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Fender Stratocaster vs Telecaster: What's the Difference and Which Is Better?

The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

Stratocaster vs Telecaster. What's the difference and which is better?

Stratocaster vs Telecaster. What's the difference and which is better?

Stratocaster or Telecaster?

The Stratocaster and Telecaster are legendary Fender guitars, and two of the most popular instruments in the music industry. Some people will tell you that you can’t go wrong with either, but that’s only partly true. It really depends on your playing style and musical taste. While they are both outstanding instruments, one of these guitars is probably better suited to you.

If you don’t know much about either, how do you decide? What’s the difference between the Stratocaster and Telecaster, anyway?

Icons of the guitar world in almost every imaginable genre of music love and endorse both instruments. Just to make things even more confusing, countless versions of each guitar exist, both those offered by Fender and those created by players themselves.

Fender is among the best guitar companies in the world. From its Squier line of guitars to custom shop models for pros, they build a Strat or Tele for every level of player. This article will help you better sort out the differences between the two guitars.

Stratocaster vs. Telecaster Specs Comparison

Note: Traditional specs listed. Fender makes Stratocasters and Telecasters with a range of pickups, tonewoods, and other appointments.

StratocasterTelecaster

Body Style

Double cutaway

Single cutaway

Body Tonewood

Alder

Alder

Neck Construction

Bolt-on

Bolt-on

Neck Tonewood

Maple

Maple

Scale Length

25.5"

25.5"

Fingerboard

Maple or rosewood

Maple or rosewood

Pickups

Three single coil

Two single coil

Electronics

One volume, two tone, 5-way switch

One volume, one tone control, 3-way switch

Bridge

Synchronized tremolo

Tele bridge plate w/ 3 or 6 saddles

Fender Telecaster

The Telecaster began life as a single-pickup guitar called the Fender Esquire in 1950, but it didn’t quite take off. Fender redesigned the guitar to the dual-pickup version we know today and changed the name to the Broadcaster for 1951. Unfortunately, Fender ran into some trouble with naming rights and eventually settled on the name Telecaster.

The Telecaster was the first widely successful solid-body electric guitar and paved the way for the Stratocaster and countless other guitars. Prior to the Tele, guitarists were still using hollow and semi-hollow guitars. The Fender Telecaster changed everything.

The Tele design has remained largely unchanged since those early days, over sixty years ago. It’s a simple guitar, with a flat-top body, bolt-on neck, and two pickups controlled by a three-way switch. Fender has produced many variations of the guitar over the decades, but for many guitarists, it is tough to beat the original.

Telecaster Design and Specs

  • Body Style: Single-cutaway
  • Body Tonewood: Alder
  • Neck Build: Bolt-on
  • Neck Tonewood: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
  • Pickups: Two single-coils
  • Electronics: One volume, one tone control, 3-way switch
  • Bridge: Tele bridge plate with 3 or 6-saddles

Famous Telecaster Players

  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom Morello
  • Keith Urban
  • Vince Gill
  • John 5
  • Keith Richards
  • Richie Kotzen
  • Brad Paisley
  • Jimmy Page (early years)
  • Jim Root

Telecaster Sound

The Stratocaster and Telecaster have a lot in common, but each has a distinctive tone veteran guitar players can recognize. The Telecaster is the best electric guitar for country music, and its bridge and middle-pickup tones have become staples of the genre.

Though it may be the darling of the country crowd, the Tele is a favorite of guitarists in rock and blues as well. It is a versatile instrument, despite its simplicity, and it becomes even more versatile when musicians install aftermarket pickups. A Telecaster with a hot humbucker at the bridge can get the job in hard rock and metal.

At its heart, the Telecaster tone is that classic bell-like neck pickup, the vintage-sounding bridge pickup, the clucky middle position. For many guitarists, it is all they will ever need.

Fender American Professional Telecaster

Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster appeared in 1954, riding on the Telecaster’s coattails. It expanded on what Fender had begun with the Tele with a third pickup, a double-cutaway body, and a new type of tremolo system. The Stratocaster was a hit. So popular, in fact, that it made Gibson rethink its Les Paul design and invent the SG.

