Gibson SG Modern Review
This updated solidbody is a ferocious and versatile hybrid of Les Paul, SG, and modern Gibsons.
Played through a Fractal AX8 modeler recorded to Pro Tools via a Unversal Audion Apollo Twin Duo interface.
First section, AX8 set to “Boutique DC” semi-cleans
0:00 – Bridge pickup, full humbucking mode
0:07 – Bridge pickup, P-90 mode
0:15 – Neck pickup, full hubucking mode
0:21 – Neck pickup, P-90 mode
0:29 – Both pickups in P-90 mode
AX8 set to “Plexi Crunch”
0:33 – Bridge pickup, full humbucking mode
1:14 – Neck pickup, full humbucking mode
Say the words “Gibson SG Modern” and you might imagine some pretty wild permutations of the Gibson solidbody. And certainly, the SG Modern reviewed here is not the same-old cherry-finished mahogany classic we all know. But pull this new model from the case and there’s still an instant “ahhhh!” of recognition. It’s an SG all right, but with numerous player-driven, contemporary features, and a look that leaps decades beyond its early-’60s origins.
Gibson bills the SG Modern as “a hybrid between SG and Les Paul.” And, indeed, it’s an appealing option for players who have always been drawn to the radical, devil-horned design and specifications that appear elsewhere in Gibson’s model range.
The most overt case of Les Paul/SG hybridization is found in the SG Modern’s AA-flamed maple cap and solid mahogany body. This combination is sometimes favored for its clarity and snap when compared to a mahogany-only body (although the thinner SG body and higher double-cut neck joint mean a maple-capped SG will always sound a bit different than a thicker maple-capped Les Paul). For many players, the maple will be about looks as much as anything, and the lovely slice of book-matched flame, beautifully accented in the Blueberry Burst finish, is eye-catching to say the least. It also looks great with the nifty clear top-hat knobs.
Modern features go beyond the tonewood shake-up. The SG Modern sports 24 medium-jumbo frets rather than the vintage-spec 22. The traditional 24.75" scale length is retained, but the neck profile is shaped by a sweetly ergonomic asymmetrical Slim Taper carve, which retains a little more meat under the thumb side of the hand to fit more naturally in the palm. Personally, I was never a big fan of Gibson’s Slim Taper profile in general—though plenty of players enjoy it—and this great-feeling shape almost deserves an entirely new name. The bound ebony fretboard has a compound radius for comfortable chording down low and choke-free bending up high, with a 1.695" Graph Tech nut, and genuine mother-of-pearl trapezoid inlays.
Hardware includes a Nashville Tune-o-matic bridge and aluminum stopbar tailpiece, plus locking Grover Rotomatic tuners, all in chrome. And while you’d expect coil-splitting on any SG called “modern,” the Burstbucker Pro neck (7.71k ohm) and hotter Burstbucker Pro+ bridge (8.56k ohm) do things a little differently: Rather than dumping one coil to ground for a thin (and often, disappointing) single-coil tone, the push-pull switching on each volume control adds a small capacitor that revoices one coil for P-90-like sound without any notable drop in output. In addition, while still made to generally PAF-like specifications, the Burstbucker Pros feature potted coils to combat feedback at high volumes.
The SG Modern arrived nicely set up and played easily right out of the case, with a medium-low action. The frets feel well polished under the fingers, although their over-the-binding ends are just a little sharp in places as you run up and down the fretboard. Tested through a Friedman Small Box head with a 2x12" cabinet and a Fractal AX8 into a rehearsal-sized PA rig, the SG Modern sounded, well, a little Les Paul-like perhaps. And my ears definitely tell me there’s a little more maple-y bite and snap all around. But mostly it’s just a raging, raw, rocking SG through and through, which is, needless to say, a load of fun.
Some players might feel otherwise, but personally I’m glad Gibson didn’t load the SG Modern with high-output humbuckers. The Burstbucker Pros handle high-gain amp settings without the slightest squeal of complaint, so you can wail all you like, but there’s still plenty of PAF-like clarity and crispness, tasty depth, and great dynamic range.
Played clean, the SG Modern delivers the thick sweetness and surprising capacity for jangle that vintage-spec’d Gibsons possess. But the guitar really shines when I kick on the Friedman’s lead channel, or dial up the “Plexi Crunch” setting on the Fractal. The ride gets raw and furious fast, and the SG feels very much in its element. It’s difficult to say whether the gnarlier, slightly scooped tones accessed by lifting the push-pull switches are authentically P-90 without the real thing for an A/B comparison. But they’re an enjoyable alternative, for sure. They’re likely more useful than most pseudo-single-coil splits I’ve used, and they are particularly snarky and full of attitude at semi-clean to crunchy amp settings.
The SG Modern is a great all-around guitar—everything you’d want from a high-performance SG, and probably a little more. Whether or not the SG Modern’s style appeals to you will be a matter of taste, of course, but the concept is well executed, fit and finish are great (a few snaggy fret ends aside), and it is undeniably a fun, ferocious guitar to play. This is a 21st-century rock ’n’ roll axe writ large, with boatloads of attitude, easy playability, and impressive sonic versatility.
Watch the First Look video: