Can a Stratocaster Sound Like a Les Paul?

Can a Stratocaster sound like a Les Paul?

This might be one of the most commonly asked questions among guitar enthusiasts.

The most sensible answer to this question is:

A Stratocaster can not sound exactly like a Les Paul, but it can get close and vice versa. Both these legendary guitars have their distinctive features that make them sound so unique. So it is difficult to fully replicate their sounds.

A Fender Stratocaster owner might be tempted to make his/her guitar sound like a Gibson Les-Paul once in a while. So, if you are such a person, then definitely this article would help you understand the features which make these two guitars sound unique and the tricks to make your Stratocaster sound close to a Les Paul.

Stratocaster Vs Les Paul: Understanding Their Differences to Replicate the Sound

You must have noticed that a Stratocaster sounds bright, thin, and crunchy whereas a Les Paul sounds creamy, thick, and warm.

The iconic designs of these two guitar models are responsible for such uniquely distinctive tones. Their body material, measurements, alignments, and electronics; all play their part in rendering such sounds.

So, to make a Stratocaster sound close to a Les Paul, first, we need to understand what makes the difference in their sounds. Here is a brief representation of their features.

CriteriaStratocasterLes Paul
Natural ToneBright, thin & crunchyWarm, Creamy & Mid-focused
Body MaterialAsh / Alder woodMahogany with maple cap
Neck MaterialMapleMahogany
Neck DesignBolt on neckSet neck
Neck RadiusC-ShapeU-shape
Pick-ups3 single-coil pickups2 humbucking pickups
Pickup selector Switch5 way3 way
Control knobs3 (1 volume, 2 tone controls)4 (2 volumes, 2 tone controls)
Scale Length25.524.75
Cutaway typeDouble CutawaySingle Cutaway

Almost every feature of each of these guitars contributes to their unique sound. Let’s start with the most common reason for the difference in their sound that is the pick-ups, then we will look into others as well.

Pickups

Fender Stratocaster is a classic design with 3 single-coil pickups which enables the thin and crisp yet clean sound. The single-coil pickups are not well suited for distortions as they produce feedback and noise. Some newer models of Stratocasters come with one humbucker and two single-coil pickups. But in this article, we will discuss the classic ones.

On the other hand, Gibson Les-Paul rocks two humbucker pickups (double coiled pickups). These types of pickups cancel out the possible feedback, therefore very well suited for high gains and distortions. When playing it clean, these humbucker pickups cancel some of the higher frequencies; therefore resulting in a warm, fuller, and thick sound.

Pickup Selector Switch and Tone Control

The 5-way pickup selector switch of the Stratocaster allows you 5 different combinations of 3 single coiled pickups. You can further refine the tone using the two-tone knobs and get a range of unique Stratocaster tones.

The Les Paul offers a 3-way pickup selector switch for 2 humbucker pickups. But its volume control knobs have “Push-Pull pots” which allows the humbucker pickups to act as a single-coil pickup. Add the tone control knobs and you also have a wide range of creamy, mid-focused Les Paul tones.

Moreover, the shape of the Les Paul humbucker pickups covers more area from which it acquires the string frequency. This results in a resonant and high-sustaining sound.

Scale Length

Scale length refers to the length from the bridge to the headstock, which is longer in Stratocaster than a Les Paul. The longer the scale length, the thinner and brighter the sound becomes due to the added tension in the strings.  This is another major criterion for Stratocaster’s bright, thin sound and Les Paul’s warm, heavy, resonant sound.

Tonewood

Stratocaster has an Ash / Alder wooden body with a maple neck. Both this type of wood contributes to a brighter and less resonant tone.

Whereas Les Paul has a mahogany body and neck, a rich tonewood that enables the dark, warm, creamy, and more resonant sustaining tone.

Body Density

Les Paul already has a thick and dense Mahogany body that helps circulate the resonance of the strings for a longer time. That makes the tone highly sustaining as we’ve already mentioned before.