The Fender Strat found itself in the hands of early rock pioneers like Buddy Holly and Dick Dale. While it is hard to imagine today, the Stratocaster was a somewhat futuristic design at the time and the perfect vehicle for young musicians looking to separate themselves from their father’s clunky old electric guitars.

In the years that followed, the Strat found its way into just about every musical genre you can imagine. It is possibly the most popular electric guitar in the world, and certainly among the most iconic.

Fender Classic Player '50s Stratocaster

Fender Classic Player '50s Stratocaster

Stratocaster Design and Specs

  • Body Style: Double-cutaway
  • Body Tonewood: Alder
  • Neck Build: Bolt-on
  • Neck Tonewood: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
  • Pickups: Three single-coils
  • Electronics: One volume and two tone controls, 5-way switch
  • Bridge: Fender synchronized tremolo

Famous Stratocaster Players

  • Buddy Guy
  • Jeff Beck
  • Ritchie Blackmore
  • Dick Dale
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • David Gilmour
  • Buddy Holly

Stratocaster Sound

Like the Telecaster, veteran guitarists often recognize a Stratocaster tone when they hear it. However, Fender has produced Stratocasters with a range of pickups over the years. Guitarists who don’t like the standard single coils might opt for humbuckers, and that changes the sound of the guitar.

Compared to the Telecaster, the Stratocaster offers more flexibility for tone. Both guitars have master volume controls, but where the Telecaster has only one tone control, the Strat has one tone knob dedicated to the middle pickup, and one to the bridge pickup.

The Strat has a 5-way pickup selector switch, where the Tele has a 3-way. This means the Strat has more tones available with switching between pickups and employing different pickup configurations.

The Stratocaster tremolo bridge allows the player to increase or decrease tension on the strings, creating a vibrato effect. This makes the Stratocaster tougher to keep in tune, but a good setup goes a long way toward maintaining the tuning stability of either guitar.

Fender American Professional Stratocaster

Stratocaster vs Telecaster: Which Is Better for Beginners?

The Telecaster can be easier for beginners to deal with because it does not have a tremolo system. The Synchronized Tremolo on the Stratocaster is a bit tougher to keep in tune, but a good setup goes a long way toward maintaining the tuning stability of either guitar.

Aside from that, both guitars are a great choice for beginners. Newbies might make their decision based on what kind of music they like, and which guitars famous musicians are using in that genre.

Strats and Teles made under the Fender brand are a little pricey for the typical beginner. However, Fender makes affordable versions of both guitars through their Squier by Fender brand. Squier makes some of the best electric guitars for beginners and players on a budget. They have all the hallmarks of their Fender cousins, with a few differences to keep them affordable.

I recommend two Squier series for beginners:

Squier Bullet Series Stratocaster and Telecaster

  • These instruments come in under $200 and they make great guitars for beginners. There is a Bullet-series Strat, Tele, and Strat with a humbucker (HSS) at the bridge.

Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster and Telecaster

  • These are slightly more expensive but better quality than the Bullet series. There is an Affinity Series Strat, Tele, and HSS Tele.

Whatever you decide, be sure to purchase from somewhere with a good return policy in case you change your mind.

Eric Clapton and the Fender Stratocaster

Eric Clapton and the Fender Stratocaster

Which Guitar for Which Genre?

As discussed above, both the Stratocaster and Telecaster can get the job done in any music genre you can imagine. But which is better in different genres? Here are a few thoughts. Remember, this is just my opinion. You can do whatever you want to do!

Blues

Winner: Stratocaster

In my opinion, the Fender Stratocaster is the best guitar for blues, so this isn’t even a fair competition. There is nothing wrong with a Tele for blues; I just think the Strat is king on this genre.

Jazz

Winner: Telecaster

While I like the neck position of the Strat for jazzy tones, I think I Telecaster with a humbucker at the neck position is even better.

Rock

Draw

The Stratocaster is obviously a guitar that has made its mark in the rock world, but I think the Telecaster is underrated in this genre. I’d call it a draw.

