Comparing a Stratocaster to a Les Paul is like comparing a glass of water to a giraffe; they’re that different, but can a Strat sound like a Les Paul? The answer is yes, to some degree.
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The Short Answer
Yes, it is possible to make a Stratocaster sound more like a Les Paul (I can just picture Les turning in his grave!), but the only way to get an authentic Les Paul guitar sound is to play a Les Paul.
Things like adjusting the tone on the guitar and amp, using thicker gauge strings, effects pedals, and humbucking pickups will all get you closer to the sound of a Les Paul.
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Making Les Paul Sounds On A Strat – 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 Strat versus a Les Paul 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 Strat Different From A Les Paul?
Here is a table that summarizes the major differences between a Strat and a Les Paul. 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 Strat typically has single-coil pickups, although it can also have humbuckers.
|Scale Length||Longer (25.5” )||Shorter (24.75”)|
|Attachment To Body||Bolt-On||Glued-In|
|Tonewood||Alder or Ash||Mahogany With Maple Top|
|Number||Three||Two (sometimes three)|
|Tone||Brighter, More Trebly||Warmer, More Balanced|
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 single-coil bridge pickup on a Strat can be challenging to adjust to sound more like a LesPaul, especially if you have a model with no tone control. Many of the new models have the second tone control wired to adjust both the middle and bridge pickups.
Using the combination of your guitar and amplifier tone controls, you can give your Strat a tone profile closer to a Les Paul.
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 thick gauge string set to make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul. It will give your guitar thicker mids and bass and more sustain.
Use a string set with at least a 0.010 gauge high-E string. A 0.011 gauge high-E will sound even better, but you may find the strings too difficult to bend, especially since the neck scale of a Strat is longer than that of a Les Paul.
Single-Coil Versus Humbucking Pickups
Some guitar pickups are more “Strat-Like,” while others have more tonal and sustain characteristics of a Les Paul.
The single-coil pickups typically found on a Strat give it a thinner, more trebly sound, with a more focused attack than the humbucking pickups typically found on a Les Paul.
You can buy Strats with a humbucking pickup in the bridge position (S-S-H). “Super Strats” have a humbucker in the neck and bridge positions and a single coil pickup in the middle (H-S-H).
Humbuckers can also increase your Strat’s sustain to give you more of a Les Paul’s advantage.
If your Strat has all single-coil pickups, you can replace them with vertically-stacked humbuckers that will fit in the guitar’s pickup cavity without routing the wood.
Some humbuckers will give you more of a Les Paul sound than others. If your Strat already has a humbucker pickup(s), consider replacing it with one that has a darker tone in the high-frequency range.
Effects Pedals Can Help
There are some effects pedals you can use to your advantage when trying to make your Strat sound like a Les Paul.
A graphic equalizer can help you adjust the tone of your Strat. To simulate a Les Paul, lower the high frequencies, adjust the midrange to just below the middle, and increase the bass.
You have to play around with it until you lock in on a tone that resembles a Les Paul. I have used the Boss GE-7 equalizer, which gives my Strat just the tone I’m looking for. To check out the specs, ratings, and reviews for this pedal on Amazon, click here.
A compressor pedal adds sustain to what you play and levels out your sound by making softer notes louder and louder notes softer. I love the sound of the Boss CS-3 pedal; it does a great job of emulating a Les Paul’s natural sustain. To check out the specs, ratings, and reviews for this pedal on Amazon, click here.
One advantage of a Les Paul with humbucking pickups is that the guitar does not pick up electromagnetic interference from things like florescent lights. This makes the audio signal much quieter than a Strat with standard single-coil pickups.
Humbucking pickups made the Les Paul popular early on for playing through high-gain amps or using distortion pedals because they helped control nose and unwanted feedback.
A noise gate pedal will help improve the single-coil pickup sound of your Strat significantly! I use the Boss NS-2 noise suppressor on all my pedal boards, and it’s always turned on whenever I play a Strat. 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 come built into guitar amplifiers that have 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 Stratocaster?
Modifying your Strat is another way to make it sound more like a Les Paul. The most common modification is changing the bridge single-coil pickup to a humbucker to give it more power, sustain, and a more balanced sound.
Some players adjust the tremolo bridge by removing the whammy bar and adjusting the springs to make it sit tight against the body. You can also change the bridge saddles and nut.
If you decide to modify your Strat, I recommend you proceed on the conservative side. After all, you still want it to sound like a Stratocaster with the ability to take on some of the tonal characteristics of a Les Paul.
If you absolutely want the full-on sound of a Les Paul, you can always trade in your Strat or put some money aside to buy one 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 Strat!
Advantages Of Strats And Les Pauls
- 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)
- 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
Disadvantages Of Strats And Les Pauls
- Longer neck scale (more difficult to bend strings)
- More difficult to keep in tune
- Less sustain
- Single-coil pickups are noisier
- Typically more expensive
- No whammy bar
- Less pickup combinations
- More difficult to access highest frets (single cutaway)
- Less comfortable to hold (no body contours)
So, Is One Guitar Better Than The Other?
So is a Strat better than a Les Paul or vice versa? Not really. Even though the Strat seems to come out ahead of the Les Paul 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 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. I think Teles with humbuckers usually have a better Les Paul tone.
Can A Les Paul Sound Like A Strat?
Getting a Les Paul to sound like a Strat is generally more challenging than vice versa, but some basic principles apply.
The easiest thing to do is use a treble booster to get a more biting sound. Tony Iommi used a Range Master treble booster in the early days of Black Sabbath to get his Gibson SG guitar to sound more like a Strat.
A lighter gauge string set, like a 0.009 or 0.008 high-E set, can give you a thinner sound.
A very effective modification is to have coil taps on the Les Paul’s humbucking pickups. Putting them into a single-coil configuration can make them sound more like Strat pickups.
I have seen Les Pauls routed to accommodate the installation of a vibrato bridge with a whammy bar.
It all depends on how far you are willing to go.
Related Article ➡ Can A Les Paul Sound Like A Strat? – Best Tips And Tricks!
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 Strats and Les Paul 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 Strat sound like a Les Paul.
The Strat and Les Paul get their characteristic tone mainly from their pickups, tonewoods, and weight.
Adjusting the tone controls on your guitar and amplifier, using thicker gauge strings, trying various effects pedals, and experimenting with amp modeling are some of the easiest things you can do to make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul.
The three effects pedals I recommend are a graphic equalizer, compressor, and noise suppressor. You can use amplifier modeling on a computer or built into a guitar amplifier.
Changing the guitar’s pickups to a double-coil (humbucker) design is another option to give your Strat a Les Paul tone.
Although these tips will help your Strat sound closer to a Les Paul, the only way to totally duplicate the sound of a Les Paul 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 Strat to a Les Paul. Chirs demonstrates that, although you can get an approximate sound, you can’t genuinely make a Strat sound like a Les Paul (and vice versa).
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about Strats and Les Paul guitars, or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- What have you done to make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul?
- If you could only choose one guitar, would it be a Strat or a Les Paul? Why?
- After reading this article, are you thinking about modifying your Strat?
- What else is on your mind?