I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Les Paul or Telecaster?
The Gibson Les Paul and Fender Telecaster are two of the most iconic guitars in the music world. They both have storied histories, and some of the greatest guitar players of all time have used them.
Whether you prefer the Telecaster over the Les Paul or vice versa is a completely subjective opinion. But, like many things in the guitar world, even though there isn’t a wrong answer, there are better and worse answers. One guitar or the other is likely a smarter choice based on your goals and musical style.
These two guitars have a lot in common. They both feature single-cutaway designs, and they are both very versatile. However, they are quite different in sound and feel.
So, how do you decide between them?
This article can help. Here you’ll learn about the facts, history, and lore surrounding these two amazing guitars. By the time we’re done, you ought to be closer to understanding which is the better choice for you.
Gibson and Fender are two of the best guitar brands in the world, and the Telecaster and Les Paul are among the biggest reasons.
Les Paul vs. Telecaster Specs Comparison
|Gibson Les Paul||Fender Telecaster|
Mahogany w/ maple cap
Set and glued
Maple or Rosewood
Two volume, two tone, 3-way switch
One volume, one tone control, 3-way switch
Tune-o-matic with stopbar
Tele bridge plate w/ 3 or 6 saddles
The Fender Telecaster
In 1950, Fender debuted a single-pickup, solid-body electric guitar called the Esquire. Very few sold, and later that year Fender replaced it with a two-pickup version called the Broadcaster.
While others had come before them, the Esquire and Broadcaster were the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitars to hit the market. Unfortunately, the Broadcaster name landed Fender in a legal situation with Gretsch, who had a drum kit with a similar name.
Fender changed the guitar’s name to the Telecaster, and the rest is history. It was a bit of a rocky start, but in over sixty years since the Telecaster has made its mark in just about every music genre imaginable. The Stratocaster followed the Telecaster in 1954, but in the opinion of many guitarists, it never got better than the Tele.
Telecaster Design and Specs
While Fender builds Telecasters with a wide range of features and specs, this is the classic Tele design:
- Body Style: Single-cutaway
- Body Tonewood: Alder
- Neck Build: Bolt-on
- Neck Tonewood: Maple
- Scale Length: 25.5”
- Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
- Pickups: Two single-coils
- Electronics: One volume, one tone control, 3-way switch
- Bridge: Tele bridge plate with 3 or 6-saddles
Famous Telecaster Players
- Brad Paisley
- Vince Gill
- Keith Richards
- Merle Haggard
- John 5
- Keith Urban
- Richie Kotzen
- Jimmy Page (early years)
- Jim Root
- Tom Morello
As you can see by the list of players above, the Telecaster is a guitar beloved by country pickers. Its sound has a distinctive bite that works well with clean tones, or amps pushed slightly into overdrive. Many guitarists feel the Telecaster is the best electric guitar for country music. If you are looking for that classic country twang, I have to agree.
However, you may have noticed a few not-so-country guitarists on the list. The classic Tele design features two single-coil pickups, but if you install a hot humbucker at the bridge, this guitar can handle hard rock, extreme metal, and even shred. While the Strat may be the Fender guitar better associated with such genres, the Tele can get the job done.
I would prefer a Stratocaster for blues, but many players love the Tele in that genre too. It’s a well-rounded guitar, and that’s why it’s a classic.
Keep in mind that Fender has many different Telecaster models with a wide variety of appointments and features.
Fender Telecaster Sound and Features
The Gibson Les Paul
Les Paul (the man) was a respected guitar player in his time. He was also a world-class tinkerer, and the multi-track recording system we take for granted today is among his inventions.
In 1940, long before the Fender Esquire hit the market, he built a solid-body electric guitar he called “The Log”. He approached Gibson with his prototype, but they showed no interest. Remember, this was the age of the big-bodied jazz box, and a solid-body guitar was somewhat of an oddball idea.
Everything changed in 1950 when the Fender Esquire showed up on the market. Gibson took Paul up on his offer, and the Les Paul was born. Like the Telecaster, it went through some rough patches becoming the icon we know and love today. In fact, in 1961 Gibson bumped it from their lineup in favor or a double-cutaway redesign. However, a few years later the Les Paul came roaring back, and that double-cut became the Gibson SG.
