- Learn the history of one of the most iconic Gibson guitars ever made
- Choose a guitar that fits your playstyle after figuring out their lowest and highest points
- What separates an SG from a Les Paul? Find out the differences between these guitars
- While you’re here, check out our shootout between Epiphone Les Paul vs Gibson Les Paul
If you’re a Zeppelin fan, you’ve probably heard Jimmy Page playing a Classic Les Paul in every way imaginable.
Rock fans tend to gravitate more toward SGs and will argue that this is the ultimate guitar with passion.
Even though these guitar models (or better said, series) are made by the same brand, comparing them sometimes feels like comparing apples to oranges, or so it may seem to a layman musician or beginner guitarist.
Today, I will take you on a brief journey through the development of LP and SG guitars, point out their differences, and hopefully help you decide which one better suits your playing style and budget.
SG & Les Paul: What’s The Difference?
The main differences between SG & Les Paul lie in aesthetics and sound.
Although they rock the same pickups, volume controls, and tonewoods, they are different in terms of weight, size, and body shape.
The Les Paul SG was built as an improvement of the LP Standard, although as time went on, Gibson branched the SG series off, and it took a life on its own.
In the following sections, I’ll dissect these differences in more detail, so let’s hop straight to it.
The first Gibson LP was launched in 1952.
Gibson’s top engineers and guitar makers worked with Les Paul at the helm to create what is now considered one of the most prominent game-changing electric guitars of all time.
Technically speaking, there was a time when you could utter the names SG and Les Paul under the same breath, as they used to mean the same thing.
The first Gibson SG was officially launched in 1961, a little over a decade after the first Gibson LP, and it was called “Gibson Les Paul SG.”
As the story goes, the original Les Paul guitars weren’t selling too great in the late 50s and early 60s, as Gibson was losing the market to Fender.
The modernized, subjectively “cooler,” and more convenient playability-wise SG was Gibson’s response, and it kicked off so well that it remains a staple in its catalog today.
Although we now associate the “SG” with the series’ name and shape, it was used to describe the type of guitar – Solid-body Guitar.
The name “Gibson Les Paul SG” remained only for a few years; ever since 1963, this guitar model was renamed the Gibson SG, which is what it’s also called today, and the story behind this move is quite fascinating.
Namely, Gibson proceeded to create this guitar without consulting with Les Paul. He wasn’t particularly impressed by the SG, even after it reached global fame.
As the story goes, Paul instructed Gibson’s professionals to create a sturdy guitar that could withstand decades or entire lifetimes of use when working on the Original LP.
Even though the SG is durable and more flexible, Paul asked Gibson to remove his initials from this guitar.
Ever since the first Les Paul guitar entered the stores, it set the bar for style and aesthetics.
The sleek, polished appearance of a Les Paul Standard exudes power and elegance, but more importantly, it looks universally “cool.”
What separated Les Paul Originals from contemporary 50s and 60s guitars is the broad selection of “burst” finishes, including Honey Burst, Cherry Sunburst, Tobacco Burst, and more.
The main characteristic of all “burst” finishes is that the guitar’s body was painted in one color at the edges, which gradually melds with the second color (usually in shades of yellow or brown).
The Les Paul Standard is used by musicians of all ages and across all music genres (if the guitarist can afford it, though).
With the SGs, Gibson took a sharp turn and almost completely reimagined what their newer Les Paul guitars should look like.
The most notable aesthetic difference between these two guitars is that Gibson SGs feature pointy wings (cutaways) resembling horns.
It should not be a surprise that some of the most iconic rock stars immediately fell in love with this guitar style, most notably Angus Young of AC/DC and Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath.
Another important difference is that SG axes are mainly red-colored and were not graced with “burst” finishes.
Aside from the Special Faded Pelham Blue model, several newer models are available in different colors (SG Modern Blueberry Fade, Kirk Douglas signature), Jimi Hendrix SG Custom, SG Standard ‘61 exclusive).
The subtle differences in design are to ‘blame’ for the distinctly different performance between Les Paul Originals and the SG versions.
The Original LP is a single-cutaway guitar with a smoothly contoured body with a C-shaped fixed neck.
Since real mahogany comprises most of its body, it weighs nearly 10 pounds.
The SG guitar weighs only 6 pounds and is a double-cutaway guitar. Featuring two ‘horns’ and a significantly thinner body (only 1.34 inches), it offers a higher level of playability.
