Are Stratocasters Hard To Play?

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Written By Sarah Barlow

Chief Music Officer

The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most iconic electric guitars that ever existed because of its rich sounds, premium feel, numerous features, and reputable brand. Due to these factors, questions regarding its playability arise. Many beginners and amateurs are confused if Stratocasters are easy to play and maneuver. 

In this article, I am going to discuss whether it is easy to play a Stratocaster and compare its ease of playability to its long-time competitor, the Gibson Les Paul.

Factors That Determine Whether An Electric Guitar Is Easy To Play

Scale Length

Scale Length refers to the distance between the nut and the bridge. Less string tension, which is crucial in determining a guitar’s playability, is reflected by a lower scale length. 

The scale length has a direct impact on the gap between frets. A longer scale length produces a bigger gap, whilst a shorter scale length results in a smaller gap. A Stratocaster has a scale length of 25.5 inches, or 647.7 mm.  This is longer compared to its main competitor, the Gibson Les Paul, which measures 24.75 inches or 628.65 mm. The Gibson Les Paul has a minor advantage over the Stratocaster in this category.

It is crucial to keep in mind that this does not automatically mean that it is simpler to use. Instead, much still relies on the guitarist’s preferences and hand size.

String Tension

Another factor that affects a guitar’s playability is the string tension; the higher the tension, the more effort is required to push the strings up and down.

In relation to this, regardless of the same string thickness and diameter used, the Gibson Les Paul has less tensioned strings than Fender Stratocasters.

However, compared to the Gibson Les Paul, Stratocasters are simpler to play due to a technique used to lower the string tension. Since the Stratocaster has a longer scale length, you can use lighter gauge strings to reduce the string tension and make the instrument easier to play. 

For beginners, incorporating this method into your Stratocaster might be a smart idea to reduce pain when playing.

Neck

Since your hands will be placed on the neck when playing, the neck of a guitar has a significant impact on how playable it is. 

There are a few differences between the two electric guitars that you might consider. For instance, a Les Paul’s neck width at the nut is 1.694 inches, or 43 millimeters, whereas a Stratocaster’s is 1.650 inches or 42 millimeters. Visibly, the distinction between the two guitars is negligible and may be disregarded. 

However, the neck profile, which is the shape of the neck behind the fretboard, has a significant impact on a guitar’s playability and feel. The neck profile of a Stratocaster is C-shaped, while that of a Les Paul is U-shaped.

The neck profile of the Stratocaster is slimmer than that of the Les Paul, which is another difference between the two. Despite this, it can be challenging to identify which neck profile makes a guitar simpler to play, especially since everyone has a distinct sense of what feels comfortable to them personally. 

It has been proven that a guitar’s neck profile has a significant impact on its playability, making it essential to examine each one before deciding which is best for you.

Weight 

The weight of a guitar is another factor that influences its playability, particularly when standing. A Les Paul weighs 9 to 12 pounds, which is 4 to 4.5 kg, in comparison to the typical Stratocaster’s weight of 7 to 8.5 lbs or 3 to 3.8 kg. 

Given the apparent weight differences between the two electric guitars, a Stratocaster will undoubtedly be more comfortable to play when standing. 

Weight is an important consideration, particularly if you’re looking for a guitar to utilize for live performances where you’ll be playing most of the time while standing up. 

Even while a few pounds or kilograms of weight difference may not seem significant during brief testing, it is crucial to understand that this difference will undoubtedly be immensely felt during extended playing sessions, thus it is preferable to select a lightweight guitar.

Higher Fret Access

The guitar’s body shape must be taken into consideration when discussing access to higher frets. The Gibson Les Paul has a single-cutaway body, whereas the Fender Stratocaster has a double-cutaway body. 

In comparison to its competitors, the Fender Stratocaster’s body shape makes it easier to reach higher frets. Guitars with double cutaways give players enough room for their hands and thumb to rest.

Body Shapes

The shape and size of your guitar also impact the comfort you experience in playing them and how they rest on your body. With this regard, the Fender Stratocaster’s slimmer body and finer contours make them easier and more comfortable to play with. Although the Gibson Les Paul feels comfortable playing, it is still inferior to the Stratocaster. 

Fender Stratocasters feature a big contour on their back making them more comfortable since they rest on your body better either in a sitting or standing position. Moreover, a contour on its body’s face makes Stratocasters rest on your arm better during play. 

On the other hand, the Gibson Les Paul features limited contours and hard edges making them feel unnaturally pressing on your body during play. Although a few guitarists still find the Les Paul comfortable to play, there is no denying that the Stratocaster contours make them more comfortable to use.

Key Takeaway

Overall, the Fender Stratocaster is simple to play, especially considering its lightweight, slim neck, high frets that are easily accessible, and contoured body. 

Every guitar will be challenging for novices to play at first, but with practice, you’ll be able to play it with ease. 

Both the Fender Stratocaster and its major rival, the Gibson Les Paul, are excellent choices for electric guitar beginners because of their many qualities that will satisfy every user, especially if you aim to pursue a career as a professional.