You are currently viewing Fender vs Gibson: Still Choosing Between Two Old Rivals

Last Updated on February 28, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

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Author: David Slavkovic

David has been playing guitar since 1998, his main focus back then was hard rock and metal. With years, his music tastes evolved and he eventually started appreciating all musical styles. Although officially an agricultural engineer, David began writing for Ultimate Guitar in 2017 where he’s currently working as a senior editor.

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Editor: Edward Bond

Edward has been playing the guitar since 2002. So Edward has over 20 years of experience as a guitarist, has authored 15 guitar books, has written for renowned music blogs, and spent a decade teaching music. He began merging his passion for writing and music in 2020 and has written for big guitar websites such as Guitar Head Publishing and KillerGuitarRigs.com.

Originally from Seattle, Edward moved to Norway in 2021 for a master’s in music. He’s studied at the Jazz Institute Berlin and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and currently resides in Trondheim. His education includes a European Jazz Master’s, a diploma in Film and Game Scoring from Sofia, and a Bachelor’s in Jazz from University of Oregon.

Edward has played in numerous bands and currently, Edward works on his own project Starship Infinity


Despite years of innovation, new designs, new materials, electronics, and other advancements in the world of guitar, the Fender vs. Gibson debate is as relevant as ever. 

Of course, both companies have done new things and changed their legendary models. But, at the end of the day, they still haven’t strayed too far from their paths.

You can learn a ton about modern guitar design, as well as the history of electric guitars by studying the Fender and Gibson. And no matter what guitar you buy, you cannot deny the immeasurable impact both companies have. 

Let’s dive into a comparison overview of Fender and Gibson guitars.


Fender and Gibson: A Head-to-Head Comparison

Summary (if You’re in a Hurry!)

Key Differences Between Fender and Gibson

FenderGibson
Generally sounds brighter and thinnerGenerally sounds darker and thicker
Lower to medium output pickupsMedium to hot output pickups
Generally have tremolo bridgesGenerally have fixed bridges
Often ash or alder bodies with maple necks and maple of rosewood fretboardsOften mahogany bodies and necks with rosewood fretboards
Generally lighterGenerally heavier
Often features 5-way toggle switchGenerally features 3-way toggle switch
Bolt-on necksSet or glued-in necks
25.5” scale length24.75” scale length

When Should You Buy a Fender Guitar?

  • If you prefer lower-output pickups and sharper tones.
  • If you like a more contoured body design.
  • You want a longer scale length.
  • If conventional spring-loaded tremolo bridges are your thing.
  • You prefer a smoother feel.
image showing headstock of fender stratocaster
Headstock of Fender Stratocaster

When Should You Buy a Gibson Guitar?

  • You prefer a darker, smoother, and thicker tone.
  • You prefer shorter scale lengths.
  • Tune-o-matic bridges are great for those who like more straightforward designs.
  • They’re great for anyone who wants a chunkier and more “rugged” feel of the body and the neck.
image shows gibson sg headstock
Gibson SG headstock

Manufacturing Location

  • The vast majority of both Gibson and Fender guitars are manufactured in the United States.

Gibson

As far as Gibson goes, all their instruments are made in the US. 

  • They have a factory in Nashville, Tennessee. 
  • There’s another factory in Bozeman, Montana making acoustic guitars.
  • There was a factory in Memphis, Tennessee, for Custom Shop models, but they closed it down in 2018 and moved the production of these instruments to Nashville. 
  • There was also the Kalamazoo, Michigan factory, which closed down in 1984. Some of the company’s most famous instruments came out of this facility.

Fender

As for Fender, they have factories both within and outside of the US

  • The Corona, California factory is their main manufacturing facility, but there’s another factory in Ensenada, Mexico. 

The Mexican-made guitars used to be sold with the additional “Made in Mexico” branding, or “MIM” for short. However, Mexican-made guitars are now labeled as the Fender Player series.

  • Fender also has some Japanese-made guitars.

In a way, these are a sub-brand of their own, widely known as “MIJ,” and have a very strong following. On certain occasions, Fender made guitars in other locations, like Korea or Indonesia, under their leading brand. Squier by Fender guitars are made in Indonesia and China.

Do Manufacturing Locations Matter?

Quality control across the guitar-making industry has improved over the years, no matter where they’re made. However, there were certain periods when Gibson guitars suffered from poor QC. This even happened with their most expensive Custom Shop models. But with the change in leadership in 2018, they’ve shown significant signs of progress.

I want you to leave GND in better state than you came. Remember, no matter what problems you are facing right now… You can solve those, or at least improve the situation and change your reactions to provide better results in the future. Whether the issue is about money, health, or relationships. You can do it. Never give up.

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Both the US and Mexican-made Fender guitars are good quality. Mexican-made Player Series are cheaper, although they’re still pretty good.

The Real Difference Between Fender And GIbson Guitars

Build Quality & Hardware

Build quality has been a roller-coaster for both brands over the decades. Since 2018, it’s somewhat evened-out. However, even today, consistency is usually better with Fenders compared to Gibsons.

Gibson Quality Control: Is It Really Bad?

If you’re getting a Gibson, some minor details can be giveaways of improper quality control. Look closely at the body and neck joint, especially where the fingerboard meets the body. Cracks in the finish can indicate that they haven’t done the best job. You may also find rougher fret wire edges in some cases, so look at that as well. Unfortunately, our latest Gibson review confirmed that there are some issues with their quality control.

image shows Gibson neck after a re-fret to replace problematic fret wire
Gibson neck after a re-fret to replace problematic fret wire

These are just some examples, and it doesn’t mean that Gibson guitars are bad. In fact, they’re getting better. But their track record from past decades could have been better. Remember that this is all from personal experience and that there’s always some bias.

For the most part, Gibson uses mahogany for body and necks, along with maple for tops. Fender is all about alder and ash for bodies and maple for necks. In some super-rare cases, you’ll have mahogany Fenders and maple-neck Gibsons. Fretboards are usually rosewood with Gibsons and maple or rosewood with Fenders.

We are currently closely inspecting Fender guitar we have bought, and right out of the gate, we noticed it does have a bit rough fret edges. So we can say that Fenders quality control might not be in best shape either…

Hardware

Fenders and Gibsons also have important hardware differences. 

  • Gibson’s fixed tune-o-matic bridges and stopbar tailpieces have a slightly more straightforward approach. 

But apart from the standard ABR-1 bridge with a stopbar, there are even simpler options with “wraparound” bridges. This is the case with the Junior and Special series.

image showing tune-o-matic bridge on a Gibson Les Paul
Gibson Les Paul with a tune-o-matic bridge

However, these aren’t always optimal, as it becomes challenging to intonate your guitar correctly. There are some more advanced alternatives with adjustable saddles on wraparound bridges, but these aren’t as common. 

Most Gibsons come with ABR-1 bridges with stoptails. In some rare cases, you’ll find old-school Vibrola tremolo systems or even modern tremolo systems.

Fender sticks to their usual stuff most of the time. 

  • Fender Telecaster is usually more straightforward, and some series come with vintage-style bridges with three brass saddles, each holding two strings. 
  • Some Stratocasters may also include vintage-style hardware, like synchronized bridges with bent steel saddles, but it’s usually the standard block saddle setup.

Most Strats today have the usual 2-point synchronized tremolo system. These also come with a block that holds the strings and the regular 3-spring mechanism in the back of the body.

Other Differences

One thing to note is that Gibsons tend to be more fragile than Fenders. This is primarily due to the angled headstock design, but the company attributes this to a deliberate old-school design and their refusal to use scarf joints.

Some “offset” Fender guitar models, like Jazzmasters, come with a more unconventional setup and hardware. They have particular “floating” vibrato tailpieces and specialized bridges.

It’s also important to add that Gibson and Fender guitars have different string spacing. This is due to their specific hardware, which affects which pickups you can use for these instruments.

Playability & Neck Profile

Bodies

The bodies on Fender guitars come with their famous contoured edges, which could make the playing experience more comfortable. Gibson Les Pauls, on the other hand, have right-angled edges. 

However, Les Paul Juniors, LP Specials, and SGs have more comfortable bodies.

Famously, the Gibson Les Paul has a bad reputation for its weight. However, more modern building practices include different weight relief methods, making them much lighter.

Necks and Fretboards

Regarding necks, it’s more about what suits you as a guitar player. On average, Gibsons have slightly chunkier necks. The Modern series has slightly thinner necks, but Gibson guitars usually have less neck profile variation than Fender.

Gibson SGs are generally ergonomic guitars, especially with easy access to higher frets. However, some challenges come with the so-called “neck dive” issue since the necks can be heavier than the body.

Besides the Modern series, which features a compound-radius design, Gibsons come with 12-inch radius fingerboards. Meanwhile, Fenders have rounder fretboards, sometimes even 7.25 inches, although some of the more modern-oriented models also come with a flatter compound radius.

Scale Length Comparison: Fender vs Gibson, What’s the Difference?

Fender vs Gibson: Which One’s More Playable? 

Generally, the consensus is that Fenders are more playable. They did inspire virtuoso-friendly so-called “Superstrat” guitars, including Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat guitar. The contoured body and comfortable necks made them more popular among virtuoso players.