The position of the cutaways on the SG is very important. Namely, the guitar’s upper body has been chopped around the start of the neck, providing simpler and quicker access to the upper frets.
In contrast, the original Gibson LP’s single cutaway starts at the bottom of the neck and rocks a slightly larger gap.
However, its thicker body and heavier weight are not doing it any favors when it comes to shredding or tapping solos.
Another key difference between these two guitars is that Gibson wanted to make a more versatile model with the SG, trimming its neck profile until it was perfectly sleek and slender.
‘All’ frets were slightly easier to access and grip, although such a huge difference may be considered a hindrance among players accustomed to the traditional-styled LP necks.
Tonewoods & Construction
There are only minor differences between SG and Original LP guitars regarding tonewoods.
More specifically, there are a couple of ‘exceptions’ from the general rule that all Gibson axes are crafted in Nashville using the same tonewoods.
Mahogany bodies and rosewood fretboards are the two things that Gibson Les Paul guitars set as the industry standard in the 50s and 60s.
Even when the SG came around, the use of mahogany and rosewood continued, as these woods were proven to be superior to contemporary alternatives when it came to production costs, durability, and sound.
The only difference I could point out in this section is that Les Paul guitars feature quantitatively more wood than SGs.
Since SG guitars rock more rounded bodies with dual cutaways, this slightly impacts their acoustics, which ultimately can affect the sound.
To realize there’s even a hint of tonal disparities between SGs and original LP guitars, you’d need to have a deep understanding of Gibson models or spend years playing them.
It helps when you know what to look for, so let me point you in the right direction; they’re made of the same wood, rock the same pickups, and are in the same facility, so the only thing left is to look at the specs.
The weight of tonewoods has an impact on the sound; it mainly impacts the sustain, but in cases when the differences are above average, the sound has a larger surface to travel across.
There’s a 3-pound gap between a standard LP and a standard SG, not to mention that Les Paul Standard models are considerably larger overall.
This means that the sound has less room to bounce off the body’s walls in an SG, cutting back on some of the sustain.
Consequentially, Gibson’s Les Paul has a fuller sound, for which its larger, heavier body is largely to blame.
I should also point out that the entirety of the official Gibson guitar catalog (as opposed to Gibson subsidiary-made guitars, such as Epiphones) features axes made of superior-quality tonewoods.
The company’s guitar makers request special types of mahogany, rosewood, and other woods and apply special wood-treatment techniques to make them sound as great as they do.
Price & Value
Gibson was and is one of the most famous manufacturers of boutique electric guitars, so people entering its stores shouldn’t expect to spend less than a grand.
Regarding standard editions, Les Paul ‘50 and SG ‘61 are priced at $2,499 and $2,199, respectively.
The remaining LP Standard guitars are priced about the same, except the Les Paul Junior, which costs $1,599.
That’s not the case with SGs, as there are more than a few models at and below $1,500 in Gibson’s catalog.
For instance, the SG Vintage Cherry Special is priced at $1,599, while the SG Standard ‘61 comes at $1,999.
The cheapest Gibson SG is the SG Tribute, which costs $1,299.
If you’re searching for a specific sound or the sound of an artist famous for using a Les Paul or SG, I’d also like to mention the “Artist” series of Gibson LP and SGs.
Regarding Les Pauls, Gibson’s catalog features a couple of Slash versions, Rick Beato, Adam Jones, Peter Frampton, Dave Amato, Lee Roy Parnell, and Joe Perry signatures.
The SG series of Artist’s signature guitars are fairly newer, featuring guitarists such as Kirk Douglas, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, and Brian Ray.
The emphasis on rock and metal music is slightly stronger here.
Les Paul guitars boast unparalleled collection value and an iconic sound. SG guitars are more practical, superior in playability, and offer various modern models.
Lighter weight, easier access to upper frets, and a richer selection of more affordable models make SG guitars more beginner-friendly.
In all fairness, comparing Les Paul Standard to SG Standard is a difficult topic mainly because it’s hard to remain unbiased.
There’s an unwritten rule among guitarists that you ‘have’ to like one or the other, as if loving them both was never an option.
Rock and metal guitarists unanimously prefer SGs, while old-school blues and jazz musicians generally prefer Les Paul Standards.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that you can use both in any genre, style, or music, regardless of how good your other gear pieces are.
That said, I strongly believe you will not make a wrong choice by buying either.
Marginally different in sound and aesthetics, they feature the same tonewoods and hardware, meaning that you could find a Les Paul tone with an SG on the right amp and vice versa.