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In the world of electric guitars, few instruments are as iconic as the Stratocaster and the Les Paul. Both of these guitars have been played by some of the greatest guitarists of all time and have an instantly recognizable sound. So, what are the differences between these two legendary instruments?
The Strat has a longer scale length, rounder fingerboard, bolt-on neck, tremolo, and three single-coil pickups. The Les Paul has a shorter scale length, flatter fingerboard, set neck, fixed bridge, and two humbuckers. The guitar control configurations and tonewoods are also different.
The Strat and the Les Paul have plenty of differences on paper, but the true test is how they sound and feel to an individual guitarist. Each guitar has certain characteristics that make it unique. Keep reading to find out which one is right for you.
For starters, let’s take a look at the Stratocaster.
Strat Scale Length
The Strat has a slightly longer scale length of 25 and 1/2 inches. The longer distance between the nut and the bridge gives the strings a little bit more tension. This contributes to a different feel between the Strat and the Les Paul and will be a matter of personal preference.
Strat Fretboard Radius
The Strat fretboard or fingerboard radius is traditionally 9 and 1/2 inches, although there is some variation between the different models. The more curved radius is comfortable for playing chords, but technical players may want a flatter fingerboard radius.
Strat Pickup Configuration
The Stratocaster has three single-coil pickups. Some models may have a humbucker at the bridge, but the traditional pickup configuration of the Strat is three single-coil pickups.
The unique tone of the Strat has to do with the pickups and their various combinations. A 5-way selector switch allows players to combine the different pickups for unique tones, only possible with a Strat.
The Stratocaster has one volume control, two tone controls, and a 5-way selector switch. The tone controls are typically wired to the neck and middle pickups. On some models, such as the Player Series, the second tone control adjusts the bridge pickup.
The 5-way selector switch allows players to choose between the neck, middle, and bridge pickups. Positions two and four combine the middle pickup with the neck or bridge pickup and produce a tone that is unique to the Strat.
The Strat headstock is immediately recognizable with its rounded end and six inline tuning machines. The truss rod access is conveniently located at the headstock on modern Strats. You will also find a string tree for the B and E strings on the headstock.
Strat Bridge and Tremolo
The Strat has a vintage-style bridge with six adjustable saddles and a tremolo. Traditionally, the bridge is attached to the body with six screws. Some Strats feature a two-point bridge attachment instead. The tremolo can be used to create vibrato or pitch-bending effects.
Strat Body and Neck
The body of the Stratocaster is contoured for player comfort. With smooth edges and an ergonomic shape, the Strat is more streamlined than the Les Paul and other guitars, such as the Telecaster.
The Strat is a solid-body guitar, usually made of alder or ash, with electronics and pickups attached to the pickguard. The pickguard and other guitar parts can be removed, making Strat upgrades easy.
The bolt-on neck is usually maple, with a maple or rosewood fretboard. Alternatives to rosewood are used as well, such as Pau Ferro.
The Stratocaster is known for its bright, clear, and chime-like sound. It’s equally favored by blues legends, funk players, and rock icons.
The Strat tone largely results from the combination of its three single-coil pickups, the 5-way selector switch, and the lighter maple, alder, and ash tonewoods.
The Les Paul
Now, let’s take a look at the Les Paul.
Les Paul Scale Length
The scale length of the Les Paul is 24 and 3/4 inches, which is shorter than the Strat’s scale length of 25 and 1/2 inches. The shorter scale length of the Les Paul means the strings are under less tension, which contributes to forgivability when playing and a warmer tone.
Les Paul Fretboard Radius
The Les Paul has a 12-inch radius fretboard, which is flatter than the Strat’s 9.5” radius. The flatter fretboard of the Les Paul makes it easier to play fast lead passages and bend notes.
Les Paul Pickup Configuration
The Les Paul has two humbucking pickups, which produce a thick, sustaining sound that is perfect for rock lead and rhythm playing.
Les Paul Controls
The Les Paul has two volume controls, two tone controls, and a 3-way selector switch. Each pickup has its own tone and volume control. This enables guitar players to create unique tones, only possible with the Les Paul.