Les Paul Design and Specs
Gibson makes all kinds of Les Pauls with a range of pickups, tonewoods, and features. However, here is the basic Les Paul design:
- Body Style: Single-cutaway archtop
- Body Tonewoods: Mahogany with maple cap
- Neck Build: Set and glued
- Neck Tonewood: Mahogany
- Scale Length: 24.75"
- Fingerboard: Rosewood
- Pickups: Two Humbuckers
- Electronics: Two volume controls, two tone controls, 3-way switch
- Bridge: Tune-o-Matic with stop-bar tailpiece
Famous Les Paul Players
- Les Paul
- Joe Bonamassa
- Billy Gibbons
- Jimmy Page
- Gary Moore
- Randy Rhoads
- Ace Frehley
- Neal Schon
- Zakk Wylde
Les Paul Sound
Like the Telecaster, the Gibson Les Paul is also a guitar at home is any genre. With warm and resonant mahogany tonewoods and pair of humbuckers, it has a deeper, somewhat darker sound when compared to Fender guitars. However, it is every bit as versatile.
The classic sound of rock is a Les Paul played through a cranked tube amp. For many players, that’s all you need. The stock humbuckers are beefy enough to handle classic rock, hard rock, and metal. More extreme guitarists often swap them out for hotter pickups such as EMGs or remove the covers for a little extra sizzle.
With its warm, round tones—especially with the neck pickup engaged—the Les Paul is right at home in jazz and blues. But can it match the Telecaster for country music? I think so, but it has a very different sound. Many modern country guitarists prefer the southern rock vibe of the Les Paul over the twang of the Tele, but of course, it is a matter of taste.
Like the Tele, the Les Paul comes in a range of variations, each with its own set of features.
Gibson Les Paul Sound and Features
Which Guitar for Which Genres?
So, remember when I said the preference of the Les Paul or Telecaster is subjective? Keep that in mind, because I am about to get into a heavy dose of my own opinions.
The intent of this article isn’t to convince you which guitar is better overall. It is to help you decide which is better for you. I can give you my thoughts on the matter, but I encourage you to do your own research and seek other opinions.
Here are my choices, based on genre:
Winner: Les Paul
I love Les Pauls for blues. There is something about that deep, rich, overdriven tone that just oozes mojo. I can see what people like about the Tele for this genre, but for me, the Les Paul sound is the clear winner here.
Winner: Les Paul
I have to go with the Les Paul again. The warm tonewoods and humbuckers lend themselves so well to smooth jazz. Grab your Les Paul and a small solid-state amp and you’re ready for a gig in a smoky club where everybody (except for you) is drinking martinis.
The simple answer is the Les Paul, but not so fast. The Telecaster is capable of some impressive sounds with a little overdrive. I declare this one a draw.
Hands down, the Telecaster sound is the backbone of classic country. Yes, I think the Les Paul can work well, and many county guitarists play them. However, I associate it with more of a southern rock sound.
Hard Rock / Shred
I’d choose a Tele, with one caveat: It must have a humbucker at the bridge position. Otherwise, the Les Paul is an easy decision. The stock Telecaster really won’t cut it for heavier forms of music. Really, I'd choose a superstrat over both.
Winner: Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul is my all-time favorite guitar for metal, even with stock pickups. Paired with a high-gain amp, the sound is dark, heavy, and thick. A Tele with a humbucker? Maybe, but I don’t think it beats the Gibson.
Les Paul or Telecaster: Which Is Better for Beginners?
Both guitars are great choices for new guitar players. However, there are a few things you might want to think about before you make your decision.
Both companies make guitars based on Fender and Gibson specs, and they are both among the top guitar brands for beginners.
In my opinion, the two guitars beginners should consider are:
Squier Affinity Telecaster
- Built to similar specs as the big-brother Fender, such as the 25.5-inch scale length, alder body, and two-pickup design.
Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT
- Built to the same scale length as a Gibson, and featuring the same general design, if you think the Les Paul is the guitar for you this is a great place to start.
Both guitars come in between $200 and $250 as of this writing. I think that is a good ballpark for a beginner’s electric guitar.
So how do you figure out which is right for you? Consider what kind of music you wish to play and note what kinds of guitars players in that genre are using. That issue has already been covered extensively in this article.
I also suggest getting to a guitar shop and handling both instruments. You’ll find Les Pauls are a little heavier and feel “bigger” whereas Teles are lighter in both feel and play.
There is no wrong answer, especially as a beginner. The most important thing is to choose a guitar that gets you excited about playing.
Which Guitar Is For You?
Are you a Les Paul person or a Telecaster person? If you still don’t know, that’s okay. In fact, there is nothing wrong with owning and playing both. They are iconic single-cutaway, solid-body electric guitars with over sixty-year legacies behind them. They are classics for a reason. It should be hard to choose between them!
As for me, I’m a Les Paul guy, but I have a lot of love for the Fender Telecaster. However, when I’m in the mood for that Fender vibe, I gravitate toward my Stratocasters.
What about you? Gibson Les Paul or Fender Telecaster, which do you think is better?