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Gibson SG vs. Fender Stratocaster: What's the Difference and Which Is Better?

The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

Fender Stratocaster vs Gibson SG: Which Is Better for You?

Fender Stratocaster vs Gibson SG: Which Is Better for You?

SG or Stratocaster?

The Gibson SG and Fender Stratocaster are two of the most popular guitars in the world. For decades, famous musicians have relied on them for their sound. In just about every musical genre you can name, both the SG and Stratocaster have proven they have what it takes on the stage and in the studio.

There are key differences between the Stratocaster and SG when it comes to sound, playability, and construction. There are also some striking similarities. Both guitars feature double-cutaway bodies, and both are versatile. As we’ll see later in this article, they share an interwoven history as well.

In this article, you will learn about the facts, specs, and legacy of these two instruments. By the time you are done here, you will have a better idea of which guitar is right for you. Choosing between them is a personal decision, driven by a guitarist’s goals for his or her sound. While nobody can tell you the right or wrong answer as far as which guitar is best for you, this article can help you sort it all out.

Gibson and Fender are among the best electric guitar brands in the world. It is no wonder that guitarists of every ability level look to these two instruments for inspiration.

Let’s get started with a basic overview of each guitar’s specs.

Stratocaster vs. SG Specs Comparison

Note: Both Fender and Gibson make various models of their guitars. The specs listed above are traditional, but always check with the manufacturer for specifics on their guitars.

Gibson SGFender Stratocaster

Body Style

Double cutaway

Double cutaway

Body Tonewood

Mahogany

Alder

Neck Construction

Set and glued

Bolt-on

Neck Tonewood

Mahogany

Maple

Scale Length

24.75"

25.5"

Fingerboard

Rosewood

Maple or rosewood

Pickups

Two humbuckers

Three single-coils

Electronics

Two volume, two tone, 3-way switch

One volume, two tone, 5-way switch

Bridge

Tune-o-matic with stopbar

Synchronized tremolo

The Fender Stratocaster

The Stratocaster wasn’t the first commercially successful, mass-produced, solid-body electric guitar. That honor goes to the Fender Broadcaster, later rebranded as the Telecaster. However, the Strat has been around a long time. It first arrived on the scene in 1954 and was a pretty futuristic guitar for the time.

The Strat gave the guitarists the ability to switch between three different pickups (the 5-way switch didn’t arrive until later) and featured a cool vibrato arm which Fender inexplicably labeled as a tremolo. Its solid-body design eliminated most feedback issues players experienced with hollow and semi-hollow body guitars and was easy to manage on stage.

While appointments have improved, and features have come and gone, the basics of the Stratocaster remain much as they did over sixty years ago. The beauty of the Strat lies in its simplicity. It is easy to work on, easy to set up and has gone down in history as one of the greatest electric guitars of all time.

Stratocaster Design and Specs

  • Body Style: Double-cutaway
  • Body Tonewood: Alder
  • Neck Build: Bolt-on
  • Neck Tonewood: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
  • Pickups: Three single-coils
  • Electronics: One volume and two tone controls, 5-way switch
  • Bridge: Fender synchronized tremolo

Famous Stratocaster Players

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Jeff Beck
  • David Gilmour
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Buddy Holly
  • Ritchie Blackmore
  • Dick Dale
  • Buddy Guy

Stratocaster Sound

In its basic form, the Fender Stratocaster is a versatile electric guitar. Three three-single coil pickups controlled by a 5-way switch give a guitarist an array of sounds at their disposal. Just look at the list of Stratocaster players. Each of those guitarists used the Strat’s tonal palette to create incredible sounds on some of the most legendary recordings in almost every genre you could name.

In fact, many people unfamiliar with the guitar would likely recognize each of the Strat’s five pickup position sounds from certain recordings. The bridge pickup is bright and crunchy, full of vintage-rock tone. The neck pickup is round and glassy, while the middle positions have glorious blues and country vibes.

Those single-single coil sounds are amazing, but many players choose to play Stratocasters with humbuckers instead. Especially in heavier genres like hard rock and metal, a Strat with a humbucker at the bridge gets that thick, aggressive tone guitarists needs. It’s not like a Les Paul, but great in its own right.

Fender American Professional Stratocaster

The Gibson SG

The Gibson SG owes its very existence to the Fender Stratocaster, in a roundabout way. Gibson began producing their now-legendary Les Paul model in 1952, but by the end of the decade they were losing out to the lighter, more versatile Stratocaster.

In 1961, Gibson redesigned the Les Paul and came up with a simpler double-cutaway body. Les Paul himself disliked the design and asked to have his name removed. Thus, Gibson renamed the guitar the SG, or “solid guitar”.

The single-cutaway Les Paul eventually returned to the Gibson lineup, thanks to popular demand, and the SG remained. So, without the Fender Stratocaster, there may never have been a Gibson SG.

Whatever its origin story, the SG has carved its own way into the realm of musical greatness. Today it is one of the most popular guitars in the world, right up there with the Les Paul and Strat.