The 3-way selector switch allows players to choose between the neck, middle, and bridge pickups. The center position combines both the neck and bridge pickups for a warm and thick sound.
Les Paul Headstock
As with the Strat, the Les Paul headstock has an immediately recognizable and trademarked shape. The three-by-three tuning machine arrangement obviates the need for any string trees, keeping the headstock design symmetrical and clean. The truss rod access is also located at the headstock.
Les Paul Bridge and Tailpiece
The Les Paul has a Tune-o-matic bridge with six adjustable saddles and a stopbar tailpiece. The Tune-o-matic bridge is attached to the body at two points, making any action adjustments an easy process. The stopbar tailpiece provides an anchor for the strings, adding sustain and tuning stability.
Les Paul Body and Neck
The body of the Les Paul is traditionally made from mahogany, contributing to a warm, midrange-heavy tone. Often capped with a figured maple top, the nitrocellulose finish of the Les Paul accentuates the natural aesthetic characteristics of the wood.
Unlike the Strat, the neck is a set neck instead of a bolt-on neck. The neck is also made from mahogany and has a rosewood fretboard.
The Les Paul body is more traditional than the Strat. It does not have the ergonomic features and carves that the Strat does. Though on some LP-style guitars, such as the ESP-LTD EC Series. These are modern takes on the LP body style and feature ergonomic body carves, a lighter weight, and a streamlined neck joint.
The Les Paul is a heavier guitar than the Strat due to its thicker body. Some argue this is where its tone comes from. If the weight is more than you want to deal with, some models are weight-relieved to reduce the guitar’s overall weight.
Les Paul Tone
The Les Paul is known for its thick, sustaining sound that is perfect for lead and rhythm playing. Many rock players love the Les Paul for its two humbucking pickups, playability, and rich sound. If you are looking for that authentic rock and roll sound, you can’t go wrong with a Les Paul.
That said, if you roll the tone and volume knobs back, the Les Paul is perfectly capable of some sweet tones at home in any jazz ensemble. Switch to the middle position, and clean up the sound by rolling back the volume, and you can even get usable funk tones.
To make it easier to spot the differences, here is a table with the Strat and Les Paul details.
|Pickups||Three Single Coils||Two Humbuckers|
|Controls||1 Volume, 2 Tone, 5-Way Switch||2 Volume, 2 Tone, 3-Way Switch|
|Tuning Machines||6 Inline||3×3|
|Bridge||Vintage Tremolo||Tune-O-Matic Fixed Bridge|
|Body Shape||Double Cutaway||Single Cutaway|
|Body Wood||Ash and Alder||Mahogony|
|Weight||7-8 lbs||8-10 lbs|
Notable Stratocaster Players
Stratocasters are known for their bright sound and playability. Some of the world’s most famous Stratocaster players include Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Frusciante, David Gilmour, Mike McCready, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson, and Yngwie Malmsteen.
The Strat is one of the most popular electric guitars in the world, and the players listed above are just a few of the guitarists that favor the Strat. Chances are, one of your favorite musicians plays a Strat.
Notable Les Paul Players
The Les Paul, with its two humbucker pickups and mahogany body, is known for its warm, full tone. Famous Les Paul players include Jimmy Page, Jerry Cantrell, Slash, Adam Jones, Peter Frampton, Mick Jones, Randy Rhoads, and others.
Many rock icons love the Les Paul for its playability and heavy tones, made possible with its rich tonewoods and dual humbuckers. You’ve undoubtedly heard the Les Paul featured in many classic and modern rock songs.
We all know that the real deal Strat and Les Pauls are expensive and out of reach for many players. Thankfully, there are alternatives made by Squier and Epiphone that allow entry into these model lines at a more affordable price.
Which guitar is right for you?
If you’re looking for a bright, single-coil sound with plenty of personality, the Strat is the guitar for you. With its bolt-on neck and interchangeable parts, the Strat is easily upgraded and modified, making it great for those that want to change their sound.
If you’re after a full, rich, warm tone well-suited for rock, then the Les Paul is the guitar for you. Jazz players may prefer the tuning stability of the Les Paul’s fixed bridge and tonal options available with the dual tone and volume controls.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference. We recommend trying out both guitars to determine which one sounds and feels the best to you.