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Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster Vs. Gibson Les Paul

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Welcome back. So today I wanted to describe the differences between three main guitars; the Fender Telecaster, the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul. And so this is designed not for the experienced season player but more for the inexperienced new guitarist that hasn't purchased a guitar yet, doesn't really know what the differences are between these main guitars and is looking to possibly buy something in the near future.

So when I younger and I walked into a music store, I was faced with a wall full of guitars and there were all different makes, styles, configurations and I didn't really know what I needed, what sound I was after, what tone I really liked and the differences between them and there was no body out there really to help me out. So I had to go and buy guitars over the years, learn what the differences are between them and learn what works for me as a guitarist and the tone that I’m after. So I wanted to help everybody who is new to playing guitars by creating this video, so if you are an experienced player you might not want to watch this but if you are new and you are looking at starting to play guitar and you want to possibly purchase your first electric guitar, this run down will help you, I think.

So let's start off. I'm going to try and make this short. I think there's going to be a lot of stuff to cover but I’m going to try and do it as quickly as I can, and this is an overview, keep in mind that we are not going to go over every single detail because that would just take to long. I’m going to give you an overview, a general overview, of the different tones and style and features that you are looking at with these guitars. So over the year’s Fender has come up with a lot of different types of guitars, most notably the Fender Stratocaster and the Telecaster. So the Telecaster was one of the first guitars or type of guitars that Fender released. The Telecaster was released in about the nineteen fifty’s and the guitar was actually built by Leo Fender and was designed mainly at the time to accommodate the styles that were popular such as county, rhythm and blues and jazz. So the guitar wasn't designed for heavy rock and that kind of thing yet because it wasn't as popular, didn't actually start becoming popular until later on. So the guitar was very simplistic and if we look at the features of the Telecaster we can see that the design is quite simple, there's only two pickups in this guitar, the construction of the guitar is made in such a way as to be modular. So everything on this guitar can be removed quite easily including the neck, the bridge, the pickups. The strings go through the body and that's one of the things that is very different about this particular design is I think it was one of the first designs to actually use the string through body feature, which if you ask many guitarists they tend to think that’s also what adds to the tone of the guitar and the sustain of the guitar.

So being modular like this, this type of guitar is very easy to repair and maintain. If something should go wrong it's very easy to swap out the neck of the guitar or the hardware, the pickups and what not. Some other guitars, and we'll get to those later, are not as easy to do that so you have to keep that in mind. The body itself is a relatively thick slab of wood and the thing about this particular guitar is there is no real body contours cut into it and that kind of came a little bit later, so some people don't like the square aspect of this guitar and you might need to get used to that aspect because a lot of the guitars that are out there today have taken that into consideration, but keep in mind this was developed very early on and is very basic in terms of design.

The guitar itself, a guitar like this, made in the USA version is going to cost you about fifteen hundred bucks or so, so you have to be prepared to understand where this guitar lies in the spectrum of cost. So about fifteen hundred bucks, obviously you can get cheaper versions that are now made in Korea and China and what not but for the same if this video we’re going to stick to the US made discussions, so for US guitars about a thousand five hundred bucks, okay? This guitar, this style guitar was most notably played by such players as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Alvin Collins, George Harrison, so if you listen to a lot of their music you’ll get an understanding as to what that sound is. For example, Jimmy Page used a Telecaster on ‘stairway to heaven’ so it's probably one of the most popular songs out there and everybody knows the song in the solo. So if you listen to that you'll understand the flexibility tonally that you can get with a Telecaster.

