In this article, I’m going to compare three famous guitars – Les Paul, Stratocaster and Telecaster. Which one of these three is the best one for playing jazz music?
Stay with me to find and answer. Let’s go!
Jazz has been around from as early as the 19th century. It came as a result of the intertwining of African slave folk songs and American classical music.
Although jazz has been around since then, the jazz guitar style has only been around since the 1930s. Jazz guitar is well known for its unique sound and style that can be recognized anywhere.
Jazz guitarists produce music from several musical ingredients such as hard to fret chords and scales which has led to the 12-bar blues progression becoming a staple of the jazz sound.
How Does Jazz Guitar Sound?
Guitarists specifically look for a certain sound when they buy their guitar, and this has everything to do with the build of the guitar in specificity.
Guitars in jazz have their specific jazzy tone. Warm, slightly distorted clean sound is what’s usually present in jazz music.
Jazz guitarists have several options when it comes to purchasing their guitars. Those are, for example, hollow body archtop guitars to solid-body electric guitars.
As you can probably guess, each type of guitar will produce a different sound based on the way they are shaped.
There are usually three guitars that musicians opt for when buying a guitar, in general. Those are the Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster.
But are any of these guitars good for playing jazz? Let’s look at which of these three guitars is the best for playing jazz.
Gibson Les Paul
The famous Les Paul seems like it is a staple in the music of all genres today. Although it has been around since the 1950s, it is still a mainstay in a jazz guitarists arsenal.
The main characteristic of Les Paul is the deep bass tone that it can produce as a result of its solid body, as opposed to a hollow body semi-acoustic guitar such as the Gibson ES-175 that many jazz musicians will opt for.
So, let’s look deeper into what makes the Les Paul a fantastic jazz guitar.
As mentioned above, the Les Paul can produce a deep, rich tone that can almost sound very much like bass in certain contexts. This makes it especially very suitable to use as in jazz, as jazz has a love affair with the bass.
This tone comes from its solid body design. The solid-body also allows the guitar to pick up a lot more volume, which is essentially why they were invented in the first place.
That also goes to show why they are used so much in genres such as rock and metal. But even though the Les Paul is a strong, deep tone filled instrument, it can also produce the most tender of jazzy tones required to create beautiful melodies.
Another reason for its signature sound is its materials. The Les Paul is made of mahogany which as, many people know, is a very expensive, premium wood. In this case it produces a beautiful sound, which is deep, rich and full.
You can hear it for yourself; Les Paul playing jazz.
It would be cruel not to comment on the neck of a Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Compared to the more traditional jazz guitars with their fatter necks and hollow bodies, the Les Paul has a skinnier neck which makes navigating the fretboard an ease.
This makes quicker sequences of music such as arpeggios and licks come off with ease.
The Les Paul is known worldwide for its signature design. It’s no surprise that it would come up when we discuss jazz music and guitars.
Like mentioned above, the reason the Les Paul can produce such a rich, deep tone is in part because of its solid body design. But there is so much more to it than that.
The Les Paul was built for its versatility and this in part to its smaller size. This is in part thanked by the fact that it has a solid body design which allows it to be smaller and more compact due to the fact it doesn’t need hollow space inside it.
The Les Paul is also built for comfort, this is in fact due to its single-cutaway design. This single cut near the neck allows for easier access to the higher end of the fretboard, which allows for playing jazzy melodies with ease.
You can’t talk about guitars and sound without at least mentioning the things that pick up the sound, now can you?
The Les Paul is known for its beautiful, clear sound and this in part due to its pickup selection. The Les Paul uses what are known as “Humbucker” pickups, which are basically double coil pickups.
Double coil pickups are better for jazz music as they produce stronger, bass-like sounds as opposed to single-coil pickups which produce thinner, twang-like sounds.
This, in turn, makes the Les Paul ideal for jazz music.
As you can see, the Les Paul makes a fantastic jazz guitar. This is due to many assets this guitar holds, such as its solid body design, Humbucker pickups and thin neck.
All in all, you couldn’t go wrong if you choose Les Paul for playing jazz!
The Fender Stratocaster, also known as the “Strat”, is one of the most emulated guitars of all times.
First offered for sale in 1954, the Strat has become one of the most iconic guitars of modern times. Its main characteristic, aside from its solid-body design, is its double cutaways which allow the player easier access to the higher part of the fretboard.
As one can guess, this can be very advantageous for Jazz players, especially when a jazz piece requires the guitarist to play fast licks and arpeggios.
The Strat is a fantastic guitar when it comes to picking up the volume, but when it comes to jazz that’s about as far as it goes in terms of its advantages.
The Strat was designed with rock ‘n’ roll in mind. As such, it’s used in a variety of musical styles to this day. However, its tone just seems too twangy and thin for the demands of the bass-heavy, deep jazz genre.
That’s not to say that we can’t use a Strat for jazz music. In fact, musicians such as Eric Clapton often introduce a very jazzy feel to their music and guess what he plays. Yep, you guessed it – a Fender Stratocaster.
You can hear what jazz sounds like on a Strat.
