Les Paul vs Telecaster: Historical Comparison

Source of pictures: musiquiatra.com and instagram.com/gourasmusic

The Fender Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul are two of the first solid-body electric guitars to appear on the market. Created in the early 1950s, they kept much of their exterior and interior design and became two of the best-selling models used by guitarists throughout history.

Gibson Les Paul Vs Stratocaster: Historical Comparison

History of Gibson Les Paul

Initially conceived by Ted McCarty and the guitarist Les Paul as a high-performance guitar, The Gibson Les Paul was produced throughout the 1950s with progressive variations until it was discontinued in 1960, to be manufactured again from 1968 to the present.

Les Paul, a pioneering musician in experimental recording techniques, had already built in 1941 a strange prototype of a solid-body electric guitar known as “The Log”. He intended to solve the problems of coupling and duration of the notes, common in the hollow body guitars and caused by its soundboard.


“The log” would be used by Les Paul both in his live performances and for his recordings. In 1946, Les Paul contacted the Gibson firm and presented his instrument with the proposal to make a solid-body guitar, an idea which was rejected by the then president of the company.

In 1950, the launch of the Telecaster, the first solid-body electric guitar, with enormous success, made the people in charge of Gibson change their minds and consider responding to competition from Fender with a high-end model in the tradition of the firm, for which they contacted Les Paul again in 1951. The result was the appearance of the Les Paul Standard Goldtop in the spring of 1952.

The body of the guitar was made of mahogany and topped with a convex, solid maple top, giving it a violin-like appearance. The glued-in neck included an adjustable truss rod and inlaid fret markers on the fingerboard. The two pickups were the usual single-coil “P-90” made by Gibson since 1946.

The Les Paul Custom appeared in early 1954. The angle of the neck was changed and the frets were lowered; the tailpiece was replaced by a cylindrical one; and an “Alnico” pickup was installed next to the neck, instead of one of the “P-90”

In 1958 the Les Paul Standard appeared. With it, a fundamental modification was introduced in the model, by incorporating the first double coil pickups or «humbuckers», which reduce the interference and noise common in «single coil» pickups. In addition, the thickness of the neck was lowered, and the color “Cherry Sunburst” was adopted for the finish of the body; hence the name Les Paul Standard Cherry or Les Paul Standard Cherry Sunburst was often used to designate this guitar, considered to be one of the most perfect solid body electric guitars ever made.

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From 1958, all these models would undergo a notable change in their appearance, such as the addition of a second cutaway, above the neck, to facilitate access to the higher frets.

Sales of the Les Paul began to decline in 1960 due to competition from brands like Fender, especially with its Stratocaster model, which was, among other things, much lighter and much cheaper. In response, in 1961 Gibson modified the Les Paul model by reducing the thickness of the body and adding the upper cutaway, above the neck. It also incorporated a Vibrola tremolo lever on the Tune-O-Matic bridge. This would be the new standard for Gibson electric guitars, which was renamed SG, and led to the Les Paul being discontinued, until 1968, the year from which it was again manufactured uninterruptedly to the present day.

Since then, not many changes have been introduced at the design or circuit level, although some improvements have been made to the touch and to the components to reduce the weight of the instrument.

History Of Fender Telecaster 

The Fender Telecaster was created by Leo Fender, as a successor to the Fender Esquire, the first solid-body guitar to hit the market in 1951. The Fender Esquire already had the same design as the Telecaster, but it had only one pickup on the bridge. With the initial intention of creating a relatively cheap production guitar, easy to assemble, and simple when making improvements or repairs, the neck pickup was added, and a new model was born, the Broadcaster, in homage to radio stations, the main means of musical dissemination at the time.

However, Fender was forced to change the name when they encountered legal problems with the word “Broadkaster”, patented by Gretsch, who marketed a drum model under this name.


It wasn’t until 1952 that it was renamed the Telecaster, which owes its name to the growing popularity of television at the time, was created in 1952.

