Does The Epiphone SG Special Capture the Spirit of the Original?

You may or may not know that the SG has the honor of being the guitar with the longest continuous production run of any Gibson model. Since its initial introduction, it has never been out of production.

With a run that long, it’s no surprise that various sub-models have appeared over the years, with everything from high-end custom and signature editions from Gibson to beginner-focused models from subsidiary brand, Epiphone.

In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we took a look at the Epiphone SG Special, the most affordable version of the SG on sale today. We checked out its build quality, playability, and tones, all with the aim of finding out whether it’s a guitar you should consider.

Keep on reading to learn more!

Read more about our review process.

Epiphone SG Special Review – Who Is This For?

The Epiphone SG Special is one of Epiphone’s entry-level models and as such, is marketed directly at beginners. It offers the classic SG styling at a wallet-friendly price, but it did lose out on some of the features that really make an SG an SG (see our comparison here of the Gibson SG vs the Epiphone SG).

Despite that, it’s still a solid starter guitar that will allow novice players to learn the fundamentals on a cool-looking guitar from a well known and respected brand.

Epiphone SG Special Review – Appearance / Features / Controls

The SG Special we borrowed for this test had a worn ebony finish, giving it a rough matte look. This is noticeably different than the gloss finishes applied to the Standard models, but given how much cheaper a satin finish like this is to apply, it’s quite understandable. This model is also available with a similar worn cherry finish.

We were amazed to see a rosewood fretboard on the SG Special. Even the much more expensive Standard only gets Indian laurel, so to have a more premium wood in use was a pleasant surprise. It was dark, smooth, and really felt nice under the fingers.

One of the biggest departures from traditional SG construction came from the body material. Traditionally, SGs are made with solid mahogany bodies, but this one has a poplar body and was slightly slimmer than a standard body. This went a long way toward keeping the weight down, which does further increase the appeal for newer players who might not be ready to play with a heavy slab of mahogany.

It had a SlimTaper D neck profile, which is the same shape you’ll find on the more expensive Epiphone versions, but it came with one major difference – the neck was a bolt-on. Normal SG construction involves the use of a set neck, but this is yet another example of an expensive manufacturing process that Epiphone has managed to trim in order to keep the cost down.

Purists might not like the idea of a bolt-on neck, but pragmatists will realize that not only does it contribute to affordability, but it also increases the durability, an especially important factor in a beginner-focused instrument.

Fretwork wasn’t the strongest suit for the Special, which was a little disappointing, but not unexpected. The crowns were quite rough, which gave it something of a gritty playing feel, and the edges, while not sharp, didn’t have a nice, uniform finish. Regardless, they were still level and were without dead spots.

As is correct for the breed, it came with a stop bar tailpiece and a Tune-o-Matic bridge, too.

For the electronics, it featured a pair of Epiphone open-coil humbuckers, a 3-way selector switch, a single master volume, and a master tone control. This setup is fairly typical of Epiphone’s most affordable models and while it’s not as versatile as a 4-pot layout, it still gave us enough tonal variety.

Epiphone SG Special Review – Performance / Sound

Even the standard SG is lightweight and comfortable to play, so the fact that this is slimmed down even further made it feel like holding nothing at all (making it perfect as a kids guitar). It had nice contoured edges and the ergonomics were great.

The tuners were sealed-gear keystone-style units. They were, in fact, one of our least favorite features on this model. They had too much play, with a significant amount of movement before engaging the gear, which made fine-tuning a pretty difficult process at best.

While we enjoyed the light weight of the poplar body, we did notice it added additional brightness to the tone. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as a result, it didn’t sound quite like an SG is supposed to. This was further exacerbated by the hot ceramic pickups, which were treble-heavy (there’s also a P90 model which we didn’t review).

In the neck position, some of the treble was tamed and we actually got some well-balanced blues tones, with nice clear cleans. The bridge pickup fared well with high gain and delivered some good crunch, but sounded a little bit too brash and perhaps a little tinny when played clean.

The volume and tone knobs also suffered from dropoff, so we were unable to get a nice clean sweep with them. They behaved in an almost binary way, in fact, acting more like on/off switches than potentiometers.

Alternatives to the Epiphone SG Special

For anyone who might be indecisive about the Epiphone SG Special, there are a number of great alternatives to consider. Check out some of our favorites below:

Epiphone Slash AFD Les Paul Special

The Epiphone Slash AFD Les Paul Special is a Slash signature model that offers some finish and performance upgrades over the SG special, for not a lot more money. It features Ceramic Plus humbuckers, which do well to replicate the high gain tones that Slash is famous for, and it even comes with a AAA flamed maple top, on top of an okume body.

Squier Bullet Stratocaster HT

If you’re looking to try a classic design with single coils rather than humbuckers for around the same price as the Epiphone SG Special, we’d definitely recommend checking out the Squier Bullet Stratocaster HT. Not only does it look the part, but the hardtail bridge cures many of the tuning stability issues found on older models with the tremolo system, making it an incredibly reliable player. The range of tones from its SSS pickup layout and 5-way selector are great and, like the SG, it features a comfortable, contoured body.

Final Thoughts in our Epiphone SG Special Review

The Epiphone SG Special is undoubtedly a cool-looking guitar. It plays fast, it’s comfortable to hold, and as for learning the fundamentals, it’s a great starter – so much so that we included it in our list of the best electric guitars under $300. It was able to deliver some good quality clean tones, as well as some rock and roll crunch, which is going to be plenty for novice players, but intermediate and beyond players will likely need something with better pots and pickups.

As for whether it truly captures the spirit of the SG, we’d say – almost. Versatility is supposed to be one of the hallmarks of this model and losing the mahogany body and the secondary volume and tone controls took away from the overall sound that has traditionally set the SG apart. But if you look at this model for what it is, a well-made beginner guitar, it really fits the bill.

  • Simon Morgan

    Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and played the local scene throughout his teen years before running away to work on ships. These days his passion is budget guitars, amps and pedals - though he's not afraid of the finer things.