Hands-On Review:Gibson Magical Makeovers
Gibson SG Special Faded and Voodoo V.
by Dominic Hilton
Rather than completely redesign its icons, Gibson USAhas subtly tweaked the construction of its flagship models and touched up their cosmetics to broaden their appeal without sacrificing their toneful souls. Two different examples of this approach - the new SG and Flying V models - are reviewed here. One features a radical modern revamp; the other, a dressed-down, worn-in vibe. Both remain purebred Gibsons.
Visually, the Voodoo V, swathed as it is in black, is quite a departure from Gibson's traditional image, even though the guitar's construction is very close to the company's original '58 model. The body is made of swamp ash and features distinctive and dramatic graining that provides the base for the Voodoo's unusual red-and-black satin lacquer finish, which extends to the mahogany set neck.
The Voodoo V's electronics consist of two humbuckers, a volume control for each pickup, a master tone control and a three-way pickup selector. The Black Magic 496R (neck) and 500T (bridge) pickups have black/red zebra bobbins and flush stainless steel/double-slug pole pieces. The remaining hardware consists of a Tune-O-Matic bridge with stop tailpiece, and a set of large Grover tuners.
The Voodoo has a beautifully proportioned neck with a soft C profile, a fast shallow radius and an ebony fingerboard. There is a single red skull inlay at the fifth fret; the rest of the neck features a set of standard side dots, to aid finger navigation. All 22 of the tall medium frets have been perfectly fitted and finished, and this level of detail extends to the crisply cut graphite nut as well.
A quick noodle on the Voodoo revealed that it has a fast, light touch and tight intonation. Using a Marshall combo, I checked out the Voodoo's sonic capabilities both with clean and dirty tones. To my ears, the swamp ash creates even more midrange snarl than a mahogany V and produces a gutsy, focused tone with solid punch. The obvious combination of bridge pickup and distorted amp satisfied with edgy grinding riffs and hot harmonics. That said, the neck pickup has a classy, bodacious tone - good for creamy leads or smooth chords - and the Voodoo sounds superb with clean tones, producing an almost acoustic resonance. This is clearly a V with a sophisticated side to its hard-rocking character.
Unlike the dressy Voodoo V, the SG Special Faded is like an old pair of jeans: simple, classic and comfortable. The all-mahogany body is finished in a light satin lacquer, which was designed to emulate the faded glow and worn texture of a vintage cherry finish. The rear-loaded control section includes a three-way selector and volume and tone controls for each humbucker. The 490R neck and 490T bridge pickups are exposed-coil alnico humbuckers. The chrome hardware begins with a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop tailpiece, and concludes with a set of "keystone" button Gibson Deluxe tuners on the black-faced headstock.
The comfortable 22-fret neck features the more stable "long heel" set-neck joint and has a soft "C" profile, which provides excellent upper-register access. The tall medium fret wire complements the low clean action and results in a slinky feel and easy bends. Five "crescent" position markers on the ebony fingerboard are the only fancy touches on this understated instrument. (Note that, due to consumer demand, Gibson USA has changed the inlays on the SGSpecial Faded and Voodoo V to dots.)
"Bite" and "snarl" are two adjectives often used to describe the energetic tone of the SG, and the Special Faded has these qualities in spades. I found it necessary to ease down the amp's treble control to tame the sting, but that didn't detract from the underlying ballsy crunch. The bridge pickup was hot and gritty and had a dynamic response, while the neck humbucker crossed into woodier, soulful territory. With clean or distorted sounds, the Faded produced a sizzling tone that authoritatively took pop, blues, rock and punk styles in its gnarly stride.