Brian Ray on How He Created His Ultimate SG Junior

The Paul McCartney guitarist discusses why he added unique features like an ebony block to his terrific new signature Gibson.
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Recently, GP sat down with a number of guitarists who've recently collaborated with Gibson or Epiphone on new signature models. One of those was Paul McCartney guitarist Brian Ray, who kindly took the time to discuss his new signature Gibson, the Brian Ray ’62 SG Junior, with us.

The Brian Ray ’62 SG Junior comes on the heels of your custom Shop ’63 SG. What was your aim for the new model?

It’s a hybrid of an SG Junior and an SG Standard: a single-pickup guitar with an SG Standard neck, appointments and vintage-style binding. Because of the success of the ’63 SG - the initial run of 100 sold out in about six months - Gibson asked me if I had any ideas for another model, so I suggested something with a TV white finish, which I thought would be a good companion to the the translucent black Silver Fox finish of the ’63 SG. It’s like the Arctic White that Gibson and Epiphone have done before, and they’re calling it White Fox now. I also wanted some things you’d never find on a Junior, so I asked if they could add an invention that Gibson came up with in 1962 called the ebony block.

That’s an interesting element of the new guitar. What did it take to re-create it?

I have an ebony block 1962 SG, so I took a million pictures of it and went through about three iterations until they nailed it. Nick Hurt and Phillip Whorton from the custom shop kept working at it until they got just the right thing.

What was the original purpose for the ebony block, and does it have any advantages for the ’62 SG Junior?

It was used on SGs and some ES guitars that had a variant of the lyre-style Vibrola - the long flat Maestro. The ebony block replaced the need for the long lyre plate and was really just their clever way of doing a cool visual feature that also masks the three screws of the Vibrola that go into the body. Nick took it a step further, though, by coming up with a plate that would screw into studs where you would usually have your wraparound tailpiece, and on that plate are posts for a Tune-o-matic bridge. This made the guitar convertible: You can use it with an ebony block Vibrola or put on a stud wraparound tailpiece and use it that way. It’s crazy great!

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You went for a single pickup, but there’s also a separate hum-canceling coil. What spurred that idea?

I wanted a single P-90 that matches the one in my 1958 Les Paul Junior TV model because it’s the coolest pickup I own. So it’s an 8.4k ohm P-90 that they custom wind for me. However, they do have a noise problem due to their single-coil design, so I thought about some of the single-coil guitars I’ve been using with Paul McCartney all these years, which I’ve been customizing with a guy named Ilitch [Ilitch Electronics] in Camarillo, California. 

Ilitch came up with these induction coils with a trimpot inside them to dial in the amount of noise cancelling that one prefers. I put them on the back of my guitars that I use with Paul for my slide stuff, and they work great. So I asked the guys at the custom shop if we could have an induction coil hidden in the new SG Junior, and they put one in a rout underneath the pickguard. They would send me little videos of the induction coil in action and I kept saying, “It’s got to be quieter.” Eventually they got it. There’s no trimpot to adjust the amount of hum canceling, but you can switch the coil on or off with the tone control.

Does it work well for you?

When I got mine out on the road with Paul on the last tour, I was using it with the induction coil engaged, and it sounded great. But with any noise-canceling system you’re going to lose a little bit of the top end. One day at sound check I turned the coil off and the noise was completely manageable, so I spent the rest of the tour without using it. Of course, we’re blessed to have filtered power onstage and everything is well grounded, but you can’t always depend on that. If you’re playing in a noisy club with a neon sign behind you and you’ve got some gain pedals, the noise builds up and the induction coil really comes in handy.

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