The Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul need no introduction.
Both guitars are living legends that have dominated the music scene for decades.
However, an interesting question often asked is… “Can a Stratocaster sound like a Les Paul?” Also, can a Les Paul sound like a Stratocaster?
Essentially, is it possible for both these legendary guitars to sound like one another?
This post will answer if both guitars can intimidate each other’s guitar tone. And discuss why both guitars sound so different. Let’s unwrap this post.
So can a Stratocaster sound like a Les Paul? A Stratocaster cannot sound exactly like a Les Paul and vice versa. The reason is that a Stratocaster sounds thin, bright, and articulate. Whereas, a Les Paul sounds thick, mid-focused, and less articulate. For this reason, both guitars cannot replicate one another’s unique and distinctive tone.
Video Explanation (Watch Below)
Why a Stratocaster Cannot Sound Like a Les Paul (Explained)
Before we start, let’s remind ourselves a Stratocaster is famed for its bright and thin tone.
In contrast, a Les Paul is iconic for it’s warm, mid-focused and creamy sound. This results in two unique and awesome but distinctive guitar tones.
For this reason, a Stratocaster will never sound identical to a Les Paul. The reason is both guitars are two completely different designs, pickups, materials contributing to their unique sounds.
The classic Strat design usually rocks single-coil pickups that produce bright and articulate sounds. In contrast, Les Paul has humbucker pickups installed, which produces a warm and thick guitar tone.
Here’s why both guitars sound so different…
|Natural Tone||Bright, thin, twangy,||Beefy, mid-focused, warm|
|Typical Pickups||Single-coil, humbuckers||Humbuckers, P90s|
|Neck design||Bolt-on-neck||Set neck|
|Weight||7-8.5lb (depending on year)||9-12lb (depending on year)|
If you didn’t know already, a guitar with a longer scale length results in a natural thinner and brighter sound compared to a guitar with a shorter scale length.
As you can see, a Stratocaster has a scale length of 25.5″. Whereas, the Les Paul has a slightly shorter scale length at 24.75″.
And for this reason, it’s not just pickups that separate both guitar tones.
When comparing body design, Les Paul body has more wood being a single-cutaway guitar.
In contrast, a Stratocaster includes a much comfortable double-cut design for reaching the higher frets easier. Not to mention the Les Paul has a wider and broader body hence why it’s heavier and less comfortable to play.
However, a guitar with more wood promotes better resonance (more sustain) and naturally promotes a thicker sound.
Hence why you could install a humbucker in a Strat, and it would still sound thinner than a Les Paul.
So with this knowledge in mind, Can you make a Stratocster sound like a Les Paul? The answer is yes, there are certain tricks and mods you can do to achieve a more Les Paul tone.
How to Get a Stratocaster Tone From a Les Paul
Now, to make a thin guitar (strat) sound like a thick guitar (Les Paul). You simply have to thicken up your Strats guitar tone. Here’s how to do it…
Install Humbucker Pickups
The first protocol would be to remove your thin and bright single-coils and throw in a set of humbucker pickups. A humbucker will add beef and thickness to your Strats naturally bright tone.
Humbuckers are warmer and better at noise canceling with more sustain hence why they are so popular with heavier genres.
Luckily, The Stratocaster is one of the most moddable guitars on the planet. The reason is all Stratocasters include a humbucker slot in their body.
It means you can simply drop in a humbucker pickup without any drilling modification.
Know How to EQ Guitar and Amp
To dial in a beefier sound using your amp and guitar, remember, you want to tame the high frequencies.
You want to lower the treble either on your amp or rolling down the tone knob on your guitar. This will remove the piercing highs and give your Strat a thicker Les Paul tone.
You also want to add some bass, depending on your rig, while making sure there are enough mids and highs to avoid a muddy sound that still cuts through the mix.
Your tone depends on your guitar, amp, pedals EQ. So tweak the EQ to ensure a warm and rounder sound keeping a close eye on your treble controls.
Double Up Your Distortion
A handy trick to thicken up your sound is to double up your distortion. The way you do this is by using two distortion or overdrive pedals together.
This handy trick gives your dirt section a thicker and wider guitar tone. It’s almost like an audible illusion.
You can blend distortion and overdrive and experiment by using different types of pedals.