The thing about the Telecaster is it does have quite a broad dynamic range. You can get sounds that are twangy and bright, too, sounds that are base heavy and warm or more piano like as well, so it's quite surprising considering it only has two pickups. The scale length of the guitar is actually longer than say a Gibson Les Paul, so the actual length of the neck is longer and some people like the longer scale length or just find it easier to play compared to some of the other shorter scale length guitar out there. Since the pickups are further apart it does give you a wider range when switching from the treble or bridge pickup to the neck pickup and this guitar has only a three-way switch. So you basically have three positions; you have the neck position, you have both of them and then you have the bridge position. So they didn’t introduce anything else that was a little more fancy or complicated in the early days with this particular guitar and also to note the neck pickup is encased in a metal casing and the bridge pickup, the actual bridge sort of contains the pickup so it actually adds to the boosting of the higher frequencies and I think a lot of people think that’s what actually gives the Telecaster more of that twangy treble boost.

The guitar, although it’s heavy, I'll say it's less heavier than a Gibson Les Paul and it cuts very well through the mix. So if when you are playing with a lot of other guitarists and there are a lot of things going on musically, a lot of times if you're not in the right frequency spectrum you tend to get buried in the rest of the sound. The Telecaster is a lot easier to cut through that mix and be heard so a lot of people do like that and prefer to be in that tonal spectrum. The other thing in terms of flexibility and adjustments as I mentioned earlier on, although the guitar is modular the actual saddles that are being used in this guitar, the early versions of the saddles were not adjustable independently, and what I mean by that is you're not able to adjust the height of each string independently. They're actually in groups of two so what ends up happening is that if you adjust the height of one let's say your high “e” string, the first two string for example need to be adjusted together. So you're able to trick it by sort of giving it a slight angle but typically it’s not as flexible as some of the later designs that Fender came out with, which you were basically allowed to adjust the height of each string independently, so that's something you would want to keep in mind.

So all in all the Telecaster is a very nice guitar and honestly, it took me along time to appreciate the Telecaster. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't like the look of the Telecaster because they associate it with country music and today it's not necessarily cool to be playing county music, although people like Brad Paisley and all these great country artistes today are extremely popular, a lot of the kids today want to play metal, they want to play death metal or more darker aggressive type music and they don't necessarily associate the Telecaster to that. So it's kind of been over looked and a lot of the older players tend to appreciate the Telecaster after trying different guitars and stumbling on this. It took me along time to appreciate the Telecaster and now it’s one of my favorite type of guitars, it’s really a work horse and your can do a lot with it. Flexibility wise, I would say that it's really between a Strat and a Gibson Les Paul, it kind of fits in between, you do have the punch and tonality that you need, you also have the flexibility that you need so that you really fit in between and it's a good compromise if you really want to have the best of both worlds, so you might want to consider this guitar if that's what you're after in terms of tonal ranges.

So now I'm going to quickly go and talk about the Gibson Les Paul and move on so that the video doesn't become extremely long. So hang on there I’m going to just pull up my Gibson Les Paul and continue from there. Okay, so let’s look at Gibson Les Paul. The Gibson Les Paul was developed in 1952 by Les Paul, who was named after him obviously, and so this guitar typically retails for about three thousand dollars today, and so that's where you need to aim in terms of cost. The guitar is typically played by very popular players that you'll know such as Jimmie Page, Slash, Billy Gibbons, Dwayne Almonds, etc. There are a lot players that use this type of guitar. The guitar uses a shorter scale length as compared to a Stratocaster and the most notable difference with this guitar is the woods that are used, being mahogany and the fact that it uses humbucker pickups and a different type of bridge.

So this first was developed very early on and again was geared towards country players, jazz players, rhythm and blues players but it has been adopted as the main rock type guitar and people looking to get more heavier tones tend to lean towards the Les Paul. The humbucker pickups produce a warmer sound, a punchier sound and the reason why they’re called humbuckers is because there are actually two pickups that are wound together and cause noise canceling. So typically when you are dealing with a single coil pickup they tend to be more prone to 60 cycle hum, which it's the hum that it generated when you're plugging into an outlet with dirty power and you'll hear the buzzing sound people don't like. Humbuckers tend to cancel that so a lot of people who want sort of that cleaner sound in terms of noise tend to lean towards humbuckers.

The guitar also has typically a little bit of a wider, flatter radius to the neck and so some people tend to find that easier to play. The body though, considering it’s made of mahogany in the back and typically a top that is made with maple, tends to be heavy and over the years, especially the original Gibson Les Paul’s, they were not chambered at the time and so they tend to be very, very heavy and people that will have bad back and issues when you’re standing up carrying that weight over time could be quite stressful on the back and you want to maybe consider that if you already have issues and go with a lighter guitar. And so that's why you look at Jimmy Page in those early shots of Led Zeppelin and also an awful exaggerated slouch but it also made him look really cool, so there’s that right?

The guitar typically has a three-way switch and so you have the ability to switch between the neck pickup and the bridge pickup and also between the two. Today they’ve done a whole bunch of fancy additions to the line and now they have split coils, out of phase, push/pull pots and what not but for the simplicity of this video let’s keep it simple. So typically you have the ability to go between neck, bridge and the two pickups together and you have two volume tones and two treble controls so you’re able to control each pickup independently and blend between the two, which gives you quite a bit of flexibility tonally. The adjustment for the saddle here is a little bit different than you will normally see on say a Stratocaster; it’s got a tail piece and the actual bridge. The difference here is that the height of the strings cannot be adjusted independently; you're basically moving the entire bridge up and down so that you're compensating basically the all six strings at the same time, which doesn't give you as much flexibility as a Stratocaster. Also, you don't have any ability to put on a tremolo bar here, you could put something like a bigsby, which is sort of an older version of the tremolo system but typically the Les Paul didn't come with a tremolo system installed.

In terms of functionally we’ve covered the basics, in terms of repairs and flexibility the difference between a Gibson Les Paul and say a Telecaster or a Stratocaster for that matter is that certain things cannot be adjusted easily. So the neck for example, is glued in place, it’s not bolted in place, so if there’s any reason to have to do any work on the neck you’ll have to really unglue it and it’s a major, major job at that point. Also, certain things such as the binding along the neck go over the frets so if you have to replace one fret for example, often times you have to be careful because the binding will be affected by that repair and so it's not as easy to repair in a certain sense, not for everything but for certain things it’s a little bit more difficult.

The mahogany being used as the principle wood in the back of the body and the back of the neck gives it a warmer sound and people tend to associate Gibson Les Paul’s to a warmer, punchier sound and they also distorts very nicely, that's why over the years it’s become sort of known for rock, it gives you a really nice heavy sound, which people do like a lot. So those are the major selling points and points to look out for when considering a Gibson Les Paul, so let's move on to the Stratocaster and go over that.

So next we are going to look at the Stratocaster by Fender. This guitar was developed by Leo Fender in 1954 and as you can see the guitar is probably one of the most recognizable electric guitars that most of the guitar heroes at one point or another played. So people like David Gilmore, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Hendricks, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, the list goes on and on. So the interesting thing about this guitar is it was only developed a couple years after the Telecaster and already you can see that Fender had gotten other ideas as to how to make the guitar more flexible; they introduced three pickups instead of two, at the time they were still using a three-way switch but later developed a five-way switch, they improved the contour of the body to be able to get access to the higher registry, they introduced the body curves and the tummy tuck here on that side to make it more comfortable, various things that made it more interesting. The bridge on the Stratocaster has independently adjusted north saddles, again, it's very modular just like the Telecaster so if you have to do repairs that's very simple to do, they kept the initial string through body design but they changed it a little bit because now they introduced a tremolo so that you're able to actually use the whammy bar on this, which you weren't able to do on the Telecaster. So there are quite a few improvements and over the years the Stratocaster has stood the test of time. People have been trying to improve this guitar with various features such as different options in terms of pickups and different types of bridges and different options in terms of tone knobs and what not, locking tuners, the whole nine yards but you know generally I can say that this is one of the better built guitars out there in terms of flexibility and tonal variety.

