So, can a Les Paul sound like a Strat? The answer is that this is more difficult than making a Strat sound like a Les Paul. However, there are some ways you can achieve a relatively “Straty” sound on your Les Paul.
Keep on reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know!
You can use the table of contents below to take you to the area that interests you. Click on the little box to open it, and then click on the section of the article you want to read, or you can read from start to finish if you want the whole guitar experience!
The Short Answer
Yes, it is possible to make a Les Paul sound more like a Stratocaster. However, in my opinion, it’s more difficult than getting a Strat to sound like a Les Paul. Ultimately, the only way to get an authentic Strat guitar sound is to play a Strat.
Things like adjusting the tone on the guitar and amp, using thinner gauge strings, effects pedals, and coil-tapping the humbucking pickups can all get you closer to the sound of a Strat.
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Making Strat Sounds On A Les Paul – Checklist
You can click on each of these items to learn more or keep reading the article to find out everything.
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What Makes These Guitars Sound Different?
The main design characteristics that create the classic sound of a Les Paul versus a Strat are the differences in the tonewoods, body thickness, and pickup type.
The secret to the legionary sustain of a Les Paul is the thick Mahogany body with a maple top and the humbucking pickups.
Fender only made a few Stratocasters with a mahogany body between 1963 and 1964, so they are tough to find and sell for quite a bit! Even if you had one, it wouldn’t sound like a Les Paul.
However, each of the items in the table below plays a part in shaping the sound of each guitar type.
How Is A Les Paul Different From A Strat?
Here is a table that summarizes the major differences between a Les Paul and a Strat. Each item plays its part in defining the sound of that type of guitar.
The info in this table is based on the most common configuration for each guitar. For example, a Les Paul typically has humbucking pickups, although some older ones can have P90 pickups.
|Scale Length||Shorter (24.75”)||Longer (25.5″)|
|Attachment To Body||Glued-In||Bolt-On|
|Tonewood||Mahogany With Maple Top||Alder or Ash|
|Number||Two (sometimes three)||Three|
|Tone||Warmer, More Balanced||Brighter, More Trebly|
Adjusting Tone Controls
One of the simplest things you can do to change your guitar’s sound is to make tone control adjustments. Turning your guitar’s volume control up or down will also affect tone.
The double-coil bridge pickup on a Les Paul can be challenging to adjust to sound more like a Strat, especially if you don’t have coil taps on your pickups!
Using the combination of your guitar and amplifier tone controls, you can give your Les Paul a tone profile closer to a Strat.
This is a good option if you plug your guitar straight into your amp.
String Gauge Can Make A Difference
String gauge definitely affects your guitar’s tone. Use a thinner gauge string set to make your Les Paul sound more like a Strat. It will give your guitar thinner-sounding mids and bass and high-end, closer to a single-coil tone.
Use a string set with a 0.009 or 0.008 gauge high-E string. The 0.008 gauge is your best bet for getting closer to the thin sound of a Strat.
Coiling-Tapping Your Humbucking Pickups
To get somewhere in the vicinity of the sound of a Strat’s single-coil pickups, you can tap the coils of the humbucking pickups on your Les Paul. This gives you the ability to switch off one of the two coils, effectively turning your double-coil humbucker into a single-coil pickup.
Here is a diagram by Seymour Duncan that shows how to wire a humbucking pickup with a coil tap. I install Duncans whenever possible. Nobody makes better pickups!
There are two ways to spit a humbucker, with either the inner coil (slug) on or the outer coil (adjustable pole pieces) on. I recommend having the outer coil of each humbucker on since they will be closest to the bridge and give you a slightly more trebly tone than the inner coil.
Effects Pedals Can Help
You can use some effects pedals to your advantage when trying to make your Les Paul sound like a Strat.
A graphic equalizer can help you adjust the tone of your Les Paul. To simulate a Strat, raise the high frequencies, adjust the midrange to just above the middle, and decrease the bass.
You have to play around with it until you lock in on a tone that resembles a Strat. I have used the Boss GE-7 equalizer, which gives my Les Paul just the tone I’m looking for. To check out the specs, ratings, and reviews for this pedal on Amazon, click here.
I love the Catalinbread Naga Viper Treble Booster! It’s based on the original Dallas Range Master treble booster that Tony Iommi initially used on his Gibson SG Standard to give it a more trebly profile with a sharp bite!
