Stratocaster vs Telecaster Overview

Stratocaster
Telecaster

By the time the Stratocaster was launched in the mid 1950s, the Telecaster had already enjoyed commercial success for several years under various names.

Being the marginally older of the two, the Tele is often seen as as a more traditional, minimalist alternative to the Strat with a distinctively sharper twang but lacking much of the Strat's sweeping versatility.

We'll be comparing these two granddaddies of the solid body electric world in three main price brackets - the high-end American made (MIA) Fenders, mid-range Mexican made (MIM) Fenders and the budget Squier offerings.

Fender American Standard Strat vs Tele

Let's set the benchmark with the Fender USA Standards...

Model American Stratocaster American Telecaster
Rating 91
(over $1000)
92
(over $1000)
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Model American Stratocaster American Telecaster
Manufacturer
Website
Fender.com Fender.com
Weight 3.6 kg / 7lbs 14 oz 3.5 kg / 7lbs 13oz
Tuners Fender Standard Cast/Sealed
Staggered
Deluxe Cast/Sealed
Staggered
Neck Maple
Modern C
Maple
Modern C
Scale Length 25.5" 25.5"
Nut Material Synthetic Bone
Synthetic Bone
Nut Width 1.685" 1.685"
Fingerboard Rosewood or Maple Rosewood or Maple
Fingerboard Radius 9.5" (241 mm) 9.5"
Frets 22
Medium Jumbo
22
Medium Jumbo
Inlays Pearloid Dot (Rosewood)
Black Dot (Maple)
Pearloid Dot (Rosewood)
Black Dot (Maple)
Body Alder Alder
Pickups Custom Shop Fat '50s Single-Coil x3 Bridge Pickup: Custom Shop Vintage-Style Tele
Neck Pickup: Custom Shop "Twisted" Single-Coil Tele
Bridge Synchronized Tremolo with Bent Steel Saddles 6-Saddle American Standard Strings-Through-Body Tele with Bent Steel Saddles and Stamped Brass Plate
American Stratocaster American Telecaster


Model American Stratocaster American Telecaster
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Fender Mexican Standard Strat vs Tele

In the mid-range we have the Mexican made Fender Standards...

Model MIM Stratocaster MIM Telecaster
Rating 89
($500-$700)
90
($500-$700)
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Model MIM Stratocaster MIM Telecaster
Manufacturer
Website
Fender.com Fender.com
Weight 3.6 kg/ 7lbs 14oz 3.7 kg/ 8lbs 3oz
Tuners Fender Standard Cast/Sealed
Fender Standard Cast/Sealed
Neck Bolt-on Maple
Modern C
Bolt-on Maple
Modern C
Scale Length 25.5" 25.5"
Nut Material Synthetic Bone
Synthetic Bone
Nut Width 1.650" (42 mm) 1.650" (42 mm)
Fingerboard Rosewood or Maple Maple
Fingerboard Radius 9.5" (241 mm) 9.5" (241 mm)
Frets 21
Medium Jumbo
21
Medium Jumbo
Inlays Black or White Dot Black or Pearloid Dot
Body Alder Alder
Pickups Standard Single-Coil Strat x3 Standard Single-Coil Tele x2
Bridge 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
6-Saddle Standard Strings-Through-Body Tele with Block Saddles
MIM Stratocaster MIM Telecaster


Model MIM Stratocaster MIM Telecaster
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Squier Classic Vibe Strat vs Tele

Squier's Classic Vibe series represents the best of the budget end...

Model Classic Vibe Strat Classic Vibe 50s Tele
Rating 92
($300-$500)
90
($300-$500)
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Model Classic Vibe Strat Classic Vibe 50s Tele
Manufacturer
Website
50's - Squierguitars.com
60's - Squierguitars.com
Squierguitars.com
Weight 3.2 kg / 7 lbs 2 oz 3.7 kg / 8 lbs 1oz
Tuners Vintage-Style Vintage-Style
Neck Bolt-on Maple
Modern C
Bolt-on Maple
Modern C
Scale Length 25.5" 25.5"
Nut Material Synthetic Bone Synthetic Bone
Nut Width 1.650" 1.625"
Fingerboard Maple (50's)
Rosewood (60's)
Maple
Fingerboard Radius 9.5" 9.5"
Frets 21
Medium Jumbo
21
Medium Jumbo
Inlays Black Dot (50's)
Pearloid Dot (60's)
Black Dot
Body Alder Pine
Pickups Custom Vintage Style Single-Coil x3 Custom Vintage-Style Single-Coil Tele x2
Bridge 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
3-Saddle Vintage-Style Strings-Through-Body Tele with Brass Barrel Saddles
Classic Vibe Strat Classic Vibe 50s Tele


Model Classic Vibe Strat Classic Vibe 50s Tele
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Key Differences Between the Strat & Tele

With similar on-paper specs, similar ratings and similar price, the differences are seemingly subtle. Let's take a closer look...

Look & Feel

Strat and Tele body differenceStrat and Tele body difference

The most noticeable difference between your standard Stratocaster and Telecaster is the pickup configuration - three single coils on the Strat, two on the Tele, with its famous metal covered neck pickup. So there's an extra middle position pickup on the Strat giving you additional tone options.

The pickup selector switch reflects this difference, with five positions on the Strat and three on the Tele.

The Tele's fixed bridge plate engulfs the bridge pickup which goes some way to shaping its distinctively (and pleasantly) brash tone (more on that in a moment).

The Strat's bridge functions as a floating tremolo system, allowing you to make use of the "whammy bar" (tremolo arm) for dramatic changes in pitch - something dedicated Tele players don't tend to miss.

Both the Fender American Standards are available with the choice of a maple or rosewood fingerboard, with maple offering more high-end presence.

As the scale length, fret gauge and neck profile are typically the same on both, there's negligible difference in overall playability, although the double, wider cut of the Strat may make those higher frets more accessible.

Sound

With the Strat offering five pickup positions, there's more tonal range with which to experiment than the Tele. The Strat's bridge-middle position produces that distinctive "quack", a much softer, smoother expression than what the Tele can handle.

In the bridge position, there's more sharpness and twang to the Tele, meaning percussive strumming and lead cuts through all the more aggressively.

There's more of an acquired taste to develop with the Telecaster, with many players shying away from its neck pickup altogether. Overall, it's a much simpler, rawer, "in your face" sound, which is why you'll see/hear it used in punk and more raucous forms of blues, country and rock.

Turning up the gain, the Strat blends each note into the next, while the Tele more strongly emphasises note separation and pick attack.

It's true that the Strat is more versatile, with the otherwise bell-like neck pickup even capable of attaining those dark, warm jazz tones as you roll off the tone knob. But as soon as you hear what the Tele does best, you'll immediately know whether or not the Strat's versatility really matters to you.

▲ Compare Sound

◀ More Strat Guitar Comparisons

◀ More Telecaster Guitar Comparisons