When it comes to Les Paul vs Stratocaster, what shapes our often intense personal opinions over which one is better? Is it price, sound, weight, design, or something else?
There are many makes and models of guitar, but two dominate the market. The most famous guitar players typically play on Les Paul or Stratocaster guitars.
Both the Les Paul and Stratocaster have been around since the 1950s: the Les Paul since 1952, and the Stratocaster since 1954.
Les Paul vs. Stratocaster: Is There a Clear Winner?
Since their inception, they’ve had entirely different paths and manufacturing strategies.
Hence, it’s nearly impossible to have a Les Paul vs Stratocaster battle and expect a clearly dominant winner.
Simply put – there isn’t one. However, there’s plenty of evidence that they’re both individual winners in their own right.
In this article, we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions that come up regarding the most prominent features of these iconic instruments.
Mahogany & Maple
Ash, Alder, Maple
* Made in North America excluding special models and custom shop instruments.
Common Questions About Les Pauls and Stratocasters
The fastest way to learn more about the Les Paul vs. Strat debate is by asking the relevant questions. Buying a good guitar is no small feat, nor is it an insignificant investment.
Regardless of which you choose, you’ll need at least a few hundred dollars. If you’re considering a Gibson Les Paul instead of Epiphone, that number raises to thousands.
Let’s dive into the necessary information to help you see each side of the Gibson Les Paul vs Fender Stratocaster argument.
Is a Les Paul Easier to Play Than a Strat?
Right off the bat, the question doesn’t have a straightforward answer. However, in terms of playability, we have to consider several crucial characteristics.
First, the guitar body types play a significant role. But how do size and shape make a difference in the Les Paul vs. Stratocaster reckoning? Well, the Strat has a slightly thinner body, which makes it much easier to play for many.
In comparison, Les Pauls might feel like large chunks of wood if you compare them directly to Strats. But, in actual fact, modern Les Pauls aren’t as uncomfortable compared to the vintage models.
Then, we have to consider the scale length, one of the most prominent differences between the two and relevant to playability. The Les Paul scale length is 24.75 inches, and the Strat scale length sits at 25.5 inches.
The shorter scale length of a Les Paul has makes the strings a little easier to play, but the light weight and body contours of a Strat make it more comfortable.
Many professional guitar players prefer a Les Paul due to its shorter scale because it allows greater ease of use. Generally, the Gibson scale length for all models is the same as for Les Paul guitars.
Likewise, Fender scale length is always the same on Strat’s – with few exceptions.
Finally, we have to mention the string tension which directly affects playability. As mentioned, a shorter scale length equals more string elasticity.
Les Paul wins in this round as it has a lower string session than a Stratocaster.
Is a Les Paul or a Stratocaster Better?
Considering that both guitars are incredibly well-made and come in various finishes, specs, and styles, it’s impossible to say outright whether one is better than the other.
Much like an individuals taste in music – it’s entirely subjective.
Whether you think a Les Paul or Stratocaster is better is a matter of opinion, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. When in doubt, play it out.
Perhaps the question of whether Les Paul is superior is related to the fact that it’s typically more expensive. In addition, the Les Paul weight, usually between 9 and 12 pounds, is another reason many assume it’s a better guitar.
The Stratocaster weighs around 7 to 8.5 pounds, making it lightweight compared to a Les Paul. But a Les Paul is heavier because the mahogany body typically weighs more than alder or ash.
What Is the Difference Between a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul?
There are some similarities between these two fantastic guitars. For example, both can have have rosewood fingerboards. However, the differences are much more notable.
The Stratocaster has a built-on neck, whereas Les Paul’s is set and glued. We already know the differences in body and neck tonewood material.
When it comes to pickups, a Les Paul has two “hum cancelling” humbuckers and a Strat three single-coils, which can be noisy at times.
In design, the Stratocaster features one volume and two tone controls with a five-way switch for electronics. By contrast, Les Paul has two volume and two tone controls, with a three-way switch.
In sound, the Strat is highly versatile thanks to its electronics design which enables a wide tonal palette. By comparison, a Les Paul is sonically more limited, but packs one heck of a punch in output due to its dual coils.
Why Are Les Pauls More Expensive Than Strats?
Essentially, the two main reasons why the Gibson Les Paul guitar is pricier than Stratocaster are the materials used, and the build method applied.
Historically speaking, by the time Gibson started manufacturing electric guitars, they had already dominated the market with acoustic guitars and mandolins.
To this day, the emphasis on meticulous hand-crafted construction is evident in the Les Paul guitar.
With the addition of time consuming cosmetic features such as binding and inlay work, the price goes up accordingly.
Furthermore, mahogany is one of the most expensive types of wood on the market, and a standard for many custom-made guitars.
In contrast, Fender guitars, Strats included, were meant to be mass-produced from the get-go using readily available materials for every detail.
Why Did Eric Clapton Switch to Fender?
In the 1970s, Eric Clapton replaced his Gibson SG for a Fender Stratocaster and further fueled the war between the two guitar communities.
Many still wonder why he made the change, as we all know Gibson makes some of the best guitars on the planet.
While we can’t say with 100% accuracy, the standard explanation is that he was influenced by Jimmy Hendrix and his bandmates to switch to a Strat.
He famously named his first Strat ‘Brownie’ due to the color of its finish.
