Are you looking to buy a new guitar? Gibson and Epiphone are two big-name brands that’ll always pop up in your search.
The problem being Gibson guitars are much more expensive than Epiphone. So is the price hike worth it?
It’s a conundrum that plagues many guitarists. It’s time to shed light on the Gibson Vs Epiphone debate. And in turn, help you see your options loud and clear.
By jumping into features like the build quality and playability —we’ll help you make an informed decision.
So let’s dive into our comprehensive Gibson vs Epiphone comparison!
Table of Contents
Gibson Guitars Overview
Gibson stakes a strong claim as the most iconic guitar brand ever. Since 1894, they’ve pioneered guitar models that have become ingrained in popular culture. The ES-335, Les Paul and SG are examples of Gibson’s contribution to the guitar world.
Gibson makes all their guitars in the USA. If you own a Gibson guitar, chances are it’s a product from their headquarters in Nashville, TN. The exception being acoustic models, which are sometimes created in their Montana plant.
The American build quality and excellence in sound have become a Gibson hallmark. Thus establishing them as one of the best-selling and most coveted guitar brands ever.
Epiphone Guitars Overview
Contrary to popular belief, Epiphone is an older brand than Gibson. Epiphone has origins as far back as 1873 when they’d manufacture fiddles. It was during the 1920s, Epiphone would produce banjos and later guitars.
As rivals in the archtop market, Gibson acquired Epiphone in 1957. Epiphone production would move to Japan in the 70s and then later Korea. Nowadays, Epiphone guitars are made in Gibsons Qingdao, China factory.
If there’s a Gibson guitar you like, there’ll be a similar Epiphone version. The beauty of Epiphone is that they are available at a much more affordable price.
Gibson Guitars Vs Epiphone Guitars: What’s the Difference?
So now you have a bit of background information on each brand. What are the standout differences? Let’s look at important things to consider.
Guitar build quality and the country of manufacture go hand in hand. In general, American guitars sit at the top of the pile.
True to form, as Gibsons are American-built you can anticipate premium craftsmanship. So what makes Gibson build quality the envy of the guitar world? Here are some contributing factors that make their guitars so special:
- Gibson only uses the finest tonewoods to create their instruments. Then, the woods go through careful drying techniques to ensure the wood is durable.
- The sophisticated machinery in the Nashville factory ensures woodcutting is consistent.
- From there it’s over to the humans. The skilled workforce at Gibson handcraft guitars with accuracy. Sanding, installing the pickups, and many more processes along the production line are all done by hand. You can expect strict human quality control at the end too.
So, because they build Epiphone guitars in China. How does this affect build quality:
- Epiphone uses similar tonewoods to Gibson. Mahogany and maple being a case in point. Although they might be the same type of wood, the species will be different, and sourcing will take place close to the factory’s location. This usually means lower quality. Yet for more budget models, to keep prices low they’ll use cheaper tonewoods all together.
- Chinese factories use mass-production techniques to produce higher quantities of stock.
- The sheer volume of stock makes quality control more difficult.
Gibson has a huge reputation for the build quality of guitars. Buying a Gibson is an investment because of the quality of craftsmanship. They’re built to last.
Cheaper Epiphones won’t have the same attention to detail. But, Epiphones have craftsmanship that’s one of the best at the price point.
Yet there’s a twist in the tail. The practices at Epiphones Chinese factories are improving all the time. And with Epiphone releasing a Made in USA Collection—the lines are becoming blurred. When a high-grade Epiphone comes up against a low-grade Gibson—there’s a debate to be had.
And last, we need to talk about the great headstock debate. Epiphone uses a scarf joint to connect the neck to the headstock. A Gibson neck, on the other hand, is more susceptible to breakage. Yes, it’d take a big drop or bang, but it’s something worth considering.
Gibson guitars look cool! They’ve released some true icons with looks that have stood the test of time. Let’s talk about three of the most popular:
- ES-335: Since 1958 the ES-335 has wowed guitarists and audiences alike. The first semi-hollow guitar, it’s a mainstay amongst a plethora of genres. Its colossal body and f-holes are classic. BB King was so enamored with his ES-335, he affectionately named it Lucille.
- Les Paul: The original single-cut solid body, the Les Paul looks the part as you riff high on the fretboard. Slash and Pete Townshend are guitarists who have become synonymous with the Les Paul.
- SG: The SG looks dangerous. The two horns scream rock-n-roll attitude. From Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. The SG is a superb choice for the edgy player.
Then, there’s the Flying V and the Firebird Explorer. These are the more unfamiliar Gibson designs. If you want to go against the grain, it’s worth checking them out.
You may already know which Gibson you like the look of. If there’s a guitar that suits your style but you are short on budget, this is where an Epiphone comes in. All your favorite Gibson designs are available as an Epiphone.
