The Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster are two of the most iconic electric guitars available.
If you’re thinking about learning guitar and want to buy either a Les Paul or a Strat, you might wonder which is easier to play.
Some guitarists feel a Strat is easier to play due to lower weight, better upper fret access, and a more comfortable neck. Other guitarists feel a Les Paul is easier to play due to a shorter scale length.
As there is no straightforward answer to this question, let’s take a closer look at the differences between a Strat and a Les Paul to see which you may prefer.
Strat vs Les Paul Playability
When comparing a Les Paul and a Strat for playability, there are a few things to consider.
The scale length, weight, and type of neck all play a big role in the playability of a Strat vs a Les Paul. A shorter scale length improves the playability of a Les Paul, while the neck on a Strat improves its playability.
Let’s go through all of the important features that impact playability so you can decide which are important to you.
Strat vs Les Paul Scale Length
The scale length of a guitar is the distance from the nut to the bridge.
The scale length of a Les Paul is 24.75 inches and a Stratocaster’s scale length is 25.5 inches. A shorter scale length makes the Les Paul easier to play than a Strat.
This doesn’t automatically make a Les Paul easier to play overall, but scale length is a plus for a Les Paul over a Strat.
The longer scale length on a Strat increases string tension. The shorter scale length on a Les Paul decreases string tension. String tension plays a big part in playability, so I’ll cover it next.
Scale length also changes the space between frets. A guitar with a longer scale length will have wider gaps between frets. If you have small hands, this is worth considering and will be covered later.
Scale length is an incredibly important topic to understand. Learn all about Scale Length in this guide.
Les Paul vs Strat String Tension
A big part of a guitar’s playability is due to string tension. The higher the string tension, the harder you need to work to press down and move the strings.
A Les Paul has lower string tension when compared to a Strat with the same gauge strings. This makes a Les Paul easier to play.
The good news is that there is a way to deal with the extra string tension in a Strat.
An easy way to deal with the longer scale length of a Strat is to use lighter gauge strings. Lighter gauge strings reduce string tension, which makes the Strat easier to play.
If you’re a beginner and feel pain in your fingers when trying to learn, this is worth remembering.
Strat vs Les Paul Neck
A guitar’s neck plays a massive role in playability as it’s what you will be wrapping your hand around.
There are a few different things to consider when comparing the neck of a Strat vs a Les Paul.
The neck width impacts how easily you can stretch your hand out over the fretboard.
The neck width at the nut of a typical Les Paul is 1.695 inches (43mm).
The neck width at the nut of a typical Strat is 1.650 inches (42mm).
As you can see, there is barely any difference in neck width at the nut when comparing a Les Paul and a Strat.
The neck profile plays a bigger role in playability because different profiles can feel completely different to play.
The neck profile is the shape of the neck behind the fretboard. The below diagram shows different neck profile shapes.
The Strat tends to use a ‘C’ profile, which is the far left example above.
The Les Paul tends to use a ‘U’ profile, which is the second example from the right.
The Les Paul neck is thicker when compared to a Strat. Some guitarists prefer the C shape of a Strat neck while other guitarists prefer the U shape of a Les Paul.
While there are guitarists who love the ‘U’ neck profile, it’s more common for a guitarist to feel thinner necks are more comfortable to play.
The ‘C’ shape of a Strat does make it easier to play compared to a Les Paul in the minds of a large number of guitarists.
It’s hard to say which neck profile will feel better to you as everybody has different preferences. The best way to find out is to pick up and directly compare both guitars.
The key point to remember is that the neck profile can completely change the playability of a guitar.
Strat vs Les Paul Weight
The weight of a guitar impacts how comfortable it is to play while standing up.
A typical Les Paul weighs between 9 – 12 lbs (4 – 5.5 kg).
A typical Strat weights between 7 – 8.5 lbs (3 – 3.8 kg).
A Les Paul is heavier than a Strat, sometimes by quite a big difference. This can make a Les Paul less comfortable to play while standing up.
While weight doesn’t directly impact how easy a guitar is to play, it is worth considering.
If you plan on performing live where you will be standing up while playing, make sure you get a guitar that will be comfortable to play.
If you feel the weight of your guitar makes it uncomfortable to play while standing up, try using a wide and padded guitar strap like this one.
A wide guitar strap will help evenly distribute the weight of your guitar across your shoulder. Buying a wide and padded strap can make a big difference in comfort while standing up.
Strat vs Les Paul Playability Summary
There are a few different factors to consider when comparing playability. Here is a summary of the differences in playability between a Les Paul and a Strat.
A Les Paul has a shorter scale length, which reduces string tension. Lower string tension makes a Les Paul easier to play. The shorter scale length also decreases the distance between frets, which can make it easier to play.
