If you are getting ready to buy a Fender or Squier guitar and are looking at the differences between a Strat or a Tele how should you decide? There are a few differences that may help you choose, but remember that most good players like to have a variety of instruments.
Fender’s first guitar (and the first successful solid body electric guitar in history) was the Telecaster. It is probably one of the most basic but versatile guitars made. I am a huge Telecaster fan. I once played Gibson Les Pauls exclusively and would turn my nose up to Fender. But once I tried a Telecaster, I bought 3 of them. I noticed that it stayed in tune better than any guitar I have ever had. I’ve been through 30 or 40 guitars in my life but I will never sell my Telecaster.
Everybody Plays a Telecaster
Some people think of the Telecaster as primarily a guitar for county music – it has a distinguished career even today as a country guitar and a paisley finished version is Brad Paisley’s primary instrument. But if you look at the history behind the Telecaster you will be see that it has a great Rock pedigree. Jimmy Page, the Beatles, Andy Summers of the Police, and Mike Bloomfield (in the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan first went electric), Bob Dylan, recorded with Telecasters. David Gilmour (even though he has a signature Strat) alternates between Strats and Teles.
Even heavy metal bands such as Slipknot use Teles. Each of these players has a unique style and sound, so as you can see the Telecaster is really versatile. I was in a studio myself a few months ago and they had a lot of guitars to use but we all agreed my Tele cut through better than all of their guitars, and fit the song the best without any tweaking.
The Telecaster has a basic string though body design that stays in tune (and most have no tremolo bar to through the tuning off) seemingly forever, so the Telecaster is great to have on stage. I will not play a show without my Tele, because I never want to worry that my guitar is not in tune. In fact, I have at least two Telecasters at every show, so I’m certain that one is always ready to play. Most Teles have two single coil pickups, many models have been tricked out with dual humbuckers (such as the Blacktop Telecaster and the limited edition FSR Classic ’72 Telecaster Deluxe) and I have one with a Strat pickup in the middle.
Stratocasters usually have 3 single coil pickups but there are Strats that come with two single coils and a humbucker (HSS) or two humbuckers (HH) and have different features added to make a different style of guitar. Almost all of the standard models of Stratocaster from the Squier, to the Fender Standard Stratocaster, to the American Standard, American Special, and American Deluxe Stratocaster, are available in HSS versions. For dual humbuckers look to the Blacktop Stratocaster and the Dave Murray signature Strat.
The Stratocaster Tremolo
Stratocasters usually have a tremolo or whammy bar which is hooked up with springs in the back of the guitar. If your music demands a tremolo a Stratocaster is probably your best bet. To keep from retuning the Stratocaster in performance, some players either add more springs to hold the tremolo tight or block the tremolo with a piece of wood. The springs in the tremolo are an important part of the classic Stratocaster sound, so players like Eric Clapton add two more springs to make it keep the sound but stay in tune a little better. You can bend the tremolo bar if you use it with too many springs so I would have a professional guitar tech adjust this for you, so you don't have any issues.
The Stratocaster Body
Stratocasters are known for the Stratocaster sound, but Fender’s Comfort Contour Body is one of the reasons that the Stratocaster has become so ubiquitous. The Stratocaster is one of the most comfortable solid body guitars to play – you can play it for hours without getting tired. The body is beveled at the belly, and where your forearm touches the front to make it less square. They also added a second cutaway to make it easy to reach the highest notes.
Everybody Plays the Stratocaster
The list of Stratocaster Players is endless and includes many guitarists who also play Telecasters and other guitars: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Richie Blackmore (whose guitar shares a scalloped fret board with Yngwie Malmsteen’s Strat), John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix, The Stones’ Ronnie Wood, George Harrison, Buddy Holly, David Gilmour, Ry Cooder, and U2’s The Edge, are among the many great artists who consider (or considered) the Stratocaster their favorite guitar.
Different Stratocaster and Telecaster Models
Even if you can play every lick in the book, it can be hard to get recognition if you have the same sound as everyone else. Your unique sound comes from your playing and also from your choice of guitar, amp, and effects. Once you have your own sound, your music can stand out and not be lost in the crowd.
Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster has its own sound because he flipped his guitar upside down, making the bridge pickup have a different angle than playing a regular lefty. Stevie Ray Vaughn used a left handed bridge so his tremolo bar was actually on the top of the guitar instead of the bottom. He also put bass guitar frets on his guitar for more sustain, never used less than a 13 gauge string, and had Texas Special Pickups which got him his unique sound.
A lot of artist signature Teles and Strats are actually hot rodded versions of the American Standard Stratocaster or American Standard Telecaster customized for the artist. You also can customize your own guitar by replacing pickups, tuners, and other parts to get your own unique sound and feel. See our articles on that subject including the following:
How To: Install EMG David Gilmour Active Stratocaster Pickup Set
How To: Install Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Pickups on a Fender Stratocaster
How To: Install The TBX Tone Control Kit
How To: Replace The Tuners On Your Stratocaster or Telecaster
You can also get a significant variety of Strat and Tele sounds from the many factory built models from Fender, including the double humbucker Blacktop models, the American Deluxe models, and many others that are detailed in our Fender Stratocaster Buyer’s Guide and Fender Telecaster Buyer’s Guide.
Your Guitar Collection
Many amateur and professional players are also guitar collectors. They appreciate all the different models for their sound, look, and feel. All kinds of guitars find their way into collections, from the beloved but inexpensive entry level models to the finest hand finished top of the line Custom Shop models. If you buy an American made guitar the chance of it going up in price is very good. For instance an original 1957 Stratocaster is worth far more today than when it was originally purchased, even though you can get a brand new great sounding, great playing, handmade, Fender Stratocaster for less.
I hope this has helped you a little bit choosing which guitar you want. Fender makes many different models to please everyone. In addition to the Strat and Tele, consider the Jaguar and Mustang, and other models. I would be happy to help you personally with any questions you may have about your guitar or any part of your rig.
Jeff Godsell is a guitar and amp professional at Sam Ash Direct, call him at 800-472-6274 ext 2257 or e-mail him at any time at JGodsell@SamAsh.com for advice on your guitar questions.