So where do they differ?
The difference is minor. You have to be a guitar geek to identify the differences. To the untrained eye, it’ll be the name on the headstock that’ll be the biggest distinction in aesthetics.
You’ll find that wood selection on Gibson guitars age with more grace. This is because of the quality of wood and Gibson using a better finishing gloss.
Both Gibson and Epiphone have a great reputation for playability.
The neck of an Epiphone often mirrors the more expensive Gibson version. For example, the Gibson ES-335 has a rounded C-profile neck. The same C-profile is on the Epiphone ES-335. Likewise, a Gibson SG has the same SlimTaper profile as an Epiphone SG.
So where do they differ?
The fingerboard wood is a standout difference. There are no cutting corners on a Gibson. You’ll find rosewood and ebony as standard on a Gibson. These are top-of-the-range woods used for fingerboards.
So how does this affect playability?
Rosewood is slick to play but is prone to drying out. So, be sure to keep up with maintenance. Ebony is rich in natural oils so it’s less prone to drying than rosewood. These natural oils make Ebony sleek on the fingertips. You can expect comfortable and speedy playability from both ebony and rosewood fingerboard.
Epiphone uses a cheap alternative to rosewood. They make their fingerboards out of Indian laurel. Although it’s cheaper to source, similar smooth characteristics mean it’s difficult to tell apart.
Overall, Gibson and Epiphone offer great playability. But, if you have to pick one, it’d be a Gibson. The extra care and attention in production results in a more luxurious experience.
A prime example where craftsmanship aids playability is in the fretwork. Gibson refines the frets to perfection. The fret ends are smooth, leveled, and polished. Because of the speed of manufacture, Epiphone guitars can often have sharp fret edges. This results from quick clipping techniques.
So, can an Epiphone live up to the sound of a Gibson?
Each Epiphone model will aim to sound in the same ballpark as its more expensive Gibson brother. Epiphone does an amazing job of replicating the sound.
But, a feature that separates Epiphone and Gibson apart is often the pickups. US-built Gibson guitars come complete with superior pickups. Gibson pickups are a product of their Nashville factory. These pickups have an exceptional build and sound quality, thanks in no small part to them being hand-wound.
In the 50s, Gibson pioneered the humbuckers. To this very day, you can expect a Gibson equipt with adaptations of these top-of-the-range pickups. If not, your Gibson may have P90s supplying some grit to your sound.
It’s safe to say, Gibson pickups will do the job. Gibson guitars won’t scrimp on their pickups. Renowned for their powerful mids you’ll achieve a great sound.
Unlike a Gibson, with pickup quality more or less assured, Epiphone guitars can vary. As you may have guessed, the sound quality of an Epiphone depends on the price bracket.
Cheap Epiphone guitars come fitted with stock pickups. While there’s an element of human input, in general, machines wind them. So they won’t have similar clarity and vibrancy as a Gibson. But, it has to be said, they’re ever-improving.
Epiphone pickup models will capture the essence of a Gibson. Many Epiphone pickups are worthy of high praise. Designed in the Gibsons Nashville factory, the ProBucker is a top PAF humbucker with vintage nuances.
The P90 Pro is another great Epiphone pickup. Designed to imitate the original P-90 Gibson pickup, it responds to your playing. It’s a pickup delivering a throaty husk along with crystal sparkle.
So, the stock pickups from Epiphones Qingdao factory might not compete with Gibsons. But, there are plenty of Epiphone pickups that punch above their weight.
It’s also worth considering higher-end Epiphones come complete with prime Nashville-made Gibson pickups.
So is there a difference in sound between an Epiphone and Gibson?
Yes, but it’s small. Ultimately, the pickup will make the biggest difference. A Gibson guitar fitted with Gibson pickups delivers premium sound. But an Epiphone guitar fitted with higher spec pickups will compete with the best.
More often than not, the price difference is the decider on whether you buy a Gibson or Epiphone.
The disparity in price between an Epiphone and Gibson is huge. The cheapest Gibson ES-335 is upwards of $2,000. At the other end of the spectrum, you can expect to pay approx $9,000. So, unless you’re a doctor or stockbroker, a Gibson might be out of reach.
Mostly, Epiphones are very affordable. The Epiphone Made In USA collection is going to be at the upper end of the price range. These linger around $3,000. But, at the lower end of the scale, you’re talking as low as around $160.
Best Gibson and Epiphone Guitars Compared
Let’s pitch some of the finest Gibson guitars against their more affordable younger brothers.
Gibson Les Paul Standard Vs Epiphone Les Paul Standard
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard captures the same look, feel, and sound like an original Gibson Les Paul at a fraction of the price.
