Stratocaster Versus Les Paul

Stratocaster vs. Les Paul: Which Is Right for You?

Posted on .

We break down the primary features and compare two iconic axes - the Les Paul and the Stratocaster

Ask the average person to describe or sketch an electric guitar and chances are they’ll come up with something that resembles either a Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul. These two guitars are imprinted on our collective consciousness for good reason.

Ever since their introductions in the 1950s, the Strat and the LP have largely ruled the electric guitar roost. Both offered revolutionary improvements in both playability and sonic performance. Each is a completely different and much-copied design; their tone and playing feel completely distinct.

Here’s a rundown on those differences:

Scale length

A big difference between the Stratocaster and the Les Paul is their scale length—the length of the strings measured from the nut to the bridge. The Les Paul is 24.75 inches versus the Stratocaster’s longer 25.5 inches. This has an impact on both sound and playability.

A longer scale length results in more space between the frets and greater string tension making it a little more challenging to play for smaller hands. Though string tension is greater, due to their additional length, the strings have a bit of”give." The Stratocaster’s longer scale results in a brighter, more chiming sound whereas the LP’s shorter scale is to an extent responsible for its rounder, warmer sound.

Check out the scale length discussion in our Electric Guitar Buying Guide for more.

Pickup configuration

While Stratocasters and Les Pauls are available with a broad range of pickup configurations and switching options these days, their classic pickup arrays are another important way they’re different.

A traditional Stratocaster is equipped with three single-coil pickups (neck, middle, bridge). A traditional Les Paul has two humbucker pickups (neck and bridge).

Single-coil pickups tend to sound brighter and crisper and cut through dense band mixes. They’re also are prone to generating hum and other noise caused by electrical interference.

Humbuckers were designed to eliminate noise and they generally produce a thicker, deeper sound than single-coils. In very broad terms, single-coils lend themselves to blues, funk, surf and country styles. Humbuckers, on the other hand, are often used in hard rock, metal, blues and jazz styles. But there are no hard and fast rules–either pickup type can be used to play whatever you want. Tone is a very personal thing and both guitars are remarkably versatile.

Check out the Pickups and Electronics section of our Electric Guitar Buying Guide for more details.

Body

The Stratocaster has two asymmetrical cutaways which are cosmetic and allow greater access to the high notes. The Les Paul features a single cutaway for similar fretboard access.

Fender Custom Shop Postmodern Journeyman Relic Stratocaster

The Fender Custom Shop builds this Postmodern Journeyman Relic Stratocaster with a host of contemporary features lurking beneath classic looks..

 

The Les Paul has a thicker, heavier mahogany body, usually with a carved top cap made of maple. The LP is more difficult to produce than the the Stratocaster with its slimmer, contoured body built from a single slab of wood—usually ash or alder. The Strat weighs less than the LP too.

Gibson 2017 Les Paul Standard HP

Today's Les Paul lineup includes many variants including this 2017 Les Paul Standard HP that's loaded with modern innovations, yet has all the original LP earmarks.

 

 

Neck

The Stratocaster neck is somewhat thinner than the LP’s and is preferred by some players with smaller hands. With its slightly curved (radiused) fretboard, the Strat feels more rounded and comfortable to some players while other prefer the heftiness and greater width of the LP’s neck that helps with note bending. It should be noted though that both Gibson and Fender offer models with non-traditional neck profiles.

The other significant difference is the way the neck in each guitar is joined to the body. The Strat has a bolt-on neck which greatly simplifies manufacturing while providing a strong connection. The LP, on the other hand, has a glued, set-in neck that requires more skill to produce. The LP’s set neck, together with its humbucking pickups, contribute to its warmer tone and greater sustain.

Tailpiece/Bridge

The Stratocaster is equipped with a one-piece tailpiece/tremolo bridge with individually adjustable string saddles. This latter feature allows easier guitar setup when intonating strings.

While the Stratocaster’s tremolo bridge allows wild string-bending action, there is a downside: Such theatrics can pull your guitar's strings out of tune.

Most Les Pauls are equipped with Gibson’s Tune-o-matic fixed bridge that has two adjustable posts with a bar between them containing the individual string saddles. The strings then terminate at the so-called “stop bar” tailpiece. Most players give this setup high marks for staying in tune.

Which guitar’s right for you?

The LP and Strat are iconic for good reasons. Though they have very distinctive personalities and playing characteristics, they’re both incredibly versatile guitars. If you’re not sure, and you’ve got the budget, there’s nothing wrong with owning both!

And for lots more in-depth intel, check out our Stratocaster Buying Guide and Les Paul Buying Guide.

Recap

Stratocaster

  • Longer scale length of 25.5 inches, thinner neck
  • Slimmer contoured body with double cutaway
  • Three single-coil pickup configuration
  • Often played in blues, country, rock, and funk styles
  • Tremolo bridge
  • Bright, cutting tone

Les Paul

  • Shorter scale length of 24.75 inches, wider neck
  • Thicker, heavier body with carved top
  • Dual humbucker pickup configuration
  • Often found in hard rock, metal, jazz, and blues
  • Fixed bridge
  • Warm tone with ample sustain

Still need help?

Call one of our friendly and knowledgeable Gear Heads at (877) 880-5907. We’ll help you make a confident purchase after learning what you’re looking for.

Tags: Electric Guitars Acoustic Guitars Les Paul Epiphone Fender Stratocaster Squier

Comments  

# Light Thunder 2017-01-25 07:41
The pic of the two guitars in the title is interesting in that the Les Paul has two P-90 (single coil) pick-ups. I have a LP special double cut which unlike many LPs has no maple table and two P-90's. According to your article this would make it an 'in between' LP Standard and Strat-sounding instrument. I'd never thought of my LP Special as being a hybrid or compromise between the two guitar styles. I wonder how true this is
Reply
# Paul McGuffin 2016-11-02 16:14
I would disagree with you here. Longer scale takes more tension to bring it to A-440 pitch than a shorter sacle. BUT, the longer scale guitar will “feel” more lose due to the longer string length...read the book by Jose Oribe, “The Fine Guitar.” He talks about this in one chapter.
Reply
# jbd-va 2016-08-13 07:00
Spend more time practicing and you will sound good on either one. Put a strat in the hands of Clapton and he will sound like Eric Clapton.... Put an LP in the hands of Clapton and guess what... He will sound like Eric Clapton. I'm blessed to have both and love both, but it's the player and his/her fingers that make the magic happen.
Reply
# Kyle 2016-06-07 10:52
Great post, but super biased to the LP. I personally have an LP and love it l, but I was hoping for a more objective run-through
Reply
# tmi 2016-10-21 17:49
Definitely not biased. They described the qualities of both guitars. Tell me how that is leaning one way or the other.
Reply
# Dogface 2016-02-26 20:13
I have tried both . I could not get the "ghost sound" out of a les paul . So I bought the Strat. I could not milk it out of the les paul to save it's life . It is a harmonic feedback reverberation that makes a cool sound like rubbing a wet finger over a crystal cup when playing a tuntune . Les paul is cool for what it does . It just does not .
Reply
# Shayster 2016-01-04 12:03
Played strats for 30 yrs and ran out off love for them always thought they where lacking something couldn't put my finger on it.remembered playing a les Paul when I was younger and didn't really connect with it.then stopped gigging for a while and did a swap for an epipi LP and was hooked it was close to the sound I'd dreamt of but not quite even with pu change.so sold a few guitars and purchased a real Gibson LP goldtop holy crap what a sound I'm in love with playing again I use it for blues and rock mainly warren Haynes type stuff.
I also have a fret king Jerry Donahue telecaster that fills and start type sound if I need it plus all my chicken picken needs. Sometimes you need to open up to a les Paul there's so much tone to be had with the controls ...
Reply
# Matthew 2015-12-09 08:44
The stratocaster is a better beginner guitar and variations such as the squire bullet strat are very affordable. The single coil hum seems to have been fixed on the models with 5 way pickup switches
Reply
# Logjam 2016-02-28 19:40
Strats have always had 5 way p/u selectors. The hum goes away in positions 2 and 4...which happen to combine two single coil pickups to produce a dual-coil or (wait for it)...humbucking pickup.

