There are few more iconic guitars than the Les Paul. Choosing the best strings for Les Paul is important for getting a great tone out of your guitar, like so many great guitarists have done over the years.
Due to their versatility, Les Pauls have been used in just about every guitar-based music genre. Choosing the ideal strings for such a multi-faceted guitar can be tricky as there are so many to choose from.
This article will guide you towards the right strings so you can get the desired sound from your Les Paul.
5 Guitar Strings to Get the Best Out of a Les Paul
Table of Contents
- 5 Guitar Strings to Get the Best Out of a Les Paul
- The Many Sounds of a Les Paul
- String Thickness
- Emulate the Greats
- Choosing the Right Strings
- String Gauge
- String Materials
- What Sound Are You Going for?
The D’Addario NYXL strings are perfectly suited to a Les Paul, mainly due to the emphasis which the strings place on midrange tones. Les Pauls are renowned for that warm, jangly rhythm sound, and these strings really emphasize that signature crunch.
Although the mid-range emphasis results in great sounding chords, these strings are not limited to just rhythm playing. The high carbon steel core and reformulated nickel-plated windings make them great for note bending in solos or smooth lead parts.
Surprisingly, for regular-light strings the D’Addario NYXLs stay in tune very well. This is great when playing the signature crunchy rhythm style of a Les Paul, as digging into the strings can sometimes cause tuning issues.
Ernie Ball guitar strings need no introduction. They are the preferred brand of legendary guitarists such as Jimmy Page and Keith Richards. The 2721's are next generation guitar strings which are ideal for shredding on your Les Paul.
The strings have an iron/cobalt blend which attracts the humbucker pickups of a Les Paul. In terms of comfort, the strings are smooth and pliable, making them perfect for sustained lead melody lines or solos.
Another reason the Ernie Balls 2721's are so compatible with a Les Paul is that they retain that new-string brightness for a long period of time after you put them on your guitar. This is great for that sustained style of lead guitar playing that is synonymous with Les Paul players like Slash.
In my experience, every time I put a new set of Ernie Balls Slinky strings on my guitar, it almost makes the guitar feel brand new. The smoothness that they provide in both the fretting hand and the gliding of the plectrum make them a great choice for playing lead lines and melodies.
The GHS R+RL strings provide the warm tone needed for jazz and blues guitar licks, with the potential to also give a crunchy rhythm sound if played more aggressively. They are a great match for the Les Paul and its versatile playability.
A Les Paul can be used for a mixture of rhythm and lead playing that Curtis Mayfield popularized in the early 60’s. These GHS strings are great for that style as they carry through the mid tones even when played quietly.
One of the things which stood out to me about these GHS strings is the unique roller winding process which is employed to slightly flatten the strings. This makes for smooth transitions with your fretting hand, perfect for that sustained solo style that Les Pauls do so well.
The GHS R+RL strings sound nostalgic, like the Gibson Les Paul itself. When the pure nickel sound of the strings is combined with the warm humbuckers of the guitar, they produce a familiar sound which, in my opinion, will never get old.
The DR Strings PHR-10’s are one of the cheaper options on the list, but that doesn’t mean they lack quality. These strings are well-matched with the characteristics of a Les Paul because they focus on enhancing sustain – perfect for wailing blues licks.
Most of the strings I have previously listed aren’t made for fuzzy, energetic riffs played in the lower registers of the guitar. The DR PHR-10’s however provide the punch required to fill that mid-low register.
These strings feature a round core which is wrapped with a pure nickel wire, so durability shouldn’t be an issue. If you have an overdrive pedal, combined with that signature Les Paul tone, these strings will have you creating stomping riffs in no time.
This list wouldn’t be complete without including some vintage Gibson strings. The manufacturers of the Les Paul have the advantage of knowing exactly what their guitar needs to sound its best. These strings create a truly wonderful tone when combined with the Les Paul.
A standout feature of these Gibson strings is the clarity of sound they provide. This is down to the pure nickel wrap and hex-shaped steel core wire. Played on a Les Paul, the combination creates that original 60’s tone which is equally suited to shredding a solo or ringing out rhythmic chords.
If you are looking for the classic Les Paul sound then look no further than these Gibson strings. They will provide you with playing comfort and sound great on top of the classic humbuckers pickups of a Les Paul.
The Many Sounds of a Les Paul
When we think of Les Paul style guitars, it’s easy to just think of the soaring high-end melodies of Slash or Jimmy Page. This style of guitars isn’t just for flashy playing though – it has been used to create the iconic rhythm guitar sound of reggae by Bob Marley, and the driving riffs of ZZ Top.
When choosing strings for the Les Paul, it is important to think about the sound you want to create. The warmth of the humbucker pickups is the main component, but this sound can be manipulated into many styles of playing. It is a truly versatile guitar.
When playing a Les Paul in standard tuning, light to regular strings are best suited. These strings will allow you to easily bend notes when soloing, whilst still having the sturdiness to handle busy rhythms in the strumming hand.
Sometimes the best results come from ignoring the common advice, though. I have experimented with putting very thick strings on my guitars. When using alternative tunings or octave pedals, this can create some incredible sounds.
Emulate the Greats
A great way to choose the best suited guitar strings for your desired sound is to research which strings the guitarists which you admire use. There are so many great players who use a Les Paul, so if you like their sound, emulate their set up.
This is a great way for beginners to gain confidence. The end goal should be to create your own signature sound, but when starting out it is a good idea to look at what other people are doing and if you like their sound, emulate it and experiment with it.
Choosing the Right Strings
Figuring out which strings are right for you can take some time, but you can look at a few characteristics to help you decide which strings to use.
I feel like string gauge is the most important thing to consider when choosing strings.
The thickness of the strings can have a major effect on your playing. Too thin and they might feel too fragile and even slippery, too thick and they’ll cut into your fingers and you can’t press down or bend them.
Their thickness also affects their tone. Thin strings will be very bright, with a lot of high-end. Thick strings will be warmer, with more emphasis on the low-end.
If you play reggae, country, funk, any styles with a brighter sound, you’ll likely want to go with a lighter gauge of strings.
For heavier genres like rock and metal, a thicker gauge will work better, especially on lower tunings.
What the strings are made of can influence not only how long the strings last, but can also add to the tone.
Steel strings are brighter and work quite well with the humbuckers on a Les Paul to give it more twang.
Nickel strings are warmer and more rounded, great for getting a more classic rock sound.
Nickel-plated strings combine characteristics of both steel and nickel strings, and are the standard strings for electric guitar as they are the best all-rounder strings.
What Sound Are You Going for?
A good method for figuring out which strings you want to use is by finding out what other players use.
Look at the strings that the guitarists, specifically Les Paul players, you listen to and would like to emulate use.
If you’re trying to recreate a certain players sound, then you want to recreate every aspect of their setup, including the strings they use.
Even if you aren’t trying to emulate a specific guitarist, you can still look to icons in a genre to find out which strings to use.
If you’re playing reggae, look at the strings Bob Marley used. If you’re playing rock, look to Slash or Jimmy Page.
Experimentation is the Key
The key to deciding what string gauge is right for you is to experiment. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
One thing is for sure – if you’re playing a Les Paul, you will struggle to put it down. These guitars are rare in a way – they are just as great for beginners as they are for advanced players. The key to choosing the best Les Paul strings suitable for your specific needs is to follow the sound you desire. And the only way to do that is to experiment.