Crapping On Gibson Vs Fender... And... Discuss!

Discussion in 'Guitars' started by Niko Souza, Jan 12, 2018 at 4:28 PM.

  1. Niko Souza

    Niko Souza Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    I've been thinking a lot of how much crap guitarists give Gibson... and how Fender is almost immune to the same criticism. I thought about doing a video for this and just started typing out ideas... this rather long essay came out. If you're bored, have a read! It may help you sleep. LOL


    As a guy who grew up surrounded by Gibson players, I admittedly have a softspot for the brand. It’s still the penultimate rock guitar in my mind. Christmas was always listening to my Grandfather play carols on his Super 400 through his Roland JC-120. Down the hall I could hear my uncle Jeff, uncle funky, shredding over Tommy Tutone on a Les Paul XPL. It’s just part of my DNA. I respect Fender guitars and own a few legit ones and a great many guitars that are either outright copies or at least heavily inspired by Fender models. They’re not as dear to my heart. Ask any parent, the love all their children equally but there is often one that they love more equally than the rest.


    All of this sets the stage for a discussion that I want to have right now. Why is it that Gibson gets so much crap for the decisions that they make while Fender gets a mostly free pass. I’m not saying that Fender is universally praised, I’m just saying that the major complaints tend to be:

    1. They keep getting more expensive

    2. They haven’t come up with a new concept in a while.

    Gibson would kill to live in a world where that is the crux of their critical feedback challenges. Let’s outline the biggest complaints people have with Gibson of late:


    1. They’re crazy expensive

    2. Their budget lines are kneecapped to never be good enough

    3. They fail to innovate in a way that works in the marketplace

    4. Their quality control can be suspect at times

    5. They make stupid decisions and their owner/CEO is a Henry Juszkiewicz

    When we compare those two lists we are offered a few hints as to why we treat both brands so differently.



    Price


    We can all agree that American Gibson and Fender models are seemingly on a race to the stratosphere. Street price for a 2018 Les Paul Standard is $3,198 while street for a 2018 American Professional Fender Strat is $1,399. Even a MIM Strat Standard has a street price of $600. Take that in for a moment if you haven’t priced one out recently.


    You have to feel for Gibson here, at least a little bit. Compared to Fender, the Gibson formula for their premier line, the Les Paul, is just a ton more expensive to built. Set neck vs Bolt. Nitro Lacquer finish vs Poly. Carve maple tops glued to mahogany back vs alder or ash. Mostly translucent finishes vs mostly solid. Headstock and neck to body angles vs simple flat. In each situation Gibson is known for doing it the hard way and the “better” way. The Fender formula is cheaper! Both the Les Paul and the SG purposely have design elements that were harder to do than Fender was known for as a differentiator!


    A funny thing happened on the way to market dominance. The 1950’s Les Paul was actually a bit of disappointment from a sales standpoint. This may have to due with the electric guitar market still maturing and may have had to do with price differences. Either way it was replaced with the simpler and cheaper to product SG design in 1961.


    All of this just serves as background for the reality of today. Non entry level USA Gibsons are always going to be more expensive than non entry level USA Fenders. They just cost more to make. From a business perspective it’s really a huge win for Fender. Their guitars can be built in a far less labor intensive manner, quicker, with faster curing finishes, for significantly less money than the competition. In fact Fender can probably charge more for their guitars than they would have were Gibson not to exist. It’s sets a maximum price that they can come close enough to so that they can make a lot of money, yet still see much less expensive for a USA guitar.