Stratocaster has a very easy to navigate fretboard on its neck. The slender, sleek neck of the Strat is one such reason that jazz players could opt for a Strat, as opposed to a thicker neck such as that on a traditional jazz guitar like a Gibson ES-175.
The long neck allows the player to reach higher notes with ease and its thin design allows the musician to play fast pieces relatively simply.
So, although the Strat isn’t a typical jazz guitar, the design of its neck makes it a very attractive option for budding jazz guitarists.
Ah, now for the good bits. The Strat is an extremely good option when it comes to its body design.
This is due in fact to its very easy to operate with design. Let’s start with the cutaways. The signature Fender double cutaways allow the player to easily get up and down the frets with ease.
The lightweight feel of the guitar allows the musician to play longer pieces without much hassle. Also, the body is often made from different woods such as alder, mahogany and poplar which allows you to experiment not only with the sound of the guitar but the weight and feel of it too.
This can be very advantageous for jazz players as the tone and feel of an instrument can be the make or break between a strong sounding piece and a flop.
The Strat has a three single-coil pickup system which gives it its signature high, twang-like sound. This makes it a great instrument for genres that require a high lead.
However, it can leave a feeling that it’s a little too light for jazz music.
In general, the single pickups that a Strat has may not be the best option for a Jazz guitarist.
The Fender Stratocaster is a very versatile guitar. However, for jazz music, it might not be the best option.
The single-coil pickup option is just a little to twang sounding for the deep, rich tones of jazz. Also, the absence of the bass-like tones of say the Les Paul leaves it just a little light on advantages.
In conclusion, it may be best to skip the Strat if you’re a jazz guitarist.
The Fender Telecaster is known widely as the world’s first commercially successful solid-body design guitar. Developed by Fender in California in 1950, it has gone on to become one of the most emulated styles of guitar in the world.
Its main characteristics are its bolt-on neck and its single-coil pickups. Originally, an alder or ash wood is used for the body.
This can produce a warm tone, when combined with the traditional maple neck produced by Fender creates that signature Telecaster sound.
The Telecaster is known for producing multiple sounds due to its pickup selection system. Depending on their selection, a guitarist can pick up a cutting, twang-like tone or a warmer, jazz-like tone.
As you can guess, this is great for a jazz player, as the ability to switch tones can increase the range at which the player can operate. Also, by being able to reach a jazzy tone, a guitarist can play most pieces of jazz music.
The Telecaster is widely regarded as a masterpiece of sound and for jazz players, one should take notice of the benefits of the Telecaster sound.
Hear how it sounds when jazz is being played on a Telecaster.
Just like Fenders other creation, the Stratocaster, the Telecaster also has a very easy to navigate neck.
The slender shape and feel of the neck allow the player to reach notes all over the fretboard with relative ease. The introduction of maple for the fretboard can create a beautiful sounding instrument.
The neck, traditionally made of maple, is usually bolted to the alder or ash wood body, and this is what helps it create such a warm tone.
The Telecaster body is traditionally made of alder or ash, which are very versatile woods in terms of tones.
The sheer range of woods the Telecaster can be bought in is a true testament to the versatility of the instrument. When it comes to jazz, this is a blessing.
Jazz musicians want a guitar that is versatile whilst also being able to reach the jazzy tones required of the genre. As you can guess, the Stratocaster doesn’t offer this.
If you ask me what was the one benefit that Telecaster has over other guitars, I’d say it is its pickups. Now, although the Telecaster has models of its guitar with all sorts of different pickups and selections, the original two single-coil pickup style is a true gift from above.
The Telecaster has two pickups on the guitar, one bridge pickup and one neck pickup. This allows the guitarist to switch quickly from the country, honky-tonk sounds that were popular at the time the guitar was first built to the rich, jazzy tones that it is capable of.
Versatility in its finest is what the Telecaster brings to the table with its pickup selection system.
The Fender Telecaster is by far superior to the Stratocaster when it comes to jazz music.
It has pickups that can produce jazzy tones and not to mention its mix of maple and alder makes it extremely versatile with its sounds. Its two single-coil pickup system almost beats the Humbucker pickup system that the Les Paul guitar has.
In conclusion, the Fender Telecaster is an excellent option for any jazz guitarist no matter what level they are at.
Les Paul, Strat or Tele – Which Is The Best For Jazz?
So, there you have it, three different guitars and three different sounds.
It may be a matter of preference as to which solid-body guitar is right for you. Is it the deep Humbucker sound of the Les Paul, the almost space-like sounding twang of the Stratocaster or is it the warm, jazzy sound of the Telecaster.
The truth is, any one of these guitars can be used for jazz music but as a musician, it is important to experiment with sound and quality often to come up with the best possible tone.
So, to answer the question – which one is the best for jazz, I’d say that Les Paul and Telecaster are far better for jazz than Stratocaster, due to reasons described above.
If you own a Strat or a Tele, you may find this article interesting.
I hope this article gave you some valuable information about this subject. If you enjoyed reading it, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, I’m more than happy about it.
Don’t forget to check other interesting articles from this page about various guitar topics and issues!
Cheers, and rock on!