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Gibson or Fender?

Gibson or Fender? It's a Toss Up
By Edward M. Bury

Since the dawn of rock and roll, this debate has been waged by guitar players ranging from touring arena pros to middle-aged guys playing covers on weekends to the fledgling teenager indie hero wannbe: What's the better guitar -- Gibson or Fender?

Both manufacturers, of course, make outstanding guitars that are designed to appeal to many musical styles and pocketbooks. The Les Paul and Stratocaster are bona fide icons within the rock landscape that appeared on the scene around the same time in the early 1950s. Both guitars have been offered by their respective manufacturers in innumerable models and styles, in dozens of different finishes and equipped with a dizzying array of electronics and hardware.

So which one is best?  Here's my take.

I own both a Les Paul and a Strat -- both American made.  My Gibson is the lean and mean walnut The Paul model from around 1981, and my Fender is a Strat Plus -- a 1998 or so vintage with a tobacco sunburst finish. Both were purchased new around the time they were built, so I broke these guitars in during lots of practices and gigs and put every ding and dent in the finish.  Both are stock, as-is guitars with no modifications, except for adding a black pick guard and new bridge for The Paul.

The Gibson has been in my modest music arsenal a lot longer, and it's taken its share of power chords. The Paul was the first really good solid body electric guitar I owned, so it's a special instrument to me. This guitar never let me down; the neck is thick and flat, and the action very easy to play, even though I like the strings up fairly high.

It's been refretted, so the intonation is like new.  Through an amp with some guts, like my old Peavey Deuce (poor man's Fender Twin), this guitar screamed thanks to the stock Dirty Finger humbuckers.  Over the years, The Paul has stayed in its case and hasn't seen a stage in a long time.

That's because I play the Strat in my band, Love House -- Chicago's Most Original Cover Band.  One key reason I purchased the Strat was to have some versatility in the Love House sound. My fellow guitarist plays a beautiful late '70s Les Paul Standard; since we could not replicate the chops of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, I felt it  best to try for a different sound.

The Strat is a truly new age guitar. The hardware -- locking tuners, roller ball nut and Trem Set whammy bar -- and the Lace Sensor pickups shout, "This ain't your daddy's Strat." Still, the guitar plays like a dream. The maple neck is much thinner than the Gibson and a little more responsive. It's better for my style, which is clean rhythm rather than loud distortion.

So which one is "better?"  For the pretend punk stuff I played in the '80s, I'd take the Gibson hands down. I owned a workingman's Gibson, and it worked well for a raucous kind of playing and music.  For the wide range of covers Love House plays today -- from pop standards to Motown selections to stuff on the radio now -- the Strat is clearly the best choice.

What's better for you -- Gibson or Fender -- play them and find out. You won't go wrong with either guitar.

Edward M. Bury, APR, is a public relations consultant and guitar player from Chicago.
You can contact Ed:  edwardmbury@yahoo.com 
Visit Ed's Blog:  PRDUDE

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