    Advantage Fender


    Budget Lines

    Gibson bought the Epiphone line out of near bankruptcy and has continuously managed it in a questionable manner ever since. Epiphone has been consistently limited to keep Gibson as an undisputedly better offering. Early on Epiphone offered versions of Gibson guitars that were uglied up a bit to differentiate them, like the (Sorrento? Ugly ES-125) a version of the ES-125 with half a toilet seat on it. Other ones were rolled out with “lesser” pickups like minihumbuckers or P90s vs the “superior” humbuckers in the Gibson version. Later Epiphone suffered the ultimate indignity of having the tips of its headstock chipped away to keep people from thinking this was a vastly superior Gibson model. It seems as though an epiphone is always limited to being less than the Gibson version of the same model. There are some great Epis that have slipped past the goalie over the years… like the Casino, more famous than the ES-330 it’s copied from thanks to some mop top brits. The OIympic has a cult following as do some of the cool Les Pauls that have come out from time to time like the Prophesy with, wait for it, Gibson pickups and 24 frets! Overall though, if you own an Epiphone, many decisions have been made prior to your purchase to ensure that everyone who cares knows it’s not a “real” Gibson. Right down to the number of screws on the trussrod cover.


    Fender has managed this challenge brilliantly. First, they embraced outside of the US manufacturing very early on, first by licensing Greco to produce them in Japan, and then by opening their own factory in Mexico in the early 80’s. The headstock shape and fitment looked identical to their American brethren. The only difference in measurement and design specs were that the bridges often had a tighter string spacing than their USA counterparts. It takes a precisionset of calipers to know the difference.


    Fender also launched an even lower end line named Squier. The silhouette and measurements were usually identical to their Fender counterparts, but the offered the ability to bring the classic formula down to lower price points to get beginning guitarists on board the brand escalator.


    Fender was also helped by the idea that with a proper setup on an import Fender, you were a pickup swap away from have a guitar that was damn near close enough to the USA equivalent that it made it an attractive purchase. Fender guitars, and Stratocasters in particular are glorious modding platform. Owners can mix and match pickups, whole loaded guards or even necks! For many players this allowed their Fender guitar to adapt with them through different phases of music styles, tone preferences and just the old mixing things up to keep it fresh.


    Advantage Fender


    Innovation


    Gforce tuners. Pretty cool! Gforce tuners by mandate on all guitars for a particular model year? In hindsight not the best way to allow musicians to appreciate new technology. Gibson has often equated innovation to mean technology. Moog synth in guitars the lat 70’s. Automatic tuners… boosts… tuners built into pickup rings on the Epiphone Les Paul Ultra III (kind of liked that one)... even things like Variatone back in the day. You have to applaud them for trying new things but honestly, who wants a Les Paul Robot today? It hasn’t aged well. The core constructs of a guitar are relatively timeless. Tuners, pots, pickups, a jack. What seems to happen time and again is that when this formula is over complicated with circuits, batteries and chipsets, eventually people miss the good old days of it being more simple. But hey, if it helps them move some units I get it.


    Fender has been a bit more cautious. Sure they’ve come out with S-1 switching, Floyd Rose equipped models and even factory Roland equipped Stratocasters. But in each case, they took a known quantity that had been embraced by the market already and adapted their tried and true platform to it.


    Also, Fender has been able to branch out in new ways by successfully doing something that Gibson hasn’t been. They’ve bought other companies that didn’t terribly overlap with their own brand! Gretsch are mostly set neck solid and hollowbody guitars that offer a new pool to play in. Their brief ownership of Parker instruments gave them some truly oddball stuff to play with. And finally Fender partnered with EVH to produce their Wolfgang line of guitars for those inclined to shred and rock out. Each of these purchases expanded reach and diversity, allowing Fender to focus on offering variations of their tried and true formula.


    Gibson opportunistically bought Epiphone and turned it into their red headed stepbrother… their was just too much overlap between their lines. And they DID buy Steinberger which admittedly didn’t overlap much with their core lines… or with many guitarists tastes.


    Advantage Fender.


    Quality Control

    Let’s be honest on this one. At least here in the states, the first expensive new Gibson most people pick up and play is at a Guitar Center. What I often forget and what most people don’t know is that the worst Gibson by far are sent to GC. The reason is twofold. First, the premier Gibson retailers like Yamata in Japan, Wildwood, Chicago Music Exchange and even Sweetwater here in the US are extremely particular about which guitars they keep and which guitars they immediately send back to Gibson due to dissatisfaction with QC or top woods, etc. Where do those guitars end up? Guitar Center. Why? Volume, lack of really caring about qc. But I will suggest that the biggest reason is that GC pays the least for their Gibson guitars and are the slowest to pay for them. They become the kid that waits at the table during a feast and then eats the leftovers off of everyone else’s plate.


