Gibson SGM

Continuing my series of guitar reviews, I’m going back to the Gibson SGM, which I bought from Fab Music back in 2019. Despite dithering over this purchase, and coming back for it 6 months later, it has turned out to be one of my most-used guitars.

Gibson SGM

It’s a Gibson 120th Anniversary edition (2014) SGM, to be precise. The M in SGM stands for Min-eTune, the infamous electronic tuning system. It’s based on the bottom-of-the-range SG Junior. And, while it’s not one of the finest examples of Gibson’s work that you’ll ever see, it suits me just fine as a no-nonsense lightweight humbucker with 24 frets and a nice set-up. Plus, I finally own a Gibson.

It’s not pretty. The cherry finish is patchy, and the fretboard rosewood is grainy and weird, but when a guitar plays this well, I can overlook its cosmetics. The ’61-style zebra Alnico V humbuckers have a nice warm punchy sound suited to clean or distorted tones, and the slim C profile satin neck and double-cut body makes light work of accessing all 24 frets.

Due to its light weight (6.6lb/3kg), you hardly know you’re carrying it. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to affect its sustain much — maybe it’s the glued neck joint. And, once I’d replaced the awful Min-eTune with a set of Kluson vintage-style tulip-buttoned tuners, not only is the guitar lighter, but the headstock is less prone to dive-bombing (a common SG complaint).

The modern narrow/tall frets take a bit of getting used to, but as its last set-up included a good fret polish, this actually makes my heavier touch a bit easier. Like my Kasuga Deluxe, the string spacing at the bridge is around 50mm and the nut is 43mm wide. Coupled with the standard Gibson 24.75″ scale, this makes any Les Paul player right at home, with a slightly slinkier compact feel.

I’m glad this ugly duckling stayed in the shop for my return.


George and Leo ASAT Special

My recent purchase of an Epiphone Sheraton II was an accident. I’d actually gone shopping for an archtop semi-acoustic guitar, and failed miserably. I still don’t know if I haven’t yet found the right one, or perhaps archtops just aren’t my thing. The Sheraton was more appealing, and I still had quite a few more new guitars to try out before the wallet was ready.

I was offered a play on a shiny new Fender Telecaster, but I wasn’t impressed. Before moving on, Jason (main man at Fab Music Store) pointed out the G & L guitar directly below it. It was a plain-looking T-style guitar I hadn’t even noticed.

G & L ASAT Special

G & L? The name vaguely rang a bell. Then it came to me: I had read about G & L in The Birth of Loud, a book about the history of the electric guitar. The name comes from George Fullerton and Leo Fender, the guys who grew Fender Guitars from a radio shop into a huge international success, selling it to CBS in 1965.

The ASAT looked like a Fender Telecaster, but with three main differences:

  • The headstock shape was subtly changed, to avoid being an obvious copy.
  • The pickups looked plastic and nasty.
  • The bridge/tail was completely redesigned, having six saddles and being very compact.

Well, it’s not pretty, but I thought I should at least give it a try. That’s when the grin started — it played and sounded great. It seemed that those ugly duckling pickups were actually magnificent swans. They sounded hot, and they had bags of attitude, like beefy single coils with muscle.

ASAT Special bridge and Jumbo MFD pickup

The combined 6-saddle bridge and top-loading hard tail didn’t exactly look premium either. But it is a solid piece of metal, and neatly overcomes a couple of t-style design flaws. Firstly, the 6 saddles make it easier to fine tune the guitar’s intonation — something I am particularly sensitive to. Secondly, a locking Allen key removes any lateral movement in the saddles, making a significant difference to sustain.

Add to this a mahogany body and a 9 inch radius rosewood fretboard, and it starts to feel like something quite special, which is maybe why they called it the ASAT Special.

But, why ASAT? Apparently, they wanted to call it a Broadcaster, after the original 2-pickup Telecaster. But Gretsch intervened (again) over copyright grounds, because they have a trademark on Broadkaster. George and Leo had a well known penchant for space age names, and they liked the sounded of ASAT, the anti-satellite missile.


