These are often the go-to models for budding guitar heroes the world over. They certainly have their differences, so which is the better beginner electric guitar?
In this article, we’re dive into a little history of each model and what similarities they have. But more importantly, we’ll go over what sets them apart from one another and find out which is the better choice for beginners.
They may look alike, but they both have very distinct sounds, playability, and get used in different genres and styles.
Key Differences Between Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster
Tone: Telecasters are more tonally distinctive, while Strats have more options due to the 5-way pickup selector.
Shape: Strats also have body contours that make them very comfortable to play, and most Teles have a ‘boxier’ body cut.
Both have the standard Fender 25.5” scale and neck profile, so playability really comes down to the neck shape, body, and setup.
When trying to decide which one to go with, consider your playing needs, style, and tonal tastes. With this in mind, let’s get dirty with some details about the major differences between these two classic models.
Other than the body style, the headstock and neck profile design might be the single easiest identifier of which model you’re looking at.
Modern models of both varieties usually get shipped with the “C” shape profile, though many of the vintage and reissues come with the more acute “V” shape.
As for the tonewoods used in the necks, Fender generally uses a maple neck for both. The fretboard wood can either be maple as well or rosewood.
Since rosewood is endangered a more modern alternative is Pau Ferro, which has a very similar warm, round tone.
This is where things get interesting. Other than overall feel, this might be the biggest factor in choosing whether a Telecaster or Stratocaster is best for a beginner.
This design was an evolution of Fender’s lap-steel guitars. It’s got more surface area, so it can receive additional windings of the wire. This results in a higher output.
A metal plate attached to the bottom of the bridge pickup is equally intrinsic to the sound, as is the angle that favors the treble end of the spectrum. They are also mounted to a piece of metal in the body that adds snap and bite.
The Telecaster neck pickup is a pretty divisive topic. Also mounted to the body instead of the pickguard, it has a narrower coil and a plate cover.
This creates a warmer sound with less output. Though this pickup has got a love/hate reputation it provides a very different flavor than the bridge that makes for a nice contrast.
Besides, if you’re feeling experimental you can always remove the cover.
Though they are both outfitted with single coils, the differences between them are pretty incredible.
The bridge pickup is also slanted toward the bridge, and all pickups are mounted to the pickguard instead of the body. You can get into Tele territory by adding backplates to the pickups as well.
You need to only see the silhouetted shape of each of these to be able to immediately tell the difference. Telecasters are a single-cut design, while Strats have a double-cut outline with an upper horn.
Over the years Fender got pretty inventive with mixing things up. Some of their novel ideas include a Telecaster body with a Strat neck, which became the Telecaster Deluxe.
A Strat body with a Tele neck is the even rarer ’51 model (one of my absolute personal favorites!). And when you start getting into some of their other body styles like Jaguars and Mustangs things can get really crazy.
As for tonewoods, alder and ash are generally the primary choices for both models with alder being the most common. It’s lightweight with good sustain and attack.
Original models were made of ash while alder became more common as time went on. Some of the more expensive models use something warmer like mahogany and sound fantastic.
It’s also worth mentioning that how the body is routed depends on the specific model you buy.
For example, some Strats come in the standard SSS pickup configuration, but if you remove the pickguard you’ll be pleased to find what’s known as the ‘swimming pool route’.
This means that you are free to retrofit pretty much any pickup configuration you’d like. For example, if you want your guitar to really cook you could put in dual humbuckers (though you will need to modify the body and pickguard to accommodate them).
There are some big differences between the two here. Traditional Tele wiring offers a single volume and tone control that covers both pickups.
Strats are a little more complex. Due to the 5-way pickup switching the middle and bridge pickups each have a dedicated master tone knob. And a single-volume knob has global control over all pickups.
But if what comes standard doesn’t fit your needs, wiring is one of the most customizable features of any guitar. Depending on how you want the pickups to interact with the controls and what types of pickups you’re using, the possibilities are almost endless.
