Saturday, April 25, 2015

Which is the Best Blues Guitar: Fender Stratocaster or the Gibson Les Paul

Looks like a Strat to me
I have never been a regular guitar play (I did enjoy playing riffs on a bass, but never learned chords on anything but a piano) so I don't really understand why various famous players choose the weapons they employ. I know that the Fender Stratocaster is one of the more popular used by many rock stars, but that others made other choices. For this reason I decided, out of curiosity, to ask Google why Stratocasters were so popular. One response was a link to this really interesting Eric Clapton Speaks: Best Blues Guitar, Gibson or Stratocaster. The article itself was insightful, but the 66 comments were especially illuminating. Here are a few of these.

1. The reason Clapton suddenly went to the Fender Stratocaster in one word Hendrix, because until Hendrix died of a drug overdose Clapton could not be seen with a Strat for to do so would be to be compared, Eric Clapton has freely admitted Jimi Hendrix was the best player of the era. They are a great guitar the Strat the low deck is very comfortable, pickups so versatile, it is just that every man and his dog plays one or a copy of one, how do you stand out if you have only average talent?

2. Absolutely. Strats are very thin sounding guitar. If you are into great tone you would never look at a strat. Personally I believe Hendrix played a strat to look like a freak. Taking a guitar that was developed in conjunction with the surf music of the time, and then not using a left handed model. That’s shear stupidity in it’s own right because you can’t reach the upper frets. His best blues tone was always on the Flying V, again another freak guitar. I played a strat for a time because when I was born meant that I grew up in the 80s and everyone had a strat pretty much. I thought Gibsons were old hat. Then I bought a Gibson Les Paul. That led to me owning about 50 Gibsons. I switched to Hamer, Musicman, Patrick Eggle, PRS and others. I just bought a Carvin SH445. It has an alder body with a maple neck and top with an ebony fretboard and proper upper fret access. It makes anything from Gibson or Fender pale by comparison. It’s the best guitar I’ve played and/or owned. A LOT of the reason for the Strat’s popularity is because they’re a relatively cheap guitar, even as a copy they’re cheaper than a Gibson copy. AND because Hendrix played one. His influence was massive. Fender realised this when they paid Eric Crapton (sic) $100k to exclusively play Fenders. I believe his decision to go that way was as a direct result of Jimi Hendrix. He will never admit it but to me it’s obvious.

3. Gibsons stay in tune better and they have great necks/action. The quality of tone of them compared to a Strat is subjective and not worth debating. I think the true advantage of the Strat is its versatility. A good player can get almost any tone from a Strat. And he can play it all night long because it doesn’t weigh 10 lbs.. Plus, aesthetically, the Strat’s curves are reminiscent of a playboy centerfold. The lines of an LP look like a soccer mom with cankles.

I own and love both guitars, but 90% of the time when my hand reaches for one of them it’s the Strat. That guitar just allows more of my individuality and articulation to come through than does a Gibson. This is perhaps why more of rock’s greatest legends play Strats.

4.  I’ve owned everything under the sun. LPs, strats, PRS, Yamaha, Epi, Ibanez Jem, etc. After all these years and having the experience of owning many guitars, I have had the opportunity to understand what I want in a guitar, by being able to pick out my favourite aspects of each one. Here’s what I learned.

Reading all this made me curious about some other guitar players of the era. What did Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead play, for example. Here's a site that cites his choices over the years. If you're curious about the guitars the Beatles selected, Wikipedia spells it out here.

Personally I really loved the sound of the guitars on Blue Cheer's Vincibus Eruptum and the Doors' "When the Music's Over". Based on this website, Robby Krieger of The Doors favored the Gibson models.

Dylan's guitar selections over the years are documented at
It's not surprising that when he went electric he chose a Stratocaster, the guitar of choice by Buddy Holly, who he saw and heard at the Duluth Armory a few days before "the day the music died."

For a page of Stratocaster images, click here.

What a difference a decision can make. Do you have a favorite guitar?

Photo credit: Bill Pagel, San Francisco November 8, 1979


Stephen said...

Which guitar a blues or any guitarist plays is irrelevant. The sound, groove and music is in the hands of the guitar player. It's fun to own the same guitar as our heroes but it won't get us closer to expressung ourselves musically. Practice practice practice. Any guitar sounds fantastic in the hands. PS you left out the Telecaster which makes a fantastic blues guitar with its elemental sound.

ENNYMAN said...

Yes, each has its own vibe, as does the whole network of amps and speakers you run it through. Hendrix was always experimenting on that facet of things... "What would happen if...?"
Good comments and thanks for chiming in about the Telecaster. One of Dylan's first electric guitars was a Telecaster. Other players included Jeff Beck, Waylon Jennings, George Harrison (on Let It Be), Jeff Buckley Muddy Waters and many more.