Value and versatility in a vintage-styled SG.
Since first rearing its devilish little horns in 1961, the Gibson SG has become one of the most iconic guitars ever. Its classy-but-evil looks, excellent upper fret access, and snarling humbucker output entice players more than a half-century later. For budget-conscious players seeking classic Gibson tones, it’s an appealing and relatively affordable alternative to some of the pricier Gibsons.
That last factor has contributed to the SG’s success, and some of the most accessible SGs have come from Gibson’s sister company Epiphone, who make the G-400. Loosely based on the 1962 Gibson SG Standard, the G-400 has been a point of entry for guitarists that can’t manage the cost of a Gibson. The new G-400 PRO adds more value with coil-tap switching, alnico 5 magnet-powered humbuckers, and improved hardware.
Better, Stronger … Faster?
Like the standard G-400, the G-400 PRO is built around a four-piece mahogany body with a thin mahogany veneer on the top and back. The veneer’s smooth, detailed grain gives the transparent cherry finish a rich vintage look. Unless you examine the body’s beveled edges up close, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that there’s a veneer.
The three-piece mahogany set neck is topped with a 22-fret rosewood fretboard with trapezoid inlays. The neck is carved using Epiphone’s slim taper D profile. Players accustomed to Gibson’s C-shaped ’60s slim taper profile might find Epi’s D profile a bit uncomfortable at first because its beefier shoulders mean more friction against the fretting hand. For me, the D profile doesn’t feel as fast or easy to negotiate as a C-profile neck. I feel the square-ish shoulders hinder fast runs and riffs.
The G-400 PRO’s upgraded hardware is one of its most welcome improvements. A pair of alnico 5-powered Classic PRO humbuckers replaces the original’s alnico 2 models, and they can be coil-tapped via push/pull switches on the volume controls. Epiphone also used better-quality 500k Ω pots, rather than resorting to the cheap mini pots that can fail in entry-level guitars. Kluson-style Wilkinson 14:1 tuners are also included. They’re lighter than the Grovers on some of the older G-400s, which makes the PRO a little more balanced and less prone to neck dive, and the buttons add a touch of vintage authenticity.
Alnico 5 in the Engine Room
Through a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, the Alnico Classic PRO pickups sound thick and powerful with a brash, cutting quality in the high end, great for Angus Young-inspired riffs. The pickups are vintage-output, with a PAF-like DC resistance of 8.2k for the bridge and 7.8k for the neck. Replacing the Classic’s alnico 2 magnets with alnico 5s provides slightly tighter low-end response and quicker attack.
The pickups make it a cinch to dial up tight, crunchy modern rock rhythm tones, especially via the bridge pickup. Both pickups yielded smooth, purring overdrive when I rolled back the volume controls. (The upgraded pots pay big dividends here.) Compared to classic overdriven SG tones, the G-400’s midrange output is a little subdued, and you get less of the deep, throaty snarl you associate with a classic SG. Still, the G-400 PRO is excellent for low-gain blues leads, growling classic rock rhythms, and even aggressive modern rock and metal.
In full humbucking mode, both pickups are capable of rich clean tones that retain plenty of high-end snap. Through a Fender Twin Reverb, the neck pickup sounded especially balanced, producing a fat clean tone with almost piano-like attack. Clean sounds from the bridge pickup were more aggressive, and even bright enough for country licks—a nice bonus for an affordable, humbucker-equipped instrument.
Coil tapping is perhaps the biggest draw of the G-400. It definitely makes it a more versatile guitar, though switching to single-coil mode means you lose some of the smooth response of humbucking mode, especially at clean settings. The bridge pickup can be downright shrill if you’re not careful, though you can use the tone knob to massage abrasive high-end content. This single-coil sound might not make you forget your favorite Stratocaster or P-90-equipped Les Paul Jr., but the option is a major asset if you don’t want to bring multiple instruments
to a gig.
Epiphone’s G-400 PRO is a distinct improvement on its predecessor. Like many affordable guitars, it lacks some of the sonic sophistication of upmarket pickups. But upgraded hardware, classy looks, versatile pickups, and coil tapping make it one hell of a value for gigging players who hate the hassle of multiple instruments.