I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Epiphone vs Squier by Fender
Many new guitar players wonder about the comparison between the Epiphone Les Paul and Squier Strat. Which is better for beginners? Which is higher quality? Which has a better sound, and, most importantly, which guitar is right for me?
On many levels, this debate makes a whole lot of sense. Epiphone and Squier are run by Gibson and Fender respectively, and they both make budget and entry-level versions of some of the most classic guitars in history. The same kind of player who is interested in one may be interested in the other.
But veteran guitarists know the answers here are not so clear-cut. There are many factors to consider when looking at Epiphone and Squier, and, as you'll see in this review, comparing the Standard models from each brand may not give you the whole picture.
Some guitars from each manufacturer are more suited for beginners. Some are good enough to carry on stage or into the recording studio. Deciding which guitars to compare is very much dependent on the experience and goals of the player doing the comparison.
You may already know the core differences between a Strat and Les Paul, but this article will take you further into the debate and help you decide which Epiphone or Squier is the right choice for you.
Sound, Construction and Quality Comparisons
The main problem with comparing Squier and Epiphone is that Fender has an extra level in their guitar hierarchy. Where Gibson jumps straight to Epiphone, Fender has their Mexican-made Player Series.
This means an Epiphone LP Standard is really a mid-level guitar, and I believe the better comparison when it comes to quality is between the Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO and the Fender Player Stratocaster. These are great electric guitars for under $1000, but a little too pricey for most beginners.
In my opinion, the Squier Standard Strat is better compared to a guitar like the Epiphone LP-100, which is a stripped-down version of the Epi Les Paul Standard. Both guitars are in a similar price range, and both feature similar quality.
So, really we have a few separate comparisons when it comes to Epiphone vs Squier by Fender. We have the Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO against the Fender Player Series Strat. These are outstanding intermediate-level guitars and some of the top guitars in the $600 range.
Then we have the Squier Standard Strat and the Epiphone Les Paul 100. These are among the best electric guitars around $300, and either is a great choice for series beginners.
Finally, we have the Epi Les Paul Special II vs the Squier Affinity Strat. These are two guitars I always recommend for beginners.
So, let's check them all out!
Stratocaster / Les Paul Comparison
Maple or Rosewood
Three single coils
One Volume, Two Tone
Two Volume, Two Tone
Epiphone LP-100 Les Paul
Like the Epiphone Les Paul Standard, the Epiphone LP-100 features a single-cutaway design, mahogany body and neck, a pair of humbucking pickups, a three-way pickup selector switch and two each of volume and tone knobs. It has everything you need to call it a real Les Paul, even down to the Cherryburst top.
But of course, there are differences when it comes to quality and construction. The LP-100 has a bolt-on neck compared to the set neck you'll see on Epiphone Standard Les Pauls. If you're a seasoned guitarist you might recognize that a bolt-on neck generally offers less sustain and a little more "pop" than set-neck guitars.
The pickups and electronics aren't of the same high quality of the Epiphone LP Standard, but they're very good for the price range. All in all, it's a good guitar for what it is, and if you are a beginner it's a solid option.
Epiphone Les Paul 100 Specs and Info
Squier Standard Strat
Squier is a brand often overlooked, and that's unfortunate because they make some excellent gear. The Standard Squier Strat offers an Agathis body with a maple beck and rosewood fingerboard. While this is also a great choice for beginning guitarists, the tonewoods chosen here will bring a brighter, twangier sound that you'll get out of the LP-100.
While it's a matter of personal choice whether you prefer the growl of the Les Paul or the rip of the Stratocaster, it's fair to say that the quality of the Squier Standard Strat is very similar to the LP-100.
Beginners may find it easier to deal with the LP-100, as it features a fixed bridge compared to the vintage tremolo found on the Squier. This, in most cases, means it will stay in tune a little better.
The Squier Standard Strat is also available in an HSS configuration, which means you'll get one humbucking pickup and two single-coils instead of three singles coils as on a traditional Strat. This is a great middle-of-the-road choice for guitarists who like the Strat vibe but want a thicker tone more like you'll get out of a Les Paul.
