More familiar territory? You'd think so, but this guitar is even more radical than the Eye Guitar. The clue is in the name: the body of this SG is a sandwich comprising a mahogany back and an AAA maple top that forms a healthy one third of the body's depth. In addition to the usual SG edge contouring the top is carved into a very pronounced arch not dissimilar to a German carve, and a ‘dish' is then carved into the back.
Gibson says this is ‘undoubtedly the finest wood ever applied to the SG in its 49-year history.' Most of us thought that the real Honduras mahogany and gorgeous Brazilian rosewood they once used was pretty good stuff, so this is a bold claim. The type of mahogany used isn't specified: actually it's barely visible because the darker shade at the edge of the ‘autumn burst' carries over onto the back and the neck, but it looks South American rather than African.
The control layout is simplified just like the Eye Guitar's, but the volume control is set slightly further back from the bridge pickup and the three-way switch is placed between the two speed knobs. All the hardware is chrome plated, including the covers of the two Burstbucker Pro pickups. These are Alnico V versions of Gibson's PAF replica with slightly mismatched coils. They're also wax potted to eliminate microphonic feedback.
It's a fine looking SG, but peering closely uncovers several blemishes on our test guitar. The base of the heel and the sides of the neck in the area around the neck joint are noticeably bumpy. The finish is fine, but it has obviously been blown over insufficiently-prepared wood. In my opinion, a dent at the edge of the control panel had simply been blown over, and the 24-fret rosewood fingerboard felt distinctly rough and pitted.
Here's a chance to test how a maple cap influences the tone. Acoustically the Eye is louder and livelier with a quicker response, wider dynamic range and lots of woody chime; the SG Carved Top is slightly sweeter and more refined. There's less harmonic content, so chords and single notes sound cleaner and more defined, and because the transient attack isn't so fast the sustain seems longer.
These characteristics are still in evidence when you plug in. The Burstbucker Pros are bright, but without being particularly clear. With the volumes fully up both deliver a full-on midrange, plenty of low end weight and a slightly fuzzy edge in the high frequencies with plenty of amp-pummelling output, but when you turn the volume control down the neck pickup becomes quite muddy; clean sounds worked much better with the amp turned down, producing a clear, chimey tone. The Carved Top is best in rock-out mode, and overall, it sounds more like a hotwired Les Paul than an SG.