Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gibson Sonex 180 Custom






In the early 1980's Gibson was going through an R &D experimental phase. They made the Marauder and the Sonex models. Taking a Que from Fender Guitars, Gibson decided to make some bolt on Les Paul style guitars. I can only guess as to why they decided to do the bolt on style neck but usually when things change drastically the primary motivation is evil, err or money. They also used what they called resonwood. The resonwood had a solid core and resin casting around the core. This made for a lighter guitar and frankly a very durable guitar. These guitars had excellent string sustain and if you are a metal, thrash, shredder, then these are attributes that mean money baby.The colors were primarily black or white and the finish had a satin patina. The cool thing about these guitars is that everybody wanted a Les Paul and for a lot less than a Les Paul Standard you could own a guitar that arguably had the same tone if not better tone. They offered these guitar with complex wiring schemes so one could run the pickups in or out of phase or simulate a single coil pickup sound. The 80's necks had the funky heel piece behind the nut where the owner based on my consensus, love or hate the contour. Nevertheless, these guitars played well and have withstood the test of time and if you have one - It's a keeper! These guitars with the Fender like necks ultimately do NOT play like a Fender guitar. I find them to be Gibson-ish through and though. These guitars a capable of playing all styles and you can get them at a bargain base price on Ebay.

If you are dying for a Les Paul but you have yet to inherit a fortune for that vintage Les Paul Standard from 1959, then you might just want to try one of these guitars out. Don't pass it up based on looks. Some of the nicest guitars 'ain't the prettiest so get your own diamond in the rough! Sonex 180 Custom and the The Marauder.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I bought a Sonex 180 custom in 1981, I played it with a band I was with when I served in the USAF. The problems I had with it that come to mind is the tuning machines, they had to be replaced and I have trouble setting the intonation on the high E string. Other than that this is a wonderful guitar. I still have it and its almost in perfect condition, it's candy apple red with the coil switch. Anybody know what its worth with the machines replaced?

Scott said...

Three part answer:
1- If you replace the tuners with like tuners and didn't need to fill holes or make new holes - resale barely effected.
2- Strange tuners not found on Gibson from that era and the peg head is full of holes - Some reduction in price.
3- This is a wonderful guitar and has held value well. Probably worth double the original cost depending on the amount you originally paid. However, it's not a Gibson Les Paul from 1959 - it's a player but collectors are not cashing in their 401K plan for these. I wouldn't sweat the details.
3a - I thought the originals to be Grovers? I presume you were confident the problem emanated from the tuners. The bottom line is the holes - If there are visible holes on the back of the peg head - even neophytes will call you out on that distinction.

Scott said...

Also, I usually look at the nut and bridge when there are intonation issues. I am curious as to whether replacing the tuners resolved the issue and if so - What was the problem with tuners; i.e., loose shaft, improper mounting?

Anonymous said...

I really can't remember what kind of tuners were on there originally but you might be right (Grover's) and yes, you can see 6 little tiny holes in the back barely noticeable, and yes, replacing them fixed the problem I was having, they were just low quality and kept slipping. The intonation problem is in the bridge, the points were so sharp the string would become unwound and then break so they were filed ever so lightly to prevent the strings from breaking and I think that is the reason for some of my problems. I took it out after reading this article and I gave it a good look all over and other than the 6 holes and a few belt buckle blemishes there is absolutely no dings or chips anywhere, the only other things is the little screws holding on the pick guard seemed to be tarnished or lightly rusted not sure as I can still use a screw driver and easily remove them if I wanted too. This is my baby! I tried to take care of it as best I could and this guitar is a power house, it's great for rock like ACDC. The action is awesome I'm glad I bought it, it's a beautiful guitar and did I mention heavy? This was my first serious guitar I learned the most with it and played professionally with it. But for about 20 years I put it down only picking it up every now and then but I'm getting into recording my own stuff now so I will be picking it up again.

Scott said...

Great story and information! As for the pickguard screws being loose; remove your pick guard, take a small pine tooth pick and wire cutters, place the toothpick in the hole and cut it flush with the surface of the guitar. Now, get some white glue, coat the toothpick with glue and carefully insert it into the hole. Let it dry then re-install the pick guard and screws and the screws will hold tight and you will not have ruined the appearance or value of the instrument. AS for the bridges, I always keep the original in a bag with the instrument or in a safe place but I replace them. Some Gibson ABR-1 and Nashville tuners I've seen look like they had a file to them. They just get worn and need replacement and only cost about $25.00 US at Allparts, Stu Mac or Guitar Center. Thanks! Scott

Anonymous said...

these are the last great deals out there. sound and play better than a 2K les paul. amazing low action. slightly evil and dark sounding but still do other styles of music well. thin neck, a bit heavy but and USA made Gibson magic built in..and i'm a Fender guy

Anonymous said...

see: http://www2.gibson.com/Gibson.aspx, and then click the "serial numbers" under "24/7 support". I have a 1981 Gibson Sonex Custom 180, bright yellow in color, year: 1981 - April 13, Nashville, TN.

Scott said...

