The Stratocaster and Telecaster are not only two of Fender’s most popular models of guitars, but also two of the most widely used guitars in music history. They bridge all genres of music and have been played by legends of all types of music, including George Harrison, Keith Richards, and Prince on the Telecaster (Tele), and Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen on the Stratocaster (Strat).
If you want to play like these guys, our course in beginner rock guitar will help you with the basics. If you’re curious as to the differences between the two, read on for some comparative information on these two music legends, then just go out and play them to really test them out. The models discussed below are just the basic models of Telecaster and Stratocaster. Be aware that there are many different models of each of these guitars, and some of these differences may not exist in other models.
Both the Strat and Tele are pretty similar in both the shape and makeup of body, with both being made of a wood called alder, which gives both guitars a bite, however, both are available in other tone woods as well, including ash, poplar, and mahogany. The shape of the Stratocaster, referred to as the “Comfort Contour Body”, is more sleek than the Telecaster, and has double cutaways, allowing for easier access to the higher neck positions. The Strat also went a bit further in aiding player comfort by recessing the top back of the body in a “beer gut” style that allows for the player’s stomach to rest comfortably on the body, as well as adding a chamfer on the front for the player’s right arm to rest.
The body of the Telecaster is very distinctive, and was the first popular solid-body guitar made in the U.S. Where the Strat’s body has double cutaways, the Tele has a single cutaway, which is the major difference in body appearance between the two models. Otherwise, the physical makeup of the bodies of the two instruments are quite similar.
The necks of both guitars are also quite similar and are both of the “Modern C Shape” and are made of one piece of maple, with some models having a rosewood fingerboard or even ebony on the Stratocaster. Both also have 22 medium-jumbo frets on a 25.5 in. scale, as well as the same nut width and fretboard radius. Because the Telecaster was designed for convenience and mass-production in mind, its neck is screwed in to the body, making it easier to remove for repairs or replacement.
The Strat has a slightly wider neck when compared to the Telecaster, as well as a slightly larger headstock, which is in the “dog leg” style. Some believe this larger head stock adds more sustain and better tone, but the difference is negligible to most players.
The pickups are where these guitars begin to differ in a big way, not only in style, but in the sounds they produce. The Stratocaster comes with either 3 or 2 single-coil pickups, the latter having a hot humbucker in the bridge position. There is a five-way pickup selector, which allows the player to choose combinations of which pickups will be engaged. The middle and bridge pickups create a “quacky” tone made famous by people such as Bob Dylan, David Gilmour, and Eric Clapton.
The Tele offers three single-coil, two single-coil, two Humbucker, three Humbucker, or one single-coil and one Humbucker, and also has a pickup in the neck. The pickup positions and the ways they are situated are responsible for giving these instruments their particular sounds, and which one you like better depends upon your preferences and style.
The most noticeable difference in the hardware of these two guitars is the bridge. Both have six adjustable saddles, but the Telecaster’s bridge is one piece that extends below the bridge pickup, whereas the Stratocaster’s bridge is a smaller 2-point tremolo variety. It is attached to springs that are connected to the body that allow the player to increase or decrease the strings’ tension with a whammy bar, creating a vibrato effect thus making it a bit harder to keep this guitar in tune.
The pick guards of both these instruments are also quite distinctive. The Tele’s is a bit smaller and without as many curved lines and it covers a smaller space than that of the Stratocaster.
Here is another area where the two guitars are quite similar, with Fender’s basic electronics layout present in both. Both instruments have master volume controls, but the Telecaster has only one tone control, and the Stratocaster has two tone knobs: one for the middle pickup, and one for the bridge pickup. This fact, combined with the five-way tone options, give the Strat the edge when it comes to tonal flexibility. Interested in learning more about electronics? This course will introduce you to the world of cables and connectors.
The Telecaster was designed to have a twangier, clearer, almost banjo-like crisp sound, originally meant for country music. Its tone is bright, rich, and cutting, with good treble tones. The Tele’s solid-body design allows the guitar to deliver a clean amplified version of the strings’ tone, which also cuts down on the feedback that plagued earlier hollow-body guitars. The Stratocaster, on the other hand, has a strong association with a noisier and more distorted sound these days, and as a result, has stronger ties to the harder end of the music spectrum. It has a stronger sound when compared to the Telecaster, even though it was designed for use in country music like the Tele.
We can only write about a guitar’s sound for so long – for a great side-by-side comparison of the two guitar’s sounds, this YouTube clip shows the two guitars being played one after the other.
If you were contemplating buying either a Stratocaster or a Telecaster, hopefully we were able to help make that decision a little easier for you. If it’s still up in the air, go to your neighborhood music shop and strap each one on and take them for a spin to really get a feel for how these two instruments differ. If you’re a bit embarrassed about playing in public, this course on beginner electric guitar will have you shredding in no time.