Fender’s Stratocaster and Telecaster are two of the most iconic electric guitar models on the planet. Believe it or not, both were designed as far back as the 1950s! Following on from the Broadcaster that was introduced in 1950, the Telecaster first saw the light of day in 1951. The Stratocaster came along just three years later in 1954 after Leo Fender listened to feedback from guitarists who played the first Tele models. Both of these electric guitars have a huge fanbase who appreciate the look, sound and playing comfort each model offers. But what are the differences and which one are you a fan of? If you don’t know the answer to that question yet, perhaps reading this blog will help you decide.
Talk about an electric guitar and many people will instantly think of a Stratocaster before any other model which gives you a good idea of just how well-known it is. Compare a Strat to a Tele and you’ll notice some visual differences straight away. Unlike the Stratocaster, the Telecaster doesn’t have any body contours and it has only a single cutaway, whereas the Strat features a second cutout on the upper horn as well. The headstocks are different too with the Stratocaster’s being larger, something that Strat fans will tell you give it more sustain and tone than the Tele. Other noticeable differences include the bridge design and the pickups which we’ll look at in more detail in the next paragraph.
Twang or spank?
The Telecaster quickly became renowned for its ‘twang’ which comes as a result of the placement of its two single-coil pickups. There’s one at the neck and another built into the Tele’s metal bridge plate, which Tele fans will tell you give it a more powerful tone than the Strat. The sound can be customised using the 3-way pickup switch which is why this model has been used for different music styles including country, rock, blues and indie. Well known Telecaster players include Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen and Brad Paisley. The Stratocaster has three single-coil pickups on board and although it initially also had a 3-way pickup switch, players quickly found they could get even more tonal varieties by jamming the switch in between positions too. This prompted a design change, which is why Stratocasters today feature a 5-way pickup switch and have plenty of ‘spank’. Unlike the Tele’s fixed bridge, the Stratocaster has a tremolo bridge that allows players to easily add additional vibrato effects to their playing. Strats are frequently used in styles like funk, rock and pop and famous players include Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour and Nile Rodgers.
Both models have bolt-on necks and more often than not a comfortable C profile. If you use your thumb frequently when playing, however, you may find one with soft or hard V profile more suitable. Players with larger hands may even prefer a fuller U profile, although these are harder to find on Stratocasters than Telecasters. U-profile necks have a deeper back and can be more challenging to play. Modern Telecasters and Stratocasters usually have 9.5-inch radius fretboards and a scale length of 25.5 inches, although there are some models out there with different specifications. If you’re primarily a rhythm guitarist, you may wish to consider a model with a flatter or compound radius.
The Telecaster is designed to be a faithful servant and the sound it produces is its most important characteristic. The Stratocaster is just as reliable, but it has the edge in terms of overall comfort thanks to its ‘Comfort Contour’ body, as Fender refers to it. In fact, so many guitarists appreciate a contoured body on their guitars that Fender has even given some of its Tele models the same treatment and many other guitar manufacturers have also followed suit.
Ultimately, you’ll need to weigh up all of the factors that are important to you before deciding whether to go for a Stratocaster or a Telecaster. Whichever model you choose, however, you can’t really go wrong.