Take the basic G-400, add a large pickguard, keystone tuners, coil-tappable Alnico Classic Pro pickups and a bunch of new finishes and you’ve got the limited edition Pro. Review by Marcus Leadley
Description: Solidbody electric guitar. Made in China.
Price: £348 with Epiphone branded hard case
Contact: Gibson Europe – 0031 347 324010 – www.epiphone.com
Introduced by Gibson in 1961 as the ‘replacement’ for its single-cut Les Paul model, the SG has become a classic in its own right. Angus Young, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Tony Iommi, Frank Zappa, Pete Townshend, Derek Trucks, Thom Yorke – the list of famous players is practically never-ending. Sound aside, the design has two key benefits: SGs are light, which makes them ideal for anyone who gigs a lot or has a back problem; and the upper octave access is great, which makes them a real soloist’s instrument.
Real Gibson-branded SGs start at around £500 these days, so it’s no wonder that this updated G-400 with an RRP of £348 but a street price of around £260 is catching plenty of attention. As the company is owned by Gibson, an Epiphone version is basically the next best thing. Indeed, the G-400 has been in production since 1989.
The basic contemporary G-400 with its small pickguard, alnico pickups and chrome tuners is a homage to the 1962 model, while this latest revision of the Chinese-built instrument pays tribute to the 1966 version – the year the larger ‘batwing’ pickguard was introduced. You also get Wilkinson Vintage Classic machineheads with the classy green jadite knobs, and for a contemporary twist – which owes nothing to the mid-’60s at all – the humbucker pickups are coil -tapped, so you can get single coil-type sounds too.
Out of the case the G-400 Pro looks excellent. The cherry red finish shows off the wood’s grain very nicely, and it also allows you to see the underlying construction. Paying more for a guitar these days means fewer pieces of timber, and this budget Epiphone is something of jigsaw puzzle. The body has a three-piece construction; this is not so unusual but, surprisingly, both the front and back of the guitar are laminated to give an even, consistent grain pattern. The heel of the neck, the headstock wings and the back of the headstock are also glued on.
None of this is essentially a problem and indeed the neck is probably stronger as a result; however, it’s unlikely that a multi-piece body will be quite as resonant as one made from a single slab. In fairness, however, most Gibson SGs have had two-piece bodies for decades, and contemporary three-piece ones are common, while these days solid slabs come at Custom Shop prices.
The glued-in neck feels chubbier than the ‘60s Slim Taper that’s specified, but it’s a pleasing and not-overbuilt handful. We’d rather err on the chunky side rather than drift towards the type of skinnier neck that became synonymous with Gibson in the 1970s.
The rosewood fingerboard is buffed to quite a hard sheen and a little compound has been trapped in the grain. The medium gauge fretwire is the right choice, and the installation is faultless. The fingerboard isn’t bound, but the tangs are hidden. SGs can be a little neck-heavy, but this one balances perfectly on the strap.
In terms of hardware the G-400 Pro has the basic stoptail and the Tune-O-Matic bridge you’d expect. The pickups are Alnico Classic Pros, both of the four-wire variety to facilitate the coil tap, which is activated by the push/pull action of the individual volume controls. We were half expecting to find miniature pots hiding inside the control cavity so the full-size 500k components and very solid switchgear all came as a pleasant surprise.
The G-400’s fully-humbucking clean tone is surprising good: not at all boxy on the bridge setting and the twin pickup and neck pickup sounds are refreshingly open with an unexpectedly warm bass response. Really, this does sound like a much more expensive guitar. In terms of clarity these clean voices definitely outperform the vintage soupiness of some of their Gibson equivalents.
SGs are practically born to rock, so it comes as no surprise that winding up the gain makes a good thing even better. The G-400 Pro moves effortlessly between the realms of electric blues and jazz and on into the territory of metal and hard rock. The bridge pickup is a real screamer with just the right amount of pick-edge tone for articulation and nuance. There’s bags of sustain when you need it, and big chunky rock chords have the right amount of swaggering authority.
The coil-tapped single-coil tones are initially less impressive, as there’s an inevitable volume drop when you pull the switch. To really make use of the feature you need a booster pedal or even a graphic EQ pedal, as the natural sound is too bright and toppy. With a bit of a push in the bass/mid frequency range (or, alternatively, a bit of treble cut) you can create a fair approximation of a P90-style tone, which is very useful indeed. The guitar’s tone controls are functional but not especially responsive.
It’s very hard to knock this Epiphone off a pedestal, frankly. The price is very good indeed, and the guitar is well made and sounds great. However, if you’re a full-time humbucker player and a coil tap doesn’t appeal – and you’re not that fussed about the look of the larger pickguard – then it’s worth checking out the basic model as well. Theoretically, you could buy the lower-cost guitar and spend the difference on a professional setup and maybe have the plastic nut replaced with a bone one. This said, the G-400 Pro that we were supplied with has a near faultless set-up, so if this is the general standard out of the factory the added TLC isn’t necessarily going to make a huge amount of difference.