    That’s not to say that Gibson doesn’t have quality issues. Their guitars are inherently harder to build compared to Fender. The company has to rely on volume to try and profit. I’m just saying that it’s probably not as bad as the Guitar Center test drives may indicate. The 3 new Gibsons that I recently bought from Thomann in Germany were lightyears ahead of the same models in my local Guitar Center. It’s a small sample size but matches some of what you read throughout forums and other people’s experiences as well.


    Advantage Fender


    Decision Making


    We’ve already discussed the Gforce debacle, so let’s not beat that mechanical bull to death. Gibson has tried a great many things over the years to diversify their brand. XXX their CEO has really bet the company on some decisions in the guitar space and in the digital music realm. So far the results haven’t been great. The S Line of budget Gibsons definitely generated sales, but at what cost to Gibson’s reputation. If any other name was on those headstocks they wouldn’t have sold nearly as many units at those prices.


    I can’t tell you the name of Fender’s CEO. That alone is probably a good indication of how their doing. It’s XX by the way, as I’ve just googled it. I can’t tell you Fender’s Moody score, which is a sort of Corporate Credit Score… but I can tell you Gibsons… which isn’t a good thing for the latter.


    Gibson has also failed to use its name value in any other real realm, be it strings, amplification, or other guitar related lines. Fender has their very successful amplifier line which, like their guitars, have found a way to mine tradition for sales while taking very successful chances with newer technologies.


    Advantage Fender


    Conclusions


    From the completely arbitrary scoring system I’ve used above, Fender has an epic advantage in this space. The reasons are both by luck (Leo wasn’t even a real guitarist!) and through shrewd decision making. I’ve focused mostly on the Les Paul and Stratocaster here but the same arguments work across most of each company’s lines.

    But for Gibson, I honestly believe that they think they have a "superior" guitar and that hubris has bit them time and again. They've made some great guitars over the years and continue to...
     
  2. Niko Souza

    Niko Souza Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  3. jamdogg

    jamdogg Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    A Cadillac and a Corvette are both nice cars.

    That's all I got.
     
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  4. MichaelR

    MichaelR Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    For the most part it comes down to management which is a win for Fender. I think however that you made some good points about effort required to build a Gibson LP compared to a fender strat. Although they are different animals each are kinda the stand out for each company. A Fender requires one piece of wood for the neck and a Gibson takes two with alot more waste. The Fender was designed from the ground up for mix and match parts which allows the neck to be built in japan or mexico and still be bolted right on to a usa body. Gibson's are set neck which is just more expensive to do. Also the point about finish's is very true because you mostly see poly coated solid paint jobs on fenders and translucent on Gibson using nitro. I don't pick on Gibson as much as I used to because they are in fact harder and more expensive to make. So it comes down to Management, I don't think Henry's plan works as well as Fenders. The Gforce debacle is a prime example of his wrong headed thinking. The tuner itself was not a bad idea "AS AN OPTION" but to force everyone to buy a guitar with one is just dumb and pisses people off.
    I think you hit the main points so I won't go on other than to say that the Gibson bashing has gone to far on the web. Gibson was my first choice in days gone by and still remain a fine guitar maker although if I were to spend big bucks now it would be on a Heritage.
     
