Five on Five: Fender vs. Gibson, Who Had the Better Players?

Five on Five: Fender vs. Gibson, Who Had the Better Players?

For guitar players, it's an age old question: are you a Fender guy or a Gibson guy? Over the years since both companies became popular in rock music, many other guitar manufacturers have made inroads, but none have been able to surpass the power and tradition of these two giants in the guitar industry.

Gibson is generally consider the beefier and less genteel of the two, built for volume and distortion, particularly the Les Paul and SG models. They have semi-hollow body guitars and even acoustics used across the spectrum of music, but when most think of Gibson, they think of rock and roll.

Fender tends to make lighter instruments, both in tone and in physical weight, but it hasn't lessened their impact. The Stratocaster and Telecaster are two of the most prominent guitar models in the world and have been played by some of the greats in rock and roll.

So, that leaves us with a barn burner of a showdown. Instead of trying to rifle through dozens of different guitarists, some who played both brands (shocking!), I decided to narrow it down to ten guys generally known for the brand. All of them have, at one point or another, tried their hand at a variety of instruments, but they are iconic on one or the other.

Let the battle begin.

Eric Clapton (solo) vs. Eric Clapton (Cream)

With or without Cream?
With or without Cream?

When looking at the catalog of the great Slow Hand, it is hard to imagine a more storied career for anyone on any instrument. But, the younger version of Clapton was a different animal from his elder self: louder, rougher and with a Gibson guitar instead of his well known Fender Strat. So, which one wins in a face off? I've got to go with the older, solo version. While Cream is a favorite, it's hard to look at the run of music after he gave up the Gibson SG and not give that guy the nod.

Winner: Eric Clapton (solo)/Fender

Jimi Hendrix vs. Jimmy Page

Jimmy vs. Jimi
Jimmy vs. Jimi

Frankly, this could arguably be a battle for greatest guitarist of all time. No doubt many a guitar player and music fan has haggled over that very thing. Both were extremely influential. Both played timeless music that is still loved today. Both experimented and grew beyond their initial offerings. The only slight edge here goes to Page for no other reason than longevity and the fact that he was the mastermind behind Led Zeppelin. Small irony: his most famous solo on "Stairway to Heaven" was played with Jeff Beck's Fender Telecaster.

Winner: Jimmy Page/Gibson

Ritchie Blackmore vs. Tony Iommi

Metal guitar gods Blackmore (left) and Iommi.
Metal guitar gods Blackmore (left) and Iommi.

When it comes to 70s heavy metal, you'd be hard pressed to find two more influential guitarists than Sabbath's Iommi and Deep Purple's Blackmore. Blackmore turned a legion of young shredders on to classically-influenced solos on his Strat, while Iommi was bringing the doom with Ozzy and fellow Sabbath band mates. While Blackmore probably did more for '80s guitarists, Iommi basically invented the genre Blackmore played.

Winner: Tony Iommi/Gibson 

David Gilmour vs. Carlos Santana

Gimour (left) and Santana
Gimour (left) and Santana

This, for me, is an fascinating comparison. On one hand, you have Santana, the man who single-handedly brought Latin music into rock and roll. From Woodstock to his Clive Owen-joints with modern musicians, his fiery, Coltrane-inspired gave him a voice unique in rock music. And he may have begun endorsing Paul Reed Smith Guitars, but he's still a Gibson devotee. On the other hand, the soaring, beautiful tone of Gilmour, not to mention Dark Side of the Moon, changed not just how many guitarists play, but the vibe of their music. As much as I love them both, Dark Side is hard to beat.

Winner: David Gilmour/Fender

Stevie Ray Vaughn vs. Slash

Vaughn (left) and Slash (duh!)
Vaughn (left) and Slash (duh!)

At first, this may seem like a weird paring, but, in reality, not so much. Both have very specific styles that are suited to them and both are synonymous with their instruments. Slash and Guns 'n' Roses helped to bring rock music back from the made-up, hairsprayed brink of disaster and caused kids to trade in their Ibanez, ESP and Jackson guitars for a good 'ol Les Paul. Vaughn brought blues back to the mainstream and re-energized it with a feverish intensity, while still being adored by the blues music community at large. Slash may eventually win this battle if he continues to make relevant music, but Vaughn's influence is just too vast to ignore.

Winner: Stevie Ray Vaughn/Fender

Fender vs. Gibson

It's not terribly surprising that, when all was said and done with these 10 brilliant musicians, it would be this close, but the votes are in and we have a winner even if it is by a nose.

Overall Winner: Fender

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