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Since its inception, the materials for the construction of this guitar used to be ash wood for the body, and maple or rosewood for the neck. The neck, unlike other guitars, was screwed to the body instead of being glued. As there was no fingerboard as a separate piece from the neck, it could not have a steel core inserted to stabilize it; instead, a strip of wood was embedded in the underside of the mast simply because it was easier to make any improvements or repairs.

Throughout its evolution, the Telecaster has only seen minor design changes. During the 1950s, it mainly affected the finishing stains and the replacement of the original black bakelite pickguard with a white plastic one in 1954. A new Custom model, in 1958, also incorporated a rosewood fingerboard and increased from five to eight the number of screws holding the pickguard.

The pickups were also slightly modified from 1954, introducing variable-level pickups with a sharper sound.

In the late 1960s, two Thinline or semi-solid body models were introduced. In 1972 Deluxe models were introduced with humbuckers or humbucking pickups, and controls similar to a Gibson Les Paul. Clarence White, guitarist of The Byrds, and Gene Parsons inspired the design of a mechanism, the B-bender, which allowed the tuning of the second string to be raised, bringing the tone of the guitar closer to lap steel, very appropriate for country music.

However, the element that has undergone the most changes throughout the existence of the Telecaster has been the headstock, protected by an exclusive Fender patent, and whose particular design serves in fact, together with the style and typography of the logo that it appears in it, to “date” the instrument.

In 1965, Leo Fender was diagnosed with a serious illness and wrongly given a short life span. Leo then decided to sell his company to the Columbia Broadcasting System or CBS. From there the instruments began to lower their manufacturing quality a bit.

Fender makes its highest-quality models in the United States, Mexico, and Japan, but has also extensive manufacturing facilities in China and Indonesia for lower-quality models, so you can buy a Fender Telecaster for the same price today as in 1952. Older models and those built in the United States are the most sought-after, but the Japanese are also highly prized. In any case, its production was never interrupted, and the Telecaster gained ground within the various musical genres until it became one of the most used guitars in history.

Can a Tele sound like a Les Paul?

Let’s see: from a technical point of view, and taking into account its components, design, and manufacture, a Telecaster can´t sound the same as a Les Paul or vice versa. Now, taking into account the various models, and the improvements or changes that were introduced, many times precisely to get closer to the sound of the competition, in addition to the effects, pedals, the possibility of customizing, the different speakers and amplifiers, in addition to digital tools that we can find today, it can become very difficult to recognize the sound of one guitar or another, however classic it may be. Precisely, the most classic sounds and designs are generally the most imitated.

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Beyond all this, there is, without a doubt, the taste, comfort, and feeling that is felt when playing the guitar.

Being essentially different in design, each guitar has its pros and cons, depending on what you are looking for. Telecasters tend to be a bit longer in the neck, but they also tend to have fewer frets than Les Pauls, which are a bit shorter. Despite being shorter, it is more difficult to reach the last frets on the Les Paul, due to the design of its body. Both guitars, in turn, have considerable weight, compared to other classic guitar models, such as the Stratocaster.

These design details make its sound also vary: the Les Paul is a guitar perhaps a little lower in tone, while due to its pickups, the Telecaster tends to be higher in pitch. Many times, the use of these instruments by great guitarists is what leads them to become standards of certain genres.

Famous Les Paul  Players 

So it was that Les Paul became a flagship in the hands of Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Bob Marley, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield of Metallica, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, George Harrison, Carlos Santana, Gustavo Cerati, among many others.

Famous Telecaster Players

The Telecaster, meanwhile, was and is used by countless guitarists including Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page, George Harrison, Prince, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Andy Summers of The Police, and more.

Final Thoughts

We can see that both the Les Paul and the Telecaster guitars are used in various genres, and even many guitarists use or used both, depending on the moment of their career, the sound they wanted to achieve, or the influence they received from other guitarists. And that is what makes an instrument classic and historic like these two guitars.



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