Power and elegance on a diet: a 1965 Gibson SG Custom.
“Players call it the 'Fretless Wonder' for its extremely low frets and fast action. Now it's more wonderful than ever, with a new body design and new features."
That is how the 1964 Gibson catalog described the SG Custom. The SG—for “solid guitar"—body shape came about in late 1960 when Gibson president Ted McCarty decided to revamp the Les Paul line in accordance with then-current trends. Fender's popular Stratocaster and Jazzmaster had slim-contoured double-cutaway bodies, so Gibson followed suit.
The new SG-style Les Paul Standards had thin, 1 5/6" contoured-edge bodies made with lightweight mahogany. The double-cutaway design allowed easy access to all 22 frets. The new, similarly contoured version of the Les Paul Custom had the same-style ebony fretboard, gold hardware, and split-diamond-inlay headstock, but was given a striking new color: “gleaming white," rather than ebony black.
Les Paul chose not to renew his original contract with Gibson in 1962. By 1963, Gibson dropped the Les Paul designation entirely, and the model became known as the SG.
Like the Les Paul Custom models that came before, this SG Custom has three humbuckers and is a “fretless wonder," to borrow Gibson's terminology at the time.
The 1965 SG Custom pictured this month has the features typical of 1963 through 1965 SG Customs. These are outlined in the 1964 Gibson catalog: “Ultra-thin, hand-contoured, double-cutaway body, gold-plated metal parts. New extra-slim, fast, low-action neck—with exclusive low frets—joins body at 22nd fret. One-piece mahogany neck, adjustable truss rod. Ebony fingerboard, deluxe pearl inlays. Adjustable Tune-o-matic bridge. Three powerful humbucking pickups with unique wiring arrangement. Two sets of tone and volume controls. Three-position toggle switch. New deluxe Gibson vibrato."
This model sports Gibson's then-new deluxe vibrato arm, tucked behind a Tune-o-matic bridge. Note the contoured upper bout, which was part of Gibson's effort to compete with Fender's thin-bodied guitars.
The last year for the classic small pickguard that this instrument sports was 1965. By the next year, a large pickguard surrounded the pickups on all sides. A great example of that later look is the 1967 SG Custom played by Jimi Hendrix on The Dick Cavett Show in September 1969. The original list price for a '65 SG Custom was $480. The current value is $10,000.
Contributing to this model's elegant look are a split-diamond-inlay headstock, ebony fretboard, and gold hardware.
The amp behind this month's guitar is a 1964 Gibson GA-19RVT Falcon. It has two 6V6 power tubes pushing 15 watts through a 12" Jensen C12R speaker. The Falcon's original price was $214.50. The current value is $500.
Sources for this article include Gibson Electrics: The Classic Years by A.R. Duchossoir, The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy: 1915–1963 by Robb Lawrence, Gibson Guitars: Ted McCarty's Golden Era: 1948–1966 by Gil Hembree, and Gibson Amplifiers-1933–2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone by Wallace Marx Jr.
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