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Tag: SG

Gibson Walnut SG Standard

1977 Gibson Walnut SG Standard
1977 Gibson Walnut SG StandardGibson Walnut SG Standard made in Kalamazoo, USA in 1977

I recently had the pleasure of having an awesome 1977 Gibson Walnut SG Standard at home to play with. Well the idea was to look over the electronics and make sure it was fit to gig with for Patrycja, a friend of Verushka that I sorted the Hondo II bass for. According to The Guitar Dater Project it was made at the Kalamazoo Plant, USA on December 15th 1977, production number 103. It was great that I got a chance to play around with a Gibson Walnut SG Standard from the Seventies, that’s exactly what I was tempted to get myself, see my previous post about Gibson SG. Luckily I tried one before I bought one and I realised straight away that I still prefer Telecasters, SGs have too much neck for me. It was interesting to try a 1970’s Gibson made in USA just to compare it to all the made in Japan copies in my collection. I have to say that the feel and quality of the Japanese guitars are right up there with the American originals.

1977 Gibson Walnut SG Standard
Everything seems to be original, except one pot, so I thought it was unnecessary to change the original jack just because of a bit of crackle so I cleaned it instead. I cleaned all the contact surfaces with wire wool and contact spray, it seems to be enough. I tightened the pots and all the screws on machine heads, strap buttons, pickguard, pickup rings, bridge and polished up the wood a bit.

1977 Gibson Walnut SG Standard
There was a fairly nasty cut in the edge binding on the 5th fret. You could feel it when you played so I masked it off and then filled it with wood filler, that happened to match in colour, then sanded it smooth and dropped a bit of nitro lacquer over it. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture when it was all done, the last picture is before the lacquer and the final sanding with 2500 grit.

1977 Gibson Walnut SG Standard
Patrycja wanted to keep the dents and scratches to the body and I agreed, it’s nice when a guitar shows it’s real age. However, nobody likes dents in the back of the neck so I did what I could to soften them a bit. I recently learned a great way of removing dents and scratches, or at least making them stand out less. Use a soldering iron and some wet paper folded up, the steam from the iron will make the wood swell and that way make the dent less deep. Sometimes this works extremely well, especially on surface scratches, and sometimes it makes no difference at all so it’s a bit hit and miss but it’s quick and easy and therefore at least worth a try. Make sure you move the soldering iron and just hold it down for a sec to not damage the surface. The last step was to polish the frets and fretboard, put on some lemon oil and then new strings. The action and intonation was already great so I didn’t have to adjust that.

Gibson SG

Gibson SG Gibson advertisement Solid Hit 1961

Gibson SG Custom and Gibson SG Standard 1961 catalogue
Solid hit. Gibson SG Custom and Gibson SG Standard from the 1961 catalogue, They looked a lot less evil back then

I have always had a weird love – hate relationship with the Gibson SG. Even though I really like both AC/DC and Black Sabbath the SG has kind of been ruined, or rather over exposed, through Angus and Toni. A bit like the Fender 52′ Telecaster which feels a lot like Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards, even though neither actually plays a 52′. I have just seen too many young boys playing rock riffs on a Cherry SG Standard or SG Special for considering owning one myself. On top of that my woman thinks they look evil, EVIL I tell you. Then again, imagine an early Seventies walnut SG Deluxe or Custom in it’s worn wood colour. That’s pretty sexy, or even sexier a fancy pants white SG custom with gold hardware. The only problem is that they tend to come with 3 pickups and I can’t play guitars with 3 pickups, I end up hitting the middle one all the time. That’s why I prefer Telecasters instead of Stratocasters, even though I love the sound of the Strats middle pickup, I just keep hitting it and I it’s in the way when I’m trying to chicken / hybrid / whatever you want to call it, pick with my fingers.

1961 Gibson SG/Les Paul Custom
An original 1961 Gibson SG/Les Paul Custom

GIBSON SG 1970 catalogue
GIBSON SG 1970 catalogue

GIBSON SG 1972 catalogue
GIBSON SG 1972 catalogue

I’ve been quite tempted for a while to get myself an old Greco, Ibanez or Tokai SG, ideally white and gold but with just 2 pickups, as explained above. The problem is that most of the Japanese SG’s that shows up on eBay are early 1970’s ones and I don’t think they will live up to my expectations. I doubt that a bolt on neck cherry Avon or Columbus SG copy will stand a chance next to for an example my Greco EG-600 Les Paul Custom from 1980, which makes it a bit silly even if you could get one for 150€.

