Do you own a Stratocaster but want to get the darker and thicker tone of a Les Paul? Is it possible to make a Strat sound like a Les Paul? Or do you just need to go out and get another guitar? In this article, I’ll answer all these questions so you know exactly what to do with your Strat. So let’s get started!
The Quick Answer
To try and make a Stratocaster sound more similar to a Les Paul, use a noise gate pedal to reduce the humming, then thicken the tone by using the neck pickup and rolling back the tone control. However, both guitars sound very different so an exact Les Paul tone cannot be achieved on a Strat.
Stratocasters and Les Paul’s sound very different. Strat’s sound brighter and thinner, and Les Paul’s sound warmer, more mellow and thicker. It’s very difficult to make your Strat sound like a proper Les Paul because these differences in sound are due to the different pickups, tone woods and scale length of the two guitar.
However, there are some ways to make your Strat sound fuller and warmer, similar to a Les Paul. These include, adjusting your amp settings, using a noise gate pedal, switching to the neck pickup and using an EQ pedal.
But if you really want that true Les Paul sound, your best bet is to trade in your Strat, or get a second guitar.
Why Do Strat's and Les Paul's Sound Different?
First, let’s address exactly how and why, Stratocasters and Les Paul’s sound so different. Then you’ll be able to full understand how you can make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul, and why it’s a bit of a challenge.
how do they sound different
Stratocasters are well known for having a bright, sharp tone, that focuses on treble frequencies. This allows it to sound crisp, and great when you use clean tones, but it can sound a little thin. They are also prone to feedback and background noise when you use high gain.
Les Paul’s on the other hand, sound darker, thicker and warmer. They have less clarity than single coils, because the tone produced, focuses on mid-range and bass frequencies, rather than treble. However, they do sound much fuller and cope a lot better with distortion.
There are of course many different aspects of the guitars which causes them to sound different, but in my opinion, the pickups, tone wood and scale length are the most significant.
One of the biggest reasons why Strat’s and Les Paul’s sound so different, is because they use different pickups. The Stratocaster uses three single coil pickups. Single coils are well known for their crisp and bright sounds. This makes them sound great when played through a clean amp.
Single coil guitars have a lot of emphasis on the treble frequencies, which makes them sound sharp and crisp. There’s less emphasis on the bass and mid-range frequencies, causing them to sound quite thin.
The main issue with single coils, is that they have a susceptibility to feedback and background noise. When you crank up the gain on your amp, the single coils tend to produce a humming sound. This is why they aren’t commonly used for metal and hard rock music.
Humbuckers, on the other hand, have a different structure that consists of two coils. These coils are arranged in opposite directions, which cancels the humming noise out, when you’re using high gain. Hence, they’re the preferred choice for most hard rock and metal players.
Humbuckers sound much darker, warmer and more mellow. This is because they place more emphasis on the bass and mid-range frequencies, rather than the treble.
Check out this guide to pickups to learn more about the differences between humbuckers and single coils.
Another reason why Strat’s and Les Paul’s sound very different, is because they use completely different wood types.
The Stratocaster commonly uses an ash body, which tends to produce a brighter tone. Les Paul’s are usually made of mahogany, which gives them a darker tone.
The neck and fret board wood also contributes to this difference in sound. Strat’s usually have maple necks and fret boards, again contributing to the brighter, and less resonant tone. Les Paul’s normally have mahogany necks and rosewood fret boards, which are known to be more resonant and mellow sounding.
An often overlooked aspect of the two guitars which contributes to the difference in tone, is the scale length. This simply means the length between the bridge, and the start of the headstock.
Les Paul’s have a significantly shorter scale length than Strat’s. The typical scale length of a Les Paul is 24.75″ and Strat’s have a scale length of 25.5″.
The longer the scale length, the sharper and crisper the tone is. Shorter scale lengths result in a thicker and warmer tone.
Can you Make a Strat Sound Like a Les Paul?
Okay, so this leads us to the big question, can you make a Stratocaster sound like a Les Paul. In my opinion, it’s impossible to achieve that really deep and warm tone that Les Paul’s are best known for, if you only have a Stratocaster at your disposal.
However, there are several things you can do to make your Strat sound less bright and twangy, and more dark and fuller. So let’s run through some of these things you can try.
