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Les Paul vs. Stratocaster: What's the Difference and Which Is Better?

The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

What is the difference between the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster, and is one better than the other?

What is the difference between the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster, and is one better than the other?

Les Paul or Stratocaster?

The Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster are classic instruments and the reigning kings of the guitar world. Both have been used by legendary guitarists in every music genre, and both have a reputation as fine, American-made guitars built with the highest quality in mind. But for most guitarists, there can be only one. So how do you decide if you’re a Les Paul guy or a Strat guy?

Does it matter, anyway? Both guitars are amazing instruments and both sound fantastic, so how can you possibly go wrong? What is it that compels some guitar players to gravitate to one over the other, and fight tooth and nail to defend their choice?

Choosing between a Strat and Les Paul has everything to do with sound, playability, and attitude. Fender and Gibson are two of the greatest guitar builders in history, so your choice isn't going to be easy.

Let’s take a closer look at each guitar.

Les Paul vs Stratocaster Specs Comparison

Note: The above is based on the traditional build and style of each guitar. Keep in mind that many different variation of each instrument exist.

Les PaulStratocaster

Body Type

Single Cutaway

Double Cutaway

Body Tonewood




Maple Cap





Neck Build

Set neck

Bolt-on neck

Neck Tonewood








Synchronized Tremolo


Two humbuckers

Three single coils

Pickup Switching




Two volume and two tone

One volume and two tone

The Gibson Les Paul

The Gibson Les Paul is a thick, heavy guitar, both physically and sonically. It features a mahogany body with a maple top, and a set mahogany neck. Mahogany is a very warm-sounding tonewood and accounts for the depth and resonance Les Pauls are known for.

The maple cap helps to add some clarity to the tone, as maple is a brighter wood. Most Les Pauls have 22-fret rosewood fingerboards, but some feature ebony, and in some recent years Gibson has been using some interesting alternatives.

This traditional combination of woods has served Gibson well over the years and made for some classic instruments. Les Pauls are more elaborately constructed than Strats, often with binding around the neck and body, and block inlays in the fingerboard.

Les Pauls have two humbucking pickups, specially made by Gibson. Each pickup has one tone and one volume control, and there’s a toggle switch that flips between the pickups or allows both to be active simultaneously.

The bridge is a Tune-o-Matic with a stop-bar tailpiece. The tailpiece, along with the wood and set neck, gives the Les Paul great sustain capabilities. The simple bridge also means it tends to stay in tune fairly well.

Les Paul Design and Specs

Here is the traditional Les Paul tonewood and build profile:

  • 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
  • Billy Gibbons
  • Slash
  • Randy Rhoads
  • Zakk Wylde
  • Gary Moore
  • Joe Bonamassa
  • Jimmy Page
  • Ace Frehley
  • Neal Schon
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Les Paul Sound

The Les Paul and Strat each have a distinctive sound that veteran guitarists learn to recognize. There are also many guitars out there that do a great job of emulating each. So what are the hallmarks of the Les Paul Sound? Keep in mind that Les Paul, like the Strat, can be fitted with a range of pickups that will affect their tone, but here are some generalities.

Thanks to its pair of humbuckers and mahogany body the Les Paul has a thick, rich tone that’s heavy on the bass but also articulate. The bridge pickup typically has a warm, vintage sound through a clean guitar amp, and a nice, thick crunch with some distortion added. The neck pickup is round and warm when played clean, and has tremendous sustain with a little distortion behind it.

The Les Paul '50s Standard

The Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster is a much thinner guitar than the Les Paul, with a body made from brighter woods such as alder or sometimes ash. It features a bolt-on maple neck with either a rosewood or maple fingerboard.

The Stratocaster sounds thinner too, but for Strat lovers, this isn’t a bad thing. The legendary Strat sound is more biting than the Les Paul sound and very distinctive in its own right.

Strats usually have three pickups. The classic Strat design features three single-coils (SSS), but they are widely available with a humbucker as well, as in the HSS Strat. A 5-way switch activates the pickups in several different combinations, and each position of the selector switch presents a unique sound, from blues to rock to chicken-picking country.

In this way, a Strat offers a greater variety of tonal possibilities compared to the Les Paul.

The hardware on a Strat is a little more complex than a Les Paul. Strats have bridges with a vibrato feature. This can be an interesting effect, but can also account for tuning instability and a little extra TLC when it comes to maintenance and setup.

On the positive side, working on a Strat is generally easier than a Les Paul. For instance, replacing a neck on a Les Paul would require work by a professional luthier, where you can replace a Strat neck yourself in a few minutes.

