"This guitar is stunning to look at, a joy to play and has the tone to boot": Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom review

An impeccably styled guitar that might seem pricey for some, is certainly worth the money

  • £1299
  • $1499
Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 Custom SG
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

MusicRadar Verdict

The Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom is another in a long list of wins for Epiphone – proving they are at the top of their game right now. This guitar is stunning to look at, a joy to play and has the tone to boot. Whether you are a Bonamassa fan or not, we highly urge you to check this guitar out, as it is simply stunning.

Pros

  • +

    Gorgeous to look at

  • +

    The finishing is very good

  • +

    Pickups sound great

  • +

    Flawless neck

Cons

  • -

    Feels a little unbalanced while sitting down

  • -

    It took a while to get the tuning to stay stable

  • -

    We aren't a fan of the yellowed headstock and white binding

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Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom: What is it?

Epiphone's long-running collaboration with blues virtuoso Joe Bonamassa has proved to be one of the most popular and lucrative in the company's history, and it doesn't look like they'll be stopping anytime soon – and let's face it, Joe isn't going to run out of guitars to give an affordable Epi makeover. The team's latest project is a faithful recreation of Joe's beloved – and rather rare – 1963 Gibson SG Custom, and it might just be the best-looking model to date. 

When you think of SG Customs, especially models from this era, you'll typically think of the brilliant white finish made famous by the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Jimi Hendrix, but Joe's '63 model is a little different. Specially ordered by the original owner in factory cherry red, this guitar is truly unique and was used throughout the decade with his band, The Casuals. Joe has the receipts and photos to prove it. 

Dressed in the unusual dark cherry red finish, this brand-new Epiphone stays pretty true to the original vintage guitar while managing to keep the price down. Featuring a beautifully contoured mahogany body, smooth mahogany neck, a trio of humbuckers, gold Maestro Vibrola and waffleback tuners, and even a unique neck heel joint, this guitar is as close as you'll get to Joe's actual guitar without parting with a colossal $50,000. 

Like other Bonamassa models, this SG comes with a custom hardshell case with a goldenrod plush interior and Joe's exterior graphics. You'll also find a certificate of authenticity in the case's pocket.

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 Custom SG

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom: Performance and verdict

Design and playability

Okay, we need to first address just how good this guitar looks in person. Yes, it's pretty impressive in photographs, but lifting the guitar out of its appropriately retro case, we were struck by its beauty. 

The dark hue of the body's red finish is less cherry and more oxblood, which really makes the contours of the devilish SG pop. The gilded Epiphone-branded Maestro Vibrola and stack of humbuckers, the stark white pickguard, and vintage top hat controls with gold reflectors all add up to one of the best-looking Epiphone guitars we've ever seen. 

If we were to have one critic of Epiphone's aesthetic choices, it would be the mismatched binding of the headstock and neck. Joe's original model is over 60 years old, and therefore, the nitrocellulose lacquer has yellowed, turning the binding around the headstock a lovely shade of amber. To emulate this, Epiphone has opted for two different binding colours – piercing white on the neck and orange for the headstock.

Now, don't get us wrong, we totally understand this decision, but as the rest of the guitar hasn't been artificially aged, it comes off looking a little out of place, in our opinion. 

Moving on to the playability, and boy, does this SG feel good! Billed as a Slim Taper C profile, the neck here is immensely comfortable. Comparing it to our Gibson SG Standard and Gibson '61 Special, we'd say this Epiphone variant is actually slimmer than both – especially at the nut – and is more uniform as you progress to the dusty end. 

The nut width is ever so slightly narrower, coming in at 1.692", while the Standard is marginally wider at 1.694" and the Special at 1.695". Of course, this isn't exactly a massive difference on paper, but you can certainly feel the discrepancy in your hand. 

The fretwork is spot on, too. We've complained in the past that Epiphone guitars are leaving the factory with dull and scratchy frets, but in the case of this SG Custom, the frets are brilliantly polished and very well-dressed. We encountered absolutely no set-up problems at all. In fact, the guitar was perfectly playable straight out of the box – as you'd expect when you are paying £1,499 for an electric guitar. 

We are aware that some players aren't fans of the three-pickup design, claiming it makes the 

guitar too difficult to play. We'd have to agree that the placement of the pickups does make picking a little awkward, but after half an hour of playing, we naturally adjusted our technique, and it really wasn't a problem. 

