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If you’re new to the guitar world, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the wide range of different guitars available in a shop. You’ve probably heard fabled tales about certain models, in particular, fueling your curious mind.
One such question that often arises is: What is the difference between the Telecaster and the Stratocaster? Today, we are going to compare these iconic and legendary Fender guitars side-by-side.
Table of Contents
Which Came First, The Telecaster Or The Stratocaster?
When talking about Telecasters and Stratocasters, it helps to understand their history. Of course, this likely won’t influence your purchasing decisions. However, it’s always good to know about the guitars you’re interested in.
The Telecaster was actually the first electric guitar that Fender produced. In fact, it was the first mass-produced solid-body guitar in the world.
This unique guitar hit began production in 1951, under a slightly different name. You’ll find that these early-production models were called Broadcasters.
There are some rare historic models, such as the Nocaster and Esquire, which share the same Telecaster shape.
The Stratocaster, on the other hand, was first produced in 1954. This guitar shared some similarities with the Telecaster, with some notable differences.
What are these differences? Well, we are going to explore that topic more in-depth throughout this article.
It’s important to note that, for the most part, these guitars have retained their traditional build specifications. Both of these guitars have a wide range of different models with different modifications.
Some of these modifications include different pickups, body alterations, and wiring schematic alterations.
For the purpose of this article, we will stick to the basics and cover the differences between standard stock models. This will give you a proper footing in understanding these fundamental differences without too many extracurricular variables.
Understanding these fundamental basics will help you when/if you do decide to purchase one for yourself. It’s important to know what you’ll be getting at a basic level before you add any sort of modifications.
What Is The Difference Between Telecaster And Stratocaster Body Designs?
One of the most immediately noticeable differences between these legendary guitars is their body shape. These body shapes are absolutely definitive and have been replicated time and again by other manufacturers.
The Telecaster is essentially a slab of solid wood that has a rounded shoulder and a single cutaway. There are no body contours to be found on this guitar, and the edges feature minimal rounding.
Looking at the Stratocaster, you’ll see that it features a double-cut type of body, with 2 horns. The Stratocaster body also has comfort contours for the picking arm and the belly. Even the edges of the guitar are much more rounded off.
Do you wonder which guitar is more comfortable to play? Well, that question can only be answered by trying them both out for yourself.
As the Stratocaster has comfort contours, it does allow the guitar to fit more snugly against your body. Your arm can also easily rest on the guitar’s top.
However, due to the Telecaster’s design, this guitar can also fit snugly against your body. The sharper edges may be a little bit uncomfortable though, which could cause some slight bruising.
Material-wise, these guitars are generally crafted from the same woods. You’ll find that the weight of each guitar is relatively identical and ranges between 6-8 pounds.
The woods you’ll typically find include:
- Swamp Ash
Another thing to note is that Telecasters and Stratocasters will fit in the same case. So, if you only have 1 case, but have each guitar, you can use the same case for either.
What’s The Difference Between Telecaster And Stratocaster Necks?
Despite their fundamental differences, the necks are essentially identical between the two guitars. You’ll find that the neck contours and shapes are exactly the same.
You’ll also find that the material being used also tends to be the same. You’ll generally have a neck made of Maple, with a fretboard in different options including:
- Pau Ferro
- Indian Laurel
Both guitars also tend to have the same amount of frets (21 or 22, depending on the model). The scale length is usually the same at 25.5”, with the fretboard radius at 9.5”. Some models will have a compound radius that gradually fluctuates depending on the location you’re playing at.
The most noticeable difference between the necks themselves is the headstock on each model. This is also one of the most identifiable aspects of the two models.
Headstocks on Stratocasters tend to have that traditional Fender-shaped headstock that they are most known for. These are fairly wide and somewhat triangular with a signature rounded edge.
The Telecaster headstock features a similar shape but is much slimmer in size. Despite this, the shape is undeniably recognizable as a Fender shape, specifically with Telecasters.
Occasionally, you will find some Telecasters that have a Stratocaster-style headstock. These tend to be specific models such as the Telecaster Deluxes.
Another similarity between these two guitars is that they both feature a bolt-on modular design. The neck can be easily swapped via 4 screws at the back of the guitar. This is a fundamental aspect of most Fender guitars, though some special models have a set neck.