Country

Winner: Telecaster

Just as the Strat is the king of blues, the Tele is the king of country. There is nothing wrong with a Stratocaster for country music, but the Tele is just hard to beat.

Hard Rock / Shred

Winner: Stratocaster

The Stratocaster, specifically superstrats, ruled during the age of shred and that reign continues today. A Tele with a humbucker at the bridge can do well in hard rock, but it is tough to beat a hot-rodded Stratocaster with a powerful humbucker, Floyd Rose tremolo, and fast neck.

Metal

Draw

Many people would prefer the Stratocaster for metal because of the reasons listed above, but I think either guitar can do the job with a humbucker at the bridge position.

Strat or Tele: Which to Better?

Maybe you read all of the above and you’re still confused. After all, what matters is figuring out which guitar is better for you. The best thing to do is go out and play a bunch of each kind of guitar and let your ears and hands make the choice for you.

Most experienced players will tell you, even though the two guitars might look similar on paper, the feel and sound of a Stratocaster versus a Telecaster are very different.

Fender offers a ton of different options for both guitars. Stratocasters might be more known for rock and blues. There are even some Strats made for metal.

Telecasters, on the other hand, are known for rock and blues but regarded among the best electric guitars for country music.

Both guitars have been used successfully in every genre imaginable. Don’t let stereotypes make your decision for you. Go out and play guitars and decide for yourself what you like.

Stratocasters and Telecasters are both great guitars, but if you're like most guitarists you’ll eventually find yourself gravitating to one or the other. And after you've been playing for a while you'll come to know another secret about Fender guitars: You can never own too many of them!

When it comes to the Stratocaster and the Telecaster, no matter which is their favorite many players simply prefer to have a few of each!

Stratocaster vs Telecaster

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is a hardtail Stratocaster considered a "real" Strat and is the sound different?

Answer: I certainly consider hardtail Stratocasters real Strats, and I think most guitar players would agree. You may notice a slight increase in sustain and resonance with a hardtail, where a Strat with a tremolo will sound a little tighter. Overall I think the difference is minimal, but some players swear by one or the other.

Many Stratocaster players also “deck” their tremolos. This means they adjust the springs and the bridge itself to prevent it from easily moving. Another method is to “block” the tremolo. Here a wooden block is installed in the spring cavity, again preventing the tremolo from moving. Both of these methods, to some extent, can turn a Strat with a tremolo into a hardtail.

Some players feel that a blocked or decked tremolo results in better tuning stability, as well as the aforementioned improved sustain and resonance. If you intend to try it and aren’t experienced with guitar setup and repair you’ll want to leave this job to a guitar tech.

However, even if you block the trem you’ll still have a big cavity and lots of metal in the body of the guitar, instead of the solid wood body you’d get with a true hardtail. That, I think, is the root of any sound difference. Again, I think it’s minimal, but I suggest you try out both types of Stratocasters and decide for yourself.

Comments

Jordan Dyas on December 04, 2019:

As an older age beginner my idols (James Burton, Steve Cropper, even Jerry Garcia at one point). I'm also a '60's hippie who loves country music. Dancing to Bob Wills & favorite Colorado band, Dusty Drapes and the Dusters.

Chris on September 04, 2016:

What about Rickenbacker guys?? Can't beat that jangle and good for slide too (ask Joe Walsh). Loved your article by the way but I would choose a Tele every time. Cheers Chris.

Guitar Gopher (author) on November 09, 2014:

Thanks Matt! You make a great point, but you left out the rest of my sentence in the quote: "...but the difference is minimal and probably doesn’t affect most players." For me, I've always felt like shape of the body of the bass-side made the Tele a little clumsier when fretting the highest notes. It's not so much where the body joins the neck, but the shape of the body itself.

Of course that's just my opinion, based on my playing style. Other guitar players may notice no difference at all.

Matt Morrison on November 07, 2014:

Really good article, but the author is in error when he states: "perhaps the Stratocaster allows a little more access to the higher registers". It's just not true. The body joins the neck in exactly the same place on both guitars. The Strat gives the visual ILLUSION of a deeper cutaway because of its extended upper horn. But I have had many Strats and many Teles. Access to the higher registers is exactly the same.

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