Vintage Vault: 1961 Gibson SG Special

Carlos Santana, Robby Krieger, and Pete Townshend were among the early champions of the Gibson SG Special—
shown here in its first incarnation.

A first-generation example of the double-P-90 model that Santana played at Woodstock.

By 1960, diminishing sales for Gibson's original Les Paul solidbody guitar line compelled the company to gradually drop the then-current models and replace them with an entirely newly redesigned set. The Les Paul Standard was the first guitar to receive the new treatment, which involved slimming down the mahogany body, discarding the separate maple top, and beveling both outer sides. These comfortably rounded edges were especially important, since they were positioned where a player's arm would rest. The new double-cutaway body left easy access to all 22 frets. The already double-cutaway (since 1958) flat-slab-bodied Les Paul Junior, SG TV, and SG Special (the Les Paul TV and Les Paul Special had been renamed “SG" in late 1959) also received the new slim shape and contours during 1961. This whole group of guitars became known as the SG series when Les Paul's endorsement ended in 1963. The SG Special's early catalog description explained the important details:

When the Les Paul Special was reconfigured into the SG Special in 1961, its flat slab design was altered to include graduated edging, making access to the highest frets easier and creating a more comfortable profile
for resting the picking arm.

• Slim, fast, low-action neck with exclusive extra-low frets, joins body at 22nd fret

• Rosewood fingerboard, pearl dot inlays

• One-piece mahogany neck, adjustable truss rod

• Combination metal bridge and tailpiece, adjustable horizontally and vertically

• Twin powerful pickups with separate tone and volume controls, which can be pre-set

• Three-position toggle switch to activate either or both pickups

• 12 3/4" wide, 17 1/4" long, 1 3/4" thin, 24 3/4" scale, 22 frets

This example's classic '60s-profile Gibson headstock has the patina of its years. The slightly bent tuning key indicates this guitar was more likely played than kept in a closet.

The 1961 SG Special pictured here has the early features particular to the first half of that year. These include a level neck joint transition on the back where the body and neck meet—which proved unstable and was replaced with a ledge that became more prominent after 1962—and a slanted combination bridge tailpiece, which was replaced at the end of '61 with a compensated tailpiece with the studs parallel to the pickups. This example also has a TV Yellow finish, which was standard on the model before the change to the thin body shape. The color was replaced later in the year by an opaque creamy white. The 1961 list price was $210. The current value for one in excellent all-original condition is $7,500.

Artists known for using Gibson SG Specials for recordings and live work are Carlos Santana, Robby Krieger from the Doors, and Pete Townshend from the Who.

Sources for this article include Gibson Electrics: The Classic Years by A.R. Duchossoir, Gibson Guitars: Ted McCarty's Golden Era, 1948-1966 by Gil Hembree, and The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy, 1915-1963 by Robb Lawrence.

Name: John Nania
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Bass: Blade Runner Bass

The emerging parts market in the ’80s, a luthier friend, and a cousin who studied acoustic engineering helped this bassist create a one-of-a-kind instrument.

Thank you for allowing us to share our bastardized beauties with you. I built this bass with the help of my friend Drew in 1980 or ’81. It was an instrument born out of necessity. Stock instruments of the time weren’t keeping up with the musical progressions that were happening in the ’70s and ’80s, so if you wanted to advance your art, you had to get creative. Fortunately, parts manufacturers and inventive minds were there to accommodate.
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See a sampling of picks used by famous guitarists over the years.

Marty Stuart

Submit your own artist pick collections to for inclusion in a future gallery.

My years-long search for the “right” Bigsby-outfitted box finally paid off. Now how do I make this sumbitch work in my band?

Considering the amount of time I’ve spent (here and elsewhere) talking about and lusting after Gretsch hollowbody guitars, it’s taken me a remarkably long time to end up with a big Bigsby-outfitted box I truly love. High-end Gretsches are pricey enough that, for a long time, I just couldn’t swing it. Years ago I had an Electromatic for a while, and it looked and played lovely, but didn’t have the open, blooming acoustic resonance I hoped for. A while later, I reviewed the stellar Players Edition Broadkaster semi-hollow, and it was so great in so many ways that I set my sights on it, eventually got one, and adore it to this day. Yet the full-hollowbody lust remained.

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