This doesn’t mean that Gibsons are worse. In fact, the SG is one of the most ergonomic guitar designs. But LPs and SGs usually suit playing styles that require a more “aggressive” approach to both the picking and the fretting hand. Picking a string and bending it with a firm grip on the neck feels different on a Gibson.

Gibson’s Modern series has more ergonomic twists, like a smoother heel where the neck meets the body. Although still retaining the usual Gibson traits, these are modernized “shred-friendly” versions of their classic models. 

Pickups

For the most part, Fender guitars have single-coil pickups, and Gibsons come with humbuckers. Fender guitars always come with low-to-medium-output pickups, even if they’re humbuckers. As for Gibson guitars, they usually come with mid-to-high-output pickups.

When it comes to pickups, the current Gibson offer is somewhat straightforward. Most guitars come with Gibson’s stuff, like the Burstbuckers and 490R/T humbuckers. LP and SG Juniors and Specials, as well as some ’50s-inspired LPs, come with P90 single-coil pickups, which are also Gibson’s in-house products.

image showing Standard Les Paul hardware including 2 humbuckers, 3 way switch, 2 tone pots and 2 volume pots
Standard Les Paul hardware including 2 humbuckers, 3 way switch, 2 tone pots and 2 volume pots

In almost all cases, Gibsons have a dual humbucker or dual P90 setup. Some occasional models may include an HS combo, but that’s rare. Almost all Gibsons have a 4-knob and a 3-way switch layout except for SG and LP Juniors. In some cases, you’ll find Gibsons with coil-split push-pull knobs.

The average Fender Strat will come with three single coils, while some come with an HSS configuration. The controls are identical — two tone controls and a 5-way selector. The “in-between” pickup combinations make Strats unique, giving that twangy crystal-clear tone. Some Strats may also come with two humbuckers.

image showing Standard Fender Stratocaster hardware including 3 single coils, 5 way selector, 2 tone pots and 1 volume pot
Standard Fender Stratocaster hardware including 3 single coils, 5 way selector, 2 tone pots and 1 volume pot

Telecasters almost always come with two single-coil pickups, volume and tone knobs, and a 3-way selector. Some Teles may have an HS combo or, rarely, an SH setup, meaning that the single-coil is in the bridge and with the humbucker in the neck position.

It’s also important to note that Fender’s wider single-coil pickups on Jazzmaster models aren’t P90s or in any way similar to them. These are still their usual lower-output pickups with some minor differences. 

Sound Comparison

Apart from occasional exceptions, one fundamental difference in the Fender vs. Gibson sound comparison stands out. 

  • Fenders tend to sound brighter, thinner, “twangier” and more open. 
  • Gibsons are darker, smoother, thicker, and “beefier.” Even the P90 pickups, which are single coils, have that “beefy” character.

This is all due to the pickup design, although some will argue that tonewoods affect the output. 

Gibson guitars usually go well for blues, jazz, classic rock, hard rock, and metal music. Fenders can also handle those genres but have a much brighter character. This is why they’re incredibly popular for funk, pop-rock, and even punk music. However, no matter the genre, you’re always free to choose what works best for your tastes.

Pricing & Value for Money

This is where things could get tricky and subjective. Over the years, Gibson did earn a reputation as a company that overestimates their guitars. This doesn’t mean that their stuff is not worth the price, but some question whether certain models deserve to go near or over 5-figure territories. However, some of the series could have stronger resale value than Fenders.

We recommend a Fender Stratocaster with an HSS pickup combination if you want a reliable and versatile guitar. And, if you want something more affordable, go with the Fender Player line.

Although Gibsons are more expensive on average, the prices of certain categories are similar. The Fender American Ultra is just a couple hundred bucks cheaper than the Gibson SG Modern. We can say the same about the Fender American Professional series and Gibson SG Standard.

Custom Shop models of both companies can go well over $5,000, but that’s a separate category. Within more reasonable territories, Fender and Gibson are roughly the same. However, Gibson needs a class like the Fender Player line. 


Fender vs. Gibson – Pros and Cons

Fender

ProsCons
Really comfortable body and neck designs.It’s not the best choice for “heavier” tones.
Great for brighter tones.
A greater variety of models and features.

Gibson

ProsCons
Great for darker and smoother tones.Some models are overpriced.
Great for “heavier” genres.Potentially fragile headstocks.
Potentially good resale value.

Fender vs. Gibson – Famous Players

Since they’re legendary brands defining the modern guitar, plenty of famous guitar players used and still use both brands. Some are using both, but it’s usually one camp or the other.

