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Guitar Talk: Stratocaster vs. Les Paul
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In the war of rock and roll guitar, the battle has always been between a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul. There are other guitars to be sure, but the primary weapons for guitar soldiers since the fifities have been the aforementioned.

Sure, you got your Telecasters and SG’s, both fine guitars. You got your Rickenbackers and Danelectros. You got your myriad Strat copies in all their permutations, your semi-hollowbody ES-335’s and their ilk. But except for the Tele’s, SG’s and 335’s, which are true "players" guitars, the others are more for looks than they are for playing. And there’s nary a decent tone to be wrung from them!

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, "How can he just dismiss all these other guitars?" And "What’s so special about Strats and Les Pauls?" So let me explain my position and answer these two valid questions.

Basically, I can dismiss all these other guitars because all the great guitar players (with a few notable exceptions) have already done so. I’m just taking their lead. My opinion on Rickenbackers and Danelectros is that they have a distinctive look and style that is great for achieving a certain aesthetic on stage, but the sounds they produce are mediocre at best. They are also not sturdy, tough pieces of equipment. Rickenbackers, in particular, are very brittle and do not hold up well. Danelectros are pressboard. ‘Nuff said!

There are, however, other guitars that are great pieces of equipment and sound fantastic. Telecasters and SG’s , for example, are also two of the great electric guitars. There are good reasons why these two stalwarts are not as prevalent as Strats and ‘Pauls’, though.

The Tele is a classic rhythm instrument, as evidenced by the guys who have made it their main axe: Keith Richards, Steve Cropper and Bruce Springsteen. It has also been worked to perfection by Roy Buchannon, Danny Gatton and blues great Albert Collins -- the "Master of Telecaster" --, so it can be a good lead guitar, as well. But, tonally, it has a very narrow range. It’s the same with the Gibson SG. Duane Allman sure made that sucker sing with a slide. But it’s not nearly as versatile as a Les Paul. These guitars always sound the same and therefore do not have the "range" of tonal qualities that Strats and ‘Pauls’ have.

This is the greatest thing that a Strat or a ‘Paul’ have going for them, a "range" of tonality so that they fit a wide variety of musical applications. They are both strong and sturdy, they are both great feeling and playing guitars. But it is their tonal versatility that makes them special. So, are they the same? Of course not! Why would you choose one over the other? Let me tell you.

Let’s take a look at the Strat now shall we? Let’s see, who’s played a Strat that we know about (Lots of pretend head scratching). Let’s see, um….oh yeah, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and so on. Many of the best guitarists of all time! And they not only don’t sound the same compared to each other, they somehow managed to coax a wide variety of tones from their axe.

A Strat sounds like a Strat, yes. But, a Strat sound has a lot of options. It’s typically not a real fat tone, more stinging and biting. But as Clapton demonstrates, it can be fat and chunky, too. It can produce a smooth jazzy sound a la Jeff Beck and also has that signature "out of phase" sound that people like Robert Cray use very well.

Now, what about the Les Paul? Only people such as Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Gary Moore, Dickie Betts….you get the picture. It has the ultimate fat tone, hands down. It’s a great guitar for blues, jazz or heavy rock and can also sound very sweet and chirpy. Frampton really brought out the clear, bell like tonalities it can produce. But no one better showcased the Les Paul in all its tonal glory than Jimmy Page (and I think the old man Les himself, would agree with me on this!). Page displayed the ‘heaviness and fatness’ this guitar is famous for. He created some of rock guitars’ greatest chunky rhythms as well as incredible, soaring leads. With effects or without, it is unmistakably a Les Paul. It’s a very big sound.

So, put down that no-name brand! Stop looking for something obscure or "cutesy" to get that great tone. Instead, go for what everyone already knows will sound great, and make it your own.

Stay Tuned,

The Virtual Musician

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