How to Choose Between a Stratocaster vs Les Paul for a Beginner
Both the LP 100 and Squier Standard Strat may be a little more expensive than some beginners would like, but there are a couple of guitars made by each brand that I always recommend for newbies.
Those are the Epiphone Les Paul Special II and Squier Affinity Stratocaster. These are a couple of the best electric guitars under $200 mark, leaving you a little room in your budget for a quality beginner amp.
So, how to you choose when you are just starting out? And is the Les Paul or Stratocaster better for beginners? Obviously this is a question that will receive many subjective replies, but I can give you my personal opinion if that helps.
- Remember there is no wrong answer here, and you should choose whichever guitar gets you excited to play. Look at your favorite guitar players and styles of music. Which types of guitars do those players use?
- If you are into metal and rock you will probably want to go with the Les Paul and its thick-sounding humbuckers or choose a Strat with a humbucker at the bridge position.
- If you are into blues or country you might prefer the bright, twangy sound of the Stratocaster.
- Just to make things even more confusing, realize that guitarists have used both guitars in just about every style of music imaginable.
If none of that helps, here are a few practical considerations:
- The Les Paul has a fixed bridge, meaning, in theory, it should be easier to keep in tune.
- A Strat that’s set up correctly will stay in tune just fine as well, but beginners typically lack the technical ability to set up a guitar correctly.
- Les Pauls are slightly heavier on average, though when it comes to beginner guitars this is much less notable.
Otherwise, you really are making the decision simply based on whichever guitar you like better. I own both a Les Paul and a Strat and I love them both for different reasons.
Still on the fence between these two classic designs? Here are a couple of articles that can help:
- Top 10 Reasons to Play a Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul is known as one of the greatest guitars in the world and with good reason. Here are 10 of those reasons!
- Top 10 Reasons to Play a Stratocaster
The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most iconic guitars in music history. If you don’t play one, here are 10 reasons you should.
Epiphone Les Paul Special II vs Squier Affinity Stratocaster
Next, let’s look at the Les Paul Special II and Affinity Stratocaster in detail. This will help illuminate some of the differences between the two guitars. These are two of the top electric guitars for beginners in my opinion and I think either is a smart choice if you are just starting out.
Les Paul Special II and Special VE
The LP Special II features the classic single-cutaway body style. It utilizes okoume in place of mahogany for the body and neck, as well as a pair of open-coil humbuckers controlled via a three-way switch. This is one of the best Les Pauls for beginners at any price range.
The VE is a very similar guitar but features a worn finish as opposed to the pretty gloss found on the Special II. It still looks pretty good, and you can save a few bucks.
The Affinity Strat features an alder body with a maple neck and a 21-fret Indian laurel fingerboard. It looks and feels like a Fender, but of course, it lacks the precision construction and quality appointments of its pricier cousin.
Still, it sounds and players really good for a guitar in its price range, which is why I consider it an excellent guitar for beginners. I recommend the Squier Affinity Stratocaster for those who are into rock, blues, and country.
Is a Les Paul or Strat Easier to Play?
How easy a guitar is to play is often due to the shape of the neck. As both Gibson and Fender have shipped their guitars with a wide range of neck profiles over the years it is impossible to say which is definitively easier.
Again, I can give my opinion. Strats have always felt lighter and more airy to me, and maybe slightly easier to play. Les Pauls have a heavier feel to me, and I feel like I fight with them a little more. Again, I own and love both, so I have nothing bad to say about either.
As a beginner, this is even less of an issue. Any of the guitars you would choose in either the Squier and Epiphone lineup will be reasonably comfortable to play and this is one of the reasons I recommend them.
Many cheap starter guitars are tough to play for advanced guitarists let alone newbies. It is hard enough learning guitar without having to struggle with a crummy instrument, so I always suggest starting off on something decent from a well-respected brand such as these two.
Guitars for Intermediate Players
So far we’ve covered guitars for beginners in the Special II versus the Affinity Strat, and serious beginners with the LP 100 versus the Standard Strat. Intermediate and even pro players might consider options from these brands as well.
Fender Player Stratocaster
Many guitarists will tell you the Fender Player Strat, which replaced the Standard Series not long ago as the new MIM or “Made in Mexico” Strat, is among the best bargains out there in the guitar world. For a fraction of the price on the legendary American Stratocaster, you get a guitar that's almost as good.