Epiphone Sheraton II

Recently, I saw a baby blue Gretsch archtop for sale in a Facebook post by my local guitar shop Fab Music Store. As I had already given up once on the idea of buying an archtop, I thought I should at least try a Gretsch. So off to Fab Music I went.

At the risk of repeating myself, despite being prepared for a purchase, it didn’t work out that way. The Gretsch was nice, but it wasn’t amazing. So I thought, while I was in the shop for the first time in months, I might as well try a few more guitars, shouldn’t I?

Epiphone Sheraton II VS

I was disappointed that the Hofner Verythin CT which I’d tried during my last visit had been sold. I wasn’t looking for a semi-hollow body then either, but I had taken a shine to it anyway. This time, I decided to try a few ‘335-alikes’. And, very soon, I had taken a shine to an Epiphone Sheraton II VS.

I’d never really seen the point of these sort of guitars. They look nice, sure, but what’s the point of body cavities and f-holes if they don’t project much sound? I didn’t worry too much about this at first, because it was really nice to play. Plugged in, it sounded rich and smooth, without being overly bassy or dull. And the sustain was remarkable.

A look at the specifications, and it’s rather un-remarkable. Made in China, it’s a fairly standard maple and mahogany build with a 22-fret Gibson scale and PAF-style Alnico pickups. It’s finished nicely though, despite the gaudy gold hardware, and the 12″ radius slim set neck is a delight. It’s a big guitar, weighing in at 4.0kg (8.8lb). So maybe size does matter.

I tried a few more guitars, one of which I really liked [more on this another time], but I finally came back to the Epiphone, and the Gretsch went back on the wall. I took the Sheraton home with me.

It needed a bit of work on the nut, neck relief adjustment, and a tidy up of the routing and a minor setup. Now it’s my go-to guitar for a rich mature treacly sound.


Rathbone No. 3 Rosewood Acoustic

Evidently, GAS* has set in over the last 2 years. In addition to my old faithful Kasuga, I’d acquired a Fender, a Gibson, and now an electric 12-string. With GAS, you soon realise that there is always another type of guitar you don’t own. For me, it was a hollow-body. So, not long after the strings had been broken-in on my last purchase, I was back to the guitar shop in search of an electric archtop, like a Guild, a Gretsch, or a Hofner.

It didn’t work out that way. There was only one archtop in the shop, and I didn’t like it. I tried a couple of semi-hollow bodies, but they didn’t make enough noise unplugged. So, we tried a different approach, and looked at acoustic guitars.

Rathbone #3 SRCE

For some unexplained reason, I’ve never been a fan of acoustic guitars. I’ve owned two: an entry-level Spanish, and a 12-string dreadnought (RIP), which I upgraded with a pickup. If I was going to buy an acoustic, it had to be plug-in ready.

So, Jason at Fab Music Store started handing me guitars from the wall, and I started rating them — warmer, colder, warmer, HOT, colder, warmer…

I settled on a Rathbone No. 3 Grand-Auditorium from Barnes and Mullins. This particular model has a Sitka spruce top, rosewood back and sides, and a mahogany neck. Unlike most of the other guitars, it had plenty of balls, but without being boomy or muddy.

It has a sub-bridge piezo pickup, wired up to an active preamp with 3-band EQ (parametric mid), notch filter, phase inverter, ‘brightness’, and an accurate tuner.

Apparently, Grand-Auditorium is the biggest size there is before you get into Jumbo/Dreadnought territory. And this understated guitar can certainly belt it out, but in a crisp, clear and controlled manner. The cutaway means that I can reach the top frets too. Out came the credit card again, and as soon as I got home, the now well-used cardboard box of guitar tools came out too.

Being used to electric guitars with low action, I was struggling a bit with the Rathbone, with its high action and 15 inch fretboard radius, even after adjusting the neck relief. A bit of research, and I decided to risk lowering the bridge. The only way to do this was to sand the underside of the bone bridge, being careful to keep it perfectly flat. A couple of 0.5mm sandings later, and it was where I wanted it. No buzz, plays nicely, and the pickup still works fine.

All I need now is to learn a few party songs.

[* GAS = Gear Acquisition Syndrome ]