The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Fender or Ibanez?
Fender and Ibanez are two of the most respected guitar and bass builders in the world. Anyone who has been around guitars for even a short amount of time is familiar with their names, and they are among the top choices for musicians in every genre.
Both feature a wide array of guitars for every skill level, from beginner to pro, so you can start out on an Ibanez or Fender and stick with the same company through your whole career if you wish.
One niche where these guitar giants really shine is intermediate-level guitars and basses. Surely you already know that both of these companies make outstanding instruments for professional players, but most of us are hobby players, semi-pros or working musicians who need affordable gear that won’t let us down. Most guitar players are looking for instruments that provide a lot of value for the money.
While you’ll certainly find that in Fender and Ibanez, you probably also realize that these are two very different brands, each with a decidedly different vibe. This article will help you, as a beginner and intermediate player, to understand what makes these brands different, where they share similarities, and how to choose between them.
Then you can get on your way to choosing the perfect guitar or bass from one of these brands, or expand your search to one of the other top guitar companies out there.
Comparing Ibanez and Fender
Because we need a logical way to compare the two brands, I’m going to start with Fender and then see how Ibanez stacks up against them. Truthfully, this could have been done the other way around as well but for the purposes of this review, we’ll consider Fender as something like defending champs.
I’ll also be talking in general terms when it comes to specific instruments. Remember that this article is intended to help beginner and intermediate guitar players understand the basic differences between how Fender and Ibanez guitars are put together, and what to expect from each.
I expect someone out there is going to be thinking they have a Strat that blows away any Ibanez as a shred machine, or that they play blues on their Ibanez S Series just fine. I'm sure you are right, but that’s not the point here.
Finally, again because I am talking so generally here, it’s important for beginners to realize that just because a guitar has a certain reputation or vibe it doesn’t mean you can’t do something else with it. Learn the basics here, then listen, compare and decide what you really like.
Both of these brands have proven they have what it takes to span many different genres, so don’t feel compelled to play a certain guitar just because other players in your genre have historically done so.
With all that out of the way, let's get on to the guitars.
Fun Fact: In the late 1980s to early '90s Fender produced a series of guitars under the brand name Heartfield which were made in Japan in the same factory that made Ibanez guitars.
We can follow Fender’s heritage all the way back to the first solid-body electric guitars and the first electric bass guitars. Models such as the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Precision Bass and Jazz Bass have been around for decades, and their popularity has only increased.
American-made Fenders are somewhat expensive instruments, but Fender also has its Player Series line. These are guitars and basses made in Mexico (MIM), and they cost around half of what you’d spend on an American Fender.
For beginners, there is Squier by Fender. These instruments are budget versions of classic Fender models, and they are super affordable as first guitars.
As you'd expect, there is a huge gap in construction and sound quality between Squier guitars and American-made Fenders, but they also have a lot in common. For one thing, you’ll see many of the same models in the Squier lineup as you do in the USA-Fender lineup. The difference, for course, is in the craftsmanship and quality.
Fender guitars generally rely on brighter tonewoods like alder and maple for their distinctive sound. These tonewoods and Fender’s single-coil pickups have given us the classic rip of the Stratocaster and the twang of the Tele. These are two of the most iconic electric guitars of all time. Other brands may cop this sound and style, but none do it better than Fender.
Whether you are talking about American-made Fenders or the Squier by Fender series, it all comes down to the simple designs that put Fender on the map. Each of their classic instruments has a distinctive sound and, while different pickups and electronics can alter it somewhat, you shouldn’t expect these guitars to be something they are not.
Fender American Professional Stratocaster
Is Ibanez a Good Brand?
Ibanez is an excellent guitar brand with a strong reputation in the industry. They make quality guitars and basses for beginners, high-end instruments for pro players, and everything in between. This means, whether you are new to guitar or you’ve been around the block a time or two, if you are in the process of choosing an instrument there is a good chance you have an Ibanez on your shortlist.
It also means they are a strong competitor for brands like Fender, who has a more storied history behind them. But Ibanez has an interesting history as well, and as a company, they’ve actually been around a lot longer.
