Even though guitars have been around for a long time, the electric guitar is relatively young in the world of musical instruments. Yet, it has seen a lot of innovation and advancements over the years. There is a huge plethora of brands available to guitarists these days but there are three ‘big’ brands that ultimately shaped the modern electric guitar. As a guitarist, I always wanted to own at least one guitar from each of these brands. Two of them, Fender and Gibson, happen to be quite well-known with the third, Gretsch, being not as popular but still significant. Today, I will take you along on a journey that looks at Fender, Gibson, and Gretsch and see what makes each of them special. This will also help you make a decision as to which guitar you should get if you are on the fence about them. Do keep in mind that these are just my thoughts and not strict rules and you should always get the guitar that speaks to you the most.
Fender: Ask any non-guitarist to describe a guitar and in all likelihood, they will describe a classic double-cut Fender. It is the guitar shape that has pretty much become synonymous with the word electric guitar and with good reason. The original Stratocaster was the guitar that made the instrument cool. It looked great and sounded even better. No wonder some of the greatest guitarists ever like Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Yngwie Malmsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and countless others preferred a Fender. The solid-body construction and bolt-on neck make it any easy guitar to manufacture and repair.
So, it definitely has a lot of prestigious history attached to it but what does it mean for someone looking to buy a guitar. That’s where you have to understand that Fender does not make one type of guitar. The most famous one is the Stratocaster or Strat. Then there are the Telecasters and the Jazzmasters. Each model further has many variations but for the purposes of this discussion, let us only look at the most popular variation. When it comes to the Strat, the triple single coil pickup configuration or SSS is the most popular. In my experience, I have found that Strats are great for any sort of music where you need to use a low amount of gain. It is excellent at rhythm stuff. The tones are brighter and have a sort of twanginess to them. This is even more pronounced if you use a Telecaster. The Strats come with a tremolo system which again is something that boils down to personal preference. It does come at the price of a bit of sustain but I like having the option though.
The other thing to consider is the price. Fender has a subsidiary called Squier and you can get a Squier Strat for less than $100 and they play just fine. The cheapest full-fledged Fenders you could get would be the Mexican made ones and these offer excellent tone and are more than adequate for most guitarists. However, if you want the true USA made Fender experience then you will have to shell out upwards of $1100. I find it to be the coolest looking of the three brands and the build quality even on the cheaper Strats are quite good.
In short, Fenders are great if you are going for that classic image and want to play the type of music that doesn’t use a lot of gain and distortion like blues, classic rock, modern rock, jazz, etc. Again, these are just suggestions. You can use any guitar with any genre
Gibson: They gave the world the other iconic electric guitar shape – the single-cut design. It too has a rich and varied history. The key differences between Gibson and Fender are that the former uses a hollow-body construction and mostly fixed bridges. Gibsons also feature humbuckers instead of the single coils that is popular on Fenders. There are of course exceptions to this but in general, Gibsons produce a heavier tone and have much more sustain. This has made it the weapon of choice for many guitar legends like Jimmy Page, Slash, Billy Gibbons, Randy Rhoads, Gary Moore, and so on.
So, what does a Gibson mean to a guitar player? I find it to be the classier version of the electric guitar. I also love the sustain and definition it has when it comes to the tone. Add loads of gain and you have a lead tone that will just stop people in their tracks. The guitar is heavier and the neck feels more wholesome which are properties that you will either like or hate but I do not see it as a big problem. It just takes a little time to get used to.
A couple of things that you need to know about Gibsons include its tuning instability and a propensity for the headstock to break if the guitar is mishandled. Gibson’s quality control has been patchy over the years which makes it important to play the guitar and inspect it closely before buying one of these. They also tend to be pricier. You could get an affordable licensed copy by brands like Epiphone but nothing can match the real deal and they come at a premium cost. You would have to spend at least $1200 to get an entry-level Gibson with the good ones costing around $3000. These guitars feature a set neck which is better at increasing sustain as compared to a bolted-on neck. This, however, is expensive to make and that is why the price is higher.
Coming to the musical styles that you can play on a Gibson, it is especially suited for heavy driven sounds and lead tones but just like Fenders, Gibsons are also quite versatile and can be used in all types of musical genres with hard rock and metal being some of the most-suited ones.
Gretsch: Gretsch is a guitar brand that is quite important to the evolution of the electric guitar and like many people starting out as guitarists, even I was unaware of Gretch during my early days as a guitarist. However, it did not take long for me to discover this very unique and yet very cool line of guitars. Gretch is in many ways similar to Gibson as the guitars feature a single-cut design and a somewhat similar profile but it is a lot more flamboyant in a 1960s sort of a way.
Famous Gretsch guitarists might not be as numerous as the other two but they still hold an important place in the history of music. Some famous Gretsch aficionados include Malcolm Young, Billy Duffy, Jimmy Webster, Chris Cheney, Brian Setzer, etc.
Let us now talk about the heart of the matter – what a Gretsch means to a guitarist. It can be thought of as lying somewhere between Fenders and Gibsons. It isn’t as impactful as the Gibsons nor as twangy and bright as Fenders and that makes Gretsch guitars one of the best guitars when it comes to playing rhythm. It has a more wholesome sound that works well with modulation and time-based effects like delay but no so much with gain and distortion. It is definitely a unique part of the guitar world and every guitarist should at least try one and the best thing about Gretsch is that their guitars are relatively a lot more affordable. You can get a decent model for as little as $500. Some of the more advanced models have tremolo systems but these aren’t as good as the ones found on Fenders. They also have a unique look and not everyone is going to like that but one thing is for sure, it adds plenty of variety to the guitar world.
Here is a short summary of everything I have spoken about so far
|Shape||Single cut||Double cut||Double Cut|
|Signature property||Single coils, tremolo, bolt on neck, solid body||Humbuckers, fixed bridge, set neck, hollow body||Humbuckers, Bigsby style bridges as well as fixed bridges, flamboyance, hollow body|
|Tonal quality||Bright and twangy||Good low end and heavier with more sustain||Wholesome|
|Best for||Rhythm and low-distortion leads, feedback driven sounds||Heavy lead sounds with soaring tones||Rhythm, fingerpicking|
|Price range||> $1,100||> $1,200||> $500|
To sum it up, these three guitars can be considered to be the cornerstones of the guitar world and irrespective of the musical genre you are attracted to, get at least one of each if you can as no guitar collection is complete without them. Personally, I love the Gibsons the most despite their flaws. Fender comes a close second with Gretsch being my specialty preference meant for special occasions.