Fender Classic Player '50s Stratocaster

Fender Classic Player '50s Stratocaster

Stratocaster Design and Specs

  • Body Style: Double-cutaway
  • Body Tonewood: Alder
  • Neck Build: Bolt-on
  • Neck Tonewood: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
  • Pickups: Three single-coils
  • Electronics: One volume and two tone controls, 5-way switch
  • Bridge: Fender synchronized tremolo

Famous Stratocaster Players

  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Ritchie Blackmore
  • Eric Clapton
  • Buddy Holly
  • Jeff Beck
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • David Gilmour
  • Dick Dale
  • Buddy Guy

Fender Stratocaster Sound

The Stratocaster has a 5-way pickup selector, giving it a wider range of possible tones. The alder body and maple neck, along with the single-coil pickups, make the tone brighter overall. The bridge pickup tends to have a vintage vibe to the sound, even with some decent distortion applied. The neck pickup is typically bell-like and clear. The middle three pickup positions have a clucky quality to them that is great for country and blues.

Words are woefully inadequate when it comes to describing guitar sounds. If you are really trying to decide whether you like the Stratocaster or Les Paul sound better the smart thing to do is get out there and play a few of each.

The American Professional Stratocaster

5 Reasons to Choose the Les Paul

There are some great reasons to play a Les Paul, but why would choose a Les Paul over a Les Paul? Here are some reasons. Remember, this is just my opinion. You'll have to decide for yourself how much each of these issues matters to you.

  1. Resonance: There is a reason Gibson guitars are so beloved for their distinctive tone, and for me, it comes down to resonance, depth, and that dark, guttural tone you can only get from a Les Paul. Mahogany is my favorite tonewood, and Les Pauls employ it in their bodies and necks. This, along with the set-neck build, means a deep, rich tone. Stratocasters are typically made with alder bodies and they sound great, but if deep, mean, gut-rumbling resonance is what you want they fall a bit short. Even Strats with ash or basswood bodies can't match a Les Paul if that’s the sound you are after.
  2. Tuning and Setups: While it is true that a Strat is easier to mod, and less of a headache when it comes time to replace parts when it comes to everyday maintenance you might find Les Pauls a bit less worrisome. The issue comes down to the tremolo system on the Stratocaster, where the LP has a stop-bar and Tune-o-Matic bridge. This can potentially mean the Les Paul has better tuning stability, and fewer issues when changing strings. For players who are skilled at working on and setting up guitars, this doesn’t matter much. But for new players and those whose guitar maintenance skills are less evolved it means a little less stress. Note: This is also why I usually give the Epiphone LP Special II a slight edge over the Squier Strat when it comes to the best electric guitars for beginners.
  3. Sustain: Veteran Strat players likely have nothing to complain about when it comes to sustain. Fender guitars are just fine in that department, but I do think many Gibsons are a notch above. Again, this has to do with the way the guitar is put together. Guitars with bolt-on necks tend to be a little punchier, where guitars with set necks have better resonance and sustain. The bridge plays a factor too, as with a stop-bar the strings are anchored more solidly to the guitar body. All of this may or may not matter to you, and this is just one factor to consider when choosing between these two guitars.
  4. Craftsmanship: Both guitars are made in the USA by two of the finest guitar builders in the world. When I compare craftsmanship here I’m not talking about the quality of the guitar that comes out of the factory. In both cases it is superb. When I’m really talking about, again, is the difference in the build techniques. In many ways, it can be argued that the Les Paul is a more finely crafted guitar. The Standard version features pretty bindings, a carved top, and block fretboard markers. By comparison, the Standard Stratocaster is much more utilitarian. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, so how much this matters is up to you.
  5. Humbuckers: Gibson humbuckers are legendary. Guitarists in genres from metal to jazz, to blues to country utilize stock Gibson pickups in their guitars to get the sounds they want. If you need that hot, hard-rock bridge humbucker sound, or that smooth jazz neck humbucker sound, you’re not going to get it in a Stratocaster. Of course, there are Strats equipped with humbuckers, but they sound like exactly that: Strats with humbuckers. If you want that Gibson roar there is only one place to find it. Of course, the opposite is also true. Fender single-coil pickups are the best in the business, and even Gibson P-90s aren’t going to get the same vibe.