I place it before my overdrive and distortion pedals to get an awesome Strat-like sound, or you can use it as an overdrive pedal. To check out the specs, ratings, and reviews for this pedal on Amazon, click here.
If you’re missing the whammy bar action of a Strat, consider getting the Digitech Whammy Shift Pedal. It does single-note Whammy bends and chordal pitch shifting to give a good approximation of having a vibrato bridge.
No matter what guitar I’m playing, I wouldn’t be without one of these in my effects setup. It can create some truly otherworldly tones! To check out the specs, ratings, and reviews for this pedal on Amazon, click here.
Consider Using Amplifier Modelers
There are a variety of software solutions to help you model the sound of a particular amplifier. Some of them are VST plugins for digital recording studios, and others are built into guitar amplifiers with modeling capabilities.
They often have added features compared to the actual amps they’re modeled after. For example, a Fender Blackface Deluxe Reverb Amp model that has a Middle tone and a Master Volume adjustment. So, you essentially have a Deluxe Reverb on steroids!
Amp Modeling Software For Computers
Software like AmpliTube 5 has a variety of guitar amplifier models that run on a Windows PC or a Mac. It also has multiple speaker cabinet and effects pedal simulations.
Amp Modeling Software Built Into Guitar Amplifiers
The other option is to get a guitar amp with modeling capability. For example, the Line 6 Catalyst 60 has six high-definition amplifier models with sounds from pristine clean to modern high-gain, plus 18 effects.
Should You Modify Your Les Paul?
Modifying your Les Paul is another way to make it sound more like a Strat. The most common modification is putting coil taps on the humbucker pickups to give it more of a single-coil sound.
Some players install a tremolo bridge, which gives them a whammy bar, and you can actually buy a Les Paul with a pre-installed Floyd Rose-type tremolo.
If you decide to modify your Les Paul, I recommend you proceed on the conservative side. After all, you still want it to sound and perform like a Les Paul with the ability to take on some tonal characteristics of a Strat. You don’t want to lose any natural sustain that makes a Les Paul special!
If you absolutely want the full-on sound of a Strat, you’ll never achieve it with a Les Paul! You can always trade-in your Les Paul or put some money aside to buy a Strat as a second guitar.
If you don’t feel comfortable or have the proper tools and equipment to modify your guitar, take it to a certified guitar tech, or you could permanently damage your Les Paul!
Advantages Of Les Pauls And Strats
- Shorter neck scale length (easier to bend strings)
- Easier to keep in tune
- More sustain
- “Beefier” and more balanced tone
- Humbucking pickups are less noisy
- Typically less expensive
- Has “trebly” “biting” tone
- Has whammy bar
- More pickup combinations
- Easier to access the highest frets (double cutaway)
- More comfortable to hold (has body contours)
Disadvantages Of Les Pauls And Strats
- Typically more expensive
- No whammy bar
- Less pickup combinations
- More difficult to access highest frets (single cutaway)
- Less comfortable to hold (no body contours)
- Longer neck scale (more difficult to bend strings)
- More difficult to keep in tune
- Less sustain
- Single-coil pickups are noisier
So, Is One Guitar Better Than The Other?
So is a Les Paul better than a Strat or vice versa? Not really. Even though the Les Paul seems to come out behind the Strat in the Advantages and Disadvantages sections above, they each have their strengths, weaknesses, and unique sound.
I’m more of a “Strat Man,” but I have a Gibson Custom Shop VOS ’59 Reissue Les Paul that I absolutely love! Both guitar types are awesome!
Many guitarists choose a guitar because their favorite player uses it. My first good guitar was an Olympic White Strat with a rosewood neck because Jimi Hendrix played one. There’s no shame in that, but the best way to choose a guitar is to get the one that fits your budget and has your sound in it.
When it comes down to it, no single guitar does it all, so start with the one that will serve you best. You can always buy others!
Can A Stratocaster Sound Like A Les Paul?
It’s actually easier to get a Strat to sound like a Les Paul than to get a Les Paul to sound like a Strat. However, no other guitar will genuinely sound like a Les Paul. It has a tone and natural sustain all its own!
In this case, the effects pedals I would recommend are a graphic equalizer, a compressor, and a noise suppressor (noise gate). Using them in combination with adjusting the tone controls on your Strat and amplifier can give you a reasonably good Les Paul sound.
Related Article ➡ Can A Strat Sound Like A Les Paul? – Trade Secrets Revealed!
