Five on Five: Fender vs. Gibson, Who Had the Better Players?

Categories: Whatever

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For guitar players, it's an age old question: are you a Fender guy or a Gibson guy? Over the years since both companies became popular in rock music, many other guitar manufacturers have made inroads, but none have been able to surpass the power and tradition of these two giants in the guitar industry.

Gibson is generally consider the beefier and less genteel of the two, built for volume and distortion, particularly the Les Paul and SG models. They have semi-hollow body guitars and even acoustics used across the spectrum of music, but when most think of Gibson, they think of rock and roll.

Fender tends to make lighter instruments, both in tone and in physical weight, but it hasn't lessened their impact. The Stratocaster and Telecaster are two of the most prominent guitar models in the world and have been played by some of the greats in rock and roll.

So, that leaves us with a barn burner of a showdown. Instead of trying to rifle through dozens of different guitarists, some who played both brands (shocking!), I decided to narrow it down to ten guys generally known for the brand. All of them have, at one point or another, tried their hand at a variety of instruments, but they are iconic on one or the other.

Let the battle begin.

Eric Clapton (solo) vs. Eric Clapton (Cream)

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With or without Cream?
When looking at the catalog of the great Slow Hand, it is hard to imagine a more storied career for anyone on any instrument. But, the younger version of Clapton was a different animal from his elder self: louder, rougher and with a Gibson guitar instead of his well known Fender Strat. So, which one wins in a face off? I've got to go with the older, solo version. While Cream is a favorite, it's hard to look at the run of music after he gave up the Gibson SG and not give that guy the nod.

Winner: Eric Clapton (solo)/Fender


Jimi Hendrix vs. Jimmy Page

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Jimmy vs. Jimi
Frankly, this could arguably be a battle for greatest guitarist of all time. No doubt many a guitar player and music fan has haggled over that very thing. Both were extremely influential. Both played timeless music that is still loved today. Both experimented and grew beyond their initial offerings. The only slight edge here goes to Page for no other reason than longevity and the fact that he was the mastermind behind Led Zeppelin. Small irony: his most famous solo on "Stairway to Heaven" was played with Jeff Beck's Fender Telecaster.

Winner: Jimmy Page/Gibson


Ritchie Blackmore vs. Tony Iommi

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Metal guitar gods Blackmore (left) and Iommi.
When it comes to 70s heavy metal, you'd be hard pressed to find two more influential guitarists than Sabbath's Iommi and Deep Purple's Blackmore. Blackmore turned a legion of young shredders on to classically-influenced solos on his Strat, while Iommi was bringing the doom with Ozzy and fellow Sabbath band mates. While Blackmore probably did more for '80s guitarists, Iommi basically invented the genre Blackmore played.

Winner: Tony Iommi/Gibson


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37 comments
Tfranks02
Tfranks02

I love Iomi and Sabbath but they can't take credit for creating the genre that Blackmore played in the 80's. Remember, Purple's heaviest riffage album came out in 1970 (in Rock) Just a hair after Sabbath's first album. They are both heavy metal pioneers. While Sabbath had the heavy sound, early purple had the faster metal riffs. I'm not talkin' smoke on the water here, I mean stuff like Fireball, Hard Lovin' man, Speed King etc. man those were F'ing metal, but in their time I guess it was "progressive"? I dunno. Anyways, fuse the two bands styes together and you got a winning metal formula, heh.

MASSMURDERMEDIA
MASSMURDERMEDIA

so who wins between frank zappa vs frank zappa, gibson or fender?...  good luck figuring that one out...

Emadis
Emadis

A mediocre, over-simplified and inaccurate article aimed at the lowest common denominator in readers.  Next time get someone who knows something about guitarists and guitars to write the article.

Richard Haick
Richard Haick

Here's a real comparison. Fender guitars are mass-produced instruments, built for mass marketing at lower prices. Need a refret? Just buy a new neck. Bolt on parts and ready to rock, straight from the box. The emerging rock scene and prominent country scene ate them up.

Gibson on the other hand were hand-made. Every one of them were different. It's the same way almost 70 years later. These were jazz guitars. Eventually, the rock scene picked them up and they became a mainstream brand. But, they required a set-up from a luthier to play well.

Fact is, they are completely different animals. Apples and oranges. You can buy a Mexican Fender for less than $500. Gibson still makes every guitar by hand in America and get the most basic one for around $1000. A real Les Paul (non-Studio) will set you back about $2500. The comparisons about players is even more ridiculous than the guitar comparisons. The only one that made sense was Clapton vs. Clapton. After that you were comparing styles that were vastly different and merely comparing artists. This article was very far reaching.

