Guitar Geekery, or Why the Godin SD is a slice of design genius.

Prompted by answering a couple of questions about the sounds on Ghosts & Heroes (no, seriously, people ask these things!), I thought I’d write a short piece on the guitar that did most of the heavy lifting in those sessions. Some of this is going to be a little heavy on the guitar-geekery, but I’ll do my best to keep it interesting for a broader audience.

There are many things to love about my favourite electric guitar, a 1998 Godin SD. It is beautiful. It is, I believe, a unique and clever hybrid. There aren’t many of them on this side of the Atlantic. It was also a screaming bargain on eBay, which always helps.

Why Godin guitars are so relatively affordable is hard to understand; they’re all made in Canada (with the exception of some of their electrics, like this one, which are assembled over the border in the US state of New Hampshire from Canadian timber for reasons that I suspect have to do with minimum wage laws/healthcare/dental plans). They depreciate significantly, because they’re not Gibsons or Fenders, I suppose. The loss of the crowd-following types is the gain of those of us in the know!

This one is nicer than your average SD for a couple of reasons, first and foremost the Seymour Duncan Custom Custom pickup that the previous owner had the good sense to install at some point in the first decade of its life.

One of the most remarkable things about my SD in particular is that it was made within a month of its stablemate, my Gordon-Smith GS1 (of which more later, perhaps), in 1998.  I was 10 years old and had scarcely touched a guitar, but in two places thousands of miles apart within a few weeks of each other, two guitars were made that would eventually find their way to me.

What led me to start looking for one in the first place was a gentle curiosity for all things Stratocaster-shaped culminating in a blinding epiphany when borrowing a friend’s Strat when sitting in for one song at their gig (in the Packhorse in Leeds, for those keeping score).

Technical language warning! Stratocasters have three pickups and a five-way switch. Why five-way? I hear you cry, when there are only three options? Because, my curious friend, positions two and four on this switch select the middle pickup with either the neck or bridge pickup in parallel. On my Godin, position 4 is half single-coil middle pickup, half humbucker bridge pickup, which further adds to the sonic alchemy going on . It is these in-between settings that give the likes of Richard Thompson and Mark Knopfler their distinctive Strat sounds. On said night, I suddenly realised that these in-between settings reveal details in your right-hand pick/finger attack that are otherwise inaudible, and make really, really cool sounds in the process. I grew up a little as a guitarist right then and there.

Why not get a Strat then? Read on!

Those of us raised in the late 90s and early 00s are scarred by the presence of millions of cheap Chinese Stratocaster copies, and I think it puts a lot of people off the notion. I’d count myself among that number; it’s tough to shake off the image of every beginner guitarist you’ve ever known struggling to play an F chord on their plasticky Strat copy. Even proper, nice Stratocasters are a bit, well, bland for some of us. By the time you’ve specified an attractive translucent finish and a humbucker at the bridge, you might as well sort all the other things you don’t really care for at the same time…

Enter, then, a hybrid. The SD has the bridge and pickups of a Strat grafted onto the curvaceous body that is Godin’s signature. It is, if such a thing is possible, a refinement of a classic. It ditches the just-plain-irritating (and also ugly) top-mounted jack plate, the too-close-to-the-strings volume knob placement and instead opts for a side-mounted jack and global tone and volume controls, decluttering the top. It is further hybridised by having a 24 ¾ “ scale (the measurement between the bridge and the nut). This makes it like Gibsons and almost every steel-strung acoustic guitar in the world. This is a Good Thing for those of us who grew up playing guitars of that scale and never really enjoyed adapting to Fender’s 25 ½” malarky. Combined with the skinny-but-not-too-skinny rock maple neck, it makes for an easy, smooth playing experience (that is, once you’ve taken some steel wool to the gloss finish on the back of the neck…sticky!).

It’s a compromise, of course. You no longer look like Hank Marvin, Buddy Holly or Eric Clapton. You might, however, look like your own man.

You retain, crucially, the in-between-pickups sounds. With a maple neck and a traditional Strat-style sprung vibrato bridge, it covers most of the sonic territory of a Strat with ease. With the Seymour Duncan humbucker replacing the factory one in the bridge position, this particular one has an authentic rock voice as well.

It plays something of a starring role on Ghosts & Heroes, mostly through a Vox AC15 surrounded by a small forest of microphones that included Sennheiser e906 and MD918U and an AKG C414.

I’m going to put my inner guitar geek away now, but if anyone finds this remotely interesting I could talk about amps and mics, the aforementioned Gordon Smith, a couple of basses… GuitarGeekery Chapter 2, perhaps? Leave a comment and let me know.

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20 responses

  1. George Jr. Putnam

    Used Godins are GREAT deals. Schecters too.

    December 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

  2. Steve

    Ive had one since 1998 and its probably the best guitar ive played, mine is well broken in now, a little scratchy in the pickups, but still sounds sweet.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:45 am

  3. I have a SD circa 98. Mine has a Seymour Duncan pickup as well. I have a feeling that there must have been a run of them with this pickup as standard, maybe that’s why it was called SD as I have seen quite a few with the same bridge humbucker. Does any of this matter? Not really, but it is the best guitar I have ever owned.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    • Tom Sweeney

      Interesting! You don’t see many of that vintage on this side of the pond, so I’ve not had much to compare it with. Lovely guitar though.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:14 pm

  4. Leo Ng

    I had mine since 2001 and have a Seymour Duncan too. I found your page as I was looking for the information on pick- up anyway sweet guitar and great craftsmanship

    September 15, 2012 at 12:32 am

    • Tom Sweeney

      More evidence for the factory-installed Custom Custom then!