Among the most famous Fender players, we have:

  • Jimi Hendrix.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen.
  • Danny Gatton.
  • Eric Johnson.
  • Keith Richards.
  • Johnny Marr.
  • Eric Clapton.
  • Kurt Cobain.
  • Nile Rodgers.
  • Jim Root.
  • Jeff Beck.
  • David Gilmour.
  • Joe Strummer.
  • Jeff Buckley.
  • Ritchie Blackmore.
  • John Frusciante.

Regarding Gibson guitar players, we’re looking at some who always preferred darker and more rugged tones. Some names include:

  • Angus Young
  • Jimmy Page
  • Peter Green
  • Ted Nugent
  • Ace Frehley
  • Izzy Stradlin
  • Alex Lifeson
  • Tony Iommi
  • Slash
  • Billie Joe Armstrong
  • Buckethead
  • Al Di Meola
  • John McLaughlin
  • Zakk Wylde
  • Duane Allman

Our Favorite Fender and Gibson Guitar Models

There’s a lot to choose from in both Fender and Gibson arsenals. Here are some current models of both brands that we think stand out.

Here are some of the best Fenders in our experience:

  • American Vintage II Telecaster.
  • American Ultra HSS Stratocaster.
  • Brent Mason Telecaster.
  • Fender Player Stratocaster SSS.

And these are the finest Gibson models you’ll find today:

  • Les Paul Standard ’50s.
  • SG Special.
  • SG Modern.
  • ES-335.

Other Brands & Budget Alternatives to Consider

The obvious budget alternatives are subsidiary brands like Squier and Epiphone. Some models are getting really good, even with professional players opting for Squier and Epiphone.

But there’s an abundance of other great guitar brands as well. Most notably, Harley Benton is doing some mind-blowingly great yet cheap alternatives to Gibson and Fender. They’re doing an incredible job at doing both.

ESP LTD is a popular choice if you’re into the metal side of things. For a smoother or more versatile approach, cheaper PRS models, like the SE series, are more than worth the price. We could also say the same about some Gretsch models.

If you’re a Fender fan but want something cheap, G&L is a brand worth checking out. Yamaha’s Pacifica series would also come in handy as they’re incredibly versatile. We’d also recommend Sterling by Music Man, notably the Cutlass series.

10 AWESOME Guitars Brands That are Not FENDER or GIBSON!

Final Verdict

It isn’t easy to give a definitive verdict that will, with 100 percent confidence, give you a clear-cut answer. At least it’s impossible to give one without having at least some bias in there. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you, as a guitar player, prefer.

But let’s try and look at the facts. Gibsons tend to cost more and, in some cases, to go overboard with the price. At the same time, they’re incredible if you want that smoother, darker tone and a bluesy feel.

Price-wise, Fenders have more options. You’ll also find more variety in their features, such as hardware, materials, and even electronics and pickups.

Again, the final choice is up to you and what you prefer. Both brands have great guitar models to offer.


FAQs

Is Fender Better Than Gibson?

It’s impossible to say if one is better than the other. Both Gibson and Fender have great guitars. It just comes down to what you prefer. Fenders have a few great ergonomic features and a brighter sound. Gibsons, on the other hand, come with a darker tone and a more old-school feel.

Why Are Gibsons So Expensive Compared to Fender?

Many factors impact the guitar price, including manufacturing location, building methods, materials, hardware, supply and demand, and reputation, to name a few. At the end of the day, the demand and willingness of people to pay more affect the price the most. 

Who Sells More Guitars, Fender or Gibson?

Although providing reliable online sources with exact market share statistics is difficult, Fender retains its lead with bigger guitar sales worldwide.

Are Fender and Gibson Rivals?

Fender and Gibson are one of the longest-running rivals in the guitar industry. Although both innovated and pushed the guitar’s progress, they still present the two sides of this world.

Is Fender or Gibson Good for Metal?

Both Fender and Gibson are good for metal. It just comes down to what 

Are Gibson Guitars Handmade?

For the most part, Gibson guitars are manufactured by hand. There is still significant assistance from CNC machines.

Is a Strat Better Than a Les Paul?

There are many differences between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul. Both models are great in their own way and find their use in different settings.

David Slavkovic

David has been playing guitar since 1998, David’s main focus back then was hard rock and metal. With years, his music tastes evolved and he eventually started appreciating all musical styles. Although officially an agricultural engineer, David began writing for Ultimate Guitar in 2017 where he’s currently working as a senior editor. Expertise: electric guitars, guitar amplifiers, music theory, the guitar industry, metal, and rock. You can connect with David on LinkedIn or just email him.
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