The Great Electric Debate: The Fender Strat vs. The Gibson Les Paul
It has inspired many arguments and hopefully a few good tunes. The question is, Stratocaster or Les Paul? Which one of these two storied instruments is the ultimate electric guitar?
There are countless makers and models to choose from, but somehow these two basic designs remain the most popular (and most imitated) guitars in the world. I can't settle this debate, but I can educate players on why the Strat and Les Paul are so wildly different, and maybe why they're so great. Here's a breakdown of each one...
(Disclaimer: these specifications are what are usually found on Strats and Les Pauls not always. Come to Georges Music to see many, many variations!)
- 25.5 scale length
- More tension and snap to strings
- Bigger stretches on the fretboard
- 21 Jumbo frets
- Lightweight alder body
- Bolt-on neck with straight headstock headstock or neck breaks are rare
- Slim neck
- Adjustable tremolo bridge with arm allows vibrato effects, but can put strings out of tune
- Three single-coil pickups and five-way pickup selector switch
- Thin, biting sound from bridge pickup
- Good mix of bite and bottom end from middle pickup
- Fatter, thicker sound from neck pickup, but still lower bass output than a les Paul
- Produces 60-cycle hum when one pickup is soloed especially noticeable when distorted
- Can achieve noiseless tones by selecting two pickups via the switch
- Instantly recognizable quacky sound identifies it as a Strat
- Maple or rosewood fretboard maple characterized as brighter
- Favored by players of blues, surf, country, Britpop, and all kinds of rock
- Not as popular for heavily distorted styles
- Noted players: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dick Dale, John Frusciante, David Gilmour, John Mayer
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- 24.75 scale length
- Lower tension allows easy bending
- Shorter distances to reach on fretboard
- 22 Medium frets
- Heavier mahogany body
- Glued-in set-neck construction with tilt-back headstock headstock breaks common if the instrument falls (buy a nice case!)
- Thicker neck
- Fixed bridge no tremolo on majority of models
- Two humbucking pickups with three-way pickup selector switch
- Bright tone with nice attack from bridge pickup
- Super-thick, meaty tone from neck pickup
- Nice mixed tone from middle position
- Pickups are naturally noiseless
- Rosewood or ebony fretboard
- Bridge pickup is the standard for distorted rock styles
- Favored by players of blues, hard rock, jazz, metal, and every other type of music
- Noted players: Slash, Duane Allman, Peter Frampton, Ace Frehley, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Zakk Wylde
Looking for a Les Paul?
So, Which One is Better?
I definitely cant answer that one for you! But Ive found that running down the list of differences between Strats and Les Pauls can help a player identify their preference. Love a bright, snappy tone, and a lightweight guitar? Try a Strat. Always use heavy distortion, and cant stand hum? Maybe lean towards a Les Paul. Need a tremolo? Need 22 frets? Need major bass response? All of these questions will help you narrow it down. And if you didnt notice, theyre both great for playing the blues!