Gibson SG Special vs ESP LTD Viper 1000

Gibson SG SpecialGibson SG Special
ESP LTD Viper 1000ESP LTD Viper 1000

The Gibson SG Special offers a stripped down and cheaper American made alternative to the Standard.

This places it firmly in the budget territory of a similar priced SG style guitar - the ESP Viper 1000 (Deluxe).

Two very popular guitars with some significant differences. Let's see how they compare...

SG Special vs Viper 1000 Deluxe - side by side

Model SG Special Viper 1000
Rating 90
Ultimate Guitar
Harmony Central
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Ultimate Guitar
Harmony Central
Guitar Center
Musicians Friend
Model SG Special Viper 1000
Weight 6lb 10oz 9lb 3oz
Tuners Traditional Green Key LTD Locking
Neck 1pc Maple 3pc Mahogany
Scale Length 24.75"
Nut Width 1.69" 1.65"
Fingerboard Rosewood Ebony
Radius 12" 13.7"
Frets 22
Medium Jumbo
Extra Jumbo
Inlays Acrylic Small Block Abalone Flags
Body Mahogany 
Pickups 490R
Mini Humbuckers
EMG 85
EMG 81
Bridge Tune-O-Matic Tonepros Tune-O-Matic
Hardware Chrome Plated Zamak
Black Nickel
SG Special Viper 1000

SG Special Viper 1000
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Musicians Friend

Key Differences Between SG Special & Viper

In a nutshell, we're looking at a traditional vs modern SG spec, with the ESP featuring some major modifications that make it particularly suited to metal and modern rock.

Gibson SG Special vs ESP LTD Viper 1000SG Special (top) with the traditional satin finish and mini humbuckers.

Materials & Construction

The SG Special's brighter, snappier tone (see below) can be partly attributed to its maple neck. It also helps to make the Special less "neck heavy" than the Standard and more lightweight overall.

The Viper's mahogany neck helps to deliver a deeper, darker tone.

The (aesthetically) darker Ebony fingerboard on the Viper is purely cosmetic.

With a slightly narrower nut width, players with smaller hands may find the Viper more comfortable in the open position. It also has a flatter fingerboard radius, meaning lead playing, such as bends, will be easier on the fingers, especially higher up the neck.

The extra jumbo frets further aid bending and vibrato ease and the two additional frets (24 vs 22 on the Special) confirm the Viper as a more capable shredding axe.


Another nice feature on the 1000 is the locking tuners, which locks the string on to the tuning post, preventing it from going out of tune due to slippage. It also saves time when re-stringing, as there are no winds to worry about.

At the bridge, we have two similar Tune-o-Matic style bridges, although some may consider the Tonepros branded bridge on the Viper as a bonus.

Pickups & Tone

The pickups could not be more different!

Metal players will love the active EMG's on the Viper, making the output far hotter than the more traditional 490's on the Special. However, you will have to change the battery every so often to power the active circuitry.

Tone-wise, the outcome is rather predictable. The Viper delivers a much beefier, more high-gain/distortion friendly tone, making it perfect for metal.

But the cleans also benefit from the Viper's spec - rich, vibrant and with plenty of bass attainable. Compare that to the brighter, mid-treble attack of the Special and you have a clear diametric difference in overall tone.

▲ Compare Sound

Bottom Line

The appeal of an American made Gibson shouldn't be understated, but beyond the clear stylistic differences to which these guitars are suited, you are getting more guitar for your money with the ESP Viper, and the ratings/reviews reflect that.

While the $100 difference is not insignificant, at this end of the price spectrum there is a clear justification for saving up that little bit longer if you want a more modern, metal-ready alternative to the SG with a few genuinely useful bonuses such as locking tuners and Tonepros bridge.

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