Les Paul vs. Telecaster: Ultimate Comparison Guide


The Telecaster and Les Paul are two giants of the electric guitar world. They both have a rich history and are the guitars of choice of loads of professionals. But which is best?

In this guide, I’ll go through a complete comparison between the two guitars, including the similarities and differences, and the pros and cons of each. So let’s get started!

A Quick Comparison

Telecasters have a brighter tone than Les Paul guitars and are often used for blues, country, whereas Les Pauls have a fuller tone best suited to rock and metal.  Telecasters have two-single coil pickups, whereas Les Paul guitars have two humbucker pickups. Les Paul’s are also heavier than Tele’s. 

If you’re just interested in the specs, then check out the table below to compare all the key features between the standard versions of the Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul. 

Feature Les Paul Telecaster
Body Shape Single Cutaway, Flat Single Cutaway, Flat
Body Wood Mahogany Ash or Alder
Pickups Two Humbuckers Two Single-Coils
Neck Shape Rounded C-Shape Deep-C or U-Shape
Neck Wood Mahogany Maple
Neck Construction Set Neck Bolt-On
Frets 22 22
Fretboard Wood Rosewood Rosewood or Maple
Scale Length 24.75” 25.5”
Bridge Fixed Fixed
Number of Tone Knobs 2 1
Weight 9-12 pounds (4.1-5.4 kg) 8 pounds (3.6 kg)

Sound

Both guitars are very different in the way that they sound, and this is mainly due to two things: the pickups and the tone wood. 

The Fender Telecaster has two single-coil pickups. They are well known for producing twangy, bright tones, however, you can get a humming issue when you crank up the gain. The Gibson Les Paul has a dual humbucker design which allows it to produce a warm, dark tone that’s great for a range of genres like jazz, blues, metal and rock. Humbuckers also don’t suffer from humming when you crank the gain up so they’re great for heavier genres. 

The tone wood is also quite different, the Fender Tele model tends to use alder or ash whilst the Gibson Les Paul uses mahogany. This gives the Les Paul a thicker and darker tone than the Tele. 

There are also a few differences which affect the tone, like the shorter scale length of the Les Paul which again contributes to that darker tone. The Les Paul also has 2 tone and volume controls which gives you more versatility compared to the Tele which only has one of each. 

Feel 

The feel of each guitar is probably where each of the guitars are most similar, however, that doesn’t mean they’re the same by any stretch.

Both guitars have a single cutaway design and a flat shaped body, compared to something contoured like the Stratocaster. They also have pretty hefty necks, with the Tele usually having the deeper neck of the two.
 
The Les Paul is a heavier guitar weighing in at around 9-12 pounds. The Tele is a bit lighter at 8 pounds. 

Look

Another big contrast between the Les Paul and Telecaster is in the looks. Although they’re both single cutaway designs, they look very different. The Tele has flatter edges whilst the Les Paul is more curved. 

In terms of colour options, you get a lot of choice for both guitars. The Tele tends to have more solid colours though, and the Les Paul usually has a maple cap which adds a unique look to the guitar. 

Both guitars have a very classic and iconic look, no one is better than the other, but most tend to have a preference. 

fender telecaster
Fender Standard Telecaster
Gibson Les Paul
Gibson Slash Les Paul Standard '50's

Key Differences

Now we’ve been through an overview of the specs, and the differences in terms of sound, look and feel, I’ll move onto the more specific differences in terms of the anatomy of each electric guitar. 

Body

There are a few main things that I’ll discuss here including the: body shape, tone wood, colour options and controls.

In terms of similarities, both guitars have a single cutaway, flat body shape. However, the Les Paul is more rounded whereas the Tele has more edges, meaning that they actually look really different. The Les Paul usually also has a maple cap on top of the body which adds a unique look to the guitar. The Tele usually doesn’t have this cap and instead is finished in a solid colour. 

In terms of tone wood, the Les Paul tends to have a mahogany body whilst the Telecaster has an Ash or Alder body in most cases. This tends to give the Les Paul a darker and warmer tone in comparison to the brighter sounds produced by the Tele.

expensive guitar
Flame maple cap

Neck

The necks of each guitar are also pretty different, and this impacts the way that the guitars feel.

In terms of differences, the Les Paul has a more rounded-C shape neck, and the Tele has a deeper C-shape neck or a U-shape profile. This means that the Tele usually has a thicker neck, which some guitarists prefer. However, it can make it a bit slower to more around the fretboard, which some guitarists, and in particular beginners, find more difficult. 

The tone wood of each neck is also different. The Les Paul usually has a mahogany neck which gives it a warmer tone, whilst the Tele has a maple neck which is lighter in appearance. 

You’ll also usually get a different neck construction between the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Telecaster. The Les Paul usually has a set-neck construction which improves the resonance. The Tele normally has a bolt-on construction meaning it’s really easy to replace if you’re unlucky enough to ever damage the necks. Check out our guide to neck constructions to learn more.

You’ll also get a shorter scale length on the Les Paul (24.75″) compared to the Telecaster (25.5″).Check out my article comparing 24.75″ and 25.5″ scale guitars to learn more.

In terms of similarities, both guitars have 22 frets and usually use a rosewood fretboard, although the Tele can have a maple fretboard. 

Pickups

One of the most important differences between the Les Paul and Tele that affects the sound massively, is in the pickups. The Les Paul uses two humbucker pickups, and the Tele uses two single-coil pickups. Which type you’ll prefer depends on what kind of tone you enjoy, and what styles of music you usually play.