How to Make a Strat Sound Like a Les Paul
When you’re trying to make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul, it’s best to focus on the two most important things. 1. You need to make your Strat sound less bright, and give it a warmer and more mellow tone. 2. You need to find a way to eliminate the background noise and feedback that Strat’s are susceptible to.
Luckily, there are a few ways to do this.
how to make a strat sound more like a les paul
- Use an EQ pedal to take the emphasis off the treble and place it on the bass and mids
- Use your neck pickup to produce a warmer and more mellow
- Roll back the tone and volume controls to take away some of the Strat’s sharpness
- Use a noise gate pedal to eliminate the feedback issue
- Adjust your amp settings to thicken up your tone
Now let’s go through each of these methods, step-by-step.
Use an EQ Pedal
One of the best ways to make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul, is by investing in an EQ (equaliser) pedal. These work by adjusting the balance of your treble, bass and mid-range frequencies.
Strat’s naturally place a lot of emphasis on the treble frequencies, and less on the mids and bass, which gives them that sharp, but thin sounding tone. In order to thicken this up, you need to use the EQ pedal to switch the emphasis from the treble, to the bass. This will give you a warmer, fuller sounding tone, closer to what a Les Paul sound like.
If you’re new to effects pedals, then take a look at this quick guide to guitar effects to give you an introduction.
Use the Neck Pickup
Another way to reduce the brightness of your Strat and mellow it out to sound like a Les Paul, is by using your neck pickup, as opposed to your bridge pickup.
The position of the pickups on your guitar, greatly affects the tone produced. Neck pickups sound much warmer and more mellow, whilst bridge pickups sound brighter and sharper. To make your Strat sound more like a Les Paul, try using the neck, or middle pickup (if the neck sounds too mellow).
Check out this guide on the difference between neck and bridge pickups to learn more about this topic.
Roll Back the Tone and Volume Controls
One of the quickest and easiest ways of reducing the sharpness of your Strat, is to dial back the tone and volume controls on your guitar. Similar to adjusting your pickup selector to activate the neck pickup, it’ll give you a warmer and more mellow tone.
You can do this in combination with using your neck pickup, and adjusting your amp settings if you want a really inexpensive way of taking that twangy and bright tone out of your Strat.
Adjust your Amplifier Settings
Again, to help you cut out some of the harshness and sharpness in your Strat’s tone, you can adjust your amplifier settings.
If your amp has individual settings for treble, bass and mids, then you’ll want to dial back the treble, and give the mids a bit of an increase, and your bass a more significant increase. This will help fatten out your tone.
If your amp has an EQ setting instead, then turn it counter-clockwise to have a similar effect of increasing the bass and knocking the treble back.
Some other amplifiers have controls called presence and contour. Presence simply refers to the amount of treble, so turn this down to make your Strat sound more mellow.
Contour is basically the opposite of mids. If you want to make your tone sound thicker, then turn the contour control down.
Take a look at this complete step-by-step guide to amp settings if you’re struggling to dial in the best tone.
Use a Noise Gate Pedal
So now you need to look at fixing the second issue that prevents your Strat sounding like a Les Paul. And that’s the feedback and humming background noise that you find with the single coils on a Strat.
The best way I’ve found to do this, is by using a noise gate pedal. Essentially, noise gate pedals remove any unwanted buzzing or humming from your tone, before it get’s amplified. This is really useful if you want to use high gain and single coils.
Noise gate pedals are best put at the start of your pedal chain. Take a look at these two posts if you’re new to pedals and you want to find out more.
Modifying your Stratocaster
One thing I do just briefly want to mention before I wrap up this post, is modifications. Of course, the methods I’ve described above, will only get you so far.
If you want your Strat to sound more like a Les Paul, then you can consider modifying it. Some common modifications include blocking off the tremolo, installing hot rail or humbucker pickups.
It’s up to you to decide if this is actually worth doing. In some cases, it’s best just to buy a second guitar, because the money you spend modifying your Strat, could just be spent buying a cheaper Les Paul by Epiphone that’ll give you that thicker, warmer tone you’re after.
The main issues with modification, are that it requires money and skill. You also can’t just switch it back to sound like a Strat in seconds by using some pedals and adjusting your amplifier.
So there you go! That’s how to make a Stratocaster sound like a Les Paul! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful: