Fender’s electric guitars changed the face of music. When the Telecaster became commercially available in 1952, it was the first-ever solid-body electric guitar to be sold to the public.
But Fender wasn’t done.
They released the Stratocaster in 1954, which went on to become what is arguably the best electric guitar ever made. The release of these two iconic electric guitars has left some strong opinions on which one is better in their wake.
If you’re in the market for your next electric guitar, you want to know which one is better for you. In this article, we’ll walk you through the differences between the Stratocaster and Telecaster.
They don’t look the same, sound the same, or play the same.
We’re not going to settle the best electric guitar debate. We’re simply going to help you find the best electric guitar for you.
Fender’s Electric History
Leo Fender, the mastermind behind Fender guitars, began working on designing an electric guitar in 1949. The result of his efforts would eventually become the Telecaster, which has been in production since 1952.
By 1954, Fender had released the Stratocaster, which was, at the time, meant to be a tweaked version of the Telecaster. Customers loved the original but wanted more contour in the guitar body and added a vibrato unit and extra pickup.
The two famous electric guitars have never been out of production since.
These guitars are both instantly recognizable because of their distinctive silhouettes and finishes. The Stratocaster is contoured and has two cutaways while the Tele only has a single-cutaway and lacks contours.
Some people think that the Strat is more comfortable to use for long periods of playing because of its shape. It is possible to buy a Telecaster now with the double cutaways but that is Fender heresy.
Usually, both instruments are made from alder because of the tonal advantages, but the likes of rosewood and swamp ash are popular alternatives. The Strat has a larger headstock than its brother, but the necks are more-or-less identical.
Some guitarists take issue with the Stratocaster’s string installation because the rear cover can block the 6-string hole. This frustrates users who will often completely remove the back cover for easier string changes. The Telecaster doesn’t have this issue.
Meanwhile, the Tele has a more premium feel with its metal knobs compared to the Strat’s plastic.
The Telecaster guitar is often marketed as the go-to electric for the country and soul music crowd, but Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen won’t play anything else.
Jimmy Page played a 1959 Telecaster on the Stairway to Heaven solo.
The Stratocaster was made famous by rock-n-roll legend Buddy Holly and later made an icon for British bands by Hank Marvin of the Shadows. Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jeff Beck later became ambassadors for the Stratocaster.
When it comes to sound, the Telecaster and Stratocaster have distinct tone palettes that may play a critical role in choosing which one you want.
If you’re looking for sound variety, the Telecaster has the ability to perform solid jazz numbers, mimic steel guitar country twang, or pump out heavy metal.
The Stratocaster, in contrast, puts out “glassy” tones. The “plink” heard in Stratocaster pickups is reminiscent of flicking your fingernail against a wine glass.
The twangier tone of the Tele made it very popular for country musicians like Buck Owens. Many Strat loyalists claim that it’s a more flexible instrument but that ignores the history of the Tele. Rock stars like George Harrison and Keith Richards and the Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett all swear by the latter.
If the Telecaster holds a single clear advantage over the Strat it’s the depth and power of its sound. It’s a much twangier instrument compared to the Stratocaster’s thicker sound. This is something that the Strat simply can’t reach. The placement of the volume knob is also superior to the Stratocaster because it’s impossible to accidentally hit it.
However, there is no denying that the Strat does offer more tones. This characteristic made it popular for Blues players and later for many rock artists like U2’s The Edge and Green Day’s Bille Joe Armstrong.
It also produces a more mellow and clean sound than the Tele which can be the difference for guitarists when they are trying to find their identity as a musician.
A few traits are shared by the Telecaster and Stratecaster, namely the bolt-on maple necks and single-coil pickups. If you pick up a translucent finished model, they are usually made of ash wood with beautiful graining patterns. Solid colored models are usually built with alder, poplar, or basswood and have less visible wood grains.
All Fender electrics made up to 1957 had maple fingerboards.
After this point, Rosewood has been an option, with Mexican models offering Pau Ferro fingerboards in recent years.
While it’s commonly assumed that players who need a vibrato will require the Stratocaster, this is no longer applicable. New Telecasters come with a Bigsby vibrato in place.
If you’re purchasing a new electric, don’t make your decision based on the price tag.
The entry and mid-level electric guitar market have greatly improved in terms of quality and selection. Take advantage of this, and don’t rule out guitars priced in the under $1,000 range.
Range of Models
Of course, not all Telecaster and Stratocasters are the same. Fender produces different models of both guitars ranging from entry to premium level. Fender’s Squier label produces cheaper versions of both models which are great for new players.
But if you really want the Fender label on your guitar then there are plenty of options out there. The Stratocaster American Special is the definitive ‘classic guitar.’ With its maple neck, rosewood finish it’s a gorgeous instrument and one of the most playable in the range.