Let’s take a more in-depth look into these guitars on an individual basis. This will help you discern more of the fundamental differences between the Telecaster and Stratocaster.
What Are The Features Found On A Telecaster?
We’ve already discussed at length the basic build of a Telecaster. But what about the components that make this guitar so iconic?
One of the biggest things you’ll notice with a Telecaster is that it is a pretty solid and stable guitar. You’ll be able to bend against sustained notes without any sort of detuning happening.
The reason for this is due to two different aspects of the Telecaster itself. The first is that the strings are strung through the back of the guitar.
This string-through-body method provides tuning stability as the entire guitar is being used as an anchor.
The second aspect of this stability is the fixed bridge. Because the bridge stays in one location, the string tension remains the same for each string. You’ll be able to change the tuning of one string without affecting the other strings.
The pickups on a Telecaster are both single-coil pickups. However, each pickup is unique in its own respect.
Perhaps the Telecaster’s most signature aspect is its bridge pickup. This pickup is mounted on the Telecaster’s bridge, with the metal bridge plate underneath.
The Telecaster’s neck pickup is also pretty unique compared to other single-coil pickups. These pickups tend to be known as lipstick pickups due to their smaller housing.
Occasionally, you will find some models that have humbucker pickups in either position.
With these pickups, you’ll have a 3-way selector switch on a Telecaster. This switches between the neck position, bridge, or uses both simultaneously.
In addition to this, you’ll have 1 master volume knob and 1 master tone knob. These affect both of the guitar’s pickups.
For the most part, this is about all you’ll have with a Telecaster. However, its simplicity lends itself to quite a bit of versatility and ease of use.
What Are The Features Found On A Stratocaster?
The Stratocaster has a few differences from the Telecaster that are immediately noticeable. These fundamental differences are a part of the charm of each respective guitar.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that it will have a tremolo system, rather than a fixed bridge. This allows you to add vibrato and perform dive-bombs by manipulating the tremolo arm.
Of course, this does come with its own set of inherent issues that must be accepted when playing a Strat. The biggest issue is the string tension.
If you look at the back of a Stratocaster, you’ll see a series of springs. These are actually connected to the bridge part of the tremolo system.
The spring tension on the tremolo system allows you to use the tremolo arm. As such, this spring tension also affects the string tension of the entire guitar.
If you break a string or have to detune a string, you’ll have to retune your entire guitar. The same goes for putting new strings on, as you’ll inevitably tune your guitar up multiple times. Doing so ensures that the string tension is correct across the bridge of the tremolo system.
Another notable difference on Stratocasters is that these guitars have 3 single-coil pickups. You’ll have a pickup for each position of the guitar.
Taking this difference even further is the fact that Strats have a 5-way switch. This allows you to use these pickups in an isolated mode, or in a combination.
With that, you’ll also have 1 master volume knob and 2 tone knobs. These tone knobs vary in the pickup that they affect.
For the most part, the tone knobs affect the neck and middle position pickups. However, some modifications can be made to allow for the bridge pickup to be adjusted.
What Famous Guitarists Use Telecasters And Stratocasters?
If you’ve listened to any music released within the last century, you’ve undoubtedly heard these guitars in action. In fact, you’ll find that many of your favorite guitarists have used these guitars, with some using them exclusively.
Telecasters and Stratocasters have played an important role in creating some of the best music of all time. The influence of these guitars extends well into modern-day music, and likely far into the future.
There are likely more guitarists that use these guitars than could be reasonably mentioned in this article. However, for the sake of example, we will outline some of the most notable.
Some of the famous guitarists who have played Telecasters include:
- Danny Gatton
- Keith Richards
- Albert Collins
- George Harrison
- Robbie Robertson
- Greg Koch
- Bill Frisell
- Brad Paisley
- Roy Buchanan
Famous Stratocaster guitarists include:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Eric Clapton
- Mark Knopfler
- David Gilmour
- Jeff Beck
- Buddy Holly
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- John Mayer
As you can see, there is no shortage of guitarists using these beloved instruments. You’ll also notice that these guitarists come from a wide range of different musical backgrounds.
