Electric guitar designs don’t come much more hallowed than this pair of ruffians right here, nor are there topics of conversations that you are likely to hear come up between guitarist friends more often than the fabled: Stratocaster vs Telecaster. Which do you prefer? Which has served your musical trajectory better? etc etc
There are scarcely any objective truths in the field of music. Being one of the most abstract of the art forms, it’s nigh on impossible to categorise something as objectively right or truly the case. Thus, there are no right or wrong answers as to who or what or which is better, just our opinions laid bare on the table.
That being said, there are certain things that we can all agree on with regards to this iconic debate of Stratocaster vs Telecaster. It is out job today to file through these facts and to provide you with a full spectrum of information as correct and informative as possible, so that you can approach real world debates on the topic as informed as possible.
Whether you’ve played just the Stratocaster, or the Telecaster, neither, or both, the hope is that this article will ready you to defend your stance out in the field.
Main Differences between Stratocaster vs Telecaster
There are a few things that those in the music industry and guitar circles more generally have divined as what they would like to think of as objective truths about the two guitars we have before us today, Stratocaster vs Telecaster. While there is some rough truth to these statements, they ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. This means that, while these are valuable things to consider, you ought really to try the guitars out for yourself, or at the very least explore their aspects in more detail before making any rash decisions.
People often believe that:
- The Telecaster is more versatile than the Stratocaster, while simultaneously the Stratocaster offers a broader sonic palette of tones, by virtue of having more pickups.
- The Telecaster is easier to play and to tune than the Stratocaster, there being less hardware with which to be distracted on the former, though the latter is oft considered more comfortable to hold, there traditionally being grooves for the body to fit in on the Stratocaster.
- The Telecaster has one bridge piece around the bridge pickup which doesn’t move, unlike the Stratocaster which comes out of the box installed with a two point tremolo system and an adjoining tremolo arm for the adjustment of pitch.
Paying attention to this list for more than a few times, you will notice that these mantras between the Stratocaster vs Telecaster are typically based on the earliest versions of the guitars. Since their inception in the 50’s, there have been countless reiterations of these two instruments, some that are so much like each other as to be the same.
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Even to this day, Fender are still changing and morphing their signature shapes and styles with remakes and remodels, each year unveiling something new and unexpected. So keep your eyed peeled! For some, these classic models are all that’s necessary, but others might want to meet somewhere in the middle of them, a love child of theirs perhaps.
More Specific Differences between Stratocaster vs Telecaster
Despite these often thoughtlessly handed out truths, there many minute and specific differences between the Stratocaster vs Telecaster, many of which are integral in understanding what separates the two guitars. Though these corporeal differences are objective, outlining as they do what makes them literally different from each other physically, these can still result in wildly different opinion with regards to the sound and feel, people feeling and hearing and sensing things differently to others, no matter how minutely.
Comparing the Bodies
Both the Fender Stratocaster and the Fender Telecaster have traditionally been made with Alder, a tone wood that provides the guitar fashioned from it with a biting snap to the overall tone. However, more recently I have come across many Telecasters that are more often being composed of Ash, a more lightweight substitute with similar tonal qualities, though it generally considered that Ash is a slightly deeper and more resonant tone wood than that of Alder.
The bodies themselves are very different shapes, and this is where many of the arguments lie, in the corporeal differences between Stratocaster vs Telecaster. This many difference in the shape of the body comes from there being an extra upper horn on the Stratocaster, which many purport to allow the guitarist better access to the higher registers on the upper frets.
I would argue that the Telecaster, with its lower horn, likewise allows great access to the upper registers, so this physical aspect is, as with much of the choice between these two iconic models, down to personal preference.
These guitar terms don’t have to be explicitly used; we can all agree that the guitars are different and have their own aesthetic merits, body positively beautiful in their own ways. However, even in their oldest versions, the Stratocaster has always been deemed slightly more comfortable.
The Telecaster is, like many other guitars and in fact the guitar as an entire concept, simply a block of wood with all of the relative trimmings attached. The Stratocaster, however, comes with finely carved contours in which the body of the guitarist fits snuggly and comfortably.
Comparing the Necks
Both the Stratocaster and the Telecaster feature a Modern ‘C’ shape neck, built from maple, reliably and sustainably farmed and sourced. There is much contention with regards to the build of the neck, with many even feeling a difference in the necks between the guitars that purport to be exactly the same.
This harks back to what we were saying about the differences in the sensory impressions between each user and guitarist, so it would be best for you to try the guitar that you are seeking out in person before making any financial promises or investments.
More often than not the Telecaster is said to have a slightly thicker neck, a ‘D’ shape neck, more reminiscent of a baseball bat, which seems to suit the American 1950’s that spawned it rather well. Others allege that the headstock plays a large role in the way that the neck feels to hold and the way that it feels to play, the way the vibrations resonate through it into your hand as you firmly grasp it.
The scale length for both guitars, model and version depending, are more than likely going to be the exact same: 25.5 inch scale length. Since their inception, this has become an industry standard, echoed among all manner of imitators and reinventors, allowing for a good balance between pick attack and and a loose baggyness that’s perfect for all sorts of string bends and distortive techniques.
Comparing the Fretboards and Headstocks
In terms of the fretboard, both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster can be said to be very similar. You can either go for a fretboard comprised of the maple of the neck wood, or you can opt for a rosewood option atop the maple of the neck wood. They are both said to have differing tonal qualities, however subtle these may be.
A maple neck is supposed to offer more attack, for example, and more sustain, not to mention the slickness of the fretboard lending itself perfectly to more quick bends and licks. A rosewood fretboard, on the other hand, is said to have an inverse effect, providing a subtly smoother alternative that mellows out notes.
