STRATOCASTER OR TELECASTER? THIS GUIDE TO THE MOST POPULAR FENDER GUITARS, DISCUSSES THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN STRATOCASTERS AND TELECASTERS.
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. It's Stratocaster vs. Telecaster - you decide who wins.
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
Fender Stratocaster guitar in Black, one of the most popular models![/caption] 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.
So what's the difference between Stratocaster Vs Telecaster guitars?
In summary the main differences between the Stratocaster and the Telecaster are as follows:
- The Stratocaster has 3 single coil pickups, whereas the Telecaster has 2.
- The Telecaster's bridge pickup is mounted on the bridge plate, which players feel gives it more bite and power.
- The Stratocaster has a master volume control and two tone controls dedicated to the middle and bridge pickups.
- The telecaster has a single volume and a single tone control.
- In most common applications the Stratocaster has a 5 way switch that allows you to isolate and blend pickups. You can choose neck, neck and middle, middle, middle and bridge or just bridge.
- The Telecaster has a 3 way switching system which allows you to select the neck, both neck and bridge or just bridge pickup.
- The Telecaster and Stratocaster have very distinct body shapes. The Strat has a double cutaway design, whereas the Tele has a single cutaway.
- The Stratocaster also has body contours making it a little more comfortable to play. the Telecaster does not have contours and is essentially a slab of wood - which a lot of players prefer.
FENDER STRATOCASTER & FENDER TELECASTER PLAYERS
Keith Richards played many guitars over the years, but a "Tele" remains his favourite [pictured]
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.
This is just a small list of Stratocaster players:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Eric Clapton
- Jeff Beck
- Rory Gallagher
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Robin Trower
- Mark Knopfler
- Curtis Mayfield
- Jeff Healey
- The Edge
This is a small list of the most notable Telecaster players:
- Jimmy Page
- Muddy Waters
- Albert Lee
- Keith Richards
- Jonny Greenwood
- Albert Collins
- Bruce Springsteen
- Danny Gatton
- Syd Barrett
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.
Budget Friendly Stratocaster - Fender Player Stratocaster
First up we have the Made in Mexico Fender Player Series Stratocaster guitar - which is a phenomenal guitar for the price. The Fender Player Series Stratocaster could easily be considered one of the best priced and best playing guitars in the world as you get a hard working, pro-level guitar for a budget frienldy price. 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
Better - Fender American Professional
The Fender American Professional Stratocaster guitars are Fender's new ‘Standard’ series of strats.
These guitars offer players the chance to get hold of a top of the line made in America Fender. This is the absolute standard Stratocaster before you hit the modified American Ultra or the expensive Fender Custom Shop. This is loaded with new V-Mod pickups and a new treble bleed circuit which retains the high-end tone when you turn the volume down.
Best - Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster
The absolute top of the range Fender Stratocaster anyone can get their hands on is the Fender Custom Shop Strat. These guitars are hand made by expert luthiers in the Fender custom shop in Corona, Riverside County, California. Whether you create the guitar of your dreams or you take one of our custom made models, you get the absolute best tonewoods, electronics and will really notice the meticulous attention to detail on these guitars. Yes, they're expensive, but they're totally worth it!
Shop all Fender Custom Shop guitars HERE.
BUDGET FRIENDLY OPTION - FENDER Player Series
On the more affordable side of the Fender spectrum are the fantastic Fender Player SeriesTelecasters which are made in Mexico. 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 for thsoe who don'tw ant to upgrade for a long time. Guaranteed to last for years, these made in Mexico models are some of the best priced, all-rounder electric guitars available. Available in a range of colours and neck materials, these are an excellent starting point.
Intermediate option - Fender Vintera
The Fender Vintera series take all the best features of certain decades and bring them firmly into the modern day. Taking its name from 'Vintage' & 'Era' to make Vintera, each guitar offers players the chance to go back in time and get hold of a particular guitar from the 50s, 60s or 70s. If you love teh feel of vintage guitars, but don't want to fork out for a custom shop or American made option, this is a great professional level guitar at an intermediate price tag.
Shop all Fender Vintera Guitars HERE.
Best Option - Fender American Ultra
The Fender American Ultra Series takes an already iconic design and offers a selection of improvements that make playing guitar a lot smoother.
You have a Maple Modern "D" Neck that is really comfortable to play, a set of Ultra Noiseless Vintage Tele Pickups for tonal versatility and power as well as an S-1 Switch that allows you to activate your pickups in series. Finally, you have a comfortable, heavily contoured body that sits well whether you're sat down or stood up.
BEST FENDER SIGNATURE MODELS
Fender Jimi Hendrix Strat
The Fender's first ever Hendrix signature Strat doesn't disappoint. Thanks to its reversed headstock, you'll feel like Jimi even if you're right-handed! VIEW MORE
Fender Jimmy Page Mirror Telecaster Signature Guitar
The Fender Jimmy Page Mirror Telecaster Signature Guitar is a faithful recreation of the legendary ’59 Telecaster which became the property of Jeff Beck before being gifted to Jimmy Page in 1966. This is almost like holding the guitar that recorded the classic tracks on Led Zeppelin 1. You even get the same style mirrors that Jimmy Page installed on the original before painting over it with a Dragon design.
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.
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's new guitar of choice is the PRS Silver Sky Signature guitar!