5 Reasons to Choose the Stratocaster

In the interest of equal time, here are some of the best reasons to play a Fender Stratocaster. Just as before, remember these are all just my opinions. Be sure to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

  1. Weight: Stratocasters are somewhat lighter guitars. While it will vary depending on the year, model, and body materials, Les Pauls typically come in around 9-11 pounds, where Strats weigh around 7-8 pounds. It may not seem like much of a difference, but when you have the thing strapped around your neck for three hours it matters. For this reason, some players concerned about back health or simple comfort prefer the Strat.
  2. Modding: I have broken Stratocasters down to individual pieces and put them back together many times. It’s pretty easy, and replacing individual parts is possible for anyone who can turn a screwdriver. Not so much with Les Pauls. With their more complex build techniques you may need the help of a luthier to replace a broken neck, or even to change your pickups if routing is needed. The way Strats are built means parts are easily interchangeable.
  3. Versatility: Only your own ears can tell you whether or not a Stratocaster sounds better than a Les Paul. However, I do think it is accurate to say a Stratocaster is capable of a more versatile array of sounds. The three single-coil pickups can be combined in 5 different ways, and every position has something to offer. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a good example of a guitarist who really utilized the varied textures of the different pickup positions. He often switched between different positions in the same song or even the same solo. With a Les Paul (leaving coil taps out of it) you get three choices, and they are all somewhat similar.
  4. Necks and Fingerboards: Like sound, playability and feel are highly subjective topics. Nobody but your fretting hand can tell whether you like the feel of a Strat or Les Paul. However, the Strat does have a certain selling point you just can’t get with the Les Paul. The one-piece maple neck and fingerboard is found on many guitars these days, but it originated as a Fender design. They do it right, and if you love that slick, smooth feel it is quite probable you won’t be happy with a Gibson. Even Strats with rosewood fingerboards have a decidedly different feel than rosewood fingerboard Gibsons.
  5. Cost: Brand new, a USA-made Fender Stratocaster costs around half of what you’d pay for a new Gibson Les Paul Standard. For some players, this is all they need to know. Some of the things mentioned above account for this discrepancy, particularly the difference in build techniques. Certainly don’t take it as an indication of quality, as these two guitar giants are neck-and-neck in that regard.
Eric Clapton has relied on the Stratocaster for his sound for decades.

Eric Clapton has relied on the Stratocaster for his sound for decades.

Les Paul vs. Stratocaster FAQ and Summary

Got some questions about how the Strat compares to the Les Paul? Here are some answers:

Can a Strat sound like a Les Paul?

You can make your Stratocaster sound a little more like a Les Paul by installing humbucking pickups. You can use an EQ pedal and dial in your amp settings to get the sound closer still. However, it is tough to get either guitar to sound exactly like the other. No matter what you do, your Strat is still going to sound mostly like a Strat.

Is a Les Paul easier to play than a Strat?

It is hard to answer this question universally, as there are so many different neck shapes for each guitar. I would both guitars are easy to play. The Les Paul is a bit heavier and that may make it tougher to play for smaller players or those with back issues.

Stratocaster or Les Paul: Which is better for beginners?

I usually recommend a Les Paul-style guitar for beginners, specifically the Les Paul Special II. It has a fixed bridge and humbucking pickups, which I think makes life a little easier for newbies. However, the Squier Affinity Strat is also a good choice, if you prefer the Stratocaster design.

Why are Les Pauls more expensive than Stratocasters?

Strats are fairly simple guitars that are relatively easy to build and assemble. Les Pauls, on the other hand, have features like carved tops and set necks that make construction quite a bit more labor-intensive. That doesn’t mean Les Pauls are better, necessarily. Just different.

What’s the difference between Fender and Gibson?

Gibson and Fender guitars typically have a few key differences, including scale length, tonewoods, build design, and pickup type. Here is a detailed list of the common differences between Gibson and Fender

Which Guitar Is for You?

It is really hard to say either guitar is better than the other. Les Pauls are heavy guitars with a thick sound great for any style of music. Strats are lighter-duty guitars with a wider array of available sounds great for any style of music. Both are well made and come in a variety of beautiful finishes. Both guitars will hold their value for years to come. So really, the answer as to which is best lies with the player.

Once you’ve been around the block a while, you find yourself gravitating to one camp or the other in a quest to find your perfect sound. The deep tone of the Les Paul, or the rip of the Stratocaster: the choice is ultimately yours, and the best part is there is no wrong answer.

How do you make your choice? Now that you know the basic differences between them, go and play a bunch of each. Let your hands and ears decide. Listen to famous musicians you respect and try to discern where their tonal magic comes from.

And, this is all kind of a trick question when you think about it. Les Paul or Stratocaster: Which Guitar is right for you? How about both! Remember, even though you can only play one guitar at a time, you can own as many as you want!

So, this article has all been about my opinion so far. What do other guitar players think? Check out the poll below and take a moment to vote. As of this update, with over 10,000 votes cast, it is a dead heat between these two amazing guitars!

Gibson Les Paul vs Fender Stratocaster

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Mike S. on September 03, 2020:

I agree with all the differences between the Strat and LP and that’s why I have several different models of each and branches(SGs, TELEs)....and other brands (PRS, etc.).

Something to consider(mentioned earlier)....future problems/issues:

Strat- Trem system, maybe pot issues, pickups, switch, worn/bad nut....easily fixed by you, fellow guitarist(money, parts)or Luthier(more cost for services)

Les Paul- Minus the Trem, you could have the same issues BUT notorious for Neck issue(breakage at headstock) even during transport or slightly dropping your case! ....Professional fix, Big cost, headache!

If you are rough with your gear, this could happen sooner than later down the road.

If a Strat and a Les Paul were in a stand and both got knocked over, LP has a higher percentage of headstock breakage!

In summary, both are fantastic guitars but you need to treat and GUARD your instruments right! up several Luthiers especially the ones with a high customer base and ask them about the common issues of these 2 excellent guitars. Aloha....Mahalo nui loa!

YolkSupreme97 on January 17, 2020:

Honetly les paul is less comfertable but it sounds better and the strat is very comfertable but not the best sound PRS guitars are a perfect blend of the 2, a good feel and the clssic les paul tone, a little bit thicker tone but its alright.

Steve on November 20, 2019:

I just bought a 2017 American professional HSS Stratocaster. Sienna burst, beautiful ass body, wonderful neck and frets. Stays in tune great, bone nut and, staggered tuners. Also have a Les Paul custom black. A Les Paul studio gold top, great guitars, And a 89' Charvel exotic sunburst reverse headstock, made in Japan and it is cool too. All good.

Guitar Gopher (author) on September 18, 2019:

@Robert - I do too. My Les Paul stays in tune just fine. And I did not say LPs universally stay in tune better. I said the tremolo on the Strat could potentially mean the LP has better tuning stability, but to experienced players who know how to work on a guitar it probably doesn't matter. In other words: For beginners who go nuts with a whammy bar they don't know how to set up, strats are harder to keep in tune.

Robert Smith on September 17, 2019:

That's total b.s. that a Les Paul has better "tuning stability". A Les Paul is infamous for NOT maintaining a tune. I have one of each.

Bully4me on July 31, 2019:

Had Many Guitars in all price ranges. Notice the comparison between an American Strat and Les Paul Standard. Sure the Les Paul is considerably more and a few say the build quality is great therefore picking the LP as the better guitar. However that's a bit unfair. One should compare dollar for dollar. A LP Studio vs Strat Am Pro. Even better compare a $3000 dollar LP Standard with a same priced Strat Custom Shop. Then decide

One guitar I've always Loved is the Gretsch Duo Jet which is similar prices to the Les Paul and is incredibly well put together with great feel and sound.

Like many it truly depends what instrument you play to what music you're playing. The battle of only Gibson or Fender Lovers is silly. Most every big name and Pro musician has and plays both brands (and many others). Even when they are backed and signed by one company or the other.

Enjoy the music and enjoy your guitar(s)

Darrell Reeves on July 08, 2019:

I have alwaysloved Gibsons due to their beautiful woodwork and coloring. From the legendary 175 335 SG. I love their beautiful sound. A Strat is great for the blues and rock. But a Les Paul sounds a lot fuller.

Tim Bech on February 16, 2019:

I own a couple of each. I literally choose which one I'm going to play right at gig time. I simply look at each and let my gut decide. After all, with the array of peddles out there I can make both sound pretty much the same. You can't really go wrong with either.

treez on November 01, 2018:

60's rickenbacher! can't beat them!

Guitar Gopher (author) on September 04, 2018:

Thanks, Lefty! I go back and forth between the Les Paul and Strat. Right now I prefer my Les Paul, but there are times when it collects dust and my Strats get all the attention.

Edit: "Collects dust" is a figure of speech. It lives in a case. I would never let my Les Paul actually collect dust!

Lefty Axeman on September 03, 2018:

Great article! I’ve had both. I’ve also had some of the top flight Korean imports. Last year, I finally got a Gibson Les Paul Standard. It’s the best guitar I’ve ever played by a mile. With the quality of the woods used, the hardware, and the B.B. Pro pickups you can get almost any sound. I know this sounds like a Gibson ad but it isn’t. From Slash, to vintage Peter Green, to Clapton w the Buesbreakers, to sweet Les Paul jazz (the jazz legend who helped create this guitar), it’s a gold mine of tone. Some people prefer the Strat, but I use to have one and the trem was always giving me a hard time, it didn’t sustain well, and the pickup output was too low for me. Some people prefer the Strat and that is AWESOME, it takes all kinds, but I honestly don’t know how it’s possible aside from cost. I’d recommend checking out from Gregor Hilden clips to get a real taste of what a LP can do.

It takes all kinds but in 2018 I think the Gibson Les Paul is still the king of the guitar universe! Just my opinion.