Difference between Fender and Gibson

Posted: August 11, 2013 in Confessions of gear slut, Instruments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I haven’t seen anyone giving good explanation of differences between Fender and Gibson. For guitarists that have played both, it seems obvious but no-one has put that in to words. I try to do that here. I own guitars from both manufacturers. I am not in Fender or Gibson camp. These are general differences between brands. I use Les Paul, SG, Telecaster and Stratocaster as examples. I know there are models where everything I tell here doesn’t apply.

Gibson sees guitars as art. Fender sees them as products of industrial process. This base premise shows in many ways. Gibson guitars are made in USA. Guitars made elsewhere get Epiphone name. Fender guitars can be made other countries too. Earlier they made them only in USA, Mexico and Japan. Lately they have added other countries that make Fender guitars. Other thing where this base premise is shown is necks. Gibson guitars have set-necks while Fenders have bolt-on necks. You can replace bolt-on neck if it breaks. If set-neck breaks, the whole guitar is broken. Third difference is finishes of guitars. Gibson uses more labor intensive method that results finish that you have to be more careful where you put your guitar. With Fender you don’t have to be that careful.

I have no idea how things I told earlier changes the sound. They have some effect. What have more effect is woods and pick-ups. Gibson uses mahogany in bodies and necks. Les Paul has maple top. Fender has traditionally used alder bodies and maple necks. Mahogany gives darker and warmer sound than alder and maple. Maple top in Les Paul gives guitar brighter sound but mahogany gives warmth and darkness. Woods give Fenders colder and brighter sound.

Gibson usually has humbuckers while Fender has single-coil pick-ups. If Gibson has single-coils they are P-90s, which sound quite like humbuckers. Some Fender models have humbuckers, but iconic models with iconic settings have single-coils. SIngle-coils give brighter and thinner sound than humbuckers. Then there is hum that you hear when you use higher gain settings. You guessed correctly that humbuckers doesn’t have hum problem that single-coils even P-90s have. Even if Fender has humbuckers, it sounds brighter because of woods.

Fender prefers to have master volume when Gibson have individual volumes for pick-ups. Individual volumes are easier if you want to control distortion with volume. You can set another pick-up cleaner and another dirtier. You can get similar effect with master volume. It is not much harder. You just have to learn how to do that. Then there is tremolo in Stratocaster. Gibsons doesn’t usually have tremolos. Some of them have later attached Bigsby tremolos which are different than traditional Stratocaster tremolos. I can’t say more about those because I am anti-tremolo guy.

Generally Fender guitars sound brighter and thinner than Gibsons. Which sound you like better is matter of personal taste. Generally Fender is better for heavy effect use and Gibson for high gain sounds. If you like sound of Pink Floyd and Coldplay then Fender is better. For AC/DC and Black Sabbath Gibson is better. I am not saying that you couldn’t play AC/DC with Fender or Coldplay with Gibson. Guitars are just more suitable for different styles than others. In the end it is what kind of sound you are looking for and how guitar feels in your hands that matter the most. There are other models and brands to choose from. Gibson and Fender are biggest names and Les Paul, SG, Telecaster and Stratocaster are best known models.


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