Read our full Epiphone Les Paul Standard Review
For some perspective, the Epiphone version costs under $600, whereas the Gibson is upwards of $2,000. So, it’s quite a price hike.
The Gibson Les Paul Standard 50s has the edge with the build quality. The American attention to detail is as premium as you’ll get.
The nitrocellulose lacquer finish is a delicate touch and was the norm back in the day. This finish looks the part but also enhances tone by allowing the wood to breathe.
Best of all—it helps to age the guitar. Yes, it’s expensive but the Gibson Les Paul Standard is an investment that’ll stay in the family for years to come.
But don’t dismiss the Epiphone Les Paul Standard. The ProBuckers vintage style PAF humbuckers pack a punch. Featuring Alnico II magnets you’ve got a snarling, rich, classic Les Paul tone. The neck pickup is purposely over-wound so you can push the gain.
So which do you buy? If you have the cash for a professional guitar, the Gibson is a special instrument.
But if you want all the charms of a vintage Les Paul but you can’t justify the price. The Epiphone is the perfect alternative. And if you’re a gigging musician throwing your guitar in the back of a van. It could save you the worry.
Gibson SG Standard Vs Epiphone SG Standard
On esthetics alone, the Epiphone and Gibson SG Standard are not far apart. Both Epiphone and Gibson SG models are available in Cherry or Ebony colors. On the cherry Gibson, the gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish is a notable upgrade. But, with the Ebony color, it’s less prominent, and it’s difficult to tell the Gibson and Epiphone apart.
Both models have a mahogany body and neck. So, for feel, look and tone, there are similarities. The mahogany brings lasting sustain on both guitars. There are many resemblances, even down to the GraphTech nut.
So what about playability?
These two guitars feel alike. Both guitars have a neck radius of 12” and a scale length of 24.75”. So, down to the tiniest measurements, they’re comparable.
It’s in the fine details where you’ll find differences. The 490 Gibson humbuckers are some of the greatest. With the 490R voiced for rhythm and 490T voiced for treble, you’ll have versatility. From mellow jazz to the signature blistering SG crunch. They’re top-of-the-range pickups.
Still, the Epiphone SG Standard comes complete with the Alnico Classic PRO Humbuckers. These are high-output rock-and-roll machines. As far as affordable pickups go, they’re top performers.
There are differences in tailpieces and tuners. All things considered, this is one of the closest calls in the Epiphone Vs Gibson debate.
If you want the traditional cherry finish, the Gibson SG has a beautiful expensive glow. It’s also worth mentioning that the Gibson SG is one of the more affordable Gibsons.
But if you want the Ebony finish, and you’re ready for ferocious rock-and-roll playing. It’s difficult not to advise the Epiphone. With PRO humbuckers it’ll handle gain. Combined with the brilliant looks and similar Gibson playability. It offers bang for the buck.
Gibson ES-335 Vs Epiphone ES-335
Both the Gibson and Epiphone ES-355 share the same iconic semi-hollow shape. With the timeless f-holes, they’re equally nice-looking guitars.
The Epiphone ES-335 also replicates the Gibson semi-hollow tone. The Gibson humbuckers offer more clarity. Yet, it’s a close reproduction and it’ll take a trained ear to distinguish between the two.
So what about materials?
Gibson’s use of 3-ply wood is a replication of the original 50s design. The sequence of maple, poplar, and maple is a vibrant blend. Combined with the spruce bracing and maple center block. This Gibson has all the ingredients for a top guitar.
The layered maple of the Epiphone ES-335 isn’t of the same quality. But some players could prefer this. Less resonant, it has a mellower tone to it.
There’s little denying that the Gibson ES-335 offers better craftsmanship. The body contours and smooth edges have the hallmarks of the Gibson Nashville factory. While the out-of-the-box setup is fit for a professional.
The obvious difference between the Epiphone and Gibson ES-335 is the price. The Gibson retails at close to 6 times the amount. So is it worth it?
That’ll be for your budget to decide. The Gibson ES-335 is for the professional. Yes, it is expensive, but considering it could be the only guitar you’ll ever need. In this perspective, it seems more cost-effective.
So what about the Epiphone ES-335?
You’ll find traces of cost-cutting on the Epiphone ES-335. But Epiphone is clever when identifying which areas to cut back. For example, replacing the nickel hardware with chrome-plated parts doesn’t have a drastic effect on sound or playability.
So, you’ll have all the qualities of a timeless Gibson but without spending a fortune. It’ll gig and hold its own in the studio.
Gibson Vs Epiphone: Which Should You Pick?
So, will it be a Gibson or an Epiphone? Let’s dive in to see which you should pick.
Your budget is going to be an enormous factor in the Gibson or Epiphone debate.
Gibson is a bucket list guitar. If it’s a dream of yours and you have the cash—why not go for it! You’ll be buying an icon that’ll last.
