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Differences among guitars
May 9, 2005 10:25 AM   Subscribe

What, technically speaking, is generally the difference between, say, a $700 Gibson SG and a $2200 Gibson SG? "You just gotta feel it man" wouldn't really help!
posted by xmutex to Technology (14 answers total)
 
Well, I can tell you that I have a 2004 SG standard (retail $1149 with Gibson case), and it is a beautiful, well-put-together instrument. One-piece mahogany body (or extremely well-matched multiple-piece), "mother-of-pearl" block inlays, bound fretboard, beautiful finish. It plays like a dream; this is the only guitar I have ever played that really just feels like it plays itself ("you just gotta feel it, man").

On the other hand, the $650 SG Faded Special is also a fine instrument. Those have 3-piece (usually) bodies, which are usually well-matched, but have a thinner finish (which some people prefer), dot inlays, and are unbound. Those usually come without a case (or maybe with a gigbag, which I think is entirely insufficient to protect a $700 guitar). They'll play (in all likelihood) just like the Standard for much, much cheaper.

Other than aesthetics, the main difference is the type of pickups. The Special comes with 490R and T, while the Standard comes with 490R and 498T, so the bridge pickup is a bit hotter and rougher. I like the 490/498 combo better, but you could always add a 498T to your Special. The Classics come with P-90 pickups, which are an entirely different animal with an entirely different sound.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:40 AM on May 9, 2005


Do either the $700 SG or the $2200 SG come with sealed-gear tuners yet? Or do you just plan on replacing the tuners on a Gibson no matter how much you spend?
posted by jfuller at 10:55 AM on May 9, 2005


What is a sealed gear tuner?
posted by xmutex at 11:02 AM on May 9, 2005


Sealed tuner vs. open tuner.

A sealed tuner has fewer parts exposed to the contaminants of the outside world and purports to offer smoother and more stable action when tuning. An open tuner is lighter and simpler but has the possibility of getting gunked up. Also, things get caught in an open tuner.
posted by stet at 11:11 AM on May 9, 2005


Don't quote me on it, but I'm pretty sure these are the tuners on my SG. In any case, they are sealed.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2005


While in the case of these SG's it might be specifically true to say
They'll play (in all likelihood) just like the Standard for much, much cheaper.
That's not true for other Gibsons. The ~$600 original list price Gibson Les Paul Studio I bought used plays fine, but it is not nearly as nice as other higher end models I've auditioned. I am sure that replacing the pick-ups would get me closer in tone, but not in feel. A large part off the cost difference is definitely the prettier hardware, but there is more to it.

If you play guitar you can probably try 'em out at your local Guitar Center. Just really make it seem like you want to buy one and they won't give you any guff.
posted by mzurer at 11:23 AM on May 9, 2005


Also note that the Epiphone SGs will be cheaper (and lower-quality) than the Gibson SGs. The main difference is that all of the Epiphone models are produced overseas, while the Gibson guitars are made here in the US.

Strangely enough, I like my $1K 2004 Les Paul Studio better than a "vintage reissue" $2.5K '57 Les Paul "gold top" that I tried. It's really all about what you like best.
posted by mrbill at 12:17 PM on May 9, 2005


"the Epiphone SGs will be cheaper (and lower-quality) than the Gibson SGs"

Not quite true. The Epiphone Elitist '61 SG Standards (as well as other Epiphone Elitist models) have gotten great reviews. Over the last couple years, imported guitars have been rivaling the quality of domestic made guitars at half the price or less.

Also, have you picked up a $200 Squier lately? They aren't the joke they once were. Still not pro grade, true, but damn close.
posted by mischief at 1:39 PM on May 9, 2005


> Don't quote me on it, but I'm pretty sure these are the tuners on my SG.

Those are typical Gibson/Epiphone tuners: open-gear with a dust cover. Note the little hole for inserting a lubricant needle. Sealed-gear tuners are reallyo-truelyo sealed, the lubricant is inside and you can't add to it.

