April 4, 2019

Telecaster vs Stratocaster

The Telecaster, a solid body electric guitar was introduced by Leo Fender in 1951 and by using new and unique production techniques revolutionized how guitars were built. Three years later, Fender sought to refine the design of the iconic ‘Tele’ as the Telecaster is often called. However, the redesigning never happened because the innovative Fender created an entirely new model called the Stratocaster, which boasted of many improvements. Legends like Luther Perkins, Buck Owens and other rock players like Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Harrison brought the Telecaster to the masses while maestros like Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Robin Trower, and Eric Clapton sponsored the Strat and made it a popular musical instrument. These two great instruments are often the subject of hot debates- which one is better- so let’s pit the Telecaster against the Stratocaster and see which one scores over the other. Here goes- Telecaster vs Stratocaster.

Tele and the Strat- same but different

Each of these guitars has many Fender versions and player versions and cater to particular styles of music. In fact, Starts and Teles are built for every level of player and models are customized to suit professionals. Telecasters are well known for the country twang they can produce and Stratocasters are reputed for rock and blues. Special pickups and other add-ons ensure that they work well for specific genres. These guitars are so versatile that you can use them in practically any genre.

Availability

Both the Strat and the Tele are typically made from Alder as it lends a “good bite to sound” but they are also made from ash as this tonewood gives the sound a little bit more depth and resonance. So you can have Alder Strats and Ash Teles as well as Ash Strats and Alder Teles. Both are wonderfully finished and there’s not much to choose there. The Tele is available in two brands-Fender and Squire, the latter being more affordable.

Shape- Body, and Neck

The shapes of the guitar bodies are different- both have feature headstocks with six-inline tuning machines. When compared to the Tele, the Stratocaster has a larger headstock. Heavier headstocks are believed to offer better, greater tone and more sustain. The necks of both the guitars have the Fender C shape and come with two options- a neck that’s made completely of maple (including the fingerboard) and a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. The heel on a Tele neck is square but is round on a Strat neck. Though the necks are the same shape, the Strat and Tele feel different when they are held. The fingerboards influence the sound- maple fingerboards produce crisp notes that have a bite, whereas rosewood fingerboards round out the notes a little more. The fretboard radius is identical and both have a similar 25.5” scale and a 22 fret bolt-on necks. This means the neck, rather than being glued or set-in is fixed to the body with screws. Strats are slightly thinner than Teles and hence weigh less. The cable jack is located at the side of the Tele but at the top of a Strat.

Bridge

Herein lies the real difference- Though both the guitars have six saddles that can be adjusted, the Tele Bridge is a single piece that goes as far as the bridge pickup and under it, making it easier to tune. The Strat vibrato bridge is attached to springs, which connect with the guitar’s body. You can increase or decrease the tension at will, but it’s a little more difficult to keep the guitar in tune. A vibrato effect caused when string tension is changed is responsible for the tuning instability. When players with Strats need a fixed bridge like that in the Telecaster, they block the bridge to achieve that. A Tele can easily be identified with its single ‘horn’ and a Strat with its double horns.

Pickups

The Strat and Tele have single-coil pickups to ensure optimum sound and great volume- the Strat has three pickups. The presence of a 5-way switch on the strat allows players to switch easily between pickups and use different configs to suit their styles of music. This also has a bearing on the tone, which is clear, clean and punchy. Strat has two-tone knobs-one for the bridge pickup and one for the middle pickup. Even without pedals and effects, the Strat has tonal abilities that can easily mimic many effects. Strat beats the Tele when it comes to tonal possibilities- If its rock sound really rocks and shakes, its lullabies are soothing and beautiful. However, the extra pickup doesn’t make the Strat better than the Tele. Many players love the sound of the Telecaster.

The Tele has two pickups- one in the neck and the other in the bridge position and a 3-way switch gives players 3 different configs. The snap and the twangy sound are associated with the bridge pickup- a sound that can be produced on any guitar by strumming the bottom of the strings nearest to the bridge. However, if you activate both the pickups, you are likely to get a mixture of mellow and twang. It has one volume and tone control, both of which help to further customize the sound. The Tele is a simple guitar with a simple setup with warm, twangy tones and big attributes. It’s pretty much plug & play for a Tele and the sound of that guitar is nice and bright without being shriek. Considering that it is the first electric guitar to be produced on a commercial basis, nothing can take away the absolute simplicity in terms of construction.