He then bought six more Strats and gave one to George Harrison, one to Steve Winwood, and one to Pete Townshend.
He then used the best parts of the remaining three Strats to build ‘Blackie,’ another famous Fender Strat.
Are Les Pauls Good for Beginners?
It’s essential to point out that beginners can learn how to play either a Les Paul or Strat as long as they practice.
But, as mentioned, they both have their benefits and downfalls in terms of ease of use.
When you’re a complete novice, every guitar will seem overwhelming at first.
However, Stratocasters are lighter, have a C-shaped neck, and are often better for beginners.
What Is the Best Fender Stratocaster for the Money?
Even though they are far more affordable than Gibson Les Pauls, Strat guitars come in a wide range of prices and specs.
In terms of a meat-and-potatoes, everything you need in a US-made Strat, the most affordable option is the Fender Player Stratocaster, priced around $800.
A high-end Strat can cost up to $2,000, as is the case with the Fender American Ultra Stratocaster HSS.
It is worth noting, at the risk of stepping outside the context of true Fender USA made products, an excellent guitar that combines quality and value for money is Fender’s Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster with a price tag of around $500.
Why Are Les Pauls So Heavy?
Gibson Les Pauls are heavy because they’re slightly thicker and made from relatively dense mahogany.
Only the best mahogany is used for the bodies; the necks can be made with the same material or maple.
This in not to say that Fender products are feather-weight either. We’ve seen some, particularly from the 70’s, that were ridiculously heavy.
Over the decades, specific gravity tolerances used for body materials have been relaxed in order to make production more cost effective.
The result is that, in some cases, Fender guitars that aren’t as light as they could be.
Can a Stratocaster Sound Like a Les Paul?
This is a great question. Les Pauls and Strats feature two very different sounds. A typical Stratocaster footprint has the thinner and brighter sound, some would express it as “sharp sounding”.
A Les Paul is all about thicker, darker tones and focuses on mid-range frequencies. But is there a way to make them sound similar?
You can make significant changes by adjusting the amplifier settings, using an EQ pedal, and opting for the neck pickup, but we’ll explain it like this:
Through modifications you can get a Stratocaster to sound very close to a Les Paul, but, because of its inherent construction, a Les Paul will never produce a convincing Stratocaster sound.
Is Gibson or Fender Better?
Again, the question is subjective and almost impossible to answer. The Fender vs. Gibson comparison comes down to personal preference.
Gibson is an older guitar maker with a different history and intense focus on details. On the other hand, Fender makes Stratocasters which are incredibly popular and more affordable.
Also, Telecaster vs. Strat by Fender is another challenging comparison to make.
Les Paul vs Stratocaster: A Breakdown
We’ve covered the main questions about these two brilliant instruments, but we have to touch on several other specific categories.
This will give us further insight into the Les Paul and Stratocaster legacies and what they represent to guitar communities.
The Gibson company was founded in 1894 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and is undoubtedly one of the most well-known guitar manufacturers in the world.
When they started making electric guitars in the 1950s, and their best-known models were the Les Paul and SG, along with the Flying V, Explorer and Moderne though with limited success.
To this day, every “authentic” Gibson guitar is made in the US in one of the Nashville or Montana factories.
The first Fender guitar, Telecaster (originally Broadcaster), was introduced in 1950, and the Stratocaster came a mere four years later in 1954.
They were both designed by Leo Fender in California as marketing products used to support his amplifier business.
Today, these practical, every-day-working-man guitars are synonymous with professional guitarists.
If you know what you’re doing, you can play any musical style with any guitar – talent is truly in the hands of the player.
However, due to the style, tone, and general comfort, Les Paul and Stratocaster are divided based on musical styles.
While a Strat can be used in any genre, it’s considered one of the best blues guitars ever. The low levels of gain make it suitable for country, pop and R’n’B music.
With Les Paul guitars, it’s all about the hands that play it. It’s original inception was to be an affordable electric guitar for jazz musicians.
Therefor of course it can be an excellent jazz guitar, but it found incredible popularity among, blues, rock and heavy metal musicians too.
A Gibson Les Paul guitar is gorgeous, sturdy, durable – and expensive. No doubt that it’s a fantastic investment that can turn into an heirloom.
But it might not be the best option for a budget-minded person in need of a new guitar. Even the cheapest Les Paul is over $1,000. For that money, you can buy a reasonably high-end Stratocaster.
Ultimately, it’s about what you’re looking for and what will work for you. Besides, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard is much cheaper and shares incredibly similar features.
Les Paul vs. Stratocaster Pros and Cons
- Shorter scale length
- Thick tone
The Not So Good
- Non-replaceable necks
- Ergonomic design
- Very durable
- Highly modular
The Not So Good
- Higher string tension
- Can be noisy
- Low output
Les Paul vs. Stratocaster: Which Guitar Is Better for You?
If you don’t know anything about guitars, it’d be nearly impossible to choose between the Les Paul and the Stratocaster.
You would probably be inclined to make a decision based on looks.
The lack of contours and the weight of a Les Paul would make it an automatic “no” for some. However, others will appreciate those same features.
The playability factor is essential but shouldn’t be the defining factor.
You can learn how to play either of these guitars as long as you dedicate time and effort.
However, perhaps the better way to assess the better option is to focus on the preferred music style and pickup options.