Gibson SG Standard with Min-ETune Review
Not So standard!
The SG Standard is a legendary guitar that doesn't need an introduction. It's one of Gibson's best sellers, played by some of the best guitar players like Angus Young, Pete Townshend and Franck Zappa to name just a few. But the SG we have here is a bit special because it features the Min-ETune system for automatic guitar tuning! Let's look into the details...
We all know the Gibson Robot, launched at the end of 2007. Gibson's idea was to perpetuate its traditional model while adding a pioneer tuning technology. However, everyone knows that a new concept never stays unchanged, and Gibson engineers decided to refine it. The result is this new SG model.
Before getting to the high-tech features, let's focus on the crucial aspects of such an instrument: building quality, pickups and sound! The SG will impress as soon as you open the black hardcase with white internal padding that matches perfectly the elegant, clear and bright color of the guitar.
The SG has kept its "diabolic" shape with its pair of small chamfered horns. The common HC finish (Heritage Cherry) is replaced by a superb CW finish (Classic White) covered by a beautiful, bright and transparent nitrocellulose lacquer. However, do note that you should take special care of the latter because it's soft and delicate, which means it can react to plastic and rubber materials used in some guitar stands, as well as to some cleaning solutions that are too aggressive. I do no wish to put guitar stand manufacturers down, but I have personally had some unpleasant incidents with stands that leave marks on guitar lacquers. In my experience, only Hercules stands (equipped with a special soft foam) leave no mark at all. You can imagine how furious I was when I took my guitar from a stand after it had been sitting there some time just to find out that I had to take it to my guitar specialist!
The thin massive mahogany body promises a lively and dynamic tone that will seduce people looking for a crunchy rock sound.
The massive mahogany set neck features a rosewood fretboard. Its thin shape, inspired by the instruments sold in the 60's and called "60's Slim Taper" (800" at 1st fret, 875" at 12th fret), guarantees an easy and fast playing. The scale length is 24.75" (628.65 mm) with a 12" radius (304.8 mm) and a width of 1.659" (43.05 mm) at the nut.
The fingerboard features 22 medium-jumbo frets and classic trapezoidal inlays. Like all Gibson guitars, the truss rod access is hidden by a black plate attached to the headstock, just behind the nut. The headstock and the pickguard are small, once again in pure 60's tradition, which is quite seducing. The overall balance is good, and it's a real pleasure to play it in a standing position. Unplugged, string vibrations spread along the whole guitar, the resonance is good, which makes us anticipate a refined tone and feel when the beast is connected to an amp.
Both pickups are Classic 57 humbuckers equipped with Alnico2 magnets. You can fine tune the pickup height by (un)screwing two fixation screws on the pickup sides.
Both pickups are controlled by a three-way toggle switch. "Treble" is for the bridge pickup, while "Rhythm" is for the neck pickup. Usually called "Medium", the center position activates both pickups at the same time. Next to the pickguard, you'll find four controls for level and tone settings (two controls per pickup). For the sound samples, all four controls were fully open.
The Classic 57 pickups give quite good results, regardless of whether its clean, overdriven or distorted sound. These pickups have a smooth and deep tone with a lot of character. If you start driving the lead channel hot while playing hard with the bridge pickup, you get very powerful rock riffs with a kind of round and warm shape in the low-mids.
Listen to the following sound examples recorded using a Boss DS-2 stompbox to get a slight saturation and a heavy distortion.
But let's get to the point...
The Min-ETune machine heads!
The time has come to see if it's really an innovation or just a toy! Before answering the question, we must mention that Gibson's intention is to offer accurate tuning while improving the overall sustain with this model. That sounds good, but how does that translate in the real world?
First of all, the guitar is equipped with a classic stopbar+tune-o-matic bridge that host the strings perfectly.
The headstock is what's unique! The heart of this technology is a small box attached to the back of the headstock between the two rows of vintage-style tuners.
This is the brand new "Min-ETune" system. At first sight, it seems pretty difficult to use, but it isn't. You can recognize the six letters that represent the strings in a standard tuning: E-A-D-G-B-E. So you have the high E-string on the left and the low E-string on the right. In the lower right corner, a button gives you access to the menu. Just press the button once to enter the menu. The letters will light on showing the current tuning. Press the button again to enter the selection menu. To select a different tuning use the cross pad and validate your selection pressing "enter" on the center of the pad. And that's it!
Two different colors allow you to select one of the 12 factory tunings: Standard, OPEN E, DADGAD, OPEN A, LOW D, OPEN D, DROP D, OPEN G, Eb, DOBRO, DOUBLE DROP D and ALL 4th. A third color (blue) allows you to store up to six additional tunings of your choice in the internal memory.
I must admit that, in order to be able to write this review, I needed to read the user's guide carefully (provided with the guitar and available on Gibson's website) in order to perfectly understand how the system works and which combinations are possible.
For the following examples I chose different open tunings, which actually highlighted a disadvantage. The guitar is originally stringed with a 10-46 set. With some open tunings, you'll feel some looseness, which means the instrument is not always perfect in tune. You'll hear this in the 6th example, especially with open chords. The original string set is perfect for standard tuning but might prove inadequate with alternate tunings. Is there a string set that allows you to exploit all tuning possibilities of this particular instrument? I'm not sure. Another crucial point is: you can adjust the machine heads manually any time. I expected the system not to allow me to turn the tuners, but I was wrong. However, I was disconcerted by something: all three low-string tuners must be turned in counter direction to standard Gibson models. Notwithstanding, after several hours of playing and some swearing, it all becomes quite intuitive.
This Gibson SG has certainly inherited all legendary aspects from the original. The Classic 57 humbuckers of this standard model produce a tone that is both sharp and expressive. With its state-of-the-art tuning technology, this guitar has a very wide sound range... Almost perfect. The chrome hardware and white finish with nitrocellulose covering make a very good impression.
The instrument was set properly, the neck feels very pleasant and makes rhythm and lead playing a breeze. Every musician ought to feel happy with this guitar. Just take care to string it with the right string gauge for the open tunings you use most frequently. The average street price is €1,400. Don't hesitate to give it a try: you'll be pleasantly surprised by its possibilities and musicality.