1972' Greco SG-400
Greco catalogue from 1972, just look at the white and gold Greco SG-400

Keith Richards playing Midnight Rambler on a white Gibson SG Custom at the Nicaragua Benefit, Jan 18th 1973 © Lynn Goldsmith
Keith Richards playing Midnight Rambler on a white Gibson SG Custom at the Nicaragua Benefit, Jan 18th 1973 © Lynn Goldsmith

Jimi Hendrix on a white Gibson SG Custom
Jimi Hendrix on a white Gibson SG Custom

Now we are talking, Keith and Jimi on a white Gibson SG Custom. The guys below looks pretty cool too, even if they went for the more classic Cherry instead of Walnut or white. Well I guess Eric Clapton doesn’t count since he went bananas and had someone on acid paint his.

Duane Allman Gibson SG 1961
Duane Allman with his 1961 Gibson SG

Pete Townsend Gibson SG
Pete Townshend playing a Gibson SG in 1966

George Harrison from The Beatles’ 1964 Gibson SG
George Harrison 1964 Gibson SG

Eric Clapton's
Eric Clapton’s “The Fool” a 1964 Gibson SG

500€ Guitars

Sometimes I wish I was stinking rich so I could buy all the guitars in the world. Then I realise that my life would probably not be that much better just because I had a million guitars. I wouldn’t have time to play them all and after a while I guess nothing really impress you. If you have a couple of Jimi Hendrix Strats in your collection then the Strats that you have that didn’t use to belong to Hendrix would probably feel pretty boring in comparison. I don’t have any really expensive guitars in my collection. Mainly because I’m not rich enough to buy a 1952 Telecaster, a 1964 L Series Strat or a 1958 Sunburst Les Paul, but also because it would be pretty pointless. When would you actually take out an instrument and play it if it was worth ten thousands of Euros? You would be so scared that something happened to it that you just kept it in a vault, like John Entwistle did. Guitars are meant to be played, and adored, but mainly played. I prefer to have guitars that I can use, bring to gigs and rehearse with, as well as hang on the wall and adore at home. Therefore I think guitars for around 500€ are ideal, at least for me. If you know what you are doing you can still get amazing Japanese guitars for 500€, especially on eBay. Expensive enough for having descent quality but cheap enough to replace if something happened to them so you really dare to use them.

John Entwistle shows his amazing guitar and bass collection

Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C A nice example of a guitar worth around 500, well maybe more like 600-700. Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C, Made in Japan, FujiGen 1980

A small part of Slash's guitar collectionA small part of Slash’s guitar collection

Are all Japanese guitars good?

I would say yes and no. Most of the early Japanese guitars I have tried have a rather “toy guitar” feel to them. My Playsound from the late 1960’s is fun to play but it’s a pretty horrible copy of a Telecaster. A lot of Japanese acoustic guitar manufactures jumped on the bandwagon and started to make electric guitars in the mid Sixties since that seemed to be what the kids wanted, here you can read more about Japanese guitar brands. Some of them managed to make pretty decent copies of American Fender’s and Gibson’s and others came up with pretty elaborate and creative designs of their own but in general they weren’t that good guitars. Most of the guitars made in the 1960’s didn’t have that great wood and the hardware was normally pretty weak but sometimes the pickups could be all right. Ry Cooder still prefers the Japanese gold foil pickups for his slide guitars and they have been quite popular in American surf music too, this could simply be because that was what people could afford back in the days. It’s important to remember that a lot of the Japanese guitars in the Sixties were mainly made as cheap entry level instruments for the West, not as elaborate copies of the real deal for professionals as they later became in the Seventies and eighties. Some early Fender and Gibson copies are horrible just because they didn’t have any real American instruments to copy, they had to rely on photos and come up with their own solutions to solve the problems that Leo Fender and the boys had already figured out back in the fifties.