Meanwhile, the Telecaster American Professional is the gold standard of Teles. It’s an expensive piece of kit but rocks the sweetest cleans and has an incredible sound. While it’s probably out of reach for a casual player, this Tele is as good as any guitar out there.
Best Fender Stratocasters Currently Available
1. Fender Vintera ‘60s Stratocaster
This Strat model retails for under $1,000US and has amazing build quality. The spec options give you the choice of a correct vintage model or a modified version. If you’re looking for modern performance combined with classic looks, this model has a bit of both.
2. Fender EOB Sustainer Stratocaster
EOB is short for Ed O’Brien, a guitarist in the band Radiohead. This Stratocaster model is his vanity project. With a V-shape neck profile and Sustainer system, you can hold any note or chord for as long as you want. Or at least until the on-board battery runs out.
3. Fender Player Stratocaster
This is a high-spec Strat model with a budget-friendly price tag. There’s a huge list of finish options, comfortable neck shape, and chunky frets. There is a Telecaster version of this model as well, so it may be worth trying out both.
4. Squier Classic Vibe ‘70s Stratocaster HSS
If you’re in the camp of people who feel the Strat bridge pickup is weedy, consider this model. It has a fatter sound in the bridge position than typical Stratocasters. The headstock on this one is big, and it has a larger 9.5” radius fingerboard compared to the 7.5” on classic models.
Best Fender Telecasters Currently Available
1. Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster
If you’re pining for a Telecaster on a budget, this one fits the bill. Because this guitar is made from pine wood, it’s a bit cheaper. You still get the classic maple neck and fingerboard.
2. Fender Jimmy Page Mirror Telecaster
This guitar is the hottest Telecaster release of the year. This is the same signature classic you hear on that Jimmy Page solo. Every highlight on the Telecaster spec sheet comes on this model.
3. Fender Player Telecaster
This Tele model is made in Mexico and falls mid-way in the price range for Fender Telecasters. It has 22 frets (most classics have 21), a 9.5” fingerboard radius, and a slippery finish on the neck to prevent dragging.
4. Fender Vintage ‘60s Telecaster With Bigsby
Bigsby vibratos have been available on Telecaster guitars since the beginning. This new slim-necked model comes from the factory with a Bigsby, so you don’t have to buy it separately.
The electronics of these two guitars are what define them.
The Strat is more complex with its tone knobs for the middle and bridge pickups. This gives it a five-way switch compared to the Telecaster’s three. Originally, the Stratocaster had three as well, but Fender modified the guitar in line with their buyer’s requests.
Stratocaster fans believe that the five-way switch is an advantage because it allows for more control and combinations. However, Tele diehards argue that simplicity is what makes their instrument the better option because it forces the user to be a better player.
Purists won’t admit it, but the reality is that this is down to the users’ preferences.
Meanwhile, the Tele only has a single tone control. But it has two single-coil pickups, including one mounted on the bridge plate.
This gives it the distinctive powerful tone that defines the model. In contrast, the Stratocaster has three single-coil pick-ups and extra tone control knobs for the bridge and middle-pickups. This allows for its trademark tonal range.
The Strat is much more modifiable than its counterpart. It’s very easy to pop off the pickguard to adjust the electronics if you want to try out new wiring systems and configurations.
The Telecaster’s electronics are mounted onto a small plate that doesn’t allow the same flexibility.
Telecaster vs Stratocaster: Which is Best?
The short answer is that neither is better because they are both amazing instruments that offer something different. If you want to emulate a specific musician or style of music you want to play then it may be easier for you to make a decision.
If not, there’s an easy way to decide for yourself.
Go into a decent music store and fool around with both instruments. That way it’s possible to get a feel for them and to decide for yourself which sound you prefer. They are both great guitars and fantastic options for musicians who want to buy their first serious instrument. It’s also a good idea to try out different versions of both instruments before settling on one.
Some guitar players recommend buying the Stratocaster first unless you have a clear sound preference. The tonal range allows for more flexibility in developing your style.
However, other artists advocate Telecasters because it’s impossible to hide behind the instrument. Realistically, you should get your hands on both beautiful guitars.
The Stratocaster and the Telecaster are both Fender legends and arguably the most popular guitars in history.
To help you make a final decision, these are the main differences between the two:
- The Telecaster is more versatile, but the Stratocaster offers a broader tone range
- The Telecaster is easier to tune and play, whereas the Stratocaster is more comfortable to hold
- There is one piece extending below the bridge pickup on the Telecaster, whereas the Stratocaster bridge has a two-point system
We hope this information serves you well and you are able to decide on the guitar for you!