Stratocaster vs Les Paul vs Telecaster: Which is the Best?


The three most popular electric guitars of all time are the Stratocaster, the Telecaster and the Les Paul. In this article, I’ll compare the Strat vs the Tele vs the LP in terms of the features and design, the natural tone and the look and feel. I’ll also look at the specifications of each model on the Gibson and Fender line-ups so you can look at the best options for your budget.

The Quick Answer

Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars both have single coil pickups, whereas the Les Paul has humbucker pickups. This make the Les Paul more suitable for high gain amp settings, and makes the Tele and Strat sound brighter. The Telecaster is often considered the most versatile sounding guitar.

Comparing Features

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

Remember that you can scroll sideways if you’re on mobile to see the Telecaster specifications in the table!

FeatureLes PaulStratocasterTelecaster
Body ShapeSingle CutawayDouble CutawaySingle Cutway
Body WoodMahoganyAsh or AlderAsh or Alder
PickupsTwo HumbuckersThree Single-CoilsTwo Single-Coils
Neck ShapeRounded C-ShapeC-ShapeDeep-C/ U-Shape
Neck WoodMahoganyMapleMaple
Neck ConstructionSet NeckBolt-OnBolt-On
Frets222222
Fretboard WoodRosewoodRosewood or MapleRosewood or Maple
Scale Length24.75”25.5”25.5”
BridgeFixedTremoloFixed
Number of Volume Knobs221
Weight9-12 pounds (4.1-5.4 kg)8 pounds (3.6 kg)8 pounds (3.6 kg)
Les Paul vs Stratocaster vs Telecaster

Keep in mind that these are just the specifications for the Gibson and Fender standard versions, the features will vary depending on which specific model you choose, and if it’s a Fender/ Squier or Gibson/ Epiphone version.

Sound Differences

Probably the most important thing to consider when choosing between these three iconic guitars, is the tonal differences. Each guitar has a unique tone due to several factors including the pickup, tone woods, scale length and even the neck construction.

Les Paul guitars have a darker and mellower tone than Stratocasters and Telecasters, whilst the Strat is the brightest sounding of the three. Stratocasters are best suited to clean tones, whilst the Les Paul is most suited high gain. The Tele is often considered the most versatile sounding.

Les Paul vs the Strat and Tele

  • The Les Paul is the most different sounding of the three guitars. It has a much more mellow and dark tone than the Stratocaster and Telecaster. It has a thicker tone that is less susceptible to “humming” from the pickups, making it often more suitable for heavier styles of music such as metal. The single coil pickups on the Tele and Strat often produce more feedback at high gain.
  • Les Paul guitars often have better sustain than Telecasters and Stratocasters due to the higher output humbucker pickups and the weightier design.

Strat vs Tele

  • The Stratocaster has a brighter sounding neck pickup compared the the Telecaster.
  • The Telecaster sounds fuller than the Stratocaster.
  • The Telecaster has a thicker sounding bridge pickup, making it more suitable for high gain amp settings. This is because the bridge pickup is located in the metal part of the bridge and not on the body.

The Stratocaster is most suited to clean music styles such as blues and jazz, whilst Les Paul’s are best suited to heavier styles such as metal. The Telecaster plays most styles well but can struggle with heavy metal more due to the single coil pickups. All three guitars suit the rock genre well.

Here is a video to demonstrate the differences in tone using various different amp settings. It’s set to start at the correct time in the video so you can just hit play without searching for the right bit!

Les Paul vs Stratocaster vs Telecaster Tones Compared

Look and Feel

The look and feel of the guitar is also really important to consider when choosing which to buy, as it massively contributes to how much you enjoy playing (and how much you’ll end up practicing)!

Here are some key points:

  • The Les Paul is the heaviest guitar (weighing between 9-12 pounds/ 4.1-5.4 kg), whereas the Stratocaster and Telecaster are lighter (both 8 pounds/ 3.6 kg). This means some players may find the Les Paul more difficult to stand with for a long time.
  • The Stratocaster has a contoured body which can be more comfortable to sit and stand with compared to the flat body designs found on the Les Paul and Tele.
  • The Stratocaster often has the shallowest neck, followed by the Les Paul and finally the Tele which often has a thicker neck. This means that some players with smaller hands may find the Tele and Les Paul more uncomfortable to hold.
  • Les Paul’s and Tele’s both have a single cutaway body, compared to the Stratocaster which has a double-cutaway design, making upper fret access a bit easier on the Strat.
  • The Les Paul does not always have a pickup guard whereas most Telecaster and the Stratocaster guitars do traditionally.
  • The Les Paul has the shortest scale length (24.75″) compared to the Tele and Strat (25.5″) but this often is not enough to affect playability.
  • Les Paul’s usually have more unique maple cap tops which can look pretty unique, whereas the Strat and Tele generally have plainer designs and use a contrasting pickup colour to add some character to the finish.
Les Paul vs Stratocaster vs Telecaster shape

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.

