Joe Bonamasa's Guitar Safaris: Gibson SG Special

Welcome back my friends to where the geekdom never ends.
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Welcome back my friends to where the geekdom never ends. This month our guitar safari brings us to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, early in the winter of 2011. My drummer, Tal Bergman, had just received a brand new Sonar drum kit that required a few hours of tuning for optimum use. As I sat like a sonic refugee in the basement dressing room at the Embassy Theatre, hearing nothing but paradiddles and kick drum for an hour, I finally said to myself, “Self, I’m getting the hell out of here.” My tech, Mike Hickey, and I took to the streets in search of a place called B and B Pawn and Loan. I had purchased a lap-steel from them in my early 20s and remembered they were close to the theater.

As we navigated through used stereos, Makita power tools, and PlayStation 2s, we noticed there were also a fair amount of guitars, including what I thought initially was a Pete Townsend Polaris White Gibson SG Special reissue. I glance at it briefly and continued walking around the shop. About five minutes later I glanced over again and noticed that the bridge was at the pre-’63 angle—something not offered on the reissues—and that the guitar came with the original soft-shell alligator case. “Wow! Nice guitar,” I said. First year SG Specials in Polaris White, sans tremolo, don’t exactly come up for sale very often and, if they do, they are expensive. This was a very rare guitar, and especially cool for a Who fan/nerd like me.

A very nice gentleman in his 70s came over and mentioned that the guitar had been there for about seven years with no takers and then added that I should buy it. I looked at the price tag and, at $7,500, I could see why it hadn’t sold. I hit him with a few questions, checked the control cavity for any modifications, and asked what he would seriously take for it on this rainy and cold Tuesday afternoon. Well, you can probably guess how the story ends. I won’t disclose the final price but I will say that there was a significant discount (plus four tickets to that night’s show). Everybody won on the deal, which is how I like it.

Mike grabbed a cool Charvel “hockey stick” guitar he found there and the two of us headed back to the venue feeling triumphant. A set of Ernie Ball .011-.052s immediately went on the SG and it was ready for battle. It required no setup or adjustment of any kind. Just strings.

Honestly, this SG Special is the finest sounding P-90 guitar I have ever heard. It howls with this beautiful, bright midrange that takes you immediately to Isle of Wight 1970. It wipes the floor with my late-’50s TV Specials and any Les Paul Junior thinking of taking a shot at the title. It is an awesome instrument and Gibson should be proud.

Joe Bonamassa’s latest is Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks, available on CD and DVD.

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