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 Custom SG

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Tones

With three pickups taking up so much real estate at the centre of this guitar, you'd expect this SG to produce a rather impressive noise – and we're happy to announce it does not disappoint. 

Loaded with a combination of Epiphone's ProBucker 2 in the neck and middle and the hotter ProBucker 3 in the bridge, this guitar sounds exactly as you'd expect. The Alnico II humbuckers are warm, open and emotive. We particularly liked the output of the bridge pickup, which pushed our Vox AC30 nicely into a bluesy breakup. 

It's worth noting that this SG Custom isn't wired like a true vintage example. Cycling through the options on the three-way toggle and you'll instantly notice that this setup is way more usable and fiercely versatile. 

With the selector down, you have the bridge pickup on its own, which is sharp, bright and assertive. In the middle, you gain access to the bridge and middle combined in phase. This tone has a little more body and mids, sounding fuller and rounder. As you'd expect, with the selector up, you get just neck on its own, which sounds mellow and fat. 

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 Custom SG

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Final thoughts

There's no two ways about it, Epiphone are killing it at the moment. From the recently reviewed Kirk Hammett Greeny 1959 Les Paul Standard to the new Dave Grohl DG-335 and now this epic Joe Bonamassa SG Custom, Epiphone are proving that they have what it takes to make a premium guitar that a world-renowned artist would happily play on stage night after night. 

From its impeccable finishing to its stellar range of tones and drop-dead gorgeous styling, this is an absolutely brilliant guitar - there's no question about it. 

Now, we understand the price may put some players off. Yes, it's true, you can buy a Gibson SG – albeit a Special – for around this price. But, while it will have Gibson on the headstock, you won't be getting these specs – you certainly won't get three pickups or a Maestro Vibrola. 

So, if you find yourself pining after a retro-inspired SG Custom that's dripping with vintage mojo and that has some of that Bonamassa magic sprinkled in for good measure, then this is the guitar for you. 

MusicRadar verdict: The Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom is another in a long list of wins for Epiphone – proving they are at the top of their game right now. This guitar is stunning to look at, a joy to play and has the tone to boot. Whether you are a Bonamassa fan or not, we highly urge you to check this guitar out, as it is simply stunning.  

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom: The web says

"Whether or not you think the price is on the high side, we have to concede that between them Epiphone and Bonamassa have created a stunning-looking guitar that not only makes a powerful visual statement but also covers pretty much any musical base you can think of."
Guitar World

"Epiphone’s Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom is a great guitar that plays and sounds wonderful and looks like a million bucks. Tones are full ”with a cool twanginess” and it richly deserves an Editors' Pick Award"
Guitar Player

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom: Hands-on demos

OfficialEpiphone

Guitar Center

  • Origin: China
  • Body: 2-piece mahogany with chamfered edges 
  • Neck: 1-piece slim-taper mahogany with unusual smooth neck-to-body joint, glued-in
  • Scale Length: 629mm (24.75")
  • Nut: Graph Tech/43.022mm
  • Fingerboard: Single-bound ebony, mother-of-pearl block inlays, 305mm (12") radius
  • Frets: 22, medium jumbo
  • Hardware: Epiphone LockTone tune-o-matic bridge and Maestro Vibrola vibrato/tailpiece, Kluson waffleback tuners w/'tulip' buttons – gold plated
  • Electrics: 2 covered Epiphone ProBuckers (neck and middle), covered Epiphone ProBucker 3 (bridge), 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, volume and tone for each pickup
  • Weight (kg/lb): 3.54/7.8
  • Finish: Gloss dark Wine Red Polyester
  • Contact: Epiphone
Daryl Robertson
Senior Deals Writer

I'm a Senior Deals Writer at MusicRadar, and I'm responsible for writing and maintaining buyer's guides on the site - but that's not all I do. As part of my role, I also scour the internet for the best deals I can find on gear and get hands-on with the products for reviews. My gear reviews have also been published in prominent publications, including Total Guitar and Future Music magazines, as well as Guitar World.


I have a massive passion for anything that makes a sound, particularly guitars, pianos, and recording equipment. In a previous life, I worked in music retail, giving advice on all aspects of music creation and selling everything from digital pianos to electric guitars, entire PA systems, and ukuleles. I'm also a fully qualified sound engineer who holds a first-class Bachelor's degree in Creative Sound Production from the University of Abertay and I have plenty of experience working in various venues around Scotland.