Price paid: £ 450
Purchased from: eBay
Features — 7
The '60s Tribute is a USA made entry level Gibson SG from 2013, in the £700 - £800 market range. I am reviewing a 2012 serial in vintage sunburst which I have not owned from new, and as such cannot comment on the factory setup, but I have owned it long enough to have obtained a good balanced impression of it.
Pretty standard SG, just with 24 frets unlike the real SG's of the 1960's. As with most Gibsons, if you are not acquainted with them, you get a 24.75" (short) scale, and a rather round fingerboard radius, which makes chording more comfortable.
You get a mahogany neck and mahogany body with rosewood fingerboard, which makes for a very dark tone that unfortunately sounds very dead to my ears. The mahogany is a very dark wood, and my taste prefers the treble added by the maple cap on a Les Paul. The SG is generally less resonant than a Les Paul, and my particular one does not sustain as well either. Interestingly, it has a very strong acoustic projection outwards from the front of the guitar.
The '60s tribute is a little bit special in terms of aesthetic specs. You get a no frills satin finish, bare of a pickguard, like an SG Special, but with trapezium inlays and covered pickups like an SG Standard, at SG Special price. Best of both worlds!
There is a black delrin nut, which fits the aesthetic of the guitar. The hardware is solid as you expect from Gibson. The tuners on my model are closed back Grovers, which are reliable and do what they say on the tin, although I believe that these guitars were also available with vintage petal style, Kluxon-like plastic tuners.
The design of this guitar feels straight to the point. No unnecessary flashy finish, pickguard, and the standard volume-volume-tone-tone knob layout with no coil switching, and a three-way selector.
Sound — 7
The '60s Tribute is fitted with Gibson Burstbuckers which are designed to sound like the original PAFs of this era, each pup with uneven winds. They're not massively versatile but great if you're after a vintage sound, or playing through something creamy like a Fender amp.
I find the pups are very well matched with '80s rock, breaking up with an overdrive and being a bit fuzzy on the high end. The neck tone has a fantastic deep output for crystal clean tones. They lose clarity when downtuning, so are not ideal for the heavy music for which I bought this guitar to play, nor modern metal at-all, lacking the output or shape for pinch harmonics.
The tone from the wood is rather dull, which may suit you fine, or might not if you like to hear a "sweet spot", or some treble.
Just as you'd expect from Gibson, the electronics are properly grounded so as not to hum, and the pots are wax potted, unlike if you buy the Burstbuckers as aftermarket parts.
Action, Fit & Finish — 5
A common fault with these "Tribute" guitars is that there is a lip between the fingerboard and the neck. On mine it runs all the way from the nut to the body. I have never seen this before on even the cheapest guitars. There is also unintentional black nitro on the 21st side dot marker and on the wood around the 12th fret. Rather disappointing from Gibson. (To address the potential question, this guitar is not a B-Stock, as Gibson destroys their materials which fail QC.) The treble side of the nut is also cut too deeply, which isn't great for tuning stability.
On the upside, there is plenty to like about the guitar, too: The fretwork is very good, just as you'd expect from a guitar at this price. Also, the inlays are the most convincing I've seen - they are plastic, but Gibson has a real knack for producing them with a lustre like mother of pearl. (The original Gibsons of this era also had plastic inlays.) Finally, the electronics are perfect, and despite my acidic skin, the hardware has been much slower to oxidize than other guitars I have owned.
Reliability & Durability — 6
These guitars have a thin satin nitro applied over a grain which is not filled, for a sunk texture and what is maybe supposed to be a vintage look. This dings and wears very easily, as I believe it is supposed to - I happen to like the "roadworn" look on guitars, and these guitars were marketed in this way.
As with all Gibsons, the headstock is prone to breaking where it joins the neck, as the wood is extremely thin around the truss rod cavity, which has no volute to protect it. I wouldn't gig any Gibson including this guitar without a backup for that reason.
The neck joint on an SG is much weaker than that on a Les Paul due to the doublecut, meaning the neck can easily bend, or be bent (sacrilege, I hear you say!). This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just the nature of these beasts. I find being able to bend the neck a useful expressive tool, but it may be annoying if you are heavy handed as one can easily pull the guitar out of tune.
The SG model is always neck heavy, and this is to be expected. The problem is alleviated on the Tribute by the placement of the neck strap button by the neck heel, rather than on the end of the upper horn. The strap button being here, however, impedes the upper fret access severely - tough luck, budding shredders. The upside is that due to the placement of the neck strap button alleviating the headstock dive effect, replacing the Grovers with a lighter aftermarket tuner would probably totally eliminate the issue.
The placement of the output jack on the front of the guitar next to the volume and tone knobs is a bit inconvenient. Unless you want your cable to be sticking upwards from the guitar right next to the control knobs, you will be forced to use an L shaped jack, and it will still be just as close to the knobs.
Overall Impression — 6
I bought this guitar specially to play slow, heavy, downtuned music which benefit from its bassy tone such as stoner rock and doom, from Black Sabbath and My Dying Bride, to The Sword. It has the typical big fat frets Gibson is known for that are desirable in metal.
It doesn't disappoint in tone or specs for that style of music, and it looks the part, but it doesn't play as well as it looks - the satin nitro neck is sticky, and I find the flat C shape uncomfortable.
The Burstbuckers are great for classic rock. I'll likely replace them with higher output pups later, however, for more versatility in the heavier modern metal that I play. Unfortunately, Gibson does not make changing the pickups in these guitars easy, by routing everything through a circuit board which serves some unknown purpose, and is most advisably best removed if swapping pups, requiring a complete rewire. It would have been nice if Gibson could have made the process simpler.
Were it stolen or lost, I'd certainly be looking for a different guitar to replace it, such as a top end Epiphone or a Revstar, but probably not another Gibson.
If you're looking for something to make vintagey, creamy or bluesy sounds through an appropriate amp, you might really like the tone of this guitar, especially at the low price these are available at.
I wouldn't recommend buying one without seeing it however, as they can be very hit and miss, and there is no guarantee of quality above a certain level.
The SG Standard T is similarly priced and could be a better option for higher quality control if the specs suit a prospective buyer. That model has a slimmer neck, but similarly low output pickups.
Overall, I couldn't generally recommend this guitar, but for classic rock, etc acts, it may make a great looking, decent sounding and inexpensive "beater" guitar for onstage, and at the right price, it would make a decent vintagey sounding guitar for anyone.