Even though my favourite body shape is still the Strat or S-Style Doublecut format, I do still quite like most variations on that theme - including the sharp pointed ’devil’s horns’ of the Gibson SG shape - as most famously rocked by AC/DC’s Angus Young.
These are classically all-Mahogany sort of PAF humbucker affairs with typically Set-Neck 24 and three-quarter inch scale length, and classically Rosewood or Ebony Fretboards. Preferred control layout here also tends to be volume and tone dials per each pickup with a 3-way toggle pickup selector. Classic colourways for this model tend to be Cherry Red or Black!
There are however a couple of downsides with this format which really put me off. I really detest the pop-up position of the input jack - which is usually straight down into the face of the guitar - totally impractical and archaic really. And the classic Gibson style fanned book rectangular shaped headstock is typically a disaster for tuning stability - because of the odd angles the strings then enter the grooves of the nut - unless you choose something like a Dietrich Parts String Butler - which is still a band aid of sorts.
Unlike the squillions of S-Style, T-Style and LP-Style clones - which pretty much every guitar manufacturer has its own versions of, the SG is a somewhat rarer beast. Most of the companies that make various Gibson-shaped clones as such don’t make the SG-style. So overall there are fairly slim pickings. There are lots of more rounded doublecut equivalents - like say the PRS Mira or Classic Santana style, but the sharp pointy horns are much more of a rarity.
And much to my disappointment, the ’copies’ are generally too faithful to the original format - carrying too many of that guitar’s flaws forward - including the dumb input jack placement and the archaic and unergonomic headstock.
Of this selection of 9, there are several here that will give you that essential sort of classic Gibson SG tone, many here are more reliably made and of more consistent quality, while there is only one really that fulfils all my requirements. In fact there are only two properly modern SG variations here, and one of those still has the stupid old-fashioned straight up jack placement - which knocks it out of consideration.
I am also a fan of modern Tremolo bridges - not the Floyd Roses - but say a PRS Tremolo Bridge or Ibanez SynchoniZR. And you almost never get an SG with one of those - they are pretty much all 99.99% hard-tails.
Note that the typical Neck construction for an SG is a Set-Neck, while there are a number of guitars here that are bolt-ons for reasons of more efficient (lower-cost) manufacture as well as a slightly brighter and more attacking tone.
Guitars are listed with original first, then followed alphabetically by brand:
If you are considering a proper SG - then I suppose that you'd best start at the top with an original Gibson - here in one of its prettiest versions - the Custom SG in Gloss Ebony with shiny Gold Hardware. Note that even when paying such a premium, Gibson sneaks in a lower cost Richlite fingerboard (compressed dyed paper) rather than including a more classic Rosewood or Ebony type. There's no doubt that these are great sounding guitars, but with Gibson's rather wonky quality control - it's a real pick-and-mix out there to find a 100% quality-made version with no blemishes or finishing issues. You may consider the Epiphone variations too - which generally overall have tighter quality control, but less quality parts overall, and deliberately come with a slightly uglier headstock shape - which is just madness in my opinion. As I've said in the intro, I really don't like the old-fashioned headstocks which look cool, but are woeful for tuning stability and therefore totally flawed on modern instruments - as is the straight-up placement of the input jack - which just looks ungainly and gets in the way. If you were designing such an instrument form scratch today - with all the intelligence available and latest production methods, you would not place the input jack in said position, nor would you engineer such a flawed headstock shape.
This dip-dyed flamed maple top SG-style guitar is far from traditional - and at this price I would think the flamed maple would more likely be a veneer rather than solid cap. But the matched headstock and body fade look pretty cool and modern - and the jack is more of a Strat-style input - while I still prefer my input jacks to be on the side / edge of the guitar and wholly out of the way. Also - unusually for an SG-style, there is no Tune-O-Matic stop-tail here, but rather a string-thru style 'bridge' construction. Not likely to appeal to classic SG fans, but makes a nice alternative - Diamond guitars do also make more conventional looking SG-style models.
ESP has a great track record of making high quality Gibson-alikes - and is particularly well-known for its LP-style EC-100 clones. The more cost-effective Ltd branded Vipers are pretty decent low cost SG-style alternatives. This is easily the lowest price one here - so expect some compromises in particular with construction, hardware and electronics. The Flamed Maple here can only be a veneer at this price range - and again as with Diamond there are also plainer alternatives available than this rather modern flamed style example.
So this is Phil X's actual signature guitar in its coolest form as far as I am concerned - the shiny chrome variation - with the 'X' embossed in the tailpiece are of the body. It is in every way a modern variation of the SG - with a proper ergonomic and tuning-fidelity optimised headstock and the jack input in the correct place. It only rocks a single Humbucker - but gets a significant variety of tones via the 3-way rotary dial. I'm not sure I would pony up for the full faithful Masterbuild version as this is (way too pricey) - I would more likely look for a more reasonably priced Teambuilt equivalent. I would also need to think hard about whether I went with 1 or two pickups - but this is definitely the best built SG-type in this listing - and the only one that fully overcomes all the character flaws of the original!