The Tele’s two single coil pickups are great for twangy and bright tones. They sound sharp and crisp and are perfect for cleaner tones. Being single coils, you will get some humming if you crank up the gain, which is something to be aware of. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for hard rock or metal though, as a lot of guitarists love the unique tone of single coils with a lot of gain.

The Les Paul on the other hand, uses humbuckers. These are well-known for producing a warmer and darker tone. This is perfect for heavier styles of music and produces a thick and powerful sound. They’re great for high gain, because you don’t get the humming issues. Check out this guide to pickups to learn more about the differences between the two types. 

gibson les paul pickups
Gibson Les Paul Pickups
Fender Telecaster Pickups
Fender Telecaster Pickups

Controls

It’s also worth mentioning the difference between the tone and volume controls too. The Telecaster has one tone and one volume control which is used to control both pickups, and you use the pickup selector to change which is active.

The Les Paul has two volume and two tone controls. One set of controls alters the bridge pickup, and the other alters the neck pickup. This means that when you change between each pickup, you can get completely different tones. This is great if you’re switching between lead and rhythm within a song and gives you plenty of versatility.

Gibson Les Paul Controls
Gibson Les Paul Controls
Fender Telecaster Controls
Fender Telecaster Controls

Bridge

Both electric guitars have a fixed bridge, as opposed to the floating bridge that exists on something like a Fender Strat or PRS Custom 24. The fixed bridge is low maintenance, and makes it easy to change the strings, so it’s great for beginners who want something fuss-free and simple to use. 

Despite both using fixed bridges, they do vary slightly in structure. The Les Paul has a tune-o-matic bridge which means the bridge has a tail-piece and each string can be adjusted individually as there are 6 saddles.

The Telecaster has a unique fixed bridge style. Instead of having 6 saddles, it only has 3. This means the strings are adjusted in pairs rather than individually. The pickup is also mounted into the bridge. 

Gibson Les Paul Bridge
Gibson Les Paul Bridge
Fender Telecaster Bridge
Fender Telecaster Bridge Pickup

Price and Options

Next, we’ll move onto the different options and prices for each guitar.

The Les Paul is made by Gibson, which produces premium instruments. If you want something more affordable, then check out the Epiphone brand. They’re owned by Gibson so you’ll get a true Les Paul, but they are much cheaper. The Telecaster is produced by Fender, but again you can get  a cheaper version by purchasing a Squier brand Telecaster which makes more affordable versions of the classic Tele. 

  • Squier Telecasters start at around $180 and go up to around $500. Fender Telecasters start from around $700 and go up to several thousand for a top of the range custom shop. 
  • Epiphone Les Paul guitars start from around $150 and go up to around $800. Gibson Les Paul’s start from around $900 and go up to several thousand again for a custom shop guitar.
  • The standard Gibson Les Paul costs around $2500, which is siginificantly more than the standard Fender Telecaster which costs roughly $1500. 

Guitar Center are always the first place I look at when I’m interested in a new electric guitar because have a huge range of models for sale and always have some excellent deals on. Here’s a link to take you directly to Guitar Center’s electric guitar range so you can see all the offers available at the moment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Now you know all about each guitar, here are some FAQs that you may still have.

Which is best for a beginner?

Both the Telecaster and Les Paul are great guitars for beginners. You can get really affordable starter guitars from the Epiphone and Squier ranges so you don’t have to pay a lot for a good quality model. 
 
In terms of play-ability, both guitars are pretty similar. They both have fairly thick necks and flat bodies, meaning that they aren’t the comfiest to sit or stand with, compared to something like a Stratocaster. The Les Paul is a touch heavier, so can be a bit more difficult to stand with for a long time.
 
However, both guitars are pretty similar in terms of their suitability for beginners. It really depends what kind of music you like to play. If you want to play with a lot of gain and want a thicker tone, go for the Les Paul. But if you want something with a brighter and crisper sound, go for the Telecaster. It’s best to try both in person to see what feels best to you. Ask the sales assistant to play some riffs on each and see what sound you prefer too. 

 

Which is more versatile?

Both guitars are pretty versatile and great for a range of music styles. I would say the Les Paul is slightly more versatile due to the addition of the tone and volume control giving you more possible sounds, but there isn’t much in it. It really depends if you want the warmer or darker tones of the Gibson Les Paul or the brighter and crisper tones of the Telecaster. 

Which is Best for metal or hard rock?

Generally, the Les Paul is used more for metal and hard rock because the humbuckers cope better with high gain, compared to the single-coil pickups on the Telecaster. However, the Tele can definitely still be used for heavier genres, as shown by Tom Morello, so try both and see what sound you prefer. 

Which is best for country?

The Telecaster is usually the guitar of choice compared to the Les Paul when it comes to playing country music. The Tele has a brighter and twangier sound, due to the single coil pickups which is great for country music. The humbuckers on the Les Paul tend to make it a bit too warm, but again, it’s all personal preference. 

Which is best for blues?

Both the Telecaster and Les Paul are well suited to blues style music. Generally, most people prefer the Telecaster for blues though, due to the snappy and crisp single-coils. Although, you could definitely use the Les Paul for blues playing. 

I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.

Rounding Things Off

So hopefully now you feel like an expert when it comes to the differences and similarities between the Les Paul and Telecaster. If you’re still torn between the two, then go and try them both at a guitar store and see which one you lean towards. Check out this ultimate guide to testing a guitar to make the most of your trip!

Like I mentioned earlier though, don’t be afraid to purchase a guitar online. It’s what I tend to do as you can often get a better price. Check out Guitar Center to find some great deals. 

Here’s a quick picture showing the pros and cons of each guitar to summarise everything I’ve talked about. 

 

So there you go! There’s the in-depth comparison between the Les Paul and the Telecaster! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

Recent Posts