Les Paul vs Stratocaster: Which One is Better For You?
Jimi Hendrix, Yngwie Malmsteen, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, and John Frusciante are just a few of many guitar heroes with Strat as their weapon of choice. Tracing its roots back to the mid-1950s, most of the Strats retain the same essential features. There's the famous body shape with the uneven top and bottom cutaways, most often from ash and alder. They also feature maple bolt-on neck, maple fingerboard, 21 frets, standard tremolo bridge, and three single-coil pickups.
Stratocasters have been known for their very comfortable necks, easier access to higher frets, and twangy single-coil tones. One of its biggest strengths lies in the 5-way pickup switching, giving you somewhat of a wider palette of tones. Of course, there are various other Fender Strats with different pickup configurations, like the humbucker-single-single versions, although they are often a bit more expensive compared to standard models.
Either way, if you're playing stuff like blues, funk, classic pop and rock, country, reggae, or any other "softer" music, you might want to consider getting yourself a Fender Strat. Yes, there are some heavy metal players that use Stratocasters, although it may be a bit more difficult to get those rugged and grittier sounds of humbuckers and mahogany bodies. It's not completely impossible though, it's just trickier and you'll always have just a bit of that sparkling twangy vibe to it, even on high gain.
Somewhat of a letdown for many players might be the fact that it has 21 frets, compared to 22 that most electric guitars out there have. In addition, some may dislike the bolt-on neck and the overall lack of sustain compared to the Gibson Les Paul.
Gibson Les Paul
Just like with the Strat, Les Paul has its own guitar heroes: Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Ace Frehley, Zakk Wylde, and, of course, the man himself – jazz legend Les Paul. This guitar model goes back to the early 1950s and features a body with that well-known single cutaway shape. The main features of an average Les Paul include mahogany body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, 22 frets, two humbucker pickups, 3-way selector, tune-o-matic bridge, and a set neck. They also have more pots on them, volume and tone for both neck and bridge pickups, compared to the one volume and two tone pots of a Strat. There are also some different pickup combinations like two P90s or a humbucker at the bridge position and P90 at the neck. But the most frequent combo you'll see is the famous two humbucker setup.
Compared to a Strat, they sound darker and grittier, have softer attack especially on the neck position, and you'll see them more often in the hands of hard rock or jazz musicians. However, Bob Marley also used a Les Paul, which is unusual for reggae musician, although his guitar had two P90 pickups. Either way, it's easier to achieve heavier tones with a Les Paul, some raw blues-rock or southern rock stuff, as well as those darker and "rounder" jazz tones.
Some advantages to a Strat include 22 frets, the ability to go into heavier and darker territories, and more sustain. However, they're usually a bit more difficult to play and have less sonic versatility. The string action is usually higher, although this might be an advantage for those who like playing slide (along with having more sustain). The neck is usually thicker which might be a let down to some, and due to having only a lower cutaway on the body, it's more difficult to access higher frets. Les Pauls also have a reputation of being a bit weighty, although newer models often feature chambered bodies, making them somewhat lighter.
In the end – it's up to you. The guide above just shows some basic specs and some of the "standard" practices in modern guitar-oriented music that might help you decide what to get. However, the music is constantly evolving and every musician (amateur or pro) has its own way of achieving great tone.