      September 16, 2012 at 10:16 pm

  5. rafael

    hi, i’m looking for a guitar and someone offered me an used SD with Seymour Duncan pics… I really liked your article and I see you know what you talking about ;), so i would like to ask you if you recommended this guitar for playing metal. Thanks! 🙂

    September 28, 2012 at 4:41 am

    • Tom Sweeney

      I’m no expert on playing metal, but I’d imagine it would do a job. Not sure it’d look the part, though…

      September 28, 2012 at 1:32 pm

  6. rafael

    thanks for answer… I did’n complete understand the last part, since my english isn’t good enough..

    October 1, 2012 at 1:56 am

  7. nicoleskeltys

    Just bought one of these today in a second hand shop in Australia, loving the sound and feel. Great blog BTW, engaging range of topics, well penned, keep it up! Cheers

    December 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

  8. Peter Smith

    I bought a 90s sd (hardly used) from a second hand store in Kendal a few years ago for £120.00. For sheer bulid quality it is fantastic value and at that price, and in mint condition, it was a steal. Don’t like the new SD’s as they have that made in China feel. I mainly use the SD for recording I also have an A6 ultra which is very versatile. I too can’t understand how these quality instruments do not hold their value.

    May 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm

  9. memento

    This was my first real electric, also bought in 98. I have had several other guitars but this one will always be my first love. One big recommendation I have is to get a set of John Benson pickups. I have no reason to plug this guy other than the fact that he makes the best pickups I have ever heard. He made me two (hand Wound) custom single coils and Humbucker for a very cheap price. He answered emails etc, working with me to get the exact sound I wanted. WIth these pickups in THIS guitar, I now have my perfect guitar. The tone of the pickups is beyond perfection and the guitar…. well the author of this article has done a far better job of describing how good this guitar is than I ever could.
    I have tried numerous strats etc but non of them come close to how my SD sounds and feels after the pickup mod I did.
    Here is a link to the pickup makers site. I will stress again that I have no ties or reason to support him other than he provided me with a service so rarely found these days.

    http://www.bensoncustom.com/

    December 10, 2013 at 2:33 pm

  10. I enjoyed finding this page as I just bought a red 1998 Godin SD at GC for under $180. Quite a bargain judging from the build and feel. They threw in some strings as the ones on it were probably original. I know I’m going to love it but sadly must wait for another 28 days as it is on “police hold,” meaning they wait before releasing it to see if any theft reports come in.

    March 28, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    • Tom Sweeney

      Well, I hope it’s not hot!

      I’m enjoying this post slowly becoming a tiny forum for people with SDs.

      March 29, 2014 at 1:11 am

  11. I just picked one up today on Ebay for $175 USD. Last month I found a Seagull Artist series Mahogany Spruce in perfect shape for $600. Ridiculously affordable for the quality of the pieces.

    May 31, 2014 at 3:02 am

  12. Max Chupailo

    An SD was my first guitar. It remains my favourite guitar as well.

    June 6, 2015 at 3:28 am

  13. I, too, own a ’98 SD looking exactly like the red one above. I just purchased an Epiphone Dot and need to thin my herd. I was looking at selling the SD, but after reading all comments (and the blog) here, I am having second thoughts. I’ve got a lower level Parker that I hardly play and maybe that should be the one going on the chopping block. Back in days as a single guy I never had to make such cruel and difficult decisions!

    June 8, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    • Jason

      I just bought one of these for 85$ in a pawn shop, those fucking doped had no idea it wasn’t made in China

      October 22, 2015 at 1:05 am

  14. I have a red Godin SD (same as above) bought new in 2003 for £350 along with a beautiful tweed Godin hardcase. It has served me well ever since and I have played in all sorts of bands of differing genres. I don’t mind the original pickups to be honest, but think the ones with Seymour Duncs sound pretty neat. I’m mainly an acoustic player these days, but when I play electric it’s always the SD I go for. Stunning guitar, playability, tone and build. One negative is it’s perhaps on the heavy side, but maybe it’s playing so much acoustic these days that has made me a weak shouldered folkie!

    August 17, 2015 at 10:21 pm

  15. Christopher

    This an old thread but I’ll chine in too – The Godin SDxt I bought from a US luthier that flew all the way to New Zealand, arrived in prefect condition in 2007 and still operates flawlessly ten years later. It is a beautifully-built guitar. The neck is flawlessly attached to the body, the pickups (some might wish to change them as you do) I find just great for what I want: a bit of twang and all the way to a bit of jazz. The finish all over is impeccable. As you would expect from a guitar made in Canada and assembled in the US. If you can find one, do buy it. It is a superior instrument that offers a LP and Tele sound in one unit. (I have the HSH version). Seriously, a big shout out all the way from New Zealand here – this is a steal if you can find one. Cheers.

    July 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

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