Contrasting Two Archetypes

The two archetypes of the guitar universe are unquestionably the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.  Being a regular player of both instruments, I never really thought much about the differences in design other than in terms of tone.  After all, both are guitars, but they differ in almost every way.  Here's a list of contrasting traits I came up with in comparing the design and build of a typical model of either of these guitars.  In many cases, the two are diametrically opposed to one another.

Les Paul Strat

Tuners 3x3 6 in-line
Logo Vertical Horizontal
Headstock Angled Straight
String tees No Yes
Truss rod cover Yes No


Fret markers Inlay Dots
Frets 22 21
Fretboard Rosewood Maple (usually)
Neck Painted Bare
Joint Set-neck Bolt-on


Pickups Humbuckers Single coils
Number of pickups 2 3
Poles Adjustable Fixed
Pole spacing Gibson F-spaced
Connections Series Parallel
Attachment Mounting rings Pickguard
Impedance per coil ~8k ~4k


Pickup selector Upper bout Lower rear
Pots 4 3
Impedance 500k 250k
Tone caps .047uF .022uF
Tone control on bridge pickup Yes No
Volume Per pickup Master
Knobs Bell, Speed Strat
Jack Side Face
Labels Switch Knobs


Cutaway Single Double
Top Carved Ergonomically contoured
Binding Yes No
Finish Translucent Solid
Wood Mahogany Alder/Ash
Routing Rear Top
Trem No Yes

Note that all of the above are generalizations.  Yes, there are humbuckers with a lower impedance than 16k and single coils with, say, 10k, but these are typical values.

Let's look at three case studies of guitars that have evolved from these two archetypes.  As one would expect, these have borrowed from both lineages and then added their own innovations and stylistic touches.

This heading encompasses a number of models across multiple brands.  Here I'm thinking of various Jackson and Ibanez guitars such as the latter's RG series or Steve Vai's signature models.  For the sake of simplicity, you can just include any typical HSH guitar in this lot and it will likely fit these generalizations.

What's Strat-like?
As the name implies, these instruments are essentially Strats on steroids.  They have almost universally present the characteristic 6-inline tuner headstock and a double cutaway body with a bolt-on neck.  The most important step in "supping" them up was the transformation of what is basically a SSS guitar into a guitar with two humbuckers, albeit with a single coil between them.  As a three-pickup guitar though, they still have the standard 5-way blade-type switch.  The other enhancement is the shift from the standard Strat tremolo to the Floyd Rose with its enhanced capabilities.

What's LP-like?
For the most part these guitars tend to have an angled headstock which means string tees are unnecessary even though they have inline tuners.  They have a truss rod cover and, though there are some exceptions, overwhelmingly have a rosewood fretboard to show off their inlay.  But even though the body is generally Strat-like, the edges are sharp like those of a Les Paul.  Some even have binding, although that's the exception.  Also, the jack plate has been moved to the side of the guitar rather than its face, as with a LP.

What's new to this model?
The precise species of inlay varies from one model to the next, and that's part of the fun here.  Everything from standard Strat dots to vine inlay and even variants of the shark-fin inlay that is a descendant of the LP Standard's modified block inlay.  Similarly, fret number is not necessarily fixed at 22.  A fair number of models have an extended fingerboard reaching up to 24 frets.  Finally, hot-rodding often translates as being stripped-down for speed, and the majority of these models have reduced the control pots to just a master volume and master tone, although their knobs are usually something born of neither Strats or LPs.

Though there are variations (24 vs. 22 frets, trem vs. tailpiece/bridge) and new models (the McCarty, the single-cut, etc.), I'm focusing here on the typical double-cut and heavily inlayed guitar most people picture when you talk about a PRS.

What's Strat-like?
Although this is a two-humbucker guitar, the overall double-cutaway body is an homage to the Stratocaster.  Most PRS models have a tremolo as well to correct for that oversight on the LP.  The fact that it has three control knobs is vaguely Strat-like, but that's where the similarity ends.

What's LP-like?
Although it's a double cutaway, the guitar sports a carved top and two humbuckers like very nearly every Les Paul.  There's also the pseudo-binding.  And then the speed knobs are a finishing touch.

What's new to this model?
Although some models sport dots, the famous bird inlay is a signature feature of PRS guitars, something that's a leap forward from anything else.  Then there are the new and very bold finishes that you don't see on the majority of guitars by Fender and Gibson.  Again, stretching out to 24 frets is somewhat unexpected, especially since this guitar doesn't push any extremes in other ways.  Most importantly, the guitar is capable of sounds characteristic of Les Pauls and Strats since its pickup selector allows the coils to be combined in unique series and parallel configurations.  It's this trait that, more than anything, makes this guitar not just a combination of the Strat and LP on levels of hardware and aesthetics, but also in terms of tone.

Formerly known as the Eddie Van Halen signature model by Ernie Ball/Music Man, this is kind of a fringe model.  It's never really caught on, but it's one of my favorites regardless.

What's Strat-like?
Quite a bit for a two-humbucker guitar.  It doesn't pretend to be a super-Strat at all, just a parallel branch of the evolutionary tree.  After all, there's the maple neck with dot inlay (even if they're shrunken to the size of side dots) that runs all the way up to Ernie Ball/Music Man's trademark take on the Strat headstock.  They even split the difference between the 3x3 tuners and 6-inline.  The flat top eschews the curvy design of the LP, but the body shape seems caught between a single and a double cutaway.  Still, the knob is from a standard Strat.

What's LP-like?
It's a two-humbucker guitar with a flashy flamed (or quilted) top and binding around the edges.  Basically that's a Les Paul.

What's new to this model?
It's a very no-nonsense guitar, so it's more about what's been removed than what's added.  For example, even more stripped-down than the super-Strats, here we don't have a tone knob at all.  There's also the absence of pickup mounting rings (which actually helps in showing off the top a little better).

Copyright Alexplorer.