Stratocaster or Telecaster: how to choose? When it comes to Fender guitars, no other models are as iconic or popular as these two. Our in-depth guide will help you to understand all the main differences between Strats and Teles.
Over here at PMT, we are committed to covering the most asked about topics for all of you curious players out there. What we have found using our super internet powers is an increasing demand for an answer to an age old question: "What is the difference between a Fender Telecaster and a Fender Stratocaster?" And why would a player prefer to use one over another?
To answer these questions, let's first line up our two combatants and analyse their history, design and electronics to see what’s what. As Strats and Teles (that’s what the cool kids call them) come in many different variations these days, we are going to look at the two grand-parents of these instruments. The 1951 Fender Telecaster and the 1954 Fender Stratocaster.
The Fender Telecaster
Before we begin, let’s clear up some common points of confusion. The Fender Esquire, Broadcaster, Nocaster and Telecaster, are essentially all incarnations of the same instrument and were released in that order. So wait, there are four types of Teles you say? Well, not exactly. The Fender Esquire was one of Leo Fenders earliest solid-body electric guitar designs and featured a one-piece Maple bolt-on neck, solid Ash body and one single coil pickup.
Leo Fender being unsatisfied with this design felt that the Esquire needed two pickups to be a truly versatile instrument. In 1950, Fender officially released The Broadcaster. This two pickup variant of the Esquire now featured a truss rod for neck adjustments and repair and is essentially the Telecaster we know of today. The name Broadcaster however was not favoured by musical instrument company Gretsch who have their own line of similarly named ‘Broadcaster’ drum sets. After negotiations with Gretsch, Fender agreed to remove the Broadcaster name. As fate would have it, Gretsch became part of the Fender musical instrument group many years later in 2003.
By 1952, the Telecaster had evolved into the design we know of and love today. For over 60 years the Fender Telecaster has remained virtually the same instrument, albeit seeing various wiring improvement over the years with new and improved parts. It truly is a testament to Fenders flawless design.
The Fender Stratocaster
After revolutionizing the electric guitar world with the Telecaster, Leo Fender sought to do it all over again with the 1954 introduction of the Stratocaster guitar. The all new Stratocaster brought with it a 3-pickup layout, innovative tremolo system and super contoured body with a double-cutaway design.
One of the biggest overlooked features of the Stratocaster is the fact that it is so comfortable to play. Like them or hate them, Stratocasters are super comfortable and can be played for hours and hours at a time without tiring out the player.The Stratocasters 3-pickup combination matched with a 5-way selector and tremolo arm does undoubtedly open up more tonal and playing possibilities making the guitar more versatile than a Telecaster on paper.
Curiously, for the first 23 years of the Stratocaster’s existence, from its 1954 debut until 1977, the pickup selector was a three-position switch. You could turn on the bridge pickup, the middle pickup or the neck pickup, but no combinations. However, many Strat players such as Dick Dale, Buddy Guy, Rory Gallagher, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Richie Blackmore liked to leave the switch in "in-between" positions, often aided by a match or toothpick jammed in the pickup selector. Today, such improvised methods are not required, as a 5-way selector is the standard.
The Stratocaster shares the same neck profile as a Telecaster and both feature the Fender bolt-on design making repairs, adjustments and set-ups a breeze.
The Fender Stratocaster guitar now comes in a range of different layouts, some offering two Humbuckers, some offering a single-coil and a Humbucker, the combinations are endless and Fender have enough varying models out to appease to virtually anyone.
Here at PMT we are not just passionate about our products, we are passionate about our playing too. Certain guitars simply feel better to certain people. It’s a combination of nostalgia (seeing what your favourite players are using) and how a guitar feels to you. No review or comparison can truly give you an answer as to which route you should go down. What we can do however is highlight the greatest players of each instrument to show what your guitar heroes were/are using.
Here’s a top ten, top trump list of players for each instrument in order to help you make a decision, if you play very much like Jeff Beck for example, it might persuade you to try a Strat as it works so well for him. Once again, a guitar should really be chosen based on how it feels to you and not because of an advertising campaign or a review.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Which Fender Telecaster/Stratocaster Should You Buy?