Diff in sounds

Many guitarists have often stated that the sound of the Strat is compressed while the Tele has a mixture of highs and lows. But this is not an issue-for it depends on the kind of music that you want to play. If you’re looking to play country or rock- a Tele should do the trick, but if you want more gain control and want to play metal, hard rock, then they go for a strat.

The quality of sound on a Tele neck is snappy and biting, jangly in the middle and smooth and warm on the bridge. In a Strat, the timbre is quacky on the neck and more brazen on the bridge. The bridge sound on a Tele is thick and big, whereas in a Strat it is slightly unmodified.

Generally, when you think of country music, you think Tele, but this guitar is capable of very much more. If you look back, it has a great rock history. Many guitarists play both Strats and Teles as both these distinguished guitars give you unique style and sound.

Diff in bridge pickups

The Standard Tele bridge pickup is taller and longer than that of a Strat- as a result, more wire can be wound around the bobbin. This results in a good, high output. A metal plate can be found at the bottom of every Tele bridge pickup. Magnets placed on top of this metal plate causes an increase in the inductance of the coils. This tends to make the pickup powerful- bass and low midranges are boosted and the tone of the pickup is warm. The saddles are also made of metal and this further adds to the twang of the Tele notes.

In a Strat, the bridge pickup is slanted towards the high strings which produce the treble notes, but as it sits on a plastic pickguard adjacent to a ‘floating bridge’, different tones are produced- they are clean and clear. By modifying the tonewood or adding backplates to the Strat pickups, the sound also can be altered to come closer together.

Though the pickups have a say in tonal deliverability, the main difference in tone can be attributed to the bridge rather than the pickups. In a Tele, the string of the guitar enters from the back of the guitar and then makes it through the bridge and over the saddle. This makes it easy to make string changes. In a Strat, the Tremolo system allows players to lower or raise the bridge assembly itself when you want to alter the pitch of notes.


Both the Strat and Tele have versions that have humbucking pickups. Though the tonal range is less on a Tele and greater on a Strat, there is no questioning the amazing versatility of the Tele.

Making modifications

If you are one of those that are experimenting with wiring schemes and on-board mods, then the Strat offers ease of access. The pickguard can easily be lifted off and put back giving you a chance to mess about with the electronics. If you want to revamp the whole guitar, you snip off those output wires and have fun to change things. Teles have their electronics concentrated on a metal plate and small routed compartment- so you can’t change things about easily.

Other different features

Tele knobs are made from metal and hence don’t stain easily and if they do, can be easily cleaned. Strat knobs are made from plastic, stain easily and are harder to clean.

A Tele has a smooth top curve and will easily fit into any standard electric guitar gig bag but that’s not so with the Strat. The top horn of a Strat sort of protrudes and makes it difficult to zip up.

A rear contour cut makes the Strat easy to hold and its ergonomic design makes it comfortable to play regardless of whether you are standing or are seated. Strictly speaking, the traditional Tele doesn’t have this rear contour cut, though some Fender and Squier models have the contour.

The absence of a vibrato system in the Tele helps tune stability. A Strat too can keep its tune by blocking the vibrato system, but you need to know how to do that. Generally, a Strat loses its tuning easily. Also, a Strat has more star power than a Tele- many celebrated guitar artists have played a Strat while a Tele cannot claim such big recognition.

Those players who are technically inclined will love the double cutaway body shape of a Strat and if lead guitarists want to get at the frets can do so by cutting off the top horn.

All said and done, when it comes to an actual face-off, deciding between a Strat and a Tele is overwhelming and confusing. What can actually be better is rather than making a choice just by looking at specs, play both and see what sound pleases you and which one is more comfortable. You need to spend some time with both as the differences are so subtle that you over the period, you will make the right choice. Both are great guitars in their own right, so whichever side you lean towards, you can’t really be wrong.

Mario

Mario@rockoutzone.com