as we discussed, are hand-built, can cost significantly more, with some models priced well over $10,000 USD. Vintage Les Pauls from the 1950s and 1960s are highly valued by collectors and can fetch insane prices at auctions.
Specifically, 1957-1960 Les Pauls are some of the rarest and most sought-after guitars, and sales of these guitars at over $100,000 are not uncommon.
Duane Allman’s 1957 Gibson Les Paul is one of the most expensive guitars ever sold at $1.25 million!
Overall, Les Pauls are considered to be high-end guitars and are priced accordingly. You would be very lucky to have a Les Paul as your first guitar.
What about Epiphone Les Pauls?
Epiphone is owned by Gibson and generally produces cheaper versions of Gibson guitars that are produced abroad. The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is an excellent alternative to a Gibson Les Paul if you can’t afford the high price tag. These guitars have a similar look, feel, and sound to Gibsons.
Famous guitarists who have used Les Pauls
One of the most famous Les Paul guitars is “Black Beauty,” which was a custom Les Paul made for Les Paul himself in the 1950s. The guitar was black with gold hardware and had three humbucking pickups, which was an unusual configuration at the time. Les Paul used this guitar throughout his career, and it was featured on many of his recordings.
Another famous Les Paul is “Lucy,” which was a 1957 gold top Les Paul that was modified by George Harrison of the Beatles. Harrison added a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece and removed the original finish to reveal the natural wood grain of the guitar. The guitar was featured prominently on many Beatles recordings, including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Revolution.”
Other notable guitarists known for playing Les Pauls are:
- Jimmy Page
- Eric Clapton
- Joe Perry
- Randy Rhoads
- And many more!
The Gibson SG is a solid-body electric guitar that was introduced by Gibson in 1961. It was designed to replace the Les Paul model, which had been temporarily discontinued due to poor sales.
The SG, which stands for “Solid Guitar” was initially called the Les Paul SG, but the name was changed after a few years to avoid confusion with the Les Paul model, though legend has it that Les Paul himself did not like the guitar and asked for his name to be removed. However, his wife, Mary Ford, was a big fan, and this was her guitar of choice.
The Gibson SG has a unique sound characterized by a rich, sustaining tone with a midrange presence. This is due to its mahogany body, which delivers a warm and resonant tone, and its dual humbucker pickups that produce a high-output, powerful sound with plenty of clarity and bite. The guitar’s slim-tapered neck enhances its sound by providing comfortable and fast playability, enabling precise note articulation. These features make the SG a preferred choice for guitarists who play fast, intricate music, such as rock, metal, and blues. It was really in the rock explosion of the 70s that the SG came into its own. The guitar goes well with moderate and even heavy distortion.
There are several standout features of the Gibson SG that have contributed to its popularity and enduring appeal among guitar players. Here are a few of them:
- Double-cutaway body design
- Mahogany body and neck
- Slim-tapered neck
- Vibrola tailpiece
- Iconic design
Changes to the SG over time
The SG has undergone several changes in its pickup design since its introduction in 1961. Initially, it came with two PAF humbucker pickups.
In 1962, Gibson replaced the PAF pickups with a new design called the “patent number” pickup, which had a higher output and more midrange than the PAFs. These pickups were used on most SGs produced between 1962 and 1970.
In the 1970s, Gibson also started offering the SG Vibrola arm which was a custom bridge piece.
Over the years, Gibson has released many variations of the SG, including different models with different features, finishes, and hardware. Some of the most popular SG models include the SG Standard, SG Special, SG Junior, and SG Custom.
The SG Standard is the most popular model of SG and has the iconic features of the guitar. This guitar has a mahogany body, a maple top, and a set mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. It has a slim, fast neck profile, 22 frets, and a scale length of 24.75 inches.
The SG Special is another popular Gibson SG model with two single-coil P90 pickups instead of humbuckers. This guitar is generally cheaper than the SG Standard and was popular in the 60s.
The SG junior usually comes with 1 P90 pickup and a single volume and control knob. This guitar is a cheaper, simpler alternative to the SG Standard and SG Special.
The SG custom has quite a few differences. A 3 humbucker pick-up configuration, a diamond-shaped inlay, a wider neck profile than the SG Standard, Special, or Junior, and typically gold-featured hardware.
The SG typically has a standard set of controls and knobs that allow for versatile sound-shaping. These usually include:
Volume knobs: SG standards have two volume knobs, one for each pickup, that allow for independent control over each pickup’s output level. SGs with a single pickup only have 1 volume knob.
Tone knobs: The SG usually has two tone knobs, one for each pickup, that allow for adjusting the treble and bass frequencies of each pickup’s sound.
Pickup selector switch: The SG typically has a three-way pickup selector switch that allows for selecting either the neck, bridge, or both pickups simultaneously.
Optional features: Some SG models may have additional controls and knobs, such as coil-splitting or phase reversal switches, that provide even more tonal options and sound-shaping capabilities.
As with all well-made guitars, the prices vary depending on several factors, such as the model, year of production, condition, and rarity.
Entry-level SG models, such as the SG Special or the SG Faded, can range from around $500 to $1,000, depending on the year of production and condition. Mid-range SG models, such as the SG Standard or the SG Classic, can range from around $1,000 to $2,000, again depending on the year of production and condition.
High-end SG models, such as the SG Custom or the SG Supreme, can range from around $2,000 to $5,000 or more. Finally, vintage SG models, such as those produced in the 1960s or early 1970s, can command much higher prices ranging from around $5,000 to tens of thousands of dollars. While they are certainly expensive and premium guitars, they are more affordable than Gibson Les Pauls.
What did Les Paul think about SGs?
It’s true Les Paul had mixed feelings about the SG. On the one hand, he liked the playability and its fast neck (as he was a very fast player), but ultimately, he felt it was the inferior build quality. It was a big departure from the design he had worked on for so many years. When Gibson redesigned the Les Paul SG (without his consultation), Les Paul asked for his name to be removed. Ultimately, the classic Les Paul made a huge comeback and cemented itself in music history.
Famous guitarists who have used SGs
The Gibson SG has been played by many famous guitarists across different genres of music. Some of the most notable ones include:
Angus Young is perhaps the most famous SG player of all time, having used SGs as his main guitar since the 1970s. Tony Iommi is another iconic SG player, using SGs on classic albums such as “Paranoid” and “Master of Reality”.
Derek Trucks, the slide guitar virtuoso, is known for using SGs extensively, including a custom SG with a distinctive “southern sky” graphic.
Robby Krieger of The Doors played an SG on many of the band’s classic songs, including “Light My Fire” and “Break On Through (To the Other Side)”.
Eric Clapton has used SGs on various occasions throughout his career, including on Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” album.
Frank Zappa used an SG on his classic album “Hot Rats”, among others.
Why are Gibson SGs cheaper than Les Pauls?
SGs are generally less expensive than Les Pauls due to their simpler construction and the use of less expensive materials. SGs are made with fewer pieces of wood, less ornamentation, and less binding, and often use more affordable tonewoods like mahogany.
What music is an SG good for?
Because of its bitey midrange sound and fast playability, SGs usually suit heavier rock music, blues, or heavy metal.
What music is a Les Paul good for?
Les Pauls are some of the most versatile guitars on the market. They are used for a wide variety of music genres, from heavy metal to punk, soul, pop, jazz, blues, and more!