Can A Telecaster Sound Like A Les Paul?
What about a Tele? It’s closely related to a Strat, right? A Tele tends to be “twangier” than a Strat, especially with the bridge pickup, making it a popular choice for Country music.
Even so, the same basic principles I discussed above apply when it comes to getting Les Paul sounds out of a Tele.
All in all, I would say it’s easier to get Les Paul sounds out of a Strat than a Tele unless the Tele is fitted with humbucking pickups. So, I do think Teles with humbuckers can have a decent approximation of a Les Paul tone.
Are You Qualified To Make Guitar Adjustments Or Modifications?
It’s great to work on your guitars, especially if you have a lot of them, but you should always be aware of your limitations.
Adjusting things like an electric guitar’s string height (action) or pickup height can be straightforward. Still, some adjustments require the proper training and experience, like adjusting a guitar’s truss rod.
When you doubt your ability to adjust, repair, or modify your guitar, it’s always best to bring it to a competent guitar technician or luthier (guitar designer & builder). You can permanently damage your guitar, and it might never play and sound right again!
Making modifications to your guitar can void its manufacturer’s warranty and cause permanent damage to the instrument. Certain modifications are irreversible, so you may be stuck with them, even if you desperately want to restore the guitar to its original condition!
I learned that the hard way over the years until I did a three-year apprenticeship in a guitar repair shop. Now I have my own home workshop with the proper training and equipment to safely maintain and repair all my instruments.
Remember: “When In Doubt, Send It Out!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get asked about Les Paul and Strat guitars.
If your question does not appear here, please put it in the comments, and I will get right back to you with an answer.
Are Stratocasters Easier To Play Than A Les Paul?
Generally speaking, a Les Paul is easier to play than a Strat. A Les Paul has a lower action and a shorter scale length, which can make it easier to play fast and bend strings. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual player and playing style.
What Does A Strat With Humbuckers Sound Like?
A Strat with humbucking pickups has a “thicker,” more balanced sound with a higher output than single-coil pickups, which makes it easier to overdrive an amplifier and get distortion naturally. Most Metal players prefer humbucking pickups in their Strat.
Humbucking pickups can also give the Strat better harmonics.
Is A Strat A Good First Guitar?
A Strat is a great first guitar for beginning players because it is so versatile. It gives you many tonal options and a whammy bar.
Which Fender Is Best For Beginners?
Fender’s “Squier” line of guitars is affordable and high quality. They are designed for beginners but are also used by some professional musicians.
What Makes The Gibson Les Paul So Special?
The Les Paul’s Mahogany neck and body with a maple top, along with its weight, give it a very well-balanced tone and exceptional natural sustain. The sound of a Les Paul played through a cranked Marshall Stack is virtually unmistakable!
Think Jimmy Page’s playing in Led Zeppelin (although Led Zeppelin I was recorded with a Tele through a Supro amp).
So, I hope you have enjoyed this article, and it has answered all your questions on can a Les Paul sound like a Strat.
The Les Paul and Strat get their characteristic tone mainly from their pickups, tonewoods, and weight.
Adjusting the tone controls on your guitar and amplifier, using thinner gauge strings, trying various effects pedals, and experimenting with amp modeling are some of the easiest things you can do to make your Les Paul sound more like a Strat.
The three effects pedals I recommend are a graphic equalizer, a treble booster, and a whammy shift pedal. You can use amplifier modeling on a computer or built into a guitar amp.
Coil-tapping the guitar’s humbucker (double-coil) pickups to give you a single-coil signal output is another option to give your Les Paul a Strat-like tone.
Although these tips will help your Les Paul sound closer to a Strat, the only way to totally duplicate the sound of a Strat is to get one!
Here is an excellent video with Chris McKee from Alamo Music that discusses some of the principles in this article and compares the sound of a Les Paul to a Strat. Chris demonstrates that, although you can get an approximate sound, you can’t genuinely make a Les Paul sound like a Strat (and vice versa).
What To Read Next ➡ Is A Les Paul A Good Beginner Guitar? Let’s Settle This!
Related Article ➡ Les Paul Vs Stratocaster: The Smackdown That Settles It All!
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about Les Paul and Strat guitars, or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- What have you done to make your Les Paul sound more like a Strat?
- If you could only choose one guitar, would it be a Les Paul or a Strat? Why?
- After reading this article, are you considering modifying your Les Paul?
- What else is on your mind?