It's easy to see how this guitar is a huge step above the Squier Standard Strat. It has an alder body, maple neck, choice of maple or rosewood fingerboard, and comes in HSS and SSS pickup configurations. It also features some upgrade appointments from the old Fender Standard Series, such as a two-point tremolo system and expanded fretboard.
If you are a player looking for an intermediate electric guitar or above, this is the instrument to consider if you're into the Strat thing. While it's true that you can customize a Squier Strat with better pickups, hardware, and electronics and end up with an incredible instrument, with a Player Series instrument you are starting with a better guitar to begin with.
The Fender Player Strat blows the Epiphone LP-100 out of the water, but that's not where the fair fight is found between Epiphone and Squier by Fender. If you want a guitar in the Epiphone lineup analogous to the Fender Player Strat, you need to look at the Epi Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO.
The Player Series Stratocaster
Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop Pro
As I’ve noted, the Epiphone LP Standard is a much higher-quality guitar than the Squier Standard Strat. Moving up to the Epi LP Standard PlusTop Pro, the differences in quality and construction are even more dramatic.
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop Pro has a mahogany body, set mahogany beck, rosewood fingerboard, and all the other features you'd expect to see in an Epi LP. Most importantly, is has Epiphone's ProBucker pickups.
ProBuckers are a major step forward for Epi Les Pauls, bringing in some of the clarity and warmth formerly found only in Gibsons. This makes the PlusTop Pro one of the best Gibson Les Paul alternatives available.
Once again, you have to decide if you prefer the sound of the Les Paul over the Strat. Otherwise, the MIM Strat and Epi LP Standard are similarly priced guitars, both of excellent quality, and either will serve intermediate players and gigging musicians well.
Guitar World Reviews the Epiphone Les Paul PlusTop PRO
Squier Classic Vibe Guitars
There are a couple of guitars in the Squier lineup that just might give the Epiphone Les Paul Standard a run for its money. In fact, many Strat lovers seem to think they give MIM Fenders a challenge.
The Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe Series Stratocasters are Squiers with major upgrades to their specs and sound.
Instead of Agathis tonewood used in the bodies of Standard Squiers, Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe Strats use better materials like Alder (traditionally used in Fender Strats) and Basswood. They feature much better pickups and some unique designs hearkening back to Strats gone by.
Both Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe Strats will cost less than an Epi Standard Les Paul, but they are coming to be known as one of the best values out there in the guitar world.
The Squier Vintage Modified '70s Strat
Choosing Between Epiphone and Squier
So, what does all of this mean to you? Hey, remember this is all my opinion, and you'll want to check out the respective manufacturer websites for the most up-to-date info on their gear.
Here’s how it boils down as I see it:
If you’re a newbie make your choice between the Squier Standard Strat and the Epiphone LP-100. These are both excellent guitars for their price range, and there aren't a whole lot of competitors that hold a candle to them.
If you’re an intermediate guitarist or a beginner with a few extra bucks in your pocket, consider the Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO. It is one of the most affordable Les Pauls out there for serious musicians.
Or, take a look at the Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe Series Strats and see if you can grab a great bargain.
Good luck with choosing your new guitar! If these decisions were easy, we guitarists wouldn't own so many darned guitars!
Your Choice: Epiphone Les Paul or Squier Strat?
Michael James (author) on June 26, 2020:
Hi Na'amah - I don't know much about your medical condition so I can't comment on how it might impact your guitar playing. For players with small hands I suggest guitars with thin necks. Ibanez is a good brand to check out.
Na'amah on June 24, 2020:
What guitar would you suggest to someone who has small hands ,that are bothered by air embolisms?
Michael James (author) on October 05, 2014:
Thanks for your input, James! I agree for the most part, but I do like those Classic Vibe and Vintage Modified Squiers.
James on October 04, 2014:
While I am more of a strat guy, I will say that epiphone generally is better. Smoother necks and all around better feeling body. If you are gonna play strat I say just save up for a fender.
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on August 22, 2014:
Hey my thoughts are that Epiphone has always been a better brand, anyway I believe it. I know on acoustic guitars I have found this to be true.