Install Heavier Gauge Strings
A simple method to beef up a guitar tone is to apply thicker strings. If you usually play 0.09s then go up to 0.10. Or even 0.11. Thicker gauge strings give a thicker sound compared to thinner gauge strings.
A guitar tech told me that the minimum gauge ideal for a Les Paul is 0.10. The reason is for grip issues, so I have always stuck with this advice.
However, it recommended experimenting with different gauge strings. The reason is to test the water and see what works best with your playing style and tastes.
What Makes a Strat Sound Like a Strat?
A key ingredient to the Stratocaster’s iconic sound is due to their pickups. Ever since their creation, single-coils sound thin and bright with maximum articulation.
Combined with other design elements, it gives the Stratocaster it’s iconic twangy, bright, and thin guitar tone.
This pickup combination has long been a staple on the classic Stratocaster design, although the Strat can house humbuckers pickups. A Strat with single-coil pickups is the traditional design we all know.
The Stratocaster Sports a 25.5″ scale length. A loner scale length means the string is under more tension than a shorter scale length.
A string under more tension promotes a stronger and more pronounced sound with greater clarity.
For this reason, the Stratocaster gets its ‘snappy’ tone due to its greater amount of string tension. Regardless of materials and build quality.
Hence, why a Les Paul with its shorter scale length of 24.75″ produces a rounder and warmer sound combined with its thick sounding pickups.
The Stratocaster neck is crafted with maple wood, which is known to emit a brighter sound than darker woods. Furthermore, a Strat has a slim body with less wood than a Les Paul.
What Makes a Les Paul Sound like a Les Paul
The Les Paul is a big slab of mahogany, a rich tonewood promoting juicy sustain which the guitar is famed for.
Its chunky body also produces a warmer and thicker tone compared to the thinner body of a Stratocaster.
A Les Paul has a ‘set-neck’ meaning the guitar is glued and permanently fixed to the guitar’s body.
This promotes better sustain and resonance, although it means you cannot swap and customize the neck without heavy modification.
The Les Paul has a slightly shorter scale length at 25.75″ meaning the strings are under less tension.
A string under less tension produces a warmer and rounder tone compared to a string under more tension. The differences in scale length drastically change the guitar’s tone, which some players are unaware of.
Scale length is a very underlooked reason for the major differences in guitar tone.
Humbucker pickups are two single-coil pickups next to each other. When you double up the number of pickups, you double the thickness of the guitar tone.
Secondly, humbuckers are designed to reduce the 60-cycle hum, which is the annoying noise of humming, buzzing, and interference. Hence why they are called humbuckers by ‘bucking’ the ‘hum.’
Humbuckers combined with the thick slab of mahogany wood gives the Les Paul guitar it’s thick and warm tone which guitar players have loved for decades.
Can a Les Paul Sound Like a Stratocaster?
The simple answer to this question is no. A Les Paul known for it’s thick and creamy sound can not achieve the bright and twangy Strat tone. There are a few reasons why…
First, the Les Paul guitar usually comes stock with humbuckers installed. A guitar with humbuckers at the helm naturally sounds thick and warm; hence why it sounds thick and beefy.
Essentially a guitar with humbuckers is the polar opposite to the typical Stratocaster sound. That being bright, twangy, and articulate.
Second, regardless of pickup choice, when we compare body shapes of both guitars. The Les Paul guitar is a large lump of wood compared to the thin and streamlined body of a Stratocaster.
More body wood gives a guitar a thicker and rounder tone. Therefore, a Les Paul could not sound like a Stratocaster because they are both polar opposite designs.
Even if you modded a Les Paul to house single-coil pickups, true, it would sound thinner.
However, because the Les Paul includes a thick chunky body with a 24.75 scale length, it would still sound warm and thick due to its body design and scale length.
It portrays how the Les Paul design promotes a thick and warm tone. Whereas, the Staratocasters design naturally promotes a bright and articulate sound.
Remember, it’s easy to thicken a guitar tone but hard to remove thickness from a naturally thick sounding guitar.
As we have looked at, both guitars are categorized as living legends. However, they are two completely different sounding guitars. Hopefully, I have enlightened you and improved your knowledge of both iconic guitars.