Student of Guitar

Epiphone Vs Gibson: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

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If you’re curious about Epiphone vs Gibson guitars and how they compare, this is the post for you!

Gibson: Guitars with Immense Legacy

Gibson has been around since 1902. But the modern Gibson starts in the 1950s. Ever since then, they’ve almost exclusively focused on manufacturing premium-level guitars.

Along with Fender, they’ve helped define the modern guitar. Even to this day, guitars usually lean towards Gibson or Fender designs. So they’ve set quite a standard.

But there’s more to the company than just its historical legacy. Their instruments still retain many of the classic traits. That said, there are still some more contemporary features on some of the models. In a way, they’re a great blend of old-school and modern guitars.

Not everyone loves Gibson though. And those who are critical of them have some valid points. In particular, I’m thinking of their pretty high prices. The cheapest models are usually above the $1000 mark. And, to be fair, not every guitarist is convinced they’re worth it.

Some musicians are also critical of them not changing some of the older design features. For instance, many believe their angled headstock should have a different design. And some of the old practices have some negative aspects, like being more fragile than modern designs.

People have also been critical of their quality control. And this is not something you’d expect from a high-end brand.

Nonetheless, Gibson still makes awesome stuff by and large. They have a classic feel, traditionally gritty tone, and work well with tube-driven amps. Their electronics are also pretty great, usually focusing on old-school tones.

What also makes them great are more detailed controls. Aside from a 3-way switch and 4 pots, newer Gibsons usually come with push-pull knobs for advanced humbucker features. 

Gibson Guitar Models

Of course, Gibson’s biggest model is the Les Paul. But it’s available in so many variants that it’s hard to keep track of them. The most famed ones are those made in 1959, reaching astronomical prices among collectors.

These are the most common Les Paul series:

  • Standard
  • Studio
  • Junior
  • Special
  • Tribute
  • Classic
  • Modern

Then there is their classic SG which is one of the most versatile guitars. You can find the same exact variant used in several different genres. And it sounds good in so many settings.

Of course, Gibson also has other guitars. Most notably, there are Gibson’s hollow-body and semi-hollow-body lines. Although the ES-335 is the most popular one, there are other great examples like:

  • ES-345
  • ES-339
  • ES-355
  • ES-175
  • ES-165

And there are also those other more or less experimental models. Stuff like Flying V, Explorers, Firebirds, and others. However, Les Paul, SG, and ES-335 are the most popular models.

Epiphone: More Than Just a Subsidiary of Gibson

Apart from mostly lesser-known models, Epiphone makes cheaper Gibson alternatives. In almost all of their features, they imitate Gibsons. But we’ll get into all the details below.

For the most part, Epiphone guitars are manufactured in China. For a long time, they were manufactured in Korea. And there are a few models manufactured in the USA, but they’re high-end exclusive instruments.

Epiphone actually predates Gibson. There are still some pretty interesting original models exclusive to the brand. These include Sheraton, Casino, Emperor, Wilshire, Coronet, Dot, and a few others.

Epiphone Vs Gibson: How Do They Compare?

Since Epiphone is Gibson’s subsidiary making Gibson copies, there are numerous similarities between the two. For instance, almost all of the guitars still retain basic Gibson features.

This includes:

  • Body design
  • Mahogany bodies
  • Maple tops (on higher-end Epiphones)
  • Mahogany necks
  • Set-in body and neck construction
  • Rosewood fingerboards
  • The scale length of 24.75 inches
  • Fretboard radius of 12 inches
  • Binding and inlays
  • Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece
  • Basic model designs
  • Pickup design
  • Control layouts
  • Neck profiles

But despite these similarities, there are obvious differences. For instance, they aren’t entirely made of the same materials. Although there isn’t much exclusive info on the matter, Gibson allegedly uses higher-quality mahogany and maple compared to Epiphone. Additionally, Gibsons are manufactured in the USA, which brings its own qualities.

We could also say the same thing about the hardware. Although it appears the same, there are noticeable differences in their build quality.

The pickups and electronics are also different. Sure, Epiphone does the copies of Gibson’s classic PAF humbuckers. However, they aren’t manufactured by Gibson. And, obviously, Gibson wouldn’t be up for the same pickups.

Some newer Epiphone models also come with Fishman pickups. This is the case with their high-end Prophecy series. Nonetheless, the majority of the most expensive Epiphones are cheaper than many of the more affordable Gibsons.

The most notable differences are with the cheapest Epiphones. Although pretty decent for the price, these are beginner guitars. They also come with bolt-on necks and two instead of four knobs. I’m talking about Epiphone’s LP and SG Special series.

Epiphone Vs Gibson Headstocks

Finally, we have the issue of the headstock design. Gibson’s so-called open book design is exclusive only to their guitars. Additionally, Gibson’s headstock falls at a 14-degree angle and it used to be 17 degrees before 1968.

What’s also interesting is that the headstock and the neck are made from the same piece of wood. This comes with some advantages and disadvantages. While it positively affects the tone, it also makes these headstocks fragile. 

Epiphones don’t have the same design or the angle of headstocks. But there are some rumors that Gibson will start including classic headstocks on Epiphones.

Epiphone headstock resembles the Gibson one. But is usually considered to be less attractive. The main difference is that it has the end parts, or the ears, cut off. Additionally, it doesn’t form the same angle. And it’s not the same piece of wood as the neck.

Tone and Feel

Although it always depends on the exact settings and instrument, you may notice some general sonic differences between Gibson and Epiphone guitars. As for the feel and ergonomics, most agree that Gibsons are almost always superior.

The sonic differences are nuanced. That said, you will notice them most clearly on other high-end equipment, like tube-driven amps. For instance, Gibson’s typically have a slightly better dynamic response.

The Gibson headstock design and the fact that the neck and body are one piece of wood have their advantages. This helps increase sustain and adds a bit of tension to the strings.

I know it may sound like cliché, but high-quality instruments like many Gibsons have some magic in them. Or put another way, the whole seems to be greater than the sum of its parts when playing a high-end guitar where you can really feel the craftsmanship of the instrument like you’re playing on a work of art.

Gibson Vs Epiphone: Which One Should I Buy?

There’s no definitive answer on which one is better. Sure, Gibsons are usually made of higher-quality materials and nearly always cost a lot more. However, Epiphone brings an awesome value for the price.

But I’ll give you my honest advice. Cheaper Gibsons don’t usually seem to be worth it. Likewise, more expensive Epiphones are surprisingly good. They may even match some of the more expensive Gibsons, although this is a controversial take.

If you’re a bedroom guitarist or a semi-pro who plays frequently, expensive Epiphones will be more than enough. To me, Gibsons are either for professionals or occasional rich hobbyists. So I’d say that Epiphones are a safer choice.

If you’re a beginner, cheap Epiphones like the Special series will serve you well. Don’t fall for affordable Gibsons. You won’t have any use for them, except for an expensive guitar to brag about.

Here’s an interesting blindfolded comparison of Epiphone and Gibson Les Pauls. If you ever get the chance, you should try the same challenge and make your own conclusions.

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped clarify some of the differences between these guitar brands!

And if you’d like to read about some of my other guitar brand comparisons, check out:

Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

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