Bridges and Hardware
There are some key differences here, too. While Stratocasters have a six-saddle tremolo bridge so that you can adjust the intonation and string height individually (along with the tremolo function), Telecasters can come in one of two bridge types.
Many of the newer ones also have the same six-saddle design, but most of the vintage ones and many of the reissues based on those have what are called barrel saddles.
The type of bridge you have factors into other elements of the sound. A tremolo bridge might have less sustain but also has a little more give overall, so it depends on the type of feel you’re after.
Conversely, hardtail bridges generally offer better tuning stability, intonation, and sustain.
If you are having some tuning issues with a tremolo bridge and you don’t want to use the vibrato bar, try blocking it off.
In effect, this holds it in place and reduces or eliminates altogether the tuning issues that can occur. True guitar geeks will argue that this doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but you can make that determination on your own.
And if you really want to get nuts with all of the tricks you can do with a legit tremolo system, a lot of Strats either come with or can be retrofitted with a locking system like a Floyd Rose.
If you are into blues and funk a Stratocaster might be the way to go. The best idea is to try out both if you can and see which one resonates with you the most.
A Brief History Of The Tele & Strat
Fender Musical Instruments had been around for a while before they started making lap-steel guitars in the mid-1940s. As these designs evolved they started to conceptualize the more modern style of guitars we recognize today.
The Fender Telecaster was the first solid-body electric guitar to be mass-produced, and it was immediately successful.
It was originally released as the Broadcaster in 1950, but was renamed just a year later to the Telecaster. The Tele was such a hit that Fender spent the next few years developing their next innovation, which would become the even more successful Stratocaster.
The trio of single-coil pickups and the wiring system that flowed between them allowed guitarists much more versatility of tone.
Released in 1954 it found many fans in the rock world including Buddy Holly, and then later Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. The rest is history!
Although it’s been seven decades, these are still two of the most iconic guitars in the world and are heavily favored by professionals and beginners alike.
In fact, there are countless models from other manufacturers that owe pretty much everything to them. There’s a reason the term ‘Strat-clone’ gets used a lot – so many guitars are directly modeled off the look and feel of a Stratocaster.
If you’re still unsure of which is the right choice for you, let’s break each model down so that you can make the best buying decision for your needs and style.
Let’s jump off from where it all began – the Fender Telecaster. This legend of the guitar world began its life in 1950 as the Esquire, before the Broadcaster.
A monumental leap forward in guitar design, it featured a single pickup – the beloved bridge single coil that can conjure up the tones that only a Telecaster can. A two-pickup version with a 3-way selector eventually found its way to market and it was renamed the Broadcaster.
Due to a legal dispute Fender had to rechristen it, and the Telecaster was born.
Ideally, the body wood is ash, and almost all Teles have hardtail bridges. This means if you’re looking to whammy the song away you’ll have to look to a pitch shifter pedal.
Some 60’s models and their reissues come with a Bigsby vibrato system, and there are some Deluxe models that have the standard Fender two-point tremolo. However, the lack of tremolo arguably adds to the distinctive sound of the Telecaster in the first place.
Telecasters traditionally sport a maple neck, but the neck profile is very similar between the two models.
These include three single-coil pickups (SSS configuration) and a 5-way pickup selector over the previous 3-way. But perhaps the most significant difference is the vibrato system that lets the player alter the string tension.
The Stratocaster is the most replicated electric guitar design in history and Tele clones are far less common. Strats are extremely versatile and customizable, as well as very comfortable to play.
About 30 years after its release it found a resurgence in the 1980s hard rock scene. These ‘Super Strat’ guitars were often fitted with humbucker pickups and were capable of delivering the heavy gain sounds popular at that time.
If you continue to develop your playing, you may even end up with both guitars in your collection. Though they both have that classic Fender sound, they differ enough in tone and feel so as to not make each other redundant.
Finally, if you want to look at the pickup modifications available for each guitar, we’ve got you covered: