The "big boys". Two mass market innovations that revolutionised electric guitar playing.
The Les Paul and Stratocaster have become icons of the guitar playing world, famed by some of the world's best players and the basis of numerous copies and modifications.
To seasoned players, the Les Paul and Strat are like apples and oranges, polar opposites in terms of look, feel and sound.
But for those relatively new to guitar, the differences between the Les Paul and Strat may not be so obvious. Which one is right for you?
At the top-end, we compare the Gibson Les Paul Studio with the Fender American Standard Stratocaster. We chose the Studio because it's closer to the price of the USA Strat, without sacrificing any of the main features of the Les Paul Standard at more than double the price!
We then pit the best budget offerings from Epiphone and Squier side-by-side to get a flavour for what the two styles offer at both ends of the price spectrum.
The USA Gibson and Fender offerings represent some of the highest standards of guitar manufacturing available today...
|Model||Les Paul Studio||American Stratocaster|
|Weight||3.7 kg / 8.2 lbs||3.6 kg / 7.9 lbs|
|Tuners||G FORCE (2015 only) 40:1||Fender Standard Cast|
|Nut Material||Brass||Synthetic Bone|
|Fingerboard||Rosewood||Rosewood or Maple|
|Inlays||Mother of Pearl||Pearloid|
Flamed Maple Top
|Pickups||Gibson USA 57 Classic
Gibson USA 57 Plus (bridge)
with Push/Pull Coil Tap
|Custom Shop Fat '50s Single-Coil Strat x3|
||Synchronized Tremolo with Bent
For the budget conscious, we've opted for Squier's Classic Vibe over their Standard Strat as we felt it's a fairer comparison with Epiphone's Les Paul Standard. Two amazing guitars that faithfully represent their more expensive forebears, for under $400...
|Model||Epiphone LP Standard||Squier Classic Vibe 60s|
|Weight||3.8 kg / 8.5 lbs||3.1 kg / 6.9 lbs|
Modern C Shape
||x3 Single Coil|
||6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
|Epiphone LP Standard||Squier Classic Vibe 60s|
While rarely dividing players over a difference in quality, the Les Paul and Strat do divide players over personal taste and abstract preference - and that's really what it boils down to.
Even so, it's difficult to pigeon-hole either guitar based on style or aesthetic, because for every notable shredder or blues virtuoso who swears by their Strat, there's one equally as loyal to their LP.
In short, both guitars have proven incredibly versatile and responsive to a diverse range of amps and effects.
Looks obviously speak for themselves. Your typical Strat certainly appears more delicately constructed, with its large plastic pick guard, pickup covers and knobs, bolt-on neck and flat, ultra-slim body.
Compare that to the thick, arched slab of the Les Paul with its set-in neck construction, chrome pickup covers, ergonomic controls and elaborate finish. You'd be forgiven for feeling like you're getting "more guitar" with the LP.
But part of the Strat's beauty is in its efficient, minimalist appearance. With your typical Strat only weighing in a few ounces lighter than the LP, it's clear that appearances can indeed be deceiving.
In your hands, the Strat's neck will feel slightly slimmer than the LP's. Many players consider the modern Strat "C" neck faster than Gibson's "U" slim taper. However, both these neck profiles are considered incredibly playable and a clear departure from the more traditional "tree-trunk" necks of old.
While Fender's slimmer neck profile may promote faster horizontal movement and easier barre chord fingering, Gibson's flatter fretboard radius makes bending and string skips that bit easier. Think of the Les Paul as being closer to a classical guitar neck, with greater string separation.
Another factor that affects playability is scale length. The Les Paul should, in theory, be easier on the fingers due to its shorter scale and therefore lower tension.
At the bridge we see some classic differences, with the Strat featuring a six-saddle tremolo system, allowing you to attach a "whammy bar" and create those wild vibratos or "dive bombs"... if that's your thing.
In contrast, the Les Paul features a more conservative locking Tune-o-matic bridge with stop-bar tail-piece. In theory, this should offer you more stable tuning and more sustain. In practice, the quality of the Fender trem means tuning shouldn't be an issue. Dive away!
The Strat and Les Paul could not be more different when it comes to general tonal characteristics.
Clean, the Strat, with its classic three single coil pickups, chimes brightly and crisply. It's able to cut through the mix with a sharp, percussive attack like no other.
The Les Paul, on the other hand, with its dual humbuckers, is more understated when clean, but offers a rich, warm depth suited to those picked chord sequences.
It's also fair to say that the Les Paul can handle classic jazz tones more authentically than the Strat, with its neck pickup able to mimic the dark, boxy tones of its hollow body cousins.
Turning up the gain for lead, the Strat has a sharp bite and an irresistible twang, with a raw crunch that makes it perfect for modern blues, country and punk inspired styles.
The Les Paul is far more responsive to higher levels of gain, being the guitar of choice for many heavy metal and hard rock players. Lead is gloriously smooth with plenty of mids and bottom end, while power chords sound especially thick and gutsy.
Whatever style you intend to play, with the right rig both these guitars can fit the profile. In every style you can imagine, there will be someone notable who plays a Strat, and another a Les Paul.
It's worth pointing out that many of the Gibson and Epiphone LP models offer the coil tapping feature, which means you can get more Strat-like single coil tones from those humbuckers at the flick of a switch. For that reason alone, the Les Paul is potentially the most versatile of the two in terms of tonal range.