But in the case of the thin-bodied Stratocaster, the Alder/Ashwood is comparatively less dense. Besides, a Stratocaster’s body has 2 cutaways, which means it already has less portion of wood than the Les Paul that has a single cutaway. Hence its tone is lighter and less sustaining.

How Can a Stratocaster Sound Close to a Les Paul

You already got the idea why these two iconic guitars sound so uniquely distinguishable, right? Now, if you want to make your Stratocaster sound somewhat close to a Les Paul, here are some tricks you can follow. The tone will not be exactly the same, but it will be acceptable.

Use an EQ Pedal

You’ve already learnt that a Les Paul is rich in warm tones that are mid-focused. So, the easiest way to make your Stratocaster more mid-focused is using an EQ pedal. Simply turn down the “High” a little, and then turn up the “mid” as well as the “Low” moderately in order to get the warm, creamy tone that closely resembles the sound of a Les Paul.

Adjust Amp Settings

This is very similar to using an EQ pedal; do the same thing to the “high”, “mid” and “low” knobs on the amp. You can use the amp only or in combination with the EQ pedal, and then tweak the knobs a little to extract a clean Les Paul-ish tone.

Use an Overdrive and Noise Gate Pedal

When attached with a distortion pedal, a Stratocaster creates lighter distortion compared to a Les Paul due to its single-coil pickups. Therefore, in order to obtain Les Paul’s heavy distortion, an overdrive pedal or an extra distortion pedal might be used.

The double distortion pedal will produce heavy feedback and noise, therefore a good noise gate pedal is a must. You can experiment with different types of distortions and noise gets to get the optimum result.

Use Neck-Pickup and Tone Control

Usually, the neck pickups create a warmer and mellow tone whereas the bridge pickup creates a bright, sharp tone. A Stratocaster is no different; so to reduce the brightness of the tone, using neck pickup is an easy option.

After selecting the neck pickup, you can adjust the tone control to make your sound even warmer simply by turning it down to the desired level. The 5-way pick-up selector switch can offer you a variety of options such as “neck pickup only”, “neck and mid-pickup” or “mid pickup” only. Take advantage of these options and play with the tone control knobs to mellow down your Stratocaster’s tone to match it closely with a Les Paul.

Use Heavy Gauge Strings

This is an additional task you could do along with the previous ones. Heavier gauge strings will give you a thicker tone, e.g. if you are using 0.09s strings, try 0.10s or 0.11s. Experiment with the one that suits you the best.

Install Humbucker Pickups

Although this is an option, I would not recommend this one. Because it requires some cumbersome modification and still, your Stratocaster won’t sound exactly like a Les Paul due to the difference in their build.

However, if you wish to install the humbucker pickups for the purpose of getting more distortion, I’d suggest you replace only the bridge pickup of your Strat with a humbucker; that way you’ll get both heavy and light distortions.

Is it worth the Effort?

In my experience, all the efforts are is totally worth it, except for the humbucker installation in your Strat. Stratocaster is a beautifully designed guitar. Therefore mutilating its appearance to make it sound like something it is not, seems like a total waste.

Can a Les Paul Sound Like a Stratocaster?

The same answer goes for this question as well.

You can make a Les Paul sound close to a Stratocaster but never fully replicate it. You can follow the upper-mentioned approaches (except for the humbucker installation) but proceed in an opposite direction to modify the sound and make your Les Paul closely sound like a Stratocaster.

For example, you can use an EQ pedal with you, Les Paul, to turn down the “Low” and “mid” and turn up the “high” a little; Turn down the Distortion (instead of adding) to get a mild distortion like the Stratocaster’s; Use the “Push-Pull Pots” to make the humbucker pickups act like single coiled ones; and so on.

Final Thoughts

If you apply all the tricks we mentioned, you can make a Stratocaster sound almost 80-90% like a Les Paul. This is good enough and only a discerning ear would be able to differentiate the sounds if you succeed.

Hopefully, this article comes in handy and you can enjoy your Strat like a Les Paul Once in a while.

Leave a Comment