There are plenty of other options for fretboards between the Stratocaster vs Telecaster, though these are the options you are more likely to come across out in the field of purchasing a guitar like this for yourself.
Both the Telecaster and Stratocaster in their most standard forms have 22 medium jumbo frets housed on a fretboard, with a 9.5 inch radius with a nut at the border between headstock and fretboard of the same width.
However, the glaring difference aesthetically is the headstock, which is obviously larger on the Stratocaster. Some even say that this has an effect on the tone, believing that the larger and heavier headstock of the Stratocaster provides better overall tone and sustain, though this has yet to be scientifically proven.
Comparing the Pickups
Both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster come equipped with single coil pickups, at least in their original format. The layout of these pickups, not to mention the various intricacies of design and model, will vary drastically throughout all of the models and designs throughout the ages. However, in their original forms it was single coil and single coil only.
The main difference between Stratocaster vs Telecaster in this instance and more generally is the fact that the Stratocaster has three pickups, whereas the Telecaster has only two. This might seem a little arbitrary, but it really does make all the difference.
The Telecaster, for example, is famous and much heralded for its signature sound of both pickups at once, what those in the know call the in between or middle position, composed as it is of both pickups simultaneously. This sound is warm yet sharp, jangly as some are known to refer to it, perfect for all sorts of styles, having been utilised by icons in just about every field of musical exploration.
This middle position isn’t technically possible with a Stratocaster, at least not in its original form, for there is a pickup in the middle which occupies the heralded middle position on the pickup selector. If you try and go to the middle position on a Stratocaster, you are just going to hear the middle pickup. This is, of course, perfectly fine in its own right, and in fact is preferred by some, though it is certainly something to consider.
Similarly, the fabled positions in between the neck & middle, bridge & middle on a Stratocaster is likewise unattainable on a Telecaster. Thus, you would be at a bit of a loss were you to try to replicate the sounds of, say, late 70’s / early 80’s disco such as that produced by the band Chic.
Both the jangle of the Telecaster and spank of the Stratocaster have their merits, but it is here that the key differences of the guitar lie, and it is here that you must ask yourself what you are seeking in a prospective guitar.
Comparing the Hardware
Here, too, lies one of the other more glaring differences between the Stratocaster vs Telecaster, namely the aesthetics of the hardware and their function to the overall sound and tone. This is a point of much contention even today, with droves of guitar enthusiasts still not wanting to touch a vibrato arm, or inversely not wanting or feeling able to play a guitar without one.
The addition of the vibrato arm to the bridge was quite simply revolutionary to the way we understand sound in popular music as well as its course throughout the rest of the 20th century. Though the Telecaster and Stratocaster are both installed with six adjustable saddles for the relative intonation of each string, the Stratocaster is installed with a two point tremolo system, allowing for rapid adjustment of pitch with what should be more accurately be called a vibrato arm.
The Stratocaster’s bridge is attached inside the body to springs that, when fiddled with by the guitarist and the vibrato arm, allow for instantaneous adjustment of pitch, up or down.
This does have a massively detrimental effect on the tuning of the guitar over time, making it difficult to constantly keep in tune. Earlier models were notorious for this, not quite caught up or ironed out technologically to cope with incessant leaning on the vibrato arm by guitarists. It was rather common, in fact, for the springs to be entirely blocked off, fixing the bridge and rendering it more like its Telecaster brethren.
However, what with the advent of certain technological advancements, the build of the bridge on a more modern version of the Stratocaster is much more stable and reliable in this regard, regardless of whether you use the vibrato arm regularly or not. If you are more interested in heavier genres of hard rock and metal, there are options even to install a Floyd Rose tremolo system, allowing for larger and more dramatic sweeps of pitch with even more accuracy and strength against detuning.
So, there you have it! Choosing which you prefer, no matter if you intend to buy or not, can feel pretty darn impossible and fruitless at times, though I hope this has been in any way useful in helping you to assess your own trajectory and passions for these instruments.
It’s certainly not for any one to decide which is better for you but you yourself. At every step of this article and the adjoining information it would be useful for you to use it like a mirror, and to assess your instant reaction in tandem with your wants and needs, your likes and dislikes.
Certainly the debate between Stratocaster vs Telecaster is a heated one and can often boil down to which genres suit which the best. Part of what has led both these guitars to have such staying power is their pure versatility, their ability to insert themselves into just about every genre and style of popular music going.
Choosing between the two, thus, shouldn’t simply boil down to which style or genre you play, certainly not more than how the guitar feels in your hands, and how it can help you achieve your own musical dreams, as opposed to simply following others and trying to sound like them, destroying your self in the process.
FAQs Stratocaster vs Telecaster
In the grand scheme of things, both guitars are relatively straight forward and easy to understand, even for the most under taught beginners. At base, a guitar is simply a block of wood with strings and magnets, and they scarcely come more basic than the Stratocaster vs Telecaster. In purely technical terms, the Telecaster is likely better for beginners, purely for having one less pickup to think about and lacking a vibrato arm, with which one might become confused or overwhelmed at first.
To my knowledge, they aren’t. There are so many versions of each that there are cheaper Telecasters than Stratocasters, and cheaper Stratocasters than Telecasters. For similar models, though, they are more than likely going to be found at the same price. If anything, the Stratocaster should be more expensive, seeing it has extra hardware and extra wiring. The only reason I can see a Telecaster being more expensive is purely for having come out before, being an older vintage guitar, but that logic is frankly flimsy and void.