Japanese guitars, MIJ, Made in Japan
The Japanese collection at the moment: Fender Telecaster TL52-75 1987, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977, Greco Spacey Sounds TL-500 1979, Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C 1980, Tokai Love Rock LS-55 1991, VOX Les Paul 1970′s, Hohner Telecaster 1970’s, Hohner Stratocaster 1970′s, Tokai Silver Star SS-36 1979, Jazz Bass 1978, Fender Squier 1993, Maya F335G 1970’s, K.Yairi TG-40 1977, Morris WL-40 1973, Morris WL-35 1970’s

The big change came around 1972-74, this is also when most Japanese guitar manufacturers started to put serial numbers on their instruments. Lack of serial numbers could be a good indicator of the quality, or rather the lack of quality, of an instrument but not always. There are amazing Matsumoku made Greco’s that were made in the early Seventies that lack serial numbers. I would say that most Japanese guitar makers, or at least the successful ones, started to get it right around 1972-74. Especially the Fender copies but also the Les Pauls started to really feel and sound like the real deal around this time. Most copies in the sixties were either Stratocasters / Telecasters or SG’s / 335’s, and unfortunately most of them were pretty cheaply made. In the early Seventies Stratocasters kept being popular but most makers started to try to make Les Paul’s now as well, most with bolt on neck, and some with pretty good result. Some makers kept on making low cost instruments for export and others started to make amazing quality instruments that wasn’t particularly cheap at the time. The model number is often a giveaway of the original price so my Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N would have cost ¥50 000 back in 1977 when it was made, that’s around $500. This is not true for all brands but a lot of them started in the mid-70’s to price the instruments after the model number, or rather the other way around, and this is probably the easiest way of determining the quality of a Japanese instrument. I’m not sure what an American made Gibson Les Paul Custom cost back in the mid-70’s but if one of Greco’s top of the line like the EG-1500 cost ¥150 000 that would have been a huge investment back then, around $1500. The second hand value today, at least for the famous brands like Greco, Tokai, Ibanez and Fernandes, is roughly what they cost new. A Greco EG-500 Les Paul copy tend go for 500-700€ on eBay, the same for Tokai and Fernandes, slightly less for unknown brands. A Les Paul tend to be worth a bit more than a Stratocaster, I guess because they made more Stratocasters so they are more common or maybe it’s just because Les Paul’s are more popular today. Rare models, don’t trust people who say that the guitar they are selling is rare on eBay, I mean really rare and high end models tend to cost like a real Fender or Gibson from that time.

So what is so good with Japanese guitars? I would say the wood and the craftsmanship. Americans got really sloppy and so did the European manufactures when the productions became too big in the Seventies. Cheap Japanese made guitars, at least after the mid-Seventies, are still really well made. They tend to have good solid wood, great weight and sustain and an amazing quality feel to them. This is of course not true for all of them but at least the Japanese guitars I have played have had a great feel to them. When they made budget instruments in Japan during the Seventies and the Eighties they didn’t cut cost on wood and workmanship, only on hardware and electronics and that’s fairly cheap and easy to upgrade yourself. The best guitars I have are all made in Japan around 1980, that seems to be the height of Japanese guitar manufacturing.

Japanese guitars Playsound (Teisco) 1960’s, CSL (Charles Summerfield Ltd) 1980’s, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977

The Playsound guitar was labeled as Audition on the amp and Playsound on the guitar, a beginners set made by Teisco in the Sixties and sold by Woolworth in the UK. I found the whole kit very cheap in a charity shop in South Woodford, UK, the first guitar I bought to collect rather than play. CSL was made by Ibanez in the Fujigen factory and relabeled CSL (Charles Summerfield Ltd) for their UK import. I found it in a second hand shop in Spain in a terrible state so I bought it and cleaned it up and gave it as a present to cheer my girlfriend up after a hospital stay, so techincally not part of my guitar collection. Pretty classic Ibanez head from the 1980’s so clearly made after the 1977 lawsuit. Amazing neck, good feel in general but pretty weak pickups and cheap hardware. The Greco was imported straight from Japan last year, the first guitar I actually bought from outside EU. Amazing Fujigen built Thinline copy, strong original Maxon pickups but not too dark for being humbuckers and with a really fat neck, just as I like it.