A Fender has a longer scale length, which increases string tension and the distance between frets. You can decrease string tension with lighter gauge strings, but you cannot decrease the distance between frets.
The Strat has a neck profile that tends to feel more comfortable to play compared to a Les Paul. Every guitarist is different, but more guitarists prefer a Strat neck profile over a Les Paul neck profile.
Finally, a Les Paul is heavier and bulkier, which makes it less comfortable to play compared to a Strat.
Let’s look closer at comfort to help clear up which guitar might be better for you.
Strat vs Les Paul Comfort
As mentioned above, the extra weight of a Les Paul makes it less comfortable to play than a Strat.
But there are other areas to consider when comparing the comfort of a Les Paul vs a Strat.
Les Paul vs Strat Upper Fret Access
If you play lead guitar, an important difference to compare is the access to the upper frets on a Les Paul vs a Strat.
In the above comparison, you can see that the Strat (on the left) has two cutaways, while the Les Paul only has a lower cutaway.
This difference in upper fret access becomes obvious when you try to play both guitars.
The upper fret access on a Strat is significantly easier compared to a Les Paul. The upper cutaway gives you room to slide your hand right in and rest your thumb anywhere you want.
While many great guitarists are able to play perfectly fine in the upper range on a Les Paul, it is easier on a Strat.
Les Paul vs Strat Body Shapes
The other area to consider when looking at comfort is the shape and size of the body and how it sits against your body.
A Strat is significantly more comfortable to play due to the thinner body and better body contours.
Modern Les Pauls are more comfortable to play than vintage Les Pauls, but they still feel like a large slab of wood against your body when compared to a Strat.
Take a look at the body contours of the below strat and imagine how those contours feel against your body.
The large contour at the back of the body (the left arrow) helps make it more comfortable while resting against your body while standing or sitting.
The contour on the face of the body (the right arrow) makes it more comfortable to rest your arm against as you reach for the strings.
Now compare that to the below Les Paul body and how it would rest against you:
The lack of contours and the hard edge all the way around the body makes this an unnatural shape to press against you.
Of course, countless guitarists are completely happy with how a Les Paul feels to play, but there’s no denying how the contours of a Strat are better suited to resting against your body.
How to Choose Between a Les Paul and a Strat
If it feels difficult to choose between a Les Paul and a Strat, you’re not alone. They’re two incredibly popular guitars for a wide range of reasons.
When trying to decide between the two guitars, the most important decision isn’t which one is easier to play.
There are guitarists who become great guitarists on Strats and there are guitarists who become great guitarists on Les Pauls. Even if one is easier to play than the other, it shouldn’t be the only thing to consider.
Here are some other things to consider:
Style of music: while both guitars are used in a wide range of styles, take a look at which type of guitar is more popular in the style of music you want to play. If you notice that one type of guitar is preferred over the other, that’s worth considering.
Pickup options: the type of pickups available in each type of guitar can be very different. A Les Paul will typically come with two humbuckers, while a Strat will typically have three single-coils.
There are a lot of different models with different pickup configurations for both types of guitars, so have a think about what types of pickups you want to use and which type of guitar will suit you best.
Style: there’s no denying that the style of guitar plays a big role in what guitars people buy. If you really like the style of one guitar, go for it. Just because somebody says that it’s harder to learn or less comfortable, that doesn’t mean you should turn your back on it.
Les Paul or Strat for Small Hands
If you have small hands, you might wonder whether you should get a Les Paul or a Strat.
Some guitarists with small hands prefer the shorter scale length of a Les Paul. The frets are closer together and the lower string tension makes a Les Paul more comfortable to play when you have small hands.
Other guitarists with small hands feel that the neck profile of a Strat makes up for the longer scale length.
The best way to find out which one is more comfortable for your hand size is to play both of them so you can do a direct comparison.
If you have small hands, I highly recommend reading my Guide to Guitar for Small Hands.
The guide includes my experience as a guitar teacher and helping a lot of children and adults with small hands.
Les Paul or Stratocaster for Beginners
If you’re thinking about learning guitar or you’re a beginner looking at buying one, you may wonder whether you should get a Strat or Les Paul.
Beginners can learn on either a Strat or a Les Paul without any issues. Both have their pros and cons when it comes to playability, but either guitar is a fantastic option for beginners.
Every guitar will feel difficult at first when you’re a beginner, but with the right practice approach, your guitar will gradually feel easier to play.
Check out this guide to 8 Steps to Learning Guitar for a good starting point for beginners.
While Les Pauls and Strats are two incredibly popular types of electric guitars, they aren’t the only options worth considering.
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