With every component and even the shape of the neck chosen by the Doors guitarist, is it a case of second time lucky for the signature Gibson Robby Krieger? Dave Walsh finds out
Gibson Robby Krieger SG VOS
When G&B spoke to Robby a few issues ago, he explained that this was the second crack that Gibson had taken at creating a signature guitar for him. The first, with a graphite neck and a Floyd Rose (well, it was the mid-’90s) never made it into production.
What we have here, however, is an instrument far more suited to a pioneer of ’60s rock. With a run limited to just 100 pieces in this VOS (Vintage Original Spec) finish, you’re purchasing a collector’s item – and if you’re feeling extra flush you could plump for one of just 50 fully-aged versions at around £4000 which include accurate recreation of the wear and tear from Robby’s personal ’67 model.
A first glance this could be a tweaked Gibson Standard reissue, but in reality it’s an amalgamation of several different SGs that Robby has played or owned over the years. The aged dark heritage cherry nitro-cellulose finish is dulled to replicate a lightly-worn 40-year old sheen. It even feels correct, and lacks the OTT relicing that makes many guitars look like they’ve been tied to the back of a truck and dragged around the streets. The result is a very authentic look and the feel of an old, used but cared for ’60s SG.
The weight of the 35mm one-piece mahogany body will delight those with back twinges, and the common SG neck-heaviness is balanced somewhat by the – slightly questionable – inclusion of a Gibson Maestro vibrato system. This bent steel-spring vibrato has an elaborate tailpiece that belies its functional simplicity.
The Maestro has full retro credentials but it’s often disabled for the sake of tuning stability, and some say it has less sustain than a Tun-O-Matic and a stop tailpiece. The travel is similar to a Bigsby’s and the tuning stability is far from solid. Even with stretched strings, so it’s best used for slight wobbles.
Gibson Robby Krieger Design
The vibrato unit and rest of the nickel hardware including the ABR bridge is also authentically aged, with the exception of the grotty nickel pickup covers, which look like someone has sneezed on them. Doors-spotters may note that Krieger often used an SG Special with twin P90s. Here we have a pair of Gibson ’57 humbuckers with a push/pull to put them out-of-phase in the mixed position, a sound Krieger uses live for Peace Frog, amongst others.
Plastic parts include three aged ‘witch hat’ knobs and an odd ‘bell’ knob on the neck pickup volume. Plus a smoky-looking toggle switch with the rhythm/lead print fading away – a neat touch. The cramped layout can take some getting used to. And it’s advisable to employ a right-angled lead for sanity’s sake.
Gibson Robby Krieger SG VOS According to Robby, the neck is very flat backed and flamenco-like at the lower end. With a hybrid profile modelled on both a ’61 SG and his own ‘67 SG Standard. In reality the flat-backed nature is not nearly as severe as promised. And it makes a comfortable progression from a shallow D shape at the lower end up to a softer, chunky roundness. After a few minutes of use all this is forgotten – you just know you’re simply playing a good neck shape.
The rosewood fingerboard has neatly routed inlays with 22 medium frets. There are no traditional binding ‘nibs’ on the fret ends: the frets extend to the edge of the fingerboard, increasing the playing width by a few millimetres. In fact, putting my luthier hat on for a moment, the ‘re-fretted’ look perfectly complements the pre-used aesthetic.
Grover-made, Gibson-badged tulip buttoned Klusons head up the black-faced headstock, which displays no Krieger signature. In fact, apart from the unmatched knob there’s no indication that this is a signature guitar at all.
It always takes a few seconds to orientate to an SG. The position of the neck/heel join gives fantastic access to the higher frets. But the design pushes the headstock and fretboard away further than on other guitars. Despite playing in the wrong key for a few moments, the tone was immediate, with a woody, airy and surprising soft acoustic tone from the 10-46 gauge strings.
Gibson Robby Krieger SG VOS Maybe the vibrato sucks a little natural mass from the tone. But connecting a Class A/B 1×12″ combo and opening it up revealed the guitar’s throaty nature. With a moderate amp gain setting. But pushing the volume for an authentic old school output, the bridge pickup has that wonderful, focused midrange bark of an all-mahogany guitar. With good quality, sensibly-wound humbuckers – not as flabby as a weighty Les Paul and with a tighter, more aggressive snarl.
After a little height tweak to balance the outputs, the neck unit proves to be juicy and flutey. And sheds the thicker woolly edge of a Les Paul in favour of dark clarity. Popping up the bridge tone pot engages the out-of-phase wiring; it’s a strident, honky voice which is great with gain but less ear-friendly or usable on cleaner settings.
As signature or limited edition guitars go, this one falls on the right side of the taste fence in virtually every category. The unusual neck shape and simple wiring modification aside. It is essentially a Gibson Robby Krieger reissue – albeit a very good one. It’s a little more expensive, reflecting Krieger’s specs. But it’s still far cheaper than a genuine mint ’60s SG. The vibrato won’t be to everyone’s taste but the finish on both wood and hardware is excellent. The frets would benefit from a little elbow grease. But this is a small gripe on a guitar with a great feel and superb sounds. Another plus is the subtlety – without a day-glo signature, only the few will know it’s an artist model. And in our book, that only adds extra kudos.