Regina Mullen
Regina Mullen

How you could leave Rory Gallagher off of this comparison as a Fender Strat champion, master guitar player is the 8th Mystery.

Brad
Brad

I own one of both.  They are made here in the US.  I like the different choices they offer me for  tone.  They are simply cool. (335 & a Tele)  Couldn't do without either one.

Taylor
Taylor

It's never about the guitar. It's about who is playing the guitar.

Ratm
Ratm

Fenders are great guitars. (The strat body style hasn't been copied bajillions of times because it sucks!) The typical Fender has a tone that no other guitar can quite match. Even though they make strats with humbuckers, etc., my favorite configuration is a strat with 3 single coils. It just sounds good, and looks like a rock icon. (old, beat up strats with war wounds and the paint rubbed off where your arms rests on it = sexy!)

However, all that said, I am a Gibson man. I have owned plenty of Gibsons and Fenders (plus tons of other brands). I'm sorry, but Gibson just makes better guitars IMHO. The build quality on a really nice Les Paul just astounds me. I can't say the same about any Fender I have ever seen. Plus they just flat out sound better to my ear. Much warmer and fuller tone.

Not bashing either brand - they both have their uses, and their strenths. I just like Gibsons better.  

Chris Richards
Chris Richards

As far as Clapton goes, I think he think he only made one, at best two, truly great albums after switching to Strats, and those being the Derek And The Dominoes albums.

BTW, most of the guitarists mentioned in this article used both Gibsons and Fenders. David Gilmour said that's a gold top Les Paul he used for the solo on Another Brick In The Wall part 2, and at least some of the solos (including Money, I believe) on Dark Side Of The Moon was actually played with a custom built Tower guitar.

And where's Jeff Beck and Danny Gatton in this debate? Surely they belong in this discussion. Both, incidentally, have used both Les Pauls and Fenders.

Duane "Skydog" Allman
Duane "Skydog" Allman

One of the most iconic players of all time, Duane Allman(Allman Brothers) played Fenders at the begining of his studio career. He later graduated to an assortment of late 1950's LesPaul Standards, which he, along with Dickie Betts could make sing like a bird... 

Philip Rick Thomas
Philip Rick Thomas

an interesting article, but impossible to really draw a winner, Ritchie Blackmore played a 335 for his early Deep Purple work (Hush in particular) Eric also played Les Paul and 335 Gibson guitars and was very fond of the Explorer for a period..David Gilmore has also turned the Strat into his signature sound You didn,t even mention the Ventures, who are probably more responsible for the multitude of guitar fanatics and fans than anyone on the planet.....

Guest
Guest

The Ventures played Mosrites, correct? also played by MC5

Hiregregtoday
Hiregregtoday

I have owned over 20 guitars and played many hundreds more.  I have been a professional musician for over 20 years.  I can tell you this, the moment you start playing a Gibson Les Paul Custom you know that it is not just a guitar, it is a world class musical instrument.  No Fender I have ever played compares to the feel of a LPC.  Maybe it's just me but if you only have the option to but one guitar.  Make it a Gibson Les Paul Custom.

Nshurte23
Nshurte23

Both brands are demon conglomerates. For instance, Fender is owned by guitar center now, and bears no semblance of what the company once was. I would imagine non guitar enthusiasts are as familiar with fenders clothing line as they are with its instruments. Anything under a grand is manufactured in Mexico with parts manufactured overseas. I play G&L's, and pass on paying more for what the guitar says on the headstock. Take a $5 t-shirt and put a harley-davidson logo on it, and it's a $20 dollar shirt. Take a cheap import strat and put a fender logo on it....

Connectd2mr
Connectd2mr

HOW THE HELL COULD PAGE BEAT JIMMY! WTH???? Yes, I love Page he is amazing but Jimmy was a guitar god. Jimmy Hendrix made the electric guitar what it was. Jimmy Hendrix was a mastermind and a guitar god...

Dirkmadere
Dirkmadere

By Jimmy i guess you mean Jimmy Page...because Hendrix's first name is spelled Jimi.  Hate people that are so opinionated but obviously don't know all of the facts about a subject....

Scott218
Scott218

Very entertaining article, until you revealed you don't know how to spell Vaughan.

