Double Trouble: Gibson Custom’s stunning Dickey Betts SG celebrates not one but two Allman Brothers Band guitar legends
By Richard Bienstock
In Allman Brothers Band lore, the instrument most closely associated with guitarist Dickey Betts is the 1957 Les Paul, nicknamed Goldie, that he favored for much of his career. But there’s another six-string intimately connected to the former ABB guitarist, a modified 1961 Gibson SG Standard that also happens to have a shared history with Betts’ onetime bandmate, the late Duane Allman.
Betts purchased the guitar around 1970, but he soon handed it over to Duane to shorten the between-song lulls that invariably occurred when Allman would retune one of his own instruments for slide use. “I gave him my SG,” Betts recalls recently, “and he played slide on it ever since.”
Dickey’s act of generosity — or impatience, perhaps—has now been memorialized by Gibson Custom as the Dickey Betts SG, also known as the “From One Brother to Another” SG. The limited-edition model is being produced in an extremely small run—just 250 beautiful VOS examples ($6,115) and an even more stunning 75 instruments hand-aged by Gibson Custom and featuring a Certificate of Authenticity signed by Betts ($9,880).
All of the guitars boast a hand-sprayed Vintage Red nitrocellulose lacquer finish and feature many period-correct touches, like a one-piece mahogany body carved to a historically accurate early Sixties SG shape, a deep-set glued-in mahogany neck, and a rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid inlays. Several unique appointments reflect modifications that were undertaken on Betts’ original ax, including Schaller tuning machines, “banjo” fretwire, plastic saddles, and a stopbar tailpiece in place of the period-correct sideways tremolo.
“The original SG, like so many artist guitars I’ve seen, had a lot of modification done to it,” says Edwin Wilson, manager of the Historic Program at the Gibson Custom Division. “I don’t know at what point in its history these things were done, but there’s not much on the guitar as far as the hardware goes that’s original.” Gibson made every attempt to match these modifications—up to a point.
“In the case of the stopbar tailpiece,” Wilson says, “somebody installed it really, really crooked. It was bad. So while it didn’t make much sense to us to copy this exactly and put on a crooked tailpiece, we did go as far as to locate our tailpiece the same distance behind the ABR-1 bridge that Dickey’s was. If you look at the original, it looks like the stopbar is very close to the bridge, so we moved ours closer, too. We also replicated the holes in the body from where the original tremolo was removed.”
In order to capture the classic SG tone from this period, Gibson loaded the Betts SG with a pair of Custom Bucker Alnico III pickups with aged nickel covers. Says Wilson, “On these older guitars, the majority of the pickups are not very high-output, but they’re very tuneful and rich-sounding pickups. With the Dickey SG, it made all the sense in the world to use something that would have been like a PAF from that era, and the Custom Bucker is the closest pickup we have.”
The Dickey Betts SG shown here is one of the 75 aged examples being offered. Wilson says that Gibson took particular care with the hand aging to reflect every ding and dent in the original. That guitar, which was provided to Gibson by its current owner, Graham Nash, “was really worn, to say the least,” Wilson recalls. “A lot of lines on the body, a lot of wear and tear on the back, and a lot of finish gone from the back of the neck. And I think we did a really excellent job at copying it.”
Indeed, Wilson says, early interest in the Dickey Betts SG has been strong. “There were some concerns that not enough people would know the story about the guitar, so they might look at it and go, ‘Well, I thought Dickey Betts played a Goldtop.’ “But the response has been excellent. People look at this guitar and go, ‘Man that’s an awesome instrument.’ Then they hear the story behind it, and it pulls them in even more. And ultimately, that’s what everybody wants. That’s why we all do what we do. Because we see something and go, What’s that? And finding out more about it becomes an addictive thing.”