Gibson SG Design and Specs

  • Body Style: Double-cutaway
  • Body Tonewood: Mahogany
  • Neck Build: Set and glued
  • Neck Tonewood: Mahogany
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Two humbuckers
  • Electronics: Two volume and two tone controls, 3-way switch
  • Bridge: Tune-o-Matic with stop-bar tailpiece

Famous Gibson SG Players

  • Angus Young
  • Tony Iommi
  • Derek Trucks
  • Pete Townshend
  • Frank Zappa
  • Dickey Betts
  • Samantha Fish
  • Frank Marino
  • Gary Rossington
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe

SG Sound

Thanks to guitarists like Angus Young and Tony Iommi, as well as a body style that some say is reminiscent of devils’ horns, the metal community has fallen in love with the Gibson SG over the years. It has a thick, aggressive tone with a little more bite than a Les Paul. Because of its flat-top design, it is also a bit easier to manage than a Les Paul.

Guitarists looking for a deep, rich tone for metal, rock, and jazz gravitate to the SG. However, as you can see by the list of guitar players above, the SG has found a home in pretty much every style of music you can imagine.

The key to the sound differences between the SG and Strat has a lot to do with tonewoods and pickups. The SG uses mahogany for its body and neck, which is a warm, resonant tonewood. It also has a pair of humbuckers instead of three single-coil pickups.

Humbuckers have a warmer, thicker sound. Even a Strat with a humbucker won’t quite have the depth of tone you’ll hear in an SG because of the Stat’s alder body and maple neck.

The Gibson SG Standard 61

Which Guitar Is Best for Which Genres?

So far in this article, I have done my best to relay facts about these two great instruments. Now, I’m going to share some of my opinions about which guitar is better in different genres. Remember, it’s just my opinion, and every guitarist has their own idea of what sounds good.

As always, be sure to do your own research and seek other opinions.

Blues

Winner: Stratocaster

For me, the Stratocaster is the best guitar for blues. Every pickup position is usable, and all it takes is a little overdrive to punch your tone into blues heaven. There is nothing wrong with the SG for blues. It just happens to be facing the champ in this matchup.

Jazz

Winner: SG

For jazz, my choice would be the Gibson SG. The warm, round neck pickup will get you where you need to go. I do like the neck pickup on a Strat for jazzy sounds as well, but given a choice I’d prefer the darker sound of the SG.

Classic Rock

Winner: SG

For classic rock, I’d have to go with the SG. The Gibson SG and an overdriven Marshall are all you need. Again, nothing wrong with a Strat here, but the thick, crunchy bridge pickup on the SG is hard to beat.

Country

Winner: Both

For southern rock, I’d go with the SG. For classic country, I would choose the Strat. It pretty much comes down to the same reasons I made my choices for rock and blues.

Hard Rock/ Shred

Winner: Stratocaster

If you are a shredder, it is tough to beat a hot-rodded Stratocaster. You want a hot humbucker at the bridge position, a fast neck, and a Floyd Rose tremolo. Strats are easy to work on, so you might make some of these changes yourself, or opt for one of the great super strats out there. Fender also has the

Metal

Winner: Draw

Metal is such a diverse genre. I think either of these guitars would serve a guitarist well. I would suggest lead players consider the Stratocaster with the modifications listed above. Rhythm players may opt for the SG.

Angus Young of AC/DC is one of the most iconic Gibson SG players.

Angus Young of AC/DC is one of the most iconic Gibson SG players.

SG or Stratocaster: Which Is Better for Beginners?

Both guitars are out of the price range of most beginners. However, Fender and Gibson have budget versions available for players who are just starting out. These guitars have many of the same features as their big brothers.

Gibson makes budget and entry-level instruments through a brand called Epiphone, while Fender offers them through their Squier by Fender brand. If you ever see these names when you are out at a guitar shop, you’ll know they are associated with these parent brands.

These are some of the best electric guitars for beginners. It is also important to know that Gibson and Fender both expect quality out of their budget brands, and guitars must meet their standards.

If you are a newbie looking for your first guitar, I recommend the following instruments:

Squier Bullet Stratocaster

  • Like its Fender namesake, this entry-level guitar features three single-coil pickups controlled by a 5-way switch, a hard-tail bridge, a basswood body, and a maple neck.

Epiphone SG Special

  • The beginner-level SG features a pair of humbuckers controlled by a 3-way switch, a double-cutaway poplar body, and a bolt-on mahogany neck.

You’ll want to check out other Squier and Epiphone options as well.

So, which is better for beginners? You can make the best decision for you by considering the type of music you are interested in and intend to play, then looking at what other guitarists in that genre typically use. If possible, you’ll also want to get out to a music store and handle each instrument before you decide.

There is no wrong answer. Just be sure to do your research before making a choice.

Which Guitar Is For You?

If you are struggling to choose between the Stratocaster and SG, don’t feel too bad. Believe it or not, people play guitar for years or even decades and still can’t make a definitive choice between guitars. That’s kind of how it goes when you are a guitar player. Every instrument has its strong points, and the SG and Strat are no different.

My choice would be the Stratocaster, but I can see greatness in the SG as well. Both guitars are classics, and both have made their mark in every music genre.

What have you decided? Fender Stratocaster or Gibson SG, which do you think is better?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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