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Why do Gibsons cost so much more than Fenders? Gibson vs. Epi? Other options?

Flatscan

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,108
Opening comments: my intent is not to start a "bash" thread. My primary experience is with Fender and Ric guitars (love both brands). I have never owned a Gibson guitar.

I'm intrigued by Gibson (iconic brand), like the Les Paul body style, and anticipate purchasing a guitar equipped with very high quality PAF's (e.g. Fralins).



Three questions:

First, are there objective reasons why a Gibson Les Paul (Standard MSRP ~$3800) costs so much more than a Fender Strat (Deluxe MSRP is ~$1750)? I appreciate some people are willing to pay more for brand appeal but the difference seems large. This is especially the case given #2 below.


Second, why are the Epi Les Paul models so much cheaper than the Gibson Les Paul models (i.e. MSRP $500-1000)? Threads I have read seem to suggest that the quality difference between Epi's and Gib's is modest to non-existent (asserted by big Epi fans).


Third, maybe I should just get a Reverend Sensei (its own thing but pays homage to classics with high-quality PAF-ish humbuckers) or something else?

Thanks for your help.
 
Last edited:

sleewell

Senior Member
Messages
10,595
Because henry is a complete moron and is running the company into the ground. All the models that failed are driving the costs up on the models they used to be able to sell. Sales are down company wide though so clearly something isn't working for them.
 

MrAstro

Senior Member
Messages
13,624
Some of it comes down to design. There is more work to build a guitar with through neck and a contoured top like a Les Paul. Granted modern CNC machines probably level the playing field a little but they are still more effort to produce than a Stratocaster or a Telecaster. The Telecaster is the ultimate bare bones design which is one of the reasons it is such a success. Not much to go wrong and a very simple design. If you look at some of Gibson's hollow bodies like an ES-175 - they would be a lot more work to produce - therefore obviously more expensive since you need to recover costs and make a profit.

I have plenty of Gibsons and Fenders. I have no brand loyalty or preference particularly excepting for picking the right tool for the type of sounds I want to make...
 

tiktok

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
22,904
Also, set neck guitars are more labor intensive to finish, since you can't do the neck and body separately. Neck binding, body binding, headstock veneer and binding--these all add up.
 

Corinthian

Member
Messages
1,895
First, are there objective reasons why a Gibson Les Paul (Standard MSRP ~$3800) costs so much more than a Fender Strat (Deluxe MSRP is ~$1750)? I appreciate some people are willing to pay more for brand appeal but the difference seems large. This is especially the case given #2 below.
Sort of. Gibson were always handmade guitars that require quite highly skilled labour; the carving of tops, setting necks at the correct angle, binding etc. And on top of that they use more expensive timber. Fender on the other hand were developed to be cheaply mass produced by much less skilled labour. So yes there is some objective reasoning behind it but that's not the whole story. Gibson have always traded on a more premium image; Cadillac to Fender's Ford if you like. And therefore they can charge more. It could also be argued that they charge more in order to maintain the premium image.

Second, why are the Epi Les Paul models so much cheaper than the Gibson Les Paul models (i.e. MSRP $500-1000)? Threads I have read seem to suggest that the quality difference between Epi's and Gib's is modest to non-existent (asserted by big Epi fans).
One mistake many people make is to assume that pricing is based on what it costs to manufacture the guitar. It's not. It's the other way round. The marketing or sales or management teams believe there is a market for a Les Paul type guitar at $X so they set out to build one at a cost that allows for sufficient profit. Now they can't just make the same guitar as the $3,800 Les Paul because it would probably be a loss making venture and it would also cannibalise the more expensive line. So they find ways to reduce the manufacturing costs; overseas manufacture, designs that require less skilled labour or can be made by machines, lower quality materials, less careful QC etc. They may also find ways to make it simply less good to avoid the cannibalisation mentioned above. This is true of Gibson/Epiphone, Fender/Squire, Ibanez and their Indonesian made guitars and pretty much anyone else who has multiple lines at different price points.

But while the cheaper lines objectively lower quality than their bigger brothers, there is also the law of diminishing returns. As the price increases you get less for your dollar increase. So yes a Gibson is better than an Epiphone Les Paul that is 1/10 the price, but it's not 10 times better.

Third, maybe I should just get a Reverend Sensei (its own thing but pays homage to classics with high-quality PAF-ish humbuckers) or something else?
There are lots of single cut, set neck, dual humbucker guitars available at many price points. Unless you have to have one that says Les Paul on it then you should certainly check out the alternatives. You almost always get better value for your money when you look beyond the big brands.
 

johnh

Member
Messages
4,690
Firstly (these are only my opinions of course), pricing for both companies are based on what customers are prepared to pay. If Fender thought that customers would pay $3000 for a standard start, they would be idiots not to charge that price for it. So I believe that the price is mainly based on what people are prepared to pay for it.

Having said that, Gibson guitars are much more complex than Fenders. Someone else said it, but Fenders were basically originally optimised for manufacture. Gibsons are basically descended from old-fashioned, luthier built designs which are much more labour intensive. The binding is a good example.

Lastly, my opinion is that this labour intensive component is why Epiphone guitars are much cheaper. They are designed to hit a price point and cut cost on manufacturing processes as much as possible. Also crucially, Asian labour is generally a fraction of the cost of American or European labour. The finish on Epi's in particular is much cheaper than the nitro finish on Gibsons.

Just for the record, I own Fenders, Gibsons and Epi's and love all three. I'm not saying one is better than the other - my main guitar is a strat.
 
Messages
5,111
There are lots of Fender Custom Shop models that'll set you back a lot more than many Gibsons-production Les Pauls included. That's certainly the case in Britain anyway; I'm looking at a Guitarist mag ad right now which shows a Relic Tele which someone has spent hours painstakingly 'ageing'-£2749. That's over $4000US.
 

Average Joe

Member
Messages
11,816
It could be argued that the Gibson designs are more expensive to produce, even if some of that is probably evened out in this age of CNCs. I somehow find it hard to believe that all of the difference between comparable models (Standard LP/AMstd Strat) is down to that.
 

smcgov

Member
Messages
2,789
I think Corinthian nailed it a few posts ago, particularly when speaking of diminishing returns. The real value Gibson has is their brand, and they are very good at maintaining that perceived value vs market demand. The cost of manufacturing has largely decreased recently yet Les Paul prices rise every year. Of course a Epiphone Les Paul is virtually identical to a custom shop LP, but if you want a True Historic its 15x the price. That's diminishing returns, because hide glue and long neck tendons don't really cost that much.
 

bikeracr

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,165
I think Corinthian nailed it a few posts ago, particularly when speaking of diminishing returns. The real value Gibson has is their brand, and they are very good at maintaining that perceived value vs market demand. The cost of manufacturing has largely decreased recently yet Les Paul prices rise every year. Of course a Epiphone Les Paul is virtually identical to a custom shop LP, but if you want a True Historic its 15x the price. That's diminishing returns, because hide glue and long neck tendons don't really cost that much.
As with any high end item, like the True Historic, you pay a lot for that last 20% of performance (80-20 rule), but for the discerning buyer, the extra 20% is noticeable & worth it. Also, typically on high end items, the profit margin for the manufacturer is higher, as well.

As a strategic marketer, I can tell you that, as an iconic brand, Gibson prices their offerings to support their brand. The big problem for them is that they could serve their guitar-buying customer base better. It would give them better equity with their customer base. Based on an interview with Henry recently, the company seems to be focusing more on other lines of business, e.g. Pro Audio, to supply growth while the guitar portion of the business is the foundation of the business (not the growth driver).
 

filtersweep

Member
Messages
4,794
Put it in perspective: Gibson probably sells the CHEAPEST Made in USA guitars-- at least of the major players. You can buy a Melody Maker, JR, or even some basic SGs for less than any MIA Fender- sometimes for $500ish. I have no clue what kind of quality you get at that price point. The money starts to add up with Gibson when you go for bling, like binding everywhere. Of course you can buy Asian built guitars full of binding for less than the cost of a basic unbound Gibson, so I am not suggesting the cost is all in the bling.

I agree that it is most brand that you actually purchase. I wanted a LP Custom-- that said Gibson on the headstock. I was willing to pay for it. I have no doubt an Epiphone or any other Asian made guitar could have been just as good.... but I wanted a Gibson.

I always wonder the opposite- why 'higher end' Fenders can be so expensive.
 
Messages
5,111
Put it in perspective: Gibson probably sells the CHEAPEST Made in USA guitars-- at least of the major players. You can buy a Melody Maker, JR, or even some basic SGs for less than any MIA Fender- sometimes for $500ish. I have no clue what kind of quality you get at that price point. The money starts to add up with Gibson when you go for bling, like binding everywhere. Of course you can buy Asian built guitars full of binding for less than the cost of a basic unbound Gibson, so I am not suggesting the cost is all in the bling.

I agree that it is most brand that you actually purchase. I wanted a LP Custom-- that said Gibson on the headstock. I was willing to pay for it. I have no doubt an Epiphone or any other Asian made guitar could have been just as good.... but I wanted a Gibson.

I always wonder the opposite- why 'higher end' Fenders can be so expensive.
With Fender it's all about clever marketing and perception of quality. At the end of the day a Mexican or Chinese Fender and a US-built model are all CNC carved, screwed together instruments made from cheap wood.
 

cardinal

Member
Messages
5,265
Set neck is harder to work on and finish than bolt-on neck separate from the body
Binding vs none
Trap inlay vs dots
One-piece tilt-back necks vs non-tilt
Carved top vs none
Extra steps and materials to book-match and glue the maple top vs none
Inlayed laminate over the headstock vs a decal

And Epis are cheaper due to cheaper labor and material than Gibsons.
 

bgmacaw

Member
Messages
8,083
First, are there objective reasons why a Gibson Les Paul (Standard MSRP ~$3800) costs so much more than a Fender Strat (Deluxe MSRP is ~$1750)? I appreciate some people are willing to pay more for brand appeal but the difference seems large. This is especially the case given #2 below.
Branding, as others have mentioned, is the biggest contributor to the pricing. They're mainly marketed to nostalgic, well-off, baby boomers who want to recapture the spirit of their youth, be it a guitar or a Harley motorcycle.

