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 of 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 like baked Maple.
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, 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.
5 Reasons to Choose the Les Paul
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 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.
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 recommended the Epiphone LP Special II as the best choice for beginners over the Squier Strat.
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.
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.
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.