Who invented the sg?

Discussion in 'Gibson SG' started by javamagic, Aug 17, 2014.

  1. javamagic

    javamagic Well-Known Member

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    Who invented the SG? (Prepare for a lengthy post to rival the Col!)

    This is a question that arises often on this forum - and probably some others too. If you believe Gibson's own "50 Essential Facts About the SG" you'd accept that Ted McCarty, Gibson CEO from 1948-66, did it, along with all the other guitars that came out of the factory during that period. The only exception, a guitar with a credited designer, is the Firebird (and Thunderbird bass), the work of Ray Dietrich. Personally, and I don't doubt Mr McCarty's capacity for invention, I find it hard to accept that Ted sat there every day doodling designs for new models when there was a busy factory to run, business deals to conclude, marketing and sales to consider, as well as reporting to Mr Berlin at CMI, the corporation that owned Gibson.

    I have formulated my own theory about the evolution of the SG and it has developed from my interest in Epiphone instruments produced in the Kalamazoo factory. Is it right? I don't know and most of the principal characters involved are gone so cannot respond to any questions about the matter. Other guitar historians have seemed to be more concerned with Gibson branded instruments, particularly the Les Paul, going into almost obsessive forensic detail of its construction and endlessly researching its history and development. Carters recent book on Epiphones seems to be a quick hack job, only slightly expanding on his previous effort while going into some depth on recent, i.e. post 1985, models. Going further back Sid Bishop had a section on Epiphone electrics in his "The Gibson Guitar, Vol.II" but that was vague and inaccurate to the point of propagating myths. Even books on acoustic instruments give Epiphone short shrift with only a cursory mention of the brand in Whitford's "Gibson's Fabulous Flattop Guitars", and that in relation to the LG0!

    Anyway, enough of the gripes and onto the gist of my theory.

    As we are probably all well aware in these more enlightened times, Gibson bought the Epiphone brand in April 1957 for $20k with the initial intention of using their tooling to produce double basses. What they also got was a stack of guitar parts and decided to continue production of Epiphone guitars, at first using the parts acquired in the purchase. Now Ted McCarty was a shrewd businessman and realised that they had also effectively gained a whole new lot of franchised outlets that could sell instruments produced to Gibson quality in the Kalamazoo factory but that they would have to carry another name so as not to upset existing Gibson franchises in the same areas; hence the decision to produce a new line under the Epiphone brand.

    As there was concern about undermining Gibson's own business it made sense to aim instead at the growing rivalry from Fender and so two solid-body guitars were included in the proposed line: a basic single pickup model and a more upmarket twin pickup version with gold-plated parts. For the design of these the engineers at Gibson, probably under the direction of McCarty, utilised the body shape of the Fender Telecaster, taking the treble side of the body and just flipping it over to make a symmetrical shape. (Having made templates for both a Tele and a Crestwood/Coronet I can confirm that the proportions are exactly the same.) The 1 3/4" thick slab body of the Fender was retained which was handy as that was also the thickness used for single-cutaway Les Paul Junior and Special models, thus they could use the same timber stock.

    The problem with using the doubled Fender shape was that it could leave a lengthy heel under the neck from the 16th fret, although the single-cutaway Les Pauls also had the 16th fret joint. At this point someone had the inspired idea of doing away with the heel on the body and continuing the sweep of the cutaways, thus allowing the neck to join at the end of the fingerboard. Look at the early Epiphone solid-bodies and the first double-cutaway Les Pauls and you will see this is so. This gave great access to the upper frets but also left little gluing surface, particularly in the twin pickup guitars where the neck pickup rout removed a lot of timber. For this reason the design was changed to a 22nd fret neck joint, probably in 1959, to give about another 10mm of gluing surface.

    I believe that the double-cutaway design and fingerboard end neck joint was developed for the Epiphone Crestwood and Coronet models and, proving successful, was then applied to the Gibsons.

    It is recorded that the Epiphone solid-bodies were re-designed in 1959, at about the time the neck joint was altered on these and the Les Paul Junior and Special, but, whereas those guitars retained the thicker slab body, the Epiphones received a thinner body, now 1 3/8", with rounded edges and so pre-dated the re-design of the LPs by a year. It seems that once again the Epiphone model was paving the way for the thinner LP/SGs that appeared in 1961. (Alright, I know that people claim to have 1960 serial numbers on SGs and have to say they are probably genuine!)