Let’s not forget, because something is expensive doesn’t mean it isn’t good value. When buying a Gibson, value comes from the craftsmanship. When you consider the hours of human input gone into making a Gibson. It seems better value.
But, for most, the budget will point to an Epiphone. Any budget below $1,000 the Epiphone will be the only option between the two.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t look at an Epiphone as a consolation prize. They’re amazing guitars and their value is a lot more than the price suggests.
Both Epiphone and Gibson offer impressive performance. But, if you want professional performance. Or have played an Epiphone for some time and want an upgrade. Then the Gibson will be the next stage.
While a Gibson will guarantee peak performance. The performance of an Epiphone depends on the model. It’s important to remember Epiphone has guitars in the sub $200 category. Epiphone models like the SL series won’t be the best.
But Epiphone has a broad catalog. Mid to high spec Epiphone guitars can meet the demands of a professional. Some famous professional musicians prefer Epiphones to Gibsons.
As a generalization, when Epiphones enter the upwards of $500 price point, they perform. And this is where you’ll find serious stage and studio-ready Epiphones.
It’s also worth considering that you can improve guitar performance. For example, you could furnish your Epiphone with improved hardware. Or upgrade the pickups to improve the sound quality.
So what difference does your skill level have on the Epiphone Vs Gibson debate? Here’s some example where your skill level can determine which is right for you:
You should go to Epiphone if:
- You’re a beginner looking to buy your first guitar. Make it an Epiphone as opposed to Gibson. Gibsons don’t sit in a beginner’s price range.
- You may be an intermediate player about to start your band. In this scenario, an Epiphone is an affordable way to hone your sound and image.
- You’re a professional player but don’t want to take your beloved Gibson on the road for day-to-day use. You wouldn’t want any guitar stolen. But a Gibson would be an even more painful loss.
- Whatever your skill level, you may love a Gibson design but not capable of affording the price tag of a Gibson.
You should go to Gibson, if:
- You’re a professional player who frequents the studio. For sound and playability, Gibson guitars are leaders. For this reason, they have and will continue to feature on some of the world’s top-selling tracks.
- You’re an intermediate or professional player who’s a complete tone connoisseur.
- Whatever your skill level, you have the disposable income to invest in a top-of-the-range guitar.
What if you’re looking towards the future? You may want a guitar to sell at a profit down the line.
This is a major gamble. Because we don’t know what’ll happen in the future and how trends will fluctuate.
With new guitars, as a general rule, chances are they won’t grow in value. In these terms, they aren’t an investment. However, if you’re seeking a guitar to not experience a drastic drop in value. Then Gibson is the brand.
An iconic brand, the demand is high so they’ll maintain some value. On the second-hand market, if it’s in excellent condition, you can expect a little as 10%-15% drop in price.
But, this is a generalization. Increasing the value of guitars is possible. One look at Reverb can confirm this.
A Gibson purchased now and left to a family member down the line. Will probably be precious in the future.
The rarer the guitar, the more the value will grow. So, guitars that are no longer in production such as vintage guitars, is where the profit is at.
New Epiphone guitars are mass-produced so may not hold their value. Older models can retail for much more. First introduced in 1961, an original Epiphone Casino can retail for enormous sums.
Less expensive, but some Korean-built Epiphones from the 80s have grown in price. These are identifiable by the headstock, which reads ‘Epiphone by Gibson’.
Is Gibson Better Than Epiphone?
Put a US-made Gibson against a Chinese-made Epiphone there’s a difference. The quality of craftsmanship, the setup, and the quality of finish will be superior on a Gibson. But, mass-production techniques are improving and Epiphones are much improved than decades ago. And with new series like the Epiphone Made in the USA, the differences are becoming less apparent.
Is Epiphone Owned by Gibson?
When archtop guitars were all the rage, Epiphone was the major rival to Gibson. So, to stifle the competition Gibson purchased Epiphone in 1957. Today, Epiphone is still owned by Gibson. So, Epiphone is the only brand officially permitted to reproduce Gibson designs. They offer Gibson designs at budget prices but also use Epiphone for exclusive models.
Are Epiphone Guitars Good Quality?
While they may not compete with the overall excellence of a Gibson, Epiphone guitars are of outstanding quality. Especially considering the price point. They have a build quality punching well above the price bracket. It’s a misconception that they are merely poor Gibson substitutes. The differences are smaller than the difference in cost suggests.
Do Professionals Use Epiphone?
Many notable professional musicians use Epiphone guitars. And more often than not, they have the financial capabilities to afford more expensive brands. Examples of Epiphone users include John Lennon, an avid Casino user. Nick Valensi of The Strokes opts for a Riveria which he customizes with P94 pickups. And more recently, James Bay, who uses an Epiphone Signature Century.