Models Available

These three iconic guitars were originally produced by Fender and Gibson, two American brands. However, both brands now have a sister company which offers more affordable versions of the Strat, Tele and Les Paul. Epiphone is responsible for producing the more affordable Les Paul models, whilst Squier produces Tele’s and Strat’s.

I have collated pretty much every standard currently available (non-limited edition/ special/ modified/ signature) Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul model by both Fender/ Gibson and Squier/ Epiphone into the tables below.

It includes the features and price (based don Guitar Center at the time of writing) of each model and it’s split into price brackets. Each table is organised by price (low to high), so you can easily see the options available based on your budget.

Contents:

  • Entry-Level (under $250)
  • Low-Mid Range ($250-$500)
  • Mid-Range ($500-$1000)
  • Mid-High End ($1000-$2000)
  • High-End (over $2000)

Entry Level (Under $250)

GuitarOriginBody WoodNeck StylePrice
Epiphone Les Paul Special IChinaMahoganyBolt-On$150
Squier Bullet StratIndonesiaBasswoodBolt-On$180
Squier Bullet TeleIndonesiaBasswoodBolt-On$180
Epiphone Les Paul Special E1ChinaPoplarBolt-On$180
Epiphone Les Paul Special IIChinaMahoganyBolt-On$230
Squier Affinity StratChinaAlderBolt-On$230
Squier Affinity TeleChinaAlderBolt-On$230
Epiphone Les Paul Studio E1ChinaMahoganyBolt-On$250
Entry-level Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul models compared.

Low-Mid Range ($250-$500)

GuitarOriginBody WoodNeck StylePrice
Epiphone Les Paul JuniorChinaMahoganySet-Neck$380
Squier Contemporary StratChinaPoplarBolt-On$400
Squier Contemporary TeleChinaPoplarBolt-On$400
Epiphone Les Paul SpecialChinaMahoganySet-Neck$400
Squier Classic Vibe StratIndonesiaPoplar/ PineBolt-On$430
Squier Classic Vibe TeleIndonesiaPoplar/ PineBolt-On$430
Epiphone Les Paul StudioChinaMahoganySet-Neck$450
Low-mid range Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul models compared.

Mid-Range ($500-$1000)

GuitarOriginBody WoodNeck StylePrice
Epiphone Les Paul ClassicChinaMahoganySet-Neck$500
Fender Standard StratMexicoAlderBolt-On$500
Epiphone Les Paul StandardChinaMahoganySet-Neck$600
Epiphone Les Paul ModernChinaMahoganySet-Neck$650
Epiphone Les Paul CustomChinaMahoganySet-Neck$680
Fender Player StratMexicoAlderBolt-On$750
Fender Player TeleMexicoAlderBolt-On$750
Epiphone Slash Les PaulChinaMahoganySet-Neck$900
Fender Deluxe StratMexicoAlderBolt-On$950
Fender Deluxe TeleMexicoAlderBolt-On$950
Fender Vintera StratMexicoAlderBolt-On$950
Fender Vintera TeleMexicoAlderBolt-On$950
Mid-range Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul models compared.

Mid-High End ($1000-$2000)

GuitarOriginBody WoodNeck StylePrice
Gibson Les Paul Special TributeAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$1000
Fender Road Worn TeleMexicoAlderBolt-On$1150
Gibson Les Paul TributeAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$1000
Fender Boxer StratJapanBasswoodBolt-On$1200
Fender Boxer TeleJapanBasswoodBolt-On$1200
Fender American Performer StratAmericaAlderBolt-On$1200
Fender American Performer TeleAmericaAlderBolt-On$1200
Gibson Les Paul StudioAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$1500
Gibson Les Paul JuniorAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$1500
Gibson Les Paul SpecialAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$1600
Fender American Professional StratAmericaAlderBolt-On$1500
Fender American Professional TeleAmericaAlderBolt-On$1500
Fender American Showcase StratAmericaAlderBolt-On$1700
Fender American Showcase TeleAmericaAlderBolt-On$1700
Fender American Ultra StratAmericaAlderBolt-On$1900
Fender American Ultra TeleAmericaAlderBolt-On$1900
Mid-high end Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul models compared.