Let Don explain nostalgia...


Second, why are the Epi Les Paul models so much cheaper than the Gibson Les Paul models (i.e. MSRP $500-1000)? Threads I have read seem to suggest that the quality difference between Epi's and Gib's is modest to non-existent (asserted by big Epi fans).
Epiphones and many other mid-priced LP-ish guitars (Reverend, Agile, etc) are quite good these days, especially compared to where they were 20 years ago. They don't have the branding going for them, which impacts all important resell value, and corksniffers will give you some grief and guilt about owning one (just peruse threads like this one that litter this forum). If you're buying a guitar to play and perhaps mod and if you aren't all that worried about resell down the road, these less expensive alternatives are a good option.
 

Elduderino73

Member
Messages
319
With Fender it's all about clever marketing and perception of quality. At the end of the day a Mexican or Chinese Fender and a US-built model are all CNC carved, screwed together instruments made from cheap wood.
My perception of the bolt-on assembly is that of chimpanzees attaching necks to bodies. Seriously, how hard can it be? And they charge HOW MUCH for some of their guitars? Does it really take a craftsman with fifty years experience to attach a neck to a guitar body? So I get they charge what the market will bear, but bolt-on construction in my mind results in the cheapest guitar. It always feels like two pieces. Just my perception.

Set necks and neck thrus are more labor intensive and require more skill to produce than a chimpanzee with a screw driver. But still, CNC machinery has done a lot of the work. I can see a semi-hollow requiring more labor to produce than a solidbody.

Set-neck guitars always feel like one piece. Just my perception.

I think the price difference between the imports and American made guitars obviously comes down to primarily labor costs and parts used. The Parent company needs to maintain certain levels of quality from each foreign plant such that the foreign plants never produce guitars that would outshine the American made guitars. And the parent company must always foster the idea that the foreign plants never produce a better end product. Perception is reality in the guitar market.
 

SPROING!

Member
Messages
8,796
Opening comments: my intent is not to start a "bash" thread. My primary experience is with Fender and Ric guitars (love both brands). I have never owned a Gibson guitar.

I'm intrigued by Gibson (iconic brand), like the Les Paul body style, and anticipate purchasing a guitar equipped with very high quality PAF's (e.g. Fralins).



Three questions:

First, are there objective reasons why a Gibson Les Paul (Standard MSRP ~$3800) costs so much more than a Fender Strat (Deluxe MSRP is ~$1750)? I appreciate some people are willing to pay more for brand appeal but the difference seems large. This is especially the case given #2 below.


Second, why are the Epi Les Paul models so much cheaper than the Gibson Les Paul models (i.e. MSRP $500-1000)? Threads I have read seem to suggest that the quality difference between Epi's and Gib's is modest to non-existent (asserted by big Epi fans).


Third, maybe I should just get a Reverend Sensei (its own thing but pays homage to classics with high-quality PAF-ish humbuckers) or something else?

Thanks for your help.
Comparing a strat and a Les Paul is kind of an apples an oranges thing.
1. Mahogany costs 4 times what alder costs and 3 times what plain maple costs.
2. A mortise and tenon joint requires more labor to make and fit than a Fender neck joint.
3. A Les Paul has a routed body like a Strat then has another carved piece of maple in top. More labor to cut, shape, glue, clamp, trim, etc.
4. Binding is labor intensive.
5. Headstock overlay requires additional material and labor.
6. Mahogany is more expensive than maple and it takes 3 times as much wood to cut a Gibson neck compared to a Fender neck that's cut from a 1x4.
7. Block inlays require more labor than dots.

It's a lot of little things. Gibson came out of a guitar building background and the LP is still very much built like an acoustic in many ways. Leo designed his guitars to be simple and easy to build by minimally trained workers.
 

Flatscan

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,108
TikTok how do the Epi's compare per the points that you make?

I absolutely understand the brand/transaction utility argument regarding price.

Any other brands worth checking out (e.g. Nash-equivalent)?
 

SPROING!

Member
Messages
8,796
Looking at en Epiphone the other day, I noticed...
1. Cheaper wood. Philippine mahogany is cheaper than Honduran.
2. Multiple piece necks. That alone saves big bucks. Buying 3"+ thick pieces of Honduran mahogany to cut necks from is expensive.
3. Multiple piece bodies made from small scraps of leftover mahogany then with a veneer added.
4. Flame maple veneer on the top.
4. Catalyzed polyester finish is less time consuming than lacquer to apply.
5. Cheaper hardware.
6. Cheaper labor.
 




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