Gretsch and Epiphone are two guitar brands that are pretty evenly matched in many respects. Both produce fantastic instruments in their own right, but some significant differences should be considered.
You’re probably reading this post because you’re trying to decide whether Gretsch or Epiphone is best suited to your needs as a guitarist. You’ve come to the right place!
In this guide, I’ll present you with the pros and cons of both manufacturers, what you can expect from their instruments and a direct comparison of all the major attributes of their guitars.
American manufacturers Gretsch were founded in the late 1800s, originally specializing in drums, banjos, and tambourines.
Two decades later, they moved to a larger production facility and established themselves as a leading producer of a range of instruments.
When rock n’ roll music exploded onto the scene in the 1960s, the manufacturers who capitalized and dominated the market were Fender and Gibson.
Gretsch continued to amass a loyal following, especially due to their brilliant drum kits.
In 2002, Gretsch partnered with Fender. Their business agreement meant that their instruments would be produced on a larger scale, but the Gretsch family still retained creative control over the brand.
In the modern age, Gretsch has evolved into one of the most popular guitars, bass, and drum manufacturers in the world. Their Electromatic range is particularly popular, including high-quality instruments to suit all price ranges.
Like Gretsch, Epiphone is an American musical instrument brand. It also originated in the late 1800s, when a man by the name of Anastasios Stathopoulos emigrated to New York City from the Ottoman Empire.
The name Epiphone was based on the founder’s nickname. In 1928, they made their first guitar, and continued to have underground success for the next thirty years, until 1957 when Gibson purchased the brand.
Gibson recognized that Epiphone was its main rival in the field of archtop guitars, and therefore, used their financial clout to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. This turned out to be a fabulous deal for future generations of guitarists.
In the present day, Epiphone is seen as a sibling brand to Epiphone. Many of Gibson’s most popular guitars are remade as Epiphone editions, much like the relationship between Fender and Squier.
Comparing Gretsch and Epiphone
Comparing these two legendary manufacturers is not an easy task – especially due to my personal experience with both. My first bass guitar was a Gretsch Electromatic model, and I’ve also owned an Epiphone 335 in the past.
In my experience, both Gretsch and Epiphone are brilliant producers of affordable instruments. They each produce distinctive guitars, which rival the heavyweights such as Fender and Gretsch in terms of performance and tone.
The only fair way to definitively decide which manufacturer suits you better is to break down their qualities into specific categories.
Gretsch guitars are all distinctively vintage-styled. They have curvy bodies, and the original design has been maintained throughout the decades. Their hollow body archtops were originally designed for jazz musicians but became popular amongst rock musicians.
Their professional range boasts some exceptional instruments. Some deviate from the hollow body style that made the brand famous, with solid-body models becoming increasingly popular.
Epiphone, on the other hand, mainly produces replicas of popular Gibson models. The Les Paul, SG, and 335 are all released under the Epiphone brand, and their designs very closely resemble the original models.
Epiphone also produces a range of their own archtops and semi-hollow body guitars. They vary in terms of design but mainly stick to the similar body shapes of their Gibson siblings.
Gretsch guitars often employ classic-sounding ‘Tron pickups and Bigsby tremolos. Their tone is typically thick, with plenty of resonance and a warm midrange.
There are some exceptions, but this is mostly the case throughout their extensive range.
Epiphone’s tone is very similar to Gibson guitars. The Les Paul offers the classic punchy, raw tone that has graced so many rock n’ roll classics over the years. Some of the semi-hollow body offerings are more focused on rhythm playing than searing lead tones.
If I was to compare the overall tone of Gretsch and Epiphone guitars, I would summarize that Gretsch is better for an all-round, warm tone, while Epiphone is ideally suited to guitarists who are more concerned with perfecting their skills on the instrument.
In addition to tone, playability is the next most important aspect of a guitar. Both Gretsch and Epiphone produce highly playable guitars, but there are some significant differences between the two.
Firstly, many of Gretsch’s guitars are ¾ scale-length models. These guitars are popular amongst beginner musicians, as their fretboards are generally easier to navigate. This reduced size affects the playability and tonality.
Gretsch guitars are made with premium tonewoods, which adds to their feel. The more expensive models, such as the Premium range, are littered with high-quality builds that play like a dream.
Epiphone guitars are generally bulkier than Gretsch’s. This makes them great for chord-heavy styles of playing, but less suited to energetic performances as the instruments are less mobile.
Although they don’t use the same quality of materials as their Gibson counterparts, you can still expect to find high-quality tonewoods on the top-end Epiphone models.
Overall, Epiphone guitars are highly playable, but they don’t quite reach the heights of Gretsch’s top-end offerings. This is subjective, however, and based on my own experience with both manufacturer’s instruments.
Epiphone and Gretsch both produce some fabulous guitars, basses, and other instruments, so choosing between them is very difficult indeed. If you’re still unsure of which to choose, here’s a quick way to decide.
If you’re mainly concerned with having a powerful, thick tone, then I’d recommend a Gretsch guitar.
Epiphone's guitars are best suited to rhythm players who don’t require the same level of energy and twang. If you’re looking for warmth and coloration, then Epiphone is a great choice.