This is a Japanese brand that dates back to 1929. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, they began making quality copies of American guitars. Some of their “copies” went on to become legendary on their own, such as the Ibanez Destroyer which was originally based on the Gibson Explorer.
After a few legal entanglements Ibanez began making their own guitar styles, and through the years they have gone from follower to leader. Fast, thin necks, excellent in-house hardware, and innovative extended range designs have become to hallmarks of Ibanez. Along the way, they have become one of the best guitar brands for metal and hard rock.
Two of their most respected guitars are the Ibanez RG and Ibanez S. These aren’t just great instruments, but strong competitors with the Fender Stratocaster
The Ibanez Genesis Collection RG
Ibanez RG and S vs. Fender Stratocaster
Ibanez, like Fender, has certainly carved out their place as one of the top rock guitar brands in the world. Like all brands that came after, certainly, Ibanez had an eye on Fender’s accomplishments as they designed their guitars. In fact, we can speculate that Fender is, in some ways, responsible for Ibanez's huge success.
Back in the 1970s, players were modding Fender Stratocasters with humbuckers to make them sound thicker and hotter. These guitars eventually became known as “Superstrats” and moving into the 1980s many guitar brands started to build guitars based on the ideas of these early innovators.
Ibanez was one of the companies who expanded and improved on the superstrat idea, building the superest of superstrats with their RG model guitars, and later with their S Series. These guitars featured warmer, more resonant tonewoods, hotter pickups, faster necks, and cutting-edge tremolos and hardware. Why mod a Stratocaster when you can get everything you need in an Ibanez RG?
The Ibanez RG and S Series each went on to achieve legendary status, and to this day they are among the favorites of shredders and metal guitarists. Like Fender, they span the range from beginner-level guitar models to pro-level instruments.
How do they stack up against Fender guitars? Check out the chart below for some general comparisons. Remember, these are typical attributes. Different models may vary and you should always check the specs of any specific instrument you are interested in.
Fender and Ibanez Guitars General Comparison
Maple or Rosewood
SSS or HSS
Vintage or Modern Fender Tremolo
Maple or Rosewood
HH or HSH
Double-Locking Ibanez Tremolo
HH or HSH
Double-Locking Ibanez Tremolo
Ibanez vs. Fender Bass Guitars
Like their guitars, Fender bass guitars also rely on wood for their tone. Again, alder and maple are prominent, and because both the Precision Bass and Jazz Bass have passive pickups these tonewoods play a big part in the sound.
The designs are simple, and they have made their mark over the years. Like the Strat and Tele, the Fender Jazz and P Bass each has a distinctive sound that other brands have struggled to top.
If Fender basses are all about simple designs, Ibanez basses are all about power and flexibility. Ibanez bass guitars like the Soundgear Series feature active electronics which let you sculpt our sound with EQ controls mounted right on the bass. This not only means you can control your tone on-the-fly but that you have a wider array of sounds available than you would with a passive bass.
Of course, wood is important here too, and again Ibanez typically relies on warmer woods like mahogany and basswood. In higher-end basses, they employ exotic woods in the designs, which are typically not seen in Fender basses.
In summary, three words to describe each:
- Fender Bass Guitars: Classic, simple and woody.
- Ibanez Bass Guitars: Innovative, flexible, modern.
Which Guitar Brand for Which Genre?
Extending the general overview of the strengths of Ibanez and Fender respectively, here’s a look at which brand you might consider depending on your level or genre of interest.
- Beginner Guitars: Ibanez and Fender (through their Squier brand) both offer some excellent electric guitars for beginners. I suggest checking out Affinity-Series Squier Stratocasters and GIO Series Ibanez RGs.
- Rock: The Stratocaster and Telecaster have both proven themselves as a couple of the best rock guitars in the world. If you play classic rock, country rock or even hard rock these guitars will come through for you, especially if you choose a model with a humbucking pickup in the bridge position. As you get into heavier forms of rock, you may want to start thinking about Ibanez.
