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Gibson Vs. Epiphone: What’s the Difference?

Gibson Vs Eiphone – Les Paul

There are certain rivalries that will always be remembered; King Kong and Godzilla, Macintosh and Microsoft, Marvel and DC, Coke and Pepsi, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. All great rivalries in their own right. But we cannot forget one of the biggest in music… Gibson and Epiphone. 

History of the Rivalry

So even though it does today, Gibson has not always owned Epiphone. In fact at one point, Epiphone was one of their biggest rivals. Pre World War 2, Epiphone was being led by Epimanondas Stathopoulo, who had inherited the company from his father. He was the one to name the company Epiphone, which was a combination of his own nickname as well as the Greek word for sound. In Epi’s time, the company was renowned for its prowess and quality, being praised by even Les Paul himself for their craftsmanship. 

After Epi’s death as a result of Leukemia, his brothers ran the company and eventually sold to Gibson who were tempted just to sweep them under the rug and just forget they existed. However, one of Gibson’s owners came up with the brilliant idea of reviving the company and using it to build rapport with dealers who wanted to sell Gibson. They would sell Epiphone to build their reliability without possibly damaging Gibson’s name. From there, Epiphone started to grow and eventually had guitars that outclassed many Gibsons, and were used by big names such as the Beatles. 

Up until about 1970, the company was booming but then the market was flooded with cheap knockoffs and slowly the Epiphone name began to disappear. After a few decades, and some factory changes, Epiphone began to rebuild its own product lines and by the 1990’s had repositioned itself and a leading guitar company. 

If you would like to know more about the history of Epiphone, check out their website which has an in depth look into the evolution of this company which can be found here

What makes the difference?

Gibsons and Epiphones, can be compared, but also cannot. One easy way to do just a basic comparison is looking at the Les Paul Studios of each company. I chose the Studio, because it is the basic version of Les Pauls and has no special additions to make one stand out over the other.

Gibson Les Paul Studio

Gibson Les Paul Studio
Gibson Les Paul Studio- Wine Red

Compare Prices: Guitar Center | Musician’s Friend | Amazon

Body MaterialTop MaterialNeck MaterialFingerboard MaterialNumber of FretsFretsNeck PickupBridge PickupPrice
MahoganyMapleMahoganyRosewood22Medium Jumbo490R498T$1,499

Epiphone Les Paul Studio

Epiphone Les Paul Studio
Epiphone Les Paul Studio- Worn Cherry

Compare Prices: Guitar Center | Musician’s Friend | Amazon

Body MaterialTop MaterialNeck MaterialFingerboard MaterialNumber of FretsFretsNeck PickupBridge PickupPrice
MahoganyPlain Maple VeneerMahoganyPau Ferro22Medium JumboEpiphone Alnico ClassicEpiphone Alnico Classic Plus$399

Materials

So there are some obvious differences, especially in the price point. For the most part, the body materials are the same. The biggest differences are in the fingerboard and body top materials. When it comes to the fretboard, the Gibson uses straight Rosewood which is a classic material used by so many companies it is almost the standard. However, Pau Ferro (used on Epiphones) is a tonewood that works great for crisp clean sound and hard attacks. Honestly I would say either way you are going to get a great sound on that end. 

For the body top material, the Gibson has straight Maple while the Epiphone has Plain Maple Veneer. The only time that this material would make a difference is if it is fairly thick. The tone of the guitar will not be affected by a thin layer of veneer or even actual wood. I cannot find the thickness of the Gibson body top to say if it truly would make a difference, so for the moment I am assuming it will not. 

Pickups

The biggest differences that affect the sound of the guitar, is the pickups themselves. The Epiphone pickups on their standard studio is a pair of Alnico pickups which are a classic set of humbuckers. Which in themselves sound great. However, the pickups in the Gibson are a pair of coil tapped 490R and 498T humbuckers. The coil tapped side to them offers the ability to go with standard humbuckers or single coils. This versatility gives the Gibson a significant edge in my book. 

When you look at comparisons such as this, you see the roles that each plays. Gibson taking the forefront, and Epiphone being the price conscious option. But that is really with the Epiphone imitations of what Gibson makes. There are guitars that Epiphone alone makes currently that surpass the Gibson options. There are even Les Paul Signatures that are solely Epiphone that go beyond what some Gibson models can do. Guitarists such as Zakk Wylde, Matt Heafy (Trivium), and Jared James Nichols all have amazing guitars that scream with tones that go above and beyond. 

Reality?

The reality of the whole view, is what are you looking for? Gibson leads the way when it comes to their own models, and Epiphones provide wonderful cost effective options while still maintaining quality. However, it is not the same level as the Gibson guitar it is imitating. But if you look at Epiphone originals, I feel as if they themselves can blow away many of the Gibson offerings. Folk in particular is a great home for Epiphones with their hollow and partial hollow body electrics, as well as their booming acoustics. 

On their own, they each complement each other filling in what the other lacks. This makes them one of the best corporate rivalries, as well as partnerships in music.