As mentioned earlier only you the player can decide what will work best for you. Below we have taken some time to choose three models of both the Strat and Tele to show you different variations to look at. It should give you a broader idea of which model might suit your needs best. Please note: All prices correct as of August 2016 (subjected to change)
Fender Standard Telecaster (Mexico Made) £507
On the more affordable side of the Fender spectrum are the fantastic made in Mexico Standard models. These are traditionally set-up telecasters in their usual 2 single-coil pickup configuration. Delivering the unmistakable Telecaster sound, this axe is perfect as a first buy Telecaster. Guaranteed to last for years, these made in Mexico models are claimed by many trusted reviewers to be one of the best priced, all-rounder electric guitars in the world today. Available in a range of colours and neck materials, these are an excellent starting point. VIEW MORE
Fender Classic Series 72 Telecaster Custom (Mexico Made) £738
Another pick from the Mexican range, this Classic Series 72 Telecaster Custom sports a humbucker/single-coil configuration along with 2 x volume and 2 x tone pots for greater tonal control and a more versatile experience. The classic Tele bridge pickup will still deliver those classic Telecaster sounds while the beefier humbucker in the neck position will really fatten up rhythm and solo playing. As we’ve stated before, try them out and see how it works for you. VIEW MORE
Fender American Elite Thinline Telecaster £1,256
The Fender Elite range represents the best of the best. While it's probably not advised to buy a guitar like this for your first Telecaster, it goes to show you what’s out there. The hollow-body Thinline models are exclusive to the Telecaster and really do make for one stunning design. In terms of pickups we have a traditional Telecaster layout with the inclusion however of noiseless pickups to eliminate buzz. For anybody who doesn't understand this, Single-coil pickups have a tendency and a characteristic to buzz when plugged in. The Noiseless pickups are the top spec and pretty self-explanatory. VIEW DETAILS
Fender Standard Stratocaster (Mexico Made) £507
Another made in Mexico candidate, the Standard Stratocaster is a phenomenal guitar. Again like its Telecaster brother the Mexican Standard Strat is considered one of the best priced and best playing guitars in the world. While major enthusiasts might spot the differences from the much more expensive American models, we’d wager that new comers and even intermediate players won’t. Head onto the product page for more information but take our word for it, this is a serious beast. VIEW MORE
Fender Classic Player Strat HH Dark Mercedes Blue £719
An extremely cool take on the Stat designed by Fender Custom Shop master builder Yuriy Shishkov. This incarnation of the Stratocaster features dual humbucking pickups for a fatter tone. As these pickups are coil split, the 5-way selector will allow you to dial in both humbucking and single-coil sounds. We chose to add this Strat to the list due to its added versatility and unique looks which blend the best traits of the 60’s and 70’s era Stratocasters. Be sure to check out the full description on our product page should this be a guitar that interests you. VIEW MORE
Fender 2012 American Standard Stratocaster £1,256
The 2012 American Standard Strats saw Fender ditch the Alnico V pickups found in previous Standard models for the much more favoured Custom Shop 50’s pickups. Numerous forum and blog posts from owners claim that the 2012 model is one of the best Stratocasters that Fender have ever put out. We would definitely recommend this Strat to anybody looking to pick up an American model. VIEW MORE
Best Fender Signature Models
If Fenders usual line-up doesn’t take your fancy, then perhaps a signature model from your favourite artist will. Today Fender offer a great range of artist guitars to bring you closer than ever before to your favourite players! We’ve included a few of the best examples below, to give you a better idea of what’s on offer.
Fender Jimi Hendrix Signature Stratocaster £738
Fender Richie Kotzen Signature Telecaster £1,698
Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster £1,755
Frequently Asked Questions
Just before we wrap up this article, we thought that it would be good to take the time to answer 2 Tele/Strat related questions we’ve seen floating throughout the void of the internet lately. Since we’ve not seen these questions answered thoroughly we decided to do the honours.
Q - What kind of Telecaster did Keith Richards play?
A - 1953 Fender Telecaster named 'Micawber'
Rumoured to have been a 27th birthday present from Eric Clapton, the 1953 Fender Tele is probably one of Keith’s most famous guitars. In 1972 Keith swapped out the neck single-coil for a Gibson PAF humbucker/ Interestingly however, Keith put the Gibson pickup in upside down and actually removed the magnet for the bottom 'E-string' as he very rarely uses it. The bridge pickup was also later replaced with a Fender Champion lap steel pickup, with a brass bridge fitted later.
Q - What is John Mayer’s Stratocaster?
A - 2004 Fender Custom Shop 'The Black 1' Stratocaster
While working on his world-renowned 'Continuum' album, John Mayer headed to the Fender Custom Shop in Corona California to build his very own guitar. The idea was to have a guitar with no paint or lacquer in order to give a truly natural playing feel. John felt that this however was too "Rustic" and decided to have the axe pained and heavily aged. Doing the majority of the finish work himself under Fenders supervision, the resulting guitar was... terrible.
John simply couldn't get the guitar to sound right and even went as far as to leave it in a freezer overnight in the hopes that something magical would fix it. Needless to say this didn't work. The guitar was taken apart and found to have a loose wire lurking inside. Once fixed the guitar saw its full mojo and became the favoured guitar of John Mayer. Fender were so pleased with the results that 83 identical copies were created for adoring fans and John himself.
*NOTE – John Mayer left Fender in 2014 and hence then ‘Black 1’ will no longer be made. John new guitar of choice is the Paul Reed Smith Super Eagle Custom.