Jack
Jack

I have this paint brush. It's awesome and it's the only paint brush that I use or will ever use. You can only use one paint brush, and the one I use is this one to to make ALL of my paintings. Anyone who uses anything else is total crap and stupid, because I am smarter and a better painter than all of the other painters out there. Besides, my favorite artists all used this pain brush too, so it must be the best.  

Seriously, isn't this a ridiculous argument? It's a matter of preference and what is right for the song. 

Fenders have lighter body wood and generally use single coil PU's, so they tend to have a thinner, more treble-y sound. They also have a 25 1/2" inch scale, making chording in the lower registers (open position) easier, which may appeal to players with larger hands.

Gibsons generally have mahagony bodies and hum buckers, which generally give you a more mid range sounds, and is a bit better for a heavier, thicker sound. They have a 24 3/4 inch scale, reducing string tension and making bends easier and making playing bar chords easier (along with a flatter finger board radius). 

As far as the player comparisons ... SRV vs Slash? Really? Sugar and salt. Page vs Hendrix? Apples and oranges. Totally different kinds of music and players. 

Dan Howard
Dan Howard

Page > Hendrix? FAIL. Sorry but Jimmy Page is the most overrated guitarist ever. Mastermind of Led Zeppelin?  Really? The last 2 albums Page was barely there. He was doped up all the time. Plant and Jones did most of the production work.

Simplysane1
Simplysane1

I love Jimmy, but the article missed the mark on this pairing. Page played a Telecaster with Led Zep for years. The iconic Gibson LP he played came to prominence later.

zengfoo
zengfoo

Dude, nothing compares to a nice Fender, period.www.Total-Privacy dot US

iprod
iprod

Adrian Belew v. Steve Howe?

Adam Castaneda
Adam Castaneda

For about ten years I've played American Fender basses, almost exclusively (I have no experience with MIM or MIJ Fenders). I also own Gibson, Gretsch, Univox, Warwick and Peavey basses. The build quality on the Gibson and the Warwick far surpass the Fender, but that's not what Fender is about. American Fenders are player's instruments. I can take my Fender on the road, spill beer all over it, play the hell out of it and slop it in the case and literally throw it in the van and sound check at the next gig without having to retune. The sound is solid and warm. Maybe not the greatest hi fi sound, but not a finicky sound hard to project over guitars and drums or a weak sound guy. From outdoor burning hot festivals, to studio, to beer soaked club gigs, to icy outdoor gigs the American Fender can't be beat.

de
de

When you need a saw, a hammer won't do. And the other way around. Silly to debate one against the other. Both serve a purpose.

Guest
Guest

Definitely - both can be very versatile. I do believe Gibsons sounds much nicer 'naked' but your point is clear. While reading this article I became very frustrated - why does one even need to compare Page and Hendrix on these points? Irrelevant. The job of the guitar enthusiast should be to celebrate all of these musicians and their contributions to their instrument - not to construct meaningless cleavages that only serve to reinforce the esoteric exclusivity that musicians are often accused of fostering.

de
de

Without Leo Fender there would have been no Motown. Quincy Jones said this in an interview on John Stewert's program last year. There's no other person who so much influenced the sound of popular music from 1950 on. And he never even played a note.

VMTS
VMTS

Fender sucks, light weight, terrible value, wide range of sound (not in a good way) and generally twangy sound. I'll stick with Gibson, infinitely better guiitars.....

Guest
Guest

Completely agree - everyone has been making broad defamatory claims about both brands. Muddy vs. twangy - these are all subjective and both can be used effectively in different situations. I currently own several guitars - Gibsons and Fenders alike. For me, the tone and sustain of a Gibson is what makes it unequaled. I also have two custom solid-body guitars and a vintage neck-through design. The Gibsons truly have the best of all of these worlds. The strat can 'whine' differently - but IMHO that is as much to do with the single-coil set-up with anything else. Generally, strats can be extremely versatile and you can 'get it' to sounds as you want - but a Gibson sounds waaaaay better naked.

Corey
Corey

Gibson sucks, heavy, overpriced, varying build qualities, and a generally muddy sound, suitable for cock-rock and not much else.  Me I'll stick with my fenders, far better guitars..

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Yes, clearly BB King only produced muddy cock-rock on his crappy Gibson....

MDA
MDA

If never pay for a Gibson unless it's of a very select few. People hate on fender but they make the best products across the board. A Mexican strat is hundreds less that a lp standard and sounds better than even the most expensive customs Gibson has to offer, not to mention how many more iconic bodies fender has spawned conpared to the lp and the sg Gibson has

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