You kids....
Reply
# sleepy55 2016-07-02 11:49
The positions 2 and 4 are only noiseless if the middlle pu is reversed wound. This is not the case in all fender pu-sets. So if you want that, you have to choose a set with reversed wound middle pu as texas special and fat fifties for example. I believe the 69 and 57/62 sets have no reversed wound middle pu.
Reply
# leftydude 2016-06-17 09:56
No offence dude but the Stratocaster had a 3 way pickup selector until 1977 when it went 5 way.

Each position only selected one pickup. The added two choices were b+m, m+n.

You may want to retract the 'you kids' comment
Reply
# johnm 2016-04-03 17:18
I have several single coil pickup guitars and they do not have any hum. If the pickup and control chambers are shielded they are fine. The switch alone has nothing to do with the hum. The newer strats have shielded chambers and that most likly controls the hum.
Reply
# Jamlog 2016-04-03 14:58
What a Gibson loving faggot.
Reply
# Steve Romeo 2015-11-12 19:17
I spent four hours at GC playing an Epi Les Paul Trad Pro against a Fender Deluxe Player Strat. I arrived at these two after trying about 8 different LPs and Strats, each. I hooked them both up to a Vox and set all controls for clean sound. I agree with whoever said you should just go and buy both if you can afford it. The LP felt more like my ES-175, very jazz-blues, easy to bend, easy to barre. The Strat, however, was just all-around easier to play and set against my body more comfortably. The thing that became obvious after about two hours, though, was this: each guitar tends to make you take your playing in a different direction. The LP lends itself to solo jazz blues and the Fender had me doing fast scale runs without thinking about it. These are just my personal opinions, but the point remains: increase your versatility and ability by buying and playing both ( under $900 for both ).
Reply
# Christopher M. McBur 2016-03-29 07:40
I totally concur with this review of the differences btw Strat and Les Paul. The Strat for me is easier to play fast aand feels more seamless against my body. Les Pauls are cool with nice tone but I find Strats much easier to play....especially fast.
Reply
# Tonto 2015-08-26 14:23
Just bought my first Les Paul after almost 36 years of playing live - haven't even gigged it yet as I need to get a 'feel' for it! I also have Strats and Teles as my go-to guitars but in my experience, anyone looking for an electric guitar should get out and try a variety, hooked up to your own amp, if possible, with your own pedals etc. so you can 'feel' their individual playing characteristics - guitar weight and body shape, scale, playability, tone, versatility, colour, pickup configuration, string gauge etc. Only you can decide which is (or feels) right for you and as some have said, get both! Or try one of many other quality guitars out there or even get a custom guitar made for you, to your own spec. The choice is yours; choice is the winner here!
Reply
# Uncleknubs 2015-05-30 05:07
I've found that it's best to have both a Strat and a LP, if one can afford it. Music is so varied, whether playing covers or original, it's nice to have the option of creating the overall sound, tone and vibe of each style guitar. Let's face it, many of us wouldn't mind having a number of different guitars, over 50 years I've ended up with at least 60 electric 6 stings, a number of acoustics and basses, etc. well over 100 different stringed instruments. But there are those like Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, who's say's he owns over 400 guitars, including his five neck Hamer electric guitar. But there are those like Clapton who prove, you can play music with both a Strat and a LP and still sound awesome.
Reply
# toosweetmusic 2015-05-21 11:52
strat you can get funky or rock with it les is more jazz.
Reply
# Homesick Bob 2015-05-21 12:26
Both are not really style related, you can get mellow jazzy sounds on a Strat same as a biting crisp tone on the LP, the choice is more on the handling of the axes (got a AVRI '62 Strat and a LP Junior)... each has its own "pros" with no "cons".
