50th Anniversary 1961 SG Special P90 Limited Edition review by Epiphone

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  • Features: 9
  • Sound: 9
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 7
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8.2 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.5 (2 votes)
Epiphone: 50th Anniversary 1961 SG Special P90 Limited Edition

Purchased from: Rockshop

Features — 9
Chinese made 50th Anniversary (of SG) model produced in 2011 only. It's a replica of the early '60s Gibson SG Special, with Alnico P90 pick-ups and a "Lightning Bar" compensated wrap around bridge/tailpiece. The model has a Mahogany body and set Mahogany neck with a 1960's D-Profile. The neck is bound and it has period correct Wilkinson ivory button tuners. Mine is ebony in color, they were also available in white, cherry and TV yellow. It has the usual 2 volume and tone controls and pickup selector switch. Completely different guitar from the bolt-neck Specials Epi also sell.

Sound — 9
I mainly play blues hard rock style, punk, grunge sort of stuff. I don't use effects and play plugged straight in. At the moment I have a JTM 1 combo and a Vox Lil' Night Train. The JTM gives some great '60s crunch/distortion (e.g. Townshend), but dials back to some nice blues tones as well. The LNT has a lot more gain potential and will go from spangly cleans through great power pop crunch to '70s hard rock/metal (think early Sabbath) sounds. I find it makes the best distorted sounds on the LNT with the gain set between 10 and 2 o'clock. The JTM generally just sounds better the more it is turned up, whatever the guitar.

Action, Fit & Finish — 7
This guitar got rid of all my prejudices about Chinese made Epis. Played unplugged it resonates beautifully. I'd rate the factory setup about 7/10. Action, intonation was reasonably good. One of the vol pots is a little scratchy. Everything else was fine. I was pretty happy with it out of the box, but after a few months playing, I sent it for a basic set up. The luthier couldn't find much wrong with it, just lowered the action a bit more and fine tuned the intonation. I had tried two other of these guitars before I bought mine and they were consistent in the factory set up.

Reliability & Durability — 8
I don't gig but I don't see any reason why this guitar would not withstand being played live as long as the usual SG care points re. The neck and head stock joints are observed. The strap buttons are fine and everything else about it seems reasonably solid. One thing with SG's they can be a little neck heavy but you can get around that with a good quality leather strap. The finish is just black polyurethane I think. It has a good gloss and is a solid color unlike some of the translucent colored finishes Epi have today. I can't stand the matt finishes on some of the cheaper Gibsons these days.

Overall Impression — 8
Been playing on and off for 40 years. Previously had a Gibson SG, Rickenbacker 330, a couple of Strats and Mesa Boogie MK2 C. In recent years I only play at home so "downsized" and am having a lot of fun getting into small valve amps and have a few different Epiphones, mainly SG's but also a Firebird 5 and an Explorer. The '61 P90 and my '61 LP/SG Custom are my favorites and great for playing the types of music I want to play now. These guitars are great value for money and are way better quality than the "cheap" guitars that were available when I was young. If anything happened to this guitar I would definitely replace it. In fact I'm keeping my eye out for a white or TV Yellow example to keep it company.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I got a barely used one in trans cherry red on mahogany. No faults to speak of. Short scale is nice. Wilkinsons are 14:1, but smooth and no backlash. I sorta' like them. Mine needs the nut slots barely deeper and pickups adjusted for height/angle and polepieces adjusted to get string to string balance. I find that improves stock sound easily 15-20%. Wrapover bridge has intonation adjustment Allen screws. The switch at the lower edge (forward of bridge pickup controls) is a good placement. I will take the w/b/w edged pickguard and tint the edge from white to pale yellow to get closer to the switch tip and give a more vintage look. For $300 nearly new, with a sharp padded Epi bag, it's a good guitar and easy to flip for a profit of 70-100 bucks.
    ... I realized that P90 pickups have 2 bar magnets per pickup that are easily replaceable. So if the bridge pickup is a bit harsh with alnico 5 magnets, get 1 or 2 of alnico 2,3,4 and use a combination of alnico5+alnico3, for example. The magnets are cheap and usually have an edge colored (red, green, blue) to denote the type (alnico 2, etc.). Be sure to orient the new magnets just like the stock one so as to avoid getting the phase wrong. So you might find that this stock guitar needs a bridge P90 sound a bit more vintage and smooth. Do research to see what magnets will improve it. I Find the stock neck P90 is quite good into a '73 Princeton Reverb with very good speaker. So I can tell easily if the pickups are pretty good ones.