Fender vs Gibson review: features, differences and secrets
Fender vs Gibson, Gibson vs Fender, the two most important guitar brands, characteristics, differences, secrets and more than two very different styles.
A historic rivalry: Fender vs Gibson
Fender is known as the company that first mass-produced solid-body electric guitars. However, initially, Fender was an amplifier manufacturer, and Gibson had a long history of making stringed instruments, including spanish guitars.
In fact, around 1946, before Fender released its first guitar, the 1950 Esquire, Les Paul, a popular guitarist at the time, had come to Gibson with the proposition of making solid-body electric guitars. Les Paul used to play with a solid body guitar called “the log” to avoid coupling. Thus, Gibson lost the opportunity to be the first manufacturer, because of considering it an absurd idea at the time.
Amp maker Leo Fender had escaped bankruptcy before launching into making electric guitars that could be played with his amps. Thus, Leo, an engineer who was not a guitarist, with an instinct for entrepreneurial survival, began to mass-manufacture the instrument that would change the history of music forever.
Two opposing philosophies
Fender guitars were thought of as a work tool: easy and inexpensive to make, with a focus on functionality. Instead, Gibsons always had a more artistic and differentiation philosophy, in which they were ornate instruments, focused not only on their functionality, but also on their design and exclusivity.
Gibson always aimed to be an instrument of maximum excellence, with details such as binding, carved tops, flamed woods, block and trapezoids mother-of-pearl inlays, and black and gold colors, which gave it a differentiating status.
Fender was the “Ford”version of guitars. He targeted functionality and the ability to manufacture in high volume at low cost. Thus, the Fender are bolt-on guitars, unlike what the industry did at that time, which is to glue the neck to the body. In this way, not only can a lot of manufacturing time and effort be saved, but parts can also be exchanged, either for taste or repair. The bodies are flat without bindings.
Characteristics of Fender and Gibson guitars
Woods used by Fender and Gibson
Fender guitars used one-piece maple necks until the late 1950s, when they also began using rosewood fretboard. Gibsons primarily use mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. This is one of the most important differences between the two brands. Maple is a hard wood with richer audio in high frequencies, while mahogany is softer characterized by its tonal richness in the middle frequencies.
The bodies of the Fender are mainly Alder, although they also use Ash to a lesser extent. While the Gibson bodies are just like the mahogany necks. Alder, like mahogany, is a soft wood rich in medium frequencies. The mahogany is usually considered with more low mids and the alder or alder with more high mids highs comparatively. In any case, it should be noted that the neck is considered the soul of the instrument. That is, the part of the guitar that most influences its tone.
Neck and Body Union: Neckjoint
The neckjoint on Fender guitars is bolt-on, allowing you to swap body and neck to achieve the desired tone or simply to change a faulty one. On the Gibson side, these are glu, as the industry traditionally worked. This affects the way vibrations are transmitted throughout the entire instrument. Gluing is considered to give more sustain than bolt-on neckjoint. However, the differences are often subtle and require a highly trained ear to hear them.
Fender and Gibson scale
Fender main scale is 25.5-inch, which is the distance between nut and bridge of the instrument. On the Gibson side, the main scale is 24.75 inches. That is, the Gibsons are almost an inch shorter. This has an impact on the string tension, which in Gibsons is lower, so they have more sustain but less attack, on the contrary, the Fender, having more tension, have more attack and less sustain.
Fender and Gibson fret and string spacing and fingerboard radius
Vintage Fender guitars use a 7.25″ radius which is more rounded. This is more comfortable for playing chords, but less practical for solos and bendings. Most modern Fenders guitars have a 9.5″ radius, it is a radius that is still quite rounded, but is more friendly for solos and bendings. In contrast, Gibson uses a flatter radius that is 12″. This one is very friendly for solos and bending, but not as chord-friendly. However, most guitarists are well suited to all types of radio, even though they may have a preference.
The vintage Fender string spacing is 56mm between the 1st and 6th strings. Modern Fenders and Gibsons come with a 52.5mm pitch. The former are more similar to an acoustic instrument, practical to play arpeggios, while the closer distance is better for the traditional electric guitarist.
Finally, originally Fender used small frets, which affect playability in terms of speed and bendings. Over the years, Fender has implemented larger frets and these differences disappeared.
Singlecoil vs Humbucker Pickups
The other big difference between the Fender and Gibson tone is the pickups. While both brands initially used single coil pickups, when Gibson used the P90. Starting in 1857, the PAF-type humbucker designed by Seth Lover appeared, which finished defining the Gibbie tone. The humbucker is a pair coil pickup that try to get the same tone of the single coil. However, humbuckers are pickups have a thicker tone, more output, and more rounded sound than single coils. Singlecoil pickups are brighter and stand out more for clean tones; while the humbucker design makes them stand out for sounds with drive and saturation.
Fender vs Gibson, two well differentiated styles
From the beginning, the objectives and philosophies of both companies were very different. As we said, while Gibson always looked for elegance and differentiation, Fender looked for pragmatism and value. Thus, we can see that Fender focuses on being a practical and cheap working tool for the musician; when Gibson seeks to be a unique instrument with differentiating details.
This difference is also found in the tone. From the beginning, Fender sought the same, clarity and definition in tone. Instead, from the beginning, Gibson sought warmth in his tone. In fact, Ted McCarty relates that in the development process of the Les Paul, they tried maple guitars, “which were too loud and with too much sustain“.
Fender vs Gibson tone
Thus, Fender tone has more attack, brightness -crisper-, dynamics, definition and clarity. While the Gibson tone is warmer, thick and rounded and with more sustain. So for rock sounds Gibson usually works better, but for cleaner sounds like pop, blues and funk Fender works better. Of course, it is a matter of taste, and you can play any style with both brands of guitars.
Everything is relative, and so many guitarists consider the most versatile combination, a Stratocaster type guitar with a humbucker on the bridge. Or even on a Gibson with vintage PAF-type pickups, which have fewer outputs and scooped audio, more “Telecaster-ish” sounds are achieved.