Reply
# Homesick Bob 2015-05-18 12:06
The shown Les Paul is a modified early '50s style axe with P90 single coils... same hum all over.
But the joke was worth a laughing!
I like both of 'em, Rock on guys! ;-)
Reply
# JohnM 2015-05-12 10:20
Part 2 :
Single coils are not the only reason a guitar hums I have humbuckers that have a lot of noise. After shielding the control and pickup routs most of the hum disappears from any guitar I have regardless of the pickups. It mentions humbuckers sound warm I could say the sound muddy. It depends on the pickup. Humbuckers are hotter and drive the amp harder. Although there hot single coils too.
Today Gibson and Fender can be made to sound like the other.
I like both guitars and would like to see a matter of fact article, not a one that pretends to be unbiased buyer decision guide and by the way the Gibson is better.
Reply
# Augustus 2016-07-02 19:18
Les Pauls are not better than Stratocasters or viceversa, it's a matter of taste and nothing more by the way.
Reply
# JohnM 2015-05-12 10:20
I would like to call BS on this article. It definitely sounds one sided with the Strat have very few positive qualities. When was the last time someone did not have enough sustain on a Stratocaster? Oh gee my Strat cannot play whole notes because the sustain is only 250mS.
Notable differences:
Stratocaster has a rounded finger board and the Gibson is flatter.
Stratocaster has finished maple and dark woods the Gibson is only dark woods.
The bolt on neck is not an unskilled choice. It offers an easy way to repair and adjust the action. The glue in neck is difficult to repair/replace. The angles head is a fragile item if the guitar is dropped.
Reply
# VicC 2016-07-31 11:29
Wow, I dont see where this article is biased toward gibsons. It simply states the differences between the two and says its a matter of personal preference. Because it says Les Pauls tend to sustain a little longer is not implying Strats have no sustain at all. Also it doenst say it takes no skill to make a Strat, it just says its more difficult to set the neck on a Les Paul which it is, if you ever tried building one you know this is the case. I have both and they are both great.
Reply
# Jacob 2015-05-12 12:59
Yo, you John Mayer?
Reply
# Jim Charlotte 2015-05-12 06:30
Best of both worlds - strat with a humbucker in the bridge position. Allows me to change from single coil to humbucker.
Reply
# Steve 2015-05-11 17:28
Have both and love both but prefer the Paul for the sound I like
Reply
# Angel 2015-05-11 17:04
I own both a strat and a les paul. To say a les paul has only one sound is ignorance
Reply
# john 2015-05-11 15:51
i cant think of one reason to limit yourself to a heavy awkward guitar that has one sound basically. strat is where it's at
Reply
# Big way 2016-11-15 16:16
I have both , I've seen my share of pedals, I can get the " sound " I play , from Both. They both are Iconic,! They both changed the complexion & colored all genres, for ever!
Reply
# axel 2015-05-12 00:41
It depends what u want. If u want bright with less sustain, go strat. If u want warm with more sustain as well as better distortions, go LP. Heck if u want even less sustain, go hollow body. But please don't say this iconic rock Axe is only capable of producing one tone.
Reply

Add comment

Security code
Refresh

The HUB by Musician's Friend Logo

DON'T MISS THE LATEST UPDATES!
CONNECT WITH MUSICIAN'S FRIEND

FIND GREAT DEALS NOW
ON MUSICIANSFRIEND.COM

Stupid Deal of the Day (SDOTD) Musicians Friend Backstage Pass  Open Box Musical Instruments at Musician's Friend

SHOPPING TOOLS

  • BACKSTAGE PASS Rewards Program
  • Guitar Case Finder
  • Give a Gift Certificate
  • Clearance
  • Private Reserve Guitars

SHOP BY CATEGORY

  • Hot Deals
  • On Sale
  • Pre-Order
  • New Arrivals
  • Top Rated Gear
  • Best Sellers

SUBSCRIBE

  • Newsletter
  • Digital Catalog
  • Print Catalog