Guild are another one of those brands who do pretty good quality Gibson 'knock-offs' as such - as is the case with this S-100 Polara. I'm not sure I really like the rather more blunted horns though or the overly flattened top - I really like the chiselled chamfers of the original and any accentuation of those - like on the Framus XG equivalent I see as an improvement. Nevertheless this is a pretty solidly made alternative in the sort of mid-priced bracket.
This is probably my second favourite here - at lest second-equal - as it has a real modern lean to it, and even though it's headstock shape is somewhat compromised for tuning fidelity - it's a pretty cool looking guitar - with the input jack in the right place. This is most definitely the front-runner at this price-range.
Joseph Knaggs always has his own particular take on the classics - and even though the horns are somewhat blunted here - I really like the overall shaping - particularly in the rawer 'Drift' Swamp Ash style. The Headstock / Machine-head layout is much closer to the trapezoid shape and the more rectangular ones of the Gibsons et al, and the input jack is in the right place. With Knaggs you know you are getting top-spec build quality and hardware. And you typically pay a premium for these. It's pricey, but I really like this one too.
Lesser-known German Guitar brand Mayback I believe has all its guitars made at a facility it helped set up in the Czech Republic - leading to very well made European guitars at a tolerably reasonable price. My pick of the Albatroz SG-style bunch is the dual PAF Humbucker '65-2 model - which I believe may also be their priciest. Alas this model is overly faithful - with machine head positions traditional straight-line rectangular and input jack in the same silly position as the original. If you're looking for very faithful reproductions of the originals - then this is definitely worthy of consideration as you will 100% get more reliable quality here, as well as a slightly keener price overall.
So this is actually the guitar that re-kindled my recent interest in SG-style guitars - actually a DIY build by one Peter Wilkinson I came across on Reverb.com - using mostly Warmoth parts, Creamery Pickups and Sperzel green anodised locking tuners to name some of the key elements. I actually really like this build - in particular the modern 3+3 properly trapezoidal Headstock of the Modern Warmoth Neck. I like the colour here and overall attention to detail. I'm not sure I like the lack of fret-markers / inlays which would be tolerable if there were Luminlay side-dots, but there's no mention of those either. I also shudder at that ridiculously place straight-up input jack - I really don't understand why modern guitars need to do that. We don't see cars with a front-loading slot for a hand-crank. We learn from earlier mistakes and learn to evolve and improve guitar design to make those guitars more practical and more playable. Why people are preserving old-fashioned and out-modes details for some sort of sake of authenticity just really annoys me. This guitar is very well made, and superbly appointed, and at the asking price of £1,100 it is a solid proposition. Yet for me - those little flaws mentioned kind of make it a deal-breaker - I can see someone else though very happy with this instrument. You can easily replace the scatchplate and truss-rod cover if you don't like the existing ones- overall though this appears to be an exemplary build.
Last year I was weirdly of a mind to buy a Gibson Les Paul Standard - before I remembered all the reason why not too - the huge quality control lottery, and overall inconsistency of build - say for every 100 Les Pauls out there - one will sound amazing and the other 99 just OK. We then have the highly flawed old-fashioned headstock shape and various tuning issues that come with that - so buying a Gibson is really a high risk sport and takes a lot of effort. You need to find a large enough retailer and then be prepared to go through 10 or 20 different guitars - and even then there is a 100 : 1 shot of finding that one really great sounding Gibson.
I actually quite like the body shape of a lot of Gibson guitars, and of course I love how the best ones sound. Yet I'm not really willing to play the lottery, and I don't like inheriting all the flaws that come with these still very traditional guitars.
This SG exercise has yet again reminded me of the principles that I hold dear - which encompass Tone, Playability and Practicalities of ownership. There's also a financial consideration here for some if you intend to sell-on your guitars and continually update and upgrade. As Fender and Gibson are the only brands that really hold their value well - they are very much the Rolexes of guitar. Yet for proper players wanting the very best in practical and playable guitars - they are often / usually better served by looking elsewhere.
And so with the SG's - I really don't like the ones with the old-fashioned compromised headstocks and totally idiotic input jack placements which leaves me really with very few options. My overall favourite in looks, functionality, tone etc. is the Framus XG - but it's possibly too pricey at the specs I would want, next comes the slightly less but still very pricey Knaggs Honga, and third place here is probably the really cool Hagstrom Pat Smear Signature guitar.
If I was getting an SG type guitar those are the ones that most closely match my needs. Ideally though I don't really want to pay much more than £2K for a guitar - that's kind of my sweet-spot for getting the best quality at the best price. I just need to find the one that most closely matches that target.