High-End (Over $2000)

GuitarOriginBody WoodNeck StylePrice
Gibson Les Paul ClassicAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$2000
Fender American Original StratAmericaAlderBolt-On$2000
Fender American Original TeleAmericaAlderBolt-On$2000
Fender American Ultra StratAmericaAshBolt-On$2300
Fender American Ultra TeleAmericaAshBolt-On$2300
Gibson Les Paul StandardAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$2500
Gibson Les Paul ModernAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$2800
Gibson Les Paul SlashAmericaMahoganySet-Neck$3000
High-end Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul models compared.

Design Differences

Now let’s take a look at the design differences between each guitar and how this effects the tone, feel and look of the Strat, Tele and LP.

Body

The Les Paul has a solid mahogany body, whereas, Telecaster and Stratocaster models usually have an alder body. The Les Paul and Tele have a flatter, single cutaway design, whereas the Strat has a more contoured, double cutaway design to make it very comfortable and improve upper fret access.

Neck

The neck shapes of Les Paul’s, Tele’s and Strat’s differs depending on the model in question. Models based on older variants of the classic guitars, tend to have a thicker and rounder neck. Traditionally, the Strat has the thinnest and flattest neck, followed by the Les Paul and finally the Telecaster has the roundest.

Les Paul guitars usually have a mahogany neck and a rosewood fretboard, whereas Telecaster and Stratocaster models typically have a maple neck with a maple fretboard, however some will have a rosewood fretboard instead. All three guitars have 22 frets.

The neck construction is also different between models. All Les Paul’s produced by Gibson, and the higher end models produced by Epiphone, have a set-neck design, whilst the cheapest models have a bolt-on construction. However, pretty much every Strat and Tele has a bolt-on neck construction.

The neck construction affects the tone and sustain of the guitar, find out more about this top in my article comparing set-necks and bolt-on constructions.

Pickups

Perhaps the most significant difference between the Les Paul and the Strat and Tele, is the pickups.

Les Paul’s have two humbucker pickups which have a dark, and mellow sound and do not suffer from feedback. Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars have single coil pickups which sound brighter but are susceptible to feedback.

Check out my article comparing pickup types to learn more.

The Stratocaster has three pickups, whilst the Telecaster just has two. This can give the Stratocaster a bit more flexibility, however it is usually the Tele which is considered to have a more versatile tone. This is due to the bridge pickup placement. Strat’s have the bridge pickup located on the body, whereas the Tele has it located on the metal bridge itself, causing the tone to be thicker making it suitable for higher gain than the Strat which can sound quite thin.

Pickups in Les Paul vs Stratocaster vs Telecaster

Controls

Due to the number of pickups on each guitar, the controls also vary.

  • Stratocasters have three pickups, a 5-way pickup selector, two tone controls, and a volume control.
  • Telecasters have two pickups, a 3-way pickup selector, one tone control and one volume control.
  • Les Paul guitars have two pickups, a 3-way pickup selector, two tone controls, and one volume control.

Each guitar works slightly differently to allow you to achieve different tones by adjusting the pickup selector and the tone controls. I’ve written some in-depth guides explaining how to use the controls on each guitar:

Controls on a Stratocaster vs Les Paul vs Telecaster.

Bridge

Finally, the bridge in the Stratocaster is different to the bridges found in the Les Paul and Telecaster.

Stratocasters have floating bridges which have a tremolo arm which can be used to change the pitch of the strings by pushing and pulling to add a unique effect. Les Paul’s and Telecaster’s have fixed bridge which does not feature a tremolo arm, and only functions to hold the strings in-place.

I’ve got a full article on fixed vs floating bridges if you want to learn more about this topic.

bridge types
Here you can see that a floating bridge has the tremolo arm, but the fixed bridge does not.

Which Should You Choose?

The best way to decide if you want a Telecaster, Stratocaster or Les Paul, is to try them out in the store. This gives you the best feel for the instrument and you can hear exactly how it sounds. This works even if you’re a total beginner, just sit and stand with the instrument and then ask if the store assistant will play some different tones on each guitar to demonstrate it.

With that said, in my opinion, each model excels in different areas so here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • If you want to play very heavy metal then choose a Les Paul.
  • If you’re looking for the most versatile guitar then choose a Telecaster.
  • If you want to play mainly clean tones then choose a Stratocaster.

These are very generalised points though, and you can still play different styles on all three instruments, it just depends what tone you’re looking for.

Which is the best for a beginner?

For beginners, a Stratocaster is a popular option because it is a very comfortable guitar to play with. For new guitarists looking to play metal and hard rock, a Les Paul is a better option as it sounds better with distortion. Telecasters usually offer the most versatility for those who want to play a variety of styles.

With that said, it’s all personal preference, so go ahead and listen to each guitar and figure out which you really like the sound of, and which you like the look of as well!

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.

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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.

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