    The next step in the evolution of the SG as we know it (The LP Special was being listed in Gibson catalogues as the SG Special in 1959-60) was the radical redesign of the double cutaway shape on the thinner body with the deep cutaways, the inverted body proportions (It looks to me like the length of the upper and lower bouts have been swapped) and bevelling. This was undertaken in a effort to increase sales after the diminishing figures for sales of Les Paul models in the late '50s. From what I have read the responsibility for re-designing the solid body guitars - and remember that Gibson only really had the one line: Les Pauls - likely fell to the Chief Engineer of the Gibson factory, Larry Allers. Certainly his son is on record as saying that he did much to develop the SG guitar, amongst others including the first Les Pauls. I think he is an unsung hero in the Gibson story as he had a hand in the development of many of Gibson's electric guitars in the 1950s, including the Les Paul, has a patent granted for the EB-2 bass (possibly in consideration of his other work) and, quite possibly, the guitars that started the Gibson double-cutaway tradition, the Epiphone Crestwood and Coronet designs of 1957.


    :thumb:
     
  2. AngusMadeMeDoIt

    AngusMadeMeDoIt Well-Known Member

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    Good lord I actually read all that :D

    Interesting though sir!
     
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  3. JohnnyGoo

    JohnnyGoo Well-Known Member

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    Good read
     
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  4. 58pit

    58pit Well-Known Member

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    It was Bidden, he invented it.
     
  5. javamagic

    javamagic Well-Known Member

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    I've just wondered if this was inspired by the Rickenbacker Capri models that began production right at the beginning of 1958. As far as I know no other electric guitars had last fret neck joints prior to this. Perhaps Gibson were aware of Roger Rossmeil's designs and thought they could be emulated in a Gibson Style? :hmm:
     
  6. smitty_p

    smitty_p Well-Known Member

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    Just remember, Javamagic, when you publish this, I get an autographed copy.
     
  7. eS.G.

    eS.G. Well-Known Member

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    So am I right then......when playing an Epi SG you may actually be playing the TRUE real lineage of the original SG and the Gibby models are copies??? Thats information will SERIOUSLY piss off some corksniffers.....:laugh2::laugh2:

    Well done Man well done! (No really great read --and I HATE to read) :applause:
     
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  8. Rusty Chops

    Rusty Chops Member

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    I believe it all.

    'Course, I choose to.

    From all accounts McCarty was a splendid shop/production manager, and very concerned with his work force's family and personal welfare.

    Most "designers" are part of a team, solving problems. He who heads the team gets some credit when the design is a success. If it fails he will also be considered primarily responsible for what happens on "his watch."

    I never cared for that level of responsibility. I was just a wage earner looking for security in my jobs. That means following orders.

    'Course, the pay scale reflects that usually.

    I like the SG. Derived or not McCarty signed off on it and deserves some credit that way, even if he only contributed from a production feasibility standpoint.

    Thanks for the nice post though. It is thought provoking and interesting to me as a fan of industrial technology and production guitars.
     
  9. LeadFinger

    LeadFinger Well-Known Member

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    The Epiphone Crestwood and Coronet are nice looking guitars. Why do you all think they didn't sell more of them? At any rate, they do look like they're from the same family as the SG.
     
  10. Rusty Chops

    Rusty Chops Member

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    Certainly more Fender-like than Les Paul's log or Gibson's Les Paul models.
     
  11. javamagic

    javamagic Well-Known Member

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    I pitched the idea of a book on Kalamazoo Epiphone products - that's all of them; guitars, amps, double basses, banjos, etc. - to a publisher about four years ago. Their response was that the subject matter was "too narrow" and turned it down. This from someone whose publications include books on the Rickenbacker 12-string, Gibson's 1958 korina guitars and the sunburst Les Paul. :dunno:

    It may be pure coincidence that Walter Carter's book on Epiphone guitars was published a couple of years later. :hmm: Glad to see that Amazon reviews comment on the lack of detail for the Kalamazoo years. :laugh2:
     
  12. Dorian

    Dorian Active Member

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    Thanks. I found your little observation very interesting:

     
  13. Rox

    Rox Member

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    Very interesting indeed. And the Coronet's scratchplate certainly has a batwing vibe to it.

    You often see this sort of thing in car manufacturers - they buy another car manufacturer, and nick all the best ideas for their premier line...
     
  14. javamagic

    javamagic Well-Known Member

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    Nothing batwing about the first models.

    1959 Coronet...

    [​IMG]

    ... and 1958 Crestwood.

    [​IMG]
     
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  15. SG John

    SG John Well-Known Member

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    Looks like Gibson may have used a 50's Magnatone's Mk IV as a starting point.


    [​IMG]
     
  16. javamagic

    javamagic Well-Known Member

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    Well, I don't think Gibson were averse to stealing ideas from other makers (as the Coronet and Crestwood show), so the Magnatone may be the starting point for the SGs bevels. :hmm:
     
  17. WavMixer

    WavMixer Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps the crestwood resembled the strat too much?
     

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