Cost; $179.99 new
This lovely black SG Special belongs to my roommate and good friend Erik who kindly lent it for review.
Overview and Final Score: 6.4
The Epiphone SG Special VE is the latest in a long line of high quality and affordable SG from the company. The cheaper younger sibling the ever popular G-400 Pro SG guitars, the Special still packs quite a punch with that familiar Gibson tone, volume, and crunch. Featuring a lightweight poplar body, we got our hands on one in a stunning, ebony finish and quite enjoyed it. From AC/DC to Black Sabbath to The Doors, you can definitely make this guitar work to find some great sounds, especially with the right gear alongside it.
The sound is solid, if unspectacular, as both humbuckers provide plenty of output and bite. Generally, the guitar sounded much better with gain through both the solid state Orange Crush 20, Fender Mustang 15, and my Vox AC15. The neck is fairly smooth and provides a rich, well rounded tone, that can get a little muddy if you adjust the tone knob even the slightest bit. The bridge pickup sounded the best, clean or dirty, packing in a nice mix of highs and mids, even if it lacked some lower frequencies. The middle position had a surprising amount of slap to it, and was actually quite enjoyable to alter with the tone and volume knobs, which also had surprisingly good spread for a guitar in this price range.
The SG Special performs how you expect it to, great for covering SG-laden bands or hard rock songs that require high output pickups. You can easily churn through classic rock riffs, making this an ideal beginner guitar for students or fans of that genre. Overall, it feels like a very average but reliable Gibson-alternative, and should make an excellent beginner or backup guitar that all can enjoy.
With Gibson-style guitars, the shorter scale feels more welcoming to some, and players often find bends easier as well. The playability was fine, nothing to write home about however, and the guitar stayed in tune for about an hour of playing. The tuners don’t feel too cheap but were hard to move, and the guitar took a beating from bends and barre chords fairly easily. The neck finish was well done, smooth, and even fairly fast to play. All of the 22 jumbo medium frets were easy to access, and I didn’t notice any rough frets. There was only the slightest amount of fret buzz as well, overall I was impressed for the price point!
Finish & Construction: 6.5
The finish feels and looks worn-in, which to some is preferred, but personally I wish it looked a little more glossy. I noticed some small scratches and dents that my friend indicated came on the guitar, though I cannot confirm from first hand experience. Overall, the finish looks good but feels thin, and I’m sure it will continue to accumulate dings over time. The fretwork was very good, no rough edges, little buzz, but the tuners were slightly hard to turn, something that always bothers me on cheap guitars. The wiring also seemed to be pretty sturdy as there was minimal noise from the humbuckers and nothing seemed to be loose, even after some serious mileage from my friend.
While this guitar is by all means worth every penny, it also wasn’t the most inspiring sub-$200 guitar I’ve ever played. With better finish and pickup options on similar-priced instruments from Harley-Benton, Xaviere, or ESP LTD, I don’t think it’s the best of the bunch. However, if you’re looking specifically for a good, cheap SG you would not regret purchasing this guitar, and it may even be a pickup upgrade away from being a main stage or recording instrument.