Let’s take a closer look at the tonal aspects of the Telecaster and Stratocaster. Doing so will help you to understand why certain guitarists opt for either of these legendary instruments.
What Do Telecasters Sound Like?
Aside from their visual differences, Telecasters and Stratocasters have their own unique tones. As you might guess, this has much to do with the pickups featured on each guitar.
Telecasters tend to have a bit more of a direct tone. You could think of this as having a bit of a punch.
This is especially true with the Telecaster’s bridge pickup. As this pickup is a little wider, it has a bit more output.
Quite often, these guitars are best known for their twangy sound, which is generally found with the bridge pickup.
You’ll find that the Telecaster bridge pickup has a bit more bite and attack compared to a Strat. This pickup’s tone is often what the Telecaster is best known for.
This biting attack is enhanced by the fact that the pickup itself is mounted onto the metal bridge. Having this mounting helps in allowing the tone to be much more visceral.
When using the Telecaster’s neck pickup, you’ll find that the volume output is slightly quieter. This is due to the pickup’s smaller size, which is designed to project a bit more of a subdued tone.
However, to assume that the Telecaster is not a powerful guitar because of this would be a mistake. In fact, Telecasters work extremely well in situations with high-gain distortion.
This neck pickup is pretty versatile in its own right. By manipulating the tone knob, you can even serve up tones that are suitable for a jazz guitar context.
The neck pickup generally tends to be a little bit darker in its tonal qualities. The bridge position is much brighter in comparison.
For the most part, Telecasters tend to have a more pronounced mid-range. The treble range of the EQ tends to be a little bit less pronounced with these guitars.
What Do Stratocasters Sound Like?
When compared to Telecasters, Strats have a much wider range of different tonal options. This is undoubtedly due to the extra pickup as well as the 5-way selector switch.
For the most part, you can think of Stratocasters as having a much more lush-sounding characteristic. Depending on the pickup selection, the tone can also be a bit fatter and sound more round.
In fact, at times, you’ll find a Stratocaster can produce a bit of a quacking tone. This might be a hard concept to understand, as it is certainly difficult to explain in words. However, by hearing it, you’ll immediately know what this means.
The neck pickup on a Stratocaster tends to be somewhat warm but can be very balanced tonally. This will also be much more pronounced in volume compared to a Telecaster.
In the middle position, the Stratocaster can be fairly bright sounding. Some Strats have this pickup to be wired up for high-output situations.
At the bridge, you’ll find that the tone can be very bright. Many Strat players like to roll off the treble on the EQ so it isn’t quite as piercing.
Where the Stratocaster really shines is in the in-between positions. These are effectively known as positions 2 and 4 and are out-of-phase positions.
The tones that come from these positions are undeniably the signature of the Stratocaster. These tones tend to be somewhat quieter in volume, but much more lush-sounding.
Positions 2 and 4 are excellent for chordal work, as well as subtle playing applications. However, you can easily use these positions within your guitar leads with no problems.
Stratocasters tend to work best in low-gain settings. This allows the bright, sparkly, chime-y, glassy characteristics to stand out.
What Styles Of Music Should Telecasters Be Used For?
When you purchase a guitar, you inevitably will want to make sure it can handle your genre of choice. There are certain genres that each guitar is known for, so this can be a good starting point.
For the most part, Telecasters are generally thought of when thinking of country guitar. The twangy tones this guitar produces are a signature aspect of the country guitar sound.
When coupled with a compressor and a slight overdrive, you’ll find the Telecaster perfect for that country punch.
Of course, you’ll find that Telecasters are used elsewhere, to great effect. As mentioned previously, Telecasters can handle jazz tones exceptionally well.
You’ll also find that the Telecaster works exceptionally well in rock music settings, too. Because of their direct presence, these guitars excel at delivering tasty distorted tones when needed.
The blues is also a genre that has seen its fair share of Telecasters. In fact, many of the genre’s iconic solos undoubtedly feature the Telecaster’s bridge pickup.
Can you use a Telecaster for metal? It’s certainly worth a try, but it really depends.
As these guitars handle high gain with ease, it isn’t unreasonable to think that they can be used for metal. The single-coil pickups may present a bit of an issue, as a humbucker may provide a thicker tone.
