Both Gibson and Gretsch have produced some of the most iconic instruments in rock ‘n roll. They helped shape the genre and the careers of its biggest stars.
Both brands have a huge influence on rock. Since they share as many similarities as they do differences, choosing between them can be quite tricky.
In this guide, I’ll go over their differences and some of the guitars available to try and make that choice a little bit easier for you.
Both Gretsch and Gibson offer a wide variety of guitars. They also have a guitar for nearly every budget.
Each brand has its strong suit. I would say Gretsch is more of a jazz, blues, and softer rock genres' guitar, while Gibson guitars are hard-rocking machines that can also easily venture into metal territory.
Gretsch is perhaps a bit more budget-friendly than Gibson. Gretsch has the Streamliner series of guitars. From the G2210 solid body to the G2410TG hollow body, the Streamliner series is a great budget range.
They are made from less expensive materials and electronics, but with the same level of care and detail. They might be more affordable but aren’t any less impressive.
Gibson itself, on the other hand, doesn’t really offer any entry-level guitars. Instead, Epiphone, a Gibson subsidiary, makes the budget versions of nearly every Gibson guitar.
Moving up to intermediate-level guitars, the diversity in guitars on both Gretsch and Gibson’s sides starts to open up.
For a Gibson, the obvious choice would be a Les Paul Special. This is the quintessential Gibson tone. If you’re looking for the sound of rock ‘n roll, nothing compares to a Les Paul.
I would also certainly recommend an SG for a bit of a brighter sound that maintains the Gibson bite. That doesn’t mean it can’t get heavy and dirty, though.
Gretsch’s Electromatic series has the perfect mid-range guitars for jazz, rock, and everything in between. Like the G5410T for a smooth jazz and blues sound or the G5232T if you want something a bit more aggressive.
For advanced players, I feel Gibson guitars are much more affordable. A Les Paul Classic, SG ‘61 Maestro, or even ‘70s Explorer are all excellent choices without breaking the bank. Even their signature models like the Slash “Victoria” aren’t too expensive.
These guitars represent some of the best Gibson has to offer in terms of both sound and playability. These guitars are pure rock ‘n roll from headstock to bridge.
While the Gretsch Players Edition guitars like the G6119T-ET and G6228 start at a few hundred dollars more and quickly become more expensive. That extra amount is for good reason. Gretsch guitars, especially their hollow and semi-hollow bodied axes, sound unlike anything else.
Gretsch is certainly the better choice for hollow and semi-hollow bodies unless you can afford something like a Gibson Custom Byrdland.
Gretsch vs Gibson – Their Specialties
Each brand has an x-factor that makes it special and sets it apart from the other.
As I briefly mentioned before, what set Gretsch and Gibson apart from each other are the genres they are best suited for.
I see Gretsch as the soft rock brand. Gretsch guitars really shine in genres like jazz, funk, blues, country, and other genres that don’t rely on a ton of gain.
Gibson, on the other hand, might be the hard rock king. Gibson guitars thrive in high-gain conditions, making them nearly perfect for heavy genres of music. Gibsons can also handle softer genres like jazz and funk fairly well.
Gibsons are certainly more versatile than Gretsch guitars, but I would always choose a Gretsch for softer genres instead of a Gibson. The same goes for heavier music. I would always pick a Gibson over a Gretsch.
I would also say that Gretsch is much more specialized when it comes to hollow and semi-hollowbody guitars. Gibson does offer hollow and semi-hollowbody guitars, but their selection isn’t nearly as impressive as Gretsch’s.
Something else that isn’t really a specialty but I do think sets these brands apart, is their body shapes. Gretsch guitars are fairly similar across all their series, with not a lot of difference in terms of how they look.
Both brands have been around long enough that they have produced some of the most iconic instruments in music.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Gibson, and I am sure most people will agree, is the classic Les Paul, specifically a 50s Gold Top. These guitars are the face of Gibson.
A close second is the SG. The SG’s cultural impact might not be as big as the Les Paul’s but isn’t any less significant.
Gretsch might not have had as many iconic guitars as Gibson, but the one it does have is just as important in the history of modern music.
The White Falcon to Gretsch is what Les Paul is to Gibson. You can’t think of Gretsch without thinking about the White Falcon.
And it almost never happened since the White Falcon was originally more of a “concept” and not intended for sale. Luckily, the White Falcon’s impact was immediate and demand so high that Gretsch had to make it.
These guitars wouldn’t be as iconic as they are without the help of some of the biggest names in music. The list of names for both Gretsch and Gibson are practically as long as their histories, but for me, there are certainly a few names that stand out.
For iconic Gibson guitarists, the one who would be at the top of my list would be Jimmy Page. Who better to cement one of the most iconic guitars than one of the most iconic guitarists of one the most iconic rock bands.
Page and the Les Paul were certainly a match made in heaven that shaped Led Zeppelin’s sound and reshaped the future of rock ‘n roll forever.
Speaking of defining sounds, with the help of his red Gibson SG, Tony Iommi practically invented heavy metal. Iommi pushed the sound of both rock and Gibson guitars to a whole new level, which I think makes him more than deserving of his place as an icon of the instrument.
A master guitarist, combining jazz, country, and classical to create the Nashville Sound. Chet Atkins was a country pioneer that would quickly become the poster boy for Gretsch guitars. His Country Gentleman is one of the most recognized Gretsch guitars today.
If Beatlemania changed music history then George Harrison changed Gretsch's history. After performing with his Country Gentleman on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the Gretsch name was on every guitarist’s mind and they all had to have one.
It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for George Harrison, Gretsch would most likely not be anywhere near as popular as they are today.
If you’re looking for some of the best jazz and blues guitars out there, especially at an affordable price, Gretsch guitars are simply unmatched. And despite starting at a slightly higher price, you just can’t get that raw rock ‘n roll sound from anything else but a Les Paul or SG.
Whatever your choice, Gretsch and Gibson make some of the best guitars around and neither is a bad choice.