  5. otisblove

    otisblove Well-Known Member

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    I like the ability to swap out parts on my Fenders and Squiers. I think Leo Fender is one of the great minds of the 20th century.
    Gibson’s CEO sounds like a douche.
    Advantage Fender
     
  6. nomadh

    nomadh Well-Known Member

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    That's not a post. It's an article. And a great one. Well done. I've thought about this same concept and I think score them exactly the same. This, even though my main guitar for 20+ years was my plain ol white strat and I loved it while my flying v sat the whole time in its case.
    Comparing them is sort of like comparing a 70's toyota to a duesenburg.
    A fender is simpler, plainer, cheaper guitar. Hard to even put a flametop on a strat without it just looking wrong. That is fenders box they are stuck with.
    One feels assembly line durable one feels hand crafted delicate. Maybe more like 60s corvette vs 60s ferrari. Both tons of fun but no question which is more special and expensive.
    When I started "collecting" I felt the need for an lp. Wanted something different so I got the al2500 ash albino. Great guitar that lead to an al 3001. But by then it seemed plastic finished copy wouldn't do. So I got a good deal on a nice studio. Eventually I had to get a gibson studio deluxe at $1k. As good as any gibson and as pretty as any. I was happy for the price.
    I barely play strats now.
    As fine as a Fender is I feel as I get better a gibson was a reward for achievment.
    Also I find it very hard to spend a lot of money on a Fender when I am so happy with the copies for 1 or $200.
    I think if rondo would have used nitro and didn't ugly up the mahog backs I would have stopped upgrading at the agile.

    No question that fender is better managed and I just hope Henryj just disappears so we can see what gibson can really do.
     
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  7. Roberto

    Roberto Active Member

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    An an outside observer, I wonder whether there are any parallels with the eventual demise of General Motors, once the biggest car manufacturer in the world.

    Could Gibson learn from mistakes made by other big American companies? This little snippet from The Economist has some relevance to the current state of the guitar market:

    GM, Ford and Chrysler tried to improve: by 2006 they had almost caught up with Japanese standards of efficiency and even quality. But by then GM's share of the American market had fallen to below a quarter. Rounds of closures and job cuts were difficult to negotiate with unions, and were always too little too late. Gradually the cars got better, but Americans had moved on. The younger generation of carbuyers stayed faithful to their Toyotas, Hondas or Mercedes assembled in the new cheaper car factories below the Mason-Dixon line. GM and the other American firms were left with the older buyers who were, literally, dying out.

    If I were a young person in America looking to buy a guitar, the market is full of bargains compared to whatever psychological enhancement may be derived from buying the brand name.

    I think young people today are possibly not so mindful of brand name status, more likely to seek value for money. In Australia the younger generation has started to avoid drinking alcohol because they have the ability to see through the allure.
     
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  8. Fat Jack

    Fat Jack Active Member

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    Nick I'd say you pretty well got it right. I will say I always saw Fenders as an assembly line designed guitar. Kind of like the model T and A of guitar. Given my current economic status I'm more likely to be able to afford a Fender than Gibson but I've got a couple good Agiles and a good Epiphone so I feel covered in the Gibson style guitar.
     
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  9. honyock

    honyock Well-Known Member

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    GM's downfall was poor management in the 90s raiding the company's coffers leaving them cash poor at a very inopportune time. Whereas Ford got lucky (or maybe management was better at recognizing the impending doom on the horizon) in that they secured a huge credit line just before the bubble burst or else they would have fallen victim to the recession as well.

    Gibson appears to have poor management leaving them with huge amounts of credit debt hanging over their head like an axe ready to fall. Perhaps they need a major catastrophe to help them lean up and move back to their core principles.

    There will be no government bailout for Gibson however and I fear they would be stripped down to the point that only the name would remain if they were to fail.

    Sent from my SM-N910V using Tapatalk
     
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  10. Niko Souza

    Niko Souza Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    @Roberto @Fat Jack I agree with you both. I almost added a reference to Gibson and Epiphone really engaging in badge engineering and the ceiling of things. A Camaro could never be faster than a Corvette... neither could the Cadillac XLR. It creates a system where things are lesser on purpose. That's really a bummer. The same is definitely true for Epiphone, at least for long expanses of its history.
     
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  11. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  12. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  13. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  14. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  15. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  16. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  17. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  18. peskypesky

    peskypesky Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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  19. Raindog

    Raindog Well-Known Member

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    I can't believe that this is over 40 years old.........

     
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  20. jamdogg

    jamdogg Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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