> Strangely enough, I like my $1K 2004 Les Paul Studio better than a "vintage
> reissue" $2.5K '57 Les Paul "gold top"

Likewise, I like my used Epiphone LP much more than the Gibson Standard I also have. I'm not afraid to mess around with the Epi, e.g. by drilling the peghead for Grover tuners, replacing the pickups with Seymour Duncans, refinishing it (three times; the first try was crap, the second so-so-OK and the third looks professional), filing down the nut notches, cranking the action too high, then too low, then just right, etc. etc.

On the same principle, the best photos I ever took were taken with a $150 Mamiya SLR and lately a $250 Fuji Finepix, while the Leica M3 I inherited from my dad sits in its box because I'm afraid to carry it.
posted by jfuller at 2:00 PM on May 9, 2005


damn... all this talk reminds me I need to trade in the ol' Flying V.

Dag, I want a Strat badly and in the worst way... I'm gonna have to keep on dreaming for a while.
posted by indiebass at 2:00 PM on May 9, 2005


> damn... all this talk reminds me I need to trade in the ol' Flying V.

Just a suggestion, but you might want to give a listen to this before you definitely decide to dump that V.
posted by jfuller at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2005


> The Epiphone Elitist '61 SG Standards (as well as other Epiphone Elitist models) have gotten great reviews.

The Elitist models are quite above most of the Epiphone stuff that's dumped on the market, in fit, finish, quality, and price.
I'd rate the Elitist instruments up there with the made-in-USA Gibson instruments.

> Also, have you picked up a $200 Squier lately?

I have. Played it for a month or so while debating a Strat-style to go along with the Les Paul, replaced it with a near-identical made-in-Mexico Fender Strat, and then gave the Squier to a local kid who couldn't afford a decent guitar. It was cheaper to just buy a "real" Fender on sale at Guitar Center than to replace all the parts on the Squier to make it a "nice" instrument, but they're certainly wonderful for people just starting out.

My favorite guitar (just because I'd wanted one for the past ten years) has to be my Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster.
posted by mrbill at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2005


I think what mutex is getting at.. is what's the difference between any make of guitar available for various prices.

Binding
It costs money, more if it is fancy.

Finish
Certain vintage colors and/or patterns are highly sought after. A quality finish is durable and perfect.

Wood choice/matching/pattern
As mentioned, bodies made from two pieces of wood can be matched in color and grain. You either have pieces from the same tree, or sort through wood to find two that match, this costs. The grain can also be exceptional in and of itself.

Various woods have reputations for producing typical tones, when used in different parts of the guitar. In electrics, the fingerboard and body are usually the mentioned items, in accoustics it's everything, top, back, sides.

As lamination technology took leaps and bounds in the 90s, it started to get cheaper and cheaper to buy a beautiful instrument made from cheaper wood.

Pickups
As mentioned.

Machine Heads (Tuners)
As mentioned.

Inlays
The level of detail and material used.

Construction
Hand made, Hand made with machine assistance, machine made but hand assembled.

There are more variables, but a manufacturer can pick and choose what they'd like to focus on, perhaps to meet the price point.

The feel of the instrument is sometimes a shot in the dark, and sometimes the result of great attention in construction. I've played a stack (literally a stack of cardboard boxes) of cheapo accoustics, and you could easily put them in a "good" and "bad" pile.

I am not a uberguitar knowitall, a lot of this is oversimplified and potentially wrong.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 4:57 PM on May 9, 2005


"you could easily put them in a "good" and "bad" pile"

An anecdote I read online a few years ago recounted a conversation with a Gibson salesman. It went something like this: "Below average Les Pauls never make it out of the factory. Of a hundred that pass QC, 90 are average, 8 are above average, and the last two are in my trunk."
posted by mischief at 6:03 PM on May 9, 2005


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