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 which one to purchase? There are a few differences that may help you choose, but remember that most players like to have a variety of instruments.
The Differences Between a Stratocaster and a Telecaster
While both are made by Fender and have “caster” in common, they are really are two very different guitars. Over the years there have been many variations of both models bringing them somewhat closer together, but for this discussion we will focus on the the traditional versions of the Strat and Tele and the differences between them:
- Body Style: The Stratocaster is double cutaway body design, providing access to the neck on both sides of the fingerboard, while the Telecaster is single cutaway body design.
- Pickups: The Stratocaster is commonly outfitted with three single coil pickups while the Telecaster has two.
- Body Contour: The Stratocaster has a beveled body with a scoop in the back, while the Telecaster has a flat top and back.
- Tremolo: While both guitars feature through-the-body string designs, Stratocasters commonly feature a tremolo system, while the Telecaster does not.
- Controls: The Telecaster features two controls – a master volume and a master tone control and a three-position pickup selector switch, while the Stratocaster features a master volume and two tone controls, one for the neck pickup and one for the middle and bridge pickups. Stratocasters can be found with both a three-way pickup selector switch as well as a 5-way switch, depending on the model and year of issue.
- Cable Jack: The cable jack is located on the top of the Stratocaster, while it is on the side on the Telecaster
These are the major differences between the two guitars. You can argue that the Stratocaster with it’s three-pickup design offers a wider array of tones then the Telecaster. However all one has to do is listen to a recording by such Tele players as Roy Buchanan or Danny Gatton to debunk that theory. You will also hear that the Stratocaster may be more comfortable to play, especially when seated. Again, personal preference.
The Strat and the Tele do have some things in common. Alder is usually the wood used for the body of both guitars as is maple for the necks. Both guitars can feature either maple or rosewood fingerboards. Both the Stratocaster and Telecaster have 22-fret bolt-on necks, meaning the neck is attached to the body with screws as opposed to being set-in and glued. And both feature headstocks with six-inline tuning machines.
The Fender Telecaster
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. It made its debut in 1951 and has pretty much remained the same ever since. It’s dual single-coil pickup design gives the Telecaster it’s distinctive “twang” mainly due to the snap f the bright bridge pickup.
Diverse Music Styles
Some people think of the Telecaster as primarily a guitar for country 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.
The Telecaster has a basic string though body design that stays in tune (and most have no tremolo bar to throw the tuning off) seemingly forever, so the Telecaster is great to have on stage. 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.
The Fender Stratocaster
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 Stratocaster, American Special Stratocaster, and American Deluxe Stratocaster, are available in HSS versions. For dual humbuckers look to the Blacktop Stratocaster and the Dave Murray signature Strat.
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 have a professional guitar tech adjust this for you, so you don’t have any issues.
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. Get more info on our Stratocaster History page.
Famous Stratocaster Players
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. You can read about more Strat players here.
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. One interesting note regarding Hendrix – the Stratocaster he played at Woodstock had a Telecaster neck, combining both guitars into one! Stevie Ray Vaughan 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 Fender Custom Shop Texas Special pickups, which helped him get 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.