Telecasters can also be used in other genres including more experimental music such as shoegaze and ambient music.
As a whole, Telecasters make great well-rounded guitars. You can find a use for it in nearly any type of music you find yourself playing.
What Styles Of Music Should Stratocasters Be Used For?
When it comes to the Stratocaster, you’ll find that the guitar is a fixture within certain genres. This mostly has to do with the fact that your ear is used to hearing the guitar in that context.
Take the blues for instance. The Stratocaster has had many guitarists use the guitar specifically for playing the blues. After all, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s iconic tone wouldn't have sounded the same without a Stratocaster.
Stratocasters can work exceptionally well with funk music. The quacky charm these guitars have can be right at home in this music genre.
This guitar also works quite well for country music, too. It won’t have that Telecaster twang, but you’ll find its unique sound fits the genre without issue.
For the most part, any sort of genre that doesn’t require high gain will be appropriate for a Stratocaster. This guitar shines the best when its clean characteristics are allowed to take center stage.
That isn’t to say that Stratocasters can’t be used with distortion. Quite the contrary.
In fact, you’ll find that these guitars have been used in literally almost every music genre with a guitar. The major exception with this statement is with metal.
Stratocasters won’t likely make a good fit for those wishing to play metal music due to the single-coil pickups. These tend to get extremely noisy when a lot of gain is introduced into the signal.
Jazz is also going to be a little hit-or-miss with Stratocasters. You can get close to those iconic tones, but it won’t exactly be on the mark. It will sound more like an imitation rather than the real thing.
How Much Do Telecasters And Stratocasters Cost?
New guitars are definitely not always the most affordable thing in the world. It’s always good to have an idea of what certain guitars cost. This allows you to formulate a budget and a plan.
If you’re looking to buy a new Telecaster, you’ll find that the price range differs depending on the model. Fender’s range of Telecasters runs from about $850 to $2900.
Many of the more expensive models tend to be signature artist models or vintage-spec reproductions. At the lower end of the range are models that have a larger number in production with less expensive materials.
When it comes to Stratocasters, you’ll find pretty much the same thing. These guitars range from $850 to about $2700.
Again, these more expensive models tend to be signature artist models or vintage reproductions. The less expensive models are excellent guitars in their own right.
If you’ve always wanted a Telecaster or Stratocaster, but can’t afford it, there is still hope. The first thing you should do is check the market for a used guitar.
You can often find a used guitar for much less than what you would pay to buy new. Quite often, the difference is pretty negligible.
Of course, you’ll want to do your research to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Also, pay attention to how well the guitar was taken care of.
If you’re set on buying new, but on a budget, there’s still one more option. Fender has a subsidiary company called Squier that produces guitars at much lower price points.
These guitars are essentially Fender guitars in every respect. However, they are often produced in overseas factories with inexpensive materials.
Squier guitars are generally priced just right for beginner and intermediate budgets. Finding a used Squier could knock this price significantly lower.
Which Guitar Should I Get?
Each of these guitars has a serious reputation. As such, it can be a little difficult to decide which is right for you.
To give a recommendation, you should buy the guitar for the guitarist you wish to be. If you hear certain tones in your head, seek out a guitar that can provide those tones.
Deep inside, you know which kind of guitar tones appeal most to your ears. You might not actually even be aware of it.
The best thing you can do is go into a guitar store and try these guitars out for yourself. By playing them, you’ll hear the difference between each.
You’ll also conclude which feels best in your hands, and which sounds more pleasing for your needs.
Taking the time to do this ensures that you have no regrets about the guitar you purchased. There is no need to be shy, every guitarist does this when buying a guitar.
Beginners may have an easier time with the simplicity of the Telecaster. However, if you love that Stratocaster sound, go for that instead.
Stratocaster Vs Telecaster, The Difference Compared – Final Thoughts
Telecasters and Stratocasters will forever hold a place of importance within the realm of music. Few guitars come close in terms of the sheer influence that these guitars have produced over time.
No matter what camp people are in, everyone can agree that these guitars contain some special tones. Will we ever see a new guitar that even compares to the influence of these giants?
Only time will tell. Until then, you can be sure these guitars will continue to be played well into the future.
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