Fender and Gibson make some of, if not the most iconic guitars today. From the Fender Stratocaster to the Gibson Les Paul, these guitars have defined entire genres and careers.
But not everyone has $1,000 to spend on a Strat or Les Paul. Luckily, both companies offer budget alternatives for their signature models in the form of Squier and Epiphone.
Let’s look at the guitars on offer and see which brand comes out on top in this war of the budget guitars.
Squier is perhaps the standard when it comes to beginner guitars. Ask a room full of guitarists and most of them will probably tell you their first guitar was a Squier.
It’s not hard to see why Squiers are such popular budget guitars. They offer almost Fender levels of quality at very appealing prices.
This doesn’t mean you’re getting an alder bodied guitar on the cheap, but rather the same level of construction quality and the best tone for the price.
I think Epiphone has been wrongly labelled as ‘just cheap Gibsons’, implying that they’re poorly made, low quality versions of Gibson guitars.
Just like Squiers, Epiphone guitars are made with less expensive parts and materials, but with a high level of care to ensure that they have the same high quality as their Gibson cousins.
How Squier and Epiphone Differ
There are quite a few differences between Squier and Epiphone guitars. These differences make them more suitable for not only different styles of music and playing, but more suitable for different types of people.
Both brands use woods that have similar tonal qualities to their more expensive counterparts. This is so that they have as close to the same sound as possible.
Fenders are known for their twangy, bright sound, so Squiers are also made with bright tonewoods.
You’ll mostly find poplar, basswood and pine in Squier guitars. Poplar and pine have a brighter high-end, with basswood being a bit warmer, but still being fairly bright.
To emulate the rich, warm and resonant tone of Gibson Les Pauls, the Epiphone versions are made with mahogany. If you’re looking for something brighter, there are also Epiphones made with poplar like the Epiphone SG.
Both Squier and Epiphone guitars have their hardware setup the same as their higher end versions.
Squier Stratocasters come with the signature Strat setup of three single coil pickups, two tone knobs and a volume knob, and 5-way pickup selector.
The Tele Squiers are the same, reflecting the two single coils, tone and volume knobs, and 3-way pickup selector.
There are HSS (humbucker-single-single) versions as well like the Bullet Strat, and even dual humbucker versions if you want a bit more of an aggressive sound.
Epiphone’s Les Paul models are setup with the same dual humbuckers, two volume, two tone, and 3-way pickup selector, the same as Gibson Les Pauls.
The SGs are the same dual humbuckers, volume and tone, and 3-way selector as the Gibson versions.
The different materials and hardware setups lead to the biggest difference between Squier and Epiphone guitars, which I briefly mentioned: their tone.
Squier guitars are bright and twangy, but their tone isn’t as dynamic due to the poplar bodies. A basswood Squier has more warmth and a more defined midrange, but at the cost of some of the brightness.
Single coil pickups add to the twang, but they are more prone to noise, especially on the lower end Alnico used on some Squiers.
Squiers make for great country, blues, funk, or really any genre that don’t need a lot of distortion.
The mahogany used on Epiphone guitars gives them a very nice and warm and resonant tone. Mahogany has nice dynamics and a fair bit of sustain, making them sound great with a lot of overdrive.
The humbuckers add to their ability to sustain notes and chords while cancelling out noise and interference.
Epiphones do use lower end humbuckers, so their ability to cancel out noise won’t be as good and they’re also less powerful than higher end ones like the Seymour Duncans often used on Gibsons.
The sustain and full, fat tone of Epiphones make them ideal for heavier genres of music. They also have very nice and warm cleans, and Epiphones are overall very versatile instruments.
Weight and Size
Epiphone guitars are heavier than Squiers, with thick bodies and thick necks. For beginners, this can cause discomfort which could impact their playing.
They do have a shorter scale length, 24.75 inches, which makes them much more comfortable for smaller hands.
Squier guitars are quite the opposite - thin and light bodies, with a thinner neck profile and 25.5-inch scale length.
Their light weight and thin bodies make them much more comfortable to play for long periods while standing, while the medium jumbo frets are great for those with larger hands or longer fingers.
Remember These Are Budget Guitars
Squier and Epiphone guitars are great and well made, but keep in mind that they are budget guitars.
They are made with less expensive materials and hardware, so their durability isn’t going to be on the same level as premium guitar brands.
If you want your guitar to last, you’ll need to take better care of them with regards to protection from temperature and humidity.
Budget guitars are also usually shipped with cheap, uncoated strings, so buy a fresh pack along with your guitar to replace the stock strings. We've previously written about the best strings for strat style guitars, telecasters, as well as Les Paul style guitars.
One common issue on budget brands is also that the pickup selector is sometimes put on upside down. This can be fixed by simply unscrewing the pickup selector and turning right side up, but is something to look out for.
Which Should You Choose?
Just like deciding to choose between a Fender or Gibson, the choice between a Squier and Epiphone is the same.
It depends on what you’re looking for in a guitar. I wouldn’t say that Squier is better than Epiphone or the other way around.
Both brands have their pros and cons, and both brands are better suited for one thing than the other.
As a beginner guitar, I would recommend a Squier since they're lighter and their tone controls are a bit simpler. Epiphones are solid guitars if you’re just looking for an inexpensive second guitar.
The twang of Squier guitars make them great for country, blues, etc., while Epiphones are perfect for hard rock and metal, but both are overall very versatile.
No matter what you’re looking for in a guitar though, both Squier and Epiphone are excellent budget choices.
And there you have it, how Squier and Epiphone stack up in the war of the budget guitars.
I hope this guide has helped you pick the guitar that fits your needs. So, which side are you on?