So let's s go over some of the selling points

A Stratocaster today will cost you about between twelve hundred to fifteen hundred bucks depends on what you're looking for, again US made. The guitar is made of various tone woods, a lot of times alder, you can find different types but generally alder is quite popular. The weight of the body is not that heavy compared to a Gibson Les Paul, it's a lot lighter, the pickups that are used, since you’re using single coil pickups, again you do often have some issues with hum and they've introduced different types of pickups over the years, which are hum canceling, noise reduction types pickups; noiseless is what they call them. Some people like them some people don't, personally I prefer to go the classic route, I don't mind the hum and I'll rather have a little bit of hum than to lose some of the tone that's associated with these noiseless pickups.

So if you're looking at this type of a guitar you can expect to have tonal range, which will get you anywhere between Jazz, Funk, R&B, some Rock obviously, will it do metal? It can, it’s not known for metal but there are some people over the years that have been using Stratocaster namely Yngwie Malmsteen. He's in the realm of the metal so it’s not necessarily a heavy metal guitar but it can get you there with the right pedals and equipment if that’s what you’re after. In terms of durability, obviously the guitar stood the test of time; again everything in this guitar can be modified, removed and replaced very easily. The guitar was initially designed to do that.

Where does it fit between the Telecaster and the Les Paul? I’d say somewhere in the middle. There are a lot of people who have more than one guitar and ultimately they end up getting both. Personally, I think if you can afford it, get all of them because they all definitely do different things but for standard rock, especially if your going to do things that need a little more higher end twang like funk for example, I think this guitar is more capable of doing that and getting you there as opposed to maybe a darker sounding Les Paul would be able to do. So definitely the Stratocaster is sort of a very flexible guitar, you are able to do a lot with this guitar and you are able to have a lot of different options. Nowadays they’ve put on humbuckers where you have a combination of one humbucker and two single coils or two humbuckers and a single coil in the middle. People have been modifying these types of guitars for many, many years all the way back to Eddie Van Halen where he kind of put in a Gibson Humbucker along with the Fender single coils and I think maybe he’s the person who actually started that trend away back when.

So you can do a lot with a Fender Stratocaster. I think that either way you’re not going to be disappointed, it’s just a question of finding your own tone and getting what you need out of the guitar to basically encourage you to play and get you in that zone where you’re not really thinking about the instrument but thinking more about the music that you're going to be creating and so if you're playing certain styles definitely try all the guitars before you decide. Also, keep in mind that all of the guitars are different, so even though you’re trying Stratocasters, you know you can try five different Fender Stratocasters, same brand, same model and they are all going to sound a little bit different. So just because you find you try one and it doesn’t necessarily do it for you doesn’t you should give up. Try a few of them and you will be surprised of how different they actually are between one and the other and you’ll have to actually search to be able to find the right one.

So don't give up and keep in mind that there’s a lot of guitars out there today and there’s a lot of choice, so really try to think about what you want to get out of your guitar and don’t be afraid to experiment and try different sounds, try different amplifiers with your guitars, guitar the combination of amplifier, pedal and guitar and you can spend so much time getting the right match. One pedal for example, might work really great with one type of guitar, one type of pickup and not so much so with another type. Same thing with amplifiers, there are certain guitars that just seem to be made for certain amplifiers and work so well with them and other don't, so you might find that you have found the guitar that you, love you bring it home, you plug it into your amplifier and it doesn’t do it for you. It could be the actual combination of what you’re using and how you are using it so don’t give up the search for the right tone; the right guitar takes many, many years. I’ve been searching for a long time, I’m finally getting closer to what I want and the search is not over, it always continues. So enjoy your search for the perfect instruments. I hope this video helps you a little bit and gave you a better understanding of what the differences are with the different guitars and if you haven’t already subscribed to my videos please do. We appreciate your comments and if there is anything that you would like to know don’t be afraid to ask. We're always reading our comments and we try to answer them whenever we can. 

Contact MusicNow guitar specialist today about Fender Telecasters, Stratocasters and Gibson Les Paul's.


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