Various Gibson's are "sleepers," and the amount of comments tends to support that belief. The Sonex and "The Paul" posts are popular and I especially like the Gibson "The Paul."

Mike Mooney said...

Agree with your review, except for one line: "This made for a lighter guitar". Are you kidding? The Sonex is the heaviest guitar I've ever played, murder on the shoulders on a long gig. Probably the only bad thing about it, TBH.

Anonymous said...

Just got a black 1980 Sonex 180 Standard. The truss rod cover says "Deluxe," but it's a Standard - has coil tap. Love the guitar, and it came with the original case (stunk to high heaven of cig smoke, though). I fumigated the case and cleaned it up a bit. I agree that these are a sleeping giant. I'm not a cork sniffer, and judge guitars on their own merits. The only thing I don't like about it is the fact that it took me 36 years to discover it! Since it's not a truly collectable guitar, I may eventually paint it in aged white - one of my favorite colors. Incidentally, the headstock was broken off when I bought it (how I bought it CHEAP!), which I promptly repaired - I've been doing these type repairs for nearly 40 years. I'm glad others continue to enjoy and appreciate these "cheapies." My name is Kelly - didn't undertand how to attach my name to this comment.

Àlex Cerezo said...

Very nice post!
I was searching some info about the sonex cause the guitar player in my band plays one of these. I don't understand very well what is the second switch controller. There's the pickup selector as usual, but the guitar has another small selector near the tone controls.
My question is: does this switch change the humbucker into a single coil?
I was playing it yesterday and the only thing i noticed was that in the neck pickup, you can get a darker sound (as if you roll the tone all the way down), but i noticed no difference on the bridge pickup... could be the settings on the bridge pickup are in a bad shape... i don't know.
Thanks anyway for the info!

PD: the guitar is heavier than hell, it kills your back, but it feels really nice and has a very characteristic sound, very woody.


Scott said...
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Scott said...
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Scott said...

@alex Cerezo, This is what happens: the switch "UP" allows the guitar to run normally in humbucker mode. Switch "DOWN," one coil from each pickup is bypassed (the ones closest to each other or "Inside coils") which produces a true single coil sound. IN single coil mode more highs are produced and you might experience some volume drop. In your case, the bridge pickups are usually brighter. I have Gibson "T" tops and the tone pot is almost useless on the bridge pickup. You could add different capacitors and/or different pots to achieve darker tone. Good luck! Scott

lindy horner said...

I recently purchased a 1980 sonex which has sonex 180 standard on the truss rod cover. I was wondering what the difference is in this guitar and a delux.thanks,
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Scott said...

This is more rather simple. Gibson introduced the instrument as The Sonex 180 in 1980. In 1981, in their infinite wisdom they decided to rename the instrument the Sonex Deluxe. Both models are the same and only the name changed. Thanks!

Mishap said...

@lindy horner
There were 3 Sonex models in 1980: Deluxe, Standard, and Custom (I believe the Artist was introduced in 1981). No disrespect to the previous poster, but the Standard and Custom both have coil tap and Dirty Fingers humbuckers while the Deluxe has Velvet Brick humbuckers without coil tap. I have a 1980 Deluxe myself. These guitars are oddballs (baseball bat neck, tiny frets), but the rock tone they possess is incredible for the sub $1000 vintage price. Hold on to your Standard if you can, the word is starting to get out on these, and also they're a lot of fun.

Unknown said...

Anyone out there have a silver Sonex (not silverburst)? I've read that there were very few of those produced. Also, there's a Facebook page for the Sonex, but it's extremely weak. Could use some scholarly help: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gibson-Sonex/116779878369454?fref=ts

Kelly said...

Anyone out there have a silver Sonex (not silverburst)? I've read that there were very few of those produced. Also, there's a Facebook page for the Sonex, but it's extremely weak. Could use some scholarly help: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gibson-Sonex/116779878369454?fref=ts

Mishap said...

@Kelly
I've been researching Sonexes for fun for over a year (buying one in the process), and while it looks like there's a silver one on eBay now, I definitely see fewer silver/burst ones than black, white (many of which look more cream now), and red. The Artists are the really weird ones, with Moog effects included and a battery port, I think there are fewer than 1000 of those out there, total, and I've never seen one, even for sale.

As far as rare/investment guitars go (if you were interested in that side), the Sonex was cheap, especially by 80s Gibson standards, and while people like them, they're a player's guitar for sure. If a famous guitarist were to publicly play only Sonexes, then they might become investment guitars. For now, they're around the $500-$750 range in playable shape, though they can be found for less. If you were to buy one in or below that range, you could play it for a few years and likely sell it for more than you paid.

On the playing side, these are fun guitars. I would love to have a better adjective, but seriously, play a set-up and functional Sonex and try not to have a good time. The pickups are super hot, so if you like pushing clean amps to break-up or live for gain and sustain, you're going to be stunned by how much tone you get for the price. It seems unlikely to me that players focusing on technical wizardry or pedal tone quests would dig these too much, as they're a little tempestuous, but if you want the lowered-brow "Oh Yeah!!" response to something rocking faces and don't mind the occasional "I swear I played that chord/note right" brow furrow, you've got the perfect guitar.

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