- Heavy Metal: Ibanez makes some of the best guitars for metal. The RG and S Series both bring the heavy sounds and fast necks metal musicians are looking for, and either is a great choice. There are also seven-string models that may appeal to extreme metal guitarists, something we don’t see in Fender’s lineup. That said, Fender has its place in metal too, particularly if you are into more classic forms of heavy metal.
- Country: It is tough to beat the Fender Telecaster for that country twang. It is widely regarded as the best electric guitar for country music. Second place may go to the bright, chicken-picking’ tones of the mid/neck pickup positions of the Stratocaster. While you can replicate these sounds somewhat with an Ibanez, if you are into country you’re likely better off with a Fender.
- Blues: The Fender Stratocaster is probably the ultimate blues guitar. However, many musicians play other forms of music besides blues, so don’t rule out Ibanez.
- Jazz: Of course you can play jazz on a Stratocaster and, especially back in the early days of the Strat, many musicians have. But Ibanez has a secret weapon here, in the form of their Artcore lineup. These are hollow and semi-hollow body guitars that rival the Epiphone Dot and Gibson ES-Series. Who would have guessed one of the best metal guitar brands in the world also makes awesome jazz guitars?
- Bass: In the world of extreme metal, Ibanez gets the clear edge, especially if you need a 5-string. Otherwise, both brands make outstanding basses for beginners and all genres. You need to figure out which you like best. A good place to start is to learn about the classic Precision and Jazz Bass sounds. Then, listen to some Ibanez bass guitars and decide if you need the edge and versatility, or if the classic Fender sounds are more appealing to you.
Good luck choosing your new guitar or bass, and I hope this article gave you a good overview of how Ibanez compares to Fender.
Ibanez or Fender?
EZED_52 on October 19, 2019:
I have an original Ibanez RoadStar strat made in Japan. I paid 150.00 in 94 for it at a Pawn Shop and did my own setup. Its now worth 300, but worth much more to me. Maple neck, white, SSS and original stock parts. Plays and sounds great. I will get a Fender strat with rosewood fretboard for the different sound and feel. We like what we like.
Lardgee47 on June 26, 2019:
Some of the "lower end" Fender guitars built in Japan years ago were just as good and in many cases better the the US made fender. I have my American made Strats and Tele's but I would never part with my Ibanez RG570, with that wicked original Wizard neck, or my '79 Musician.
russtum on March 12, 2019:
good interpretative writing of the two guitar brands vis-a-vis genres.
Phatzo on February 06, 2019:
Played both, liked the Ibanez just a little more.
Guitar Gopher (author) on December 23, 2018:
Glad to be of help, Chase. Good luck on your paper!
Chase on December 17, 2018:
I am currently writing a college paper on differences between Fender and Ibanez, and your post was very helpful, thank you!
Guitar Gopher (author) on March 03, 2015:
Thanks for adding your opinion, Allan!
Allan on March 02, 2015:
First off, the pickups make a much larger difference in tone than the wood ever will. Saying the wood makes such a huge difference is an absolute exaggeration. Will it make a difference? Yes. Will it make as much of a difference as the pickups? Not a chance.
Second, Ibanez actually puts thought into their guitars and tries to INNOVATE. Something Fender doesn't do because people are willing to buy their guitars even if the designs are inferior. The biggest example is how the neck connects to the body. Even on the GIO line, their cheapest models, the joint is rounded so you can actually get your hands around the neck at the higher frets. On the Fender they still use that blocky joint with the sharp corner that makes the highest 6 frets useless. They also have the strings going through the nut straight instead of at an angle on most of their instruments. This helps tuning because the string isn't catching on the nut when you tighten or loosen it. Fender is actually pretty good about this as well, but many other brands (*cough* Gibson *cough*) have the strings at some extreme angles. They also seem to understand that the body doesn't need to be thick as a brick. This makes them lighter, which in turn makes them more pleasant to play for extended periods of time.
But in the end, all that really matters is that you feel good playing it. Just go to your guitar store and try a bunch of guitars in your budget. Being able to enjoy playing the instrument will make a much larger difference than anything else.