You have a few hundred dollars in your pocket and you’re standing in the guitar center in front of a rack of shiny new Fenders and you don’t want to leave without a guitar in hand – so what will it come down to in the Telecaster vs Stratocaster face-off? This is an all-too-common conundrum for a first time buyer.
It’s a difficult choice to make if your criteria is style and ease-of-play because they’re both beautiful, classic instruments with a defined sound. But if you’re a little more specific in your needs, you may find a definite answer to the Telecaster vs Stratocaster question. Ask yourself a few questions and you’ll probably have an answer by the time you get to the bottom of this article.
1. Do you tend toward a specific sound, or is your playing more versatile?
This is a question that’s likely to get people to take sides – my position, however, is that both instruments are equally versatile. That being said, their tonal profiles definitely suit particular musical styles better.
When the the Telecaster vs Stratocaster debate comes to tone, one need not look further than the pickup configuration. Traditionally, the Telecasters come with a set of 2 single-coil pickups (we’re ignoring the bunches of variations today). The guitar’s sound at the bridge is described as bright, rich, and “twangy” (country), while the neck pickup produces warm, rounded tones suitable for mellow music and jazz. In comparison to the Stratocaster’s 3 single-coil pickup configuration, the Tele is a bassier instrument – particularly in thanks to the treble bleed capacitor wired between the volume and output.
Strats have a unique voice that is most definitely on the trebly side – which is perfect for rock, funk, and blues…and still can be suitable for much more. Of the two, it’s likely that the Strat. My reasoning for this is because you can’t do much to recover that high treble range that the Tele bleeds off before the output, but you can roll down the treble on your amp with a Strat – which means it’s a little more flexible.
2. Do you plan on modifying your instrument at any point, or do you want to set your tone once and be done with it?
Stratocasters are pretty much the default ‘canvas’ guitar in the lutherie world. When trying out new wiring schemes, on-board mods, and pickup configurations, there’s nothing that’ll compete with a stratocaster for ease of access.
The large pickgaurd serves as a hood that you can pop on and off very easily to fiddle around with the electronics – perfect for testing purposes. Installation of knobs and switches on the fretboard is simple as well. You can even remove the entire thing from the guitar by snipping the output wires, which will allow you to work without fear of damaging the body with your soldering iron.
Telecasters, on the other hand, have their electronics bunched onto a metal plate with a small routed compartment that doesn’t allow for too much installation.
3. Do you want to play fast leads or are you a more rhythmic player?
The Stratocaster caters to guitarists with a more technical approach to their playing, particularly in its double cutaway body shape that countless other guitar companies have taken cue from (hence the term ‘super-strat’). Having the top horn cut out allows easier access to the upper frets, which is a must for lead guitarists.
Another point of contest is the necks – Telecaster neck profiles have varied over the years much more than the Stratocaster, but from a technical perspective, there’s not too much difference in size if you measure them with a caliper.
According to some people, the feel between the two can be quite stark – with the Strat necks being described as “faster”. You’ll have to put that one to the test yourself though, I refuse to get into an argument over a few millimeters.
4. Do you have a bridge preference?
Because that’s most definitely the biggest difference in playability between the two! If you don’t know, you’ll realize soon enough if you spend a little time playing each one.
The Telecaster’s hardtail bridge traditionally have a metal plate that extends up and around the bridge pickup, which can cause some discomfort if you happen to like resting the edge of your hand around there (particularly when playing fast, palm-muted stuff). They can be equipped with a metal cover over the entire bridge area (including the pickup), but you’d have to say goodbye to clean palm muting…unless you don’t mind hearing a harmonic every time you stop.
The Stratocasters are equipped with tremolo bridges, which can be an added bonus for some or an extraneous annoyance for others.
5. Do you prefer a lacquered fretboard or unfinished?
Some people don’t notice a thing like this, while others (like me) have a strong preference toward finished or unfinished fretboards. In my opinion, the feel and response can affect the way you play the instrument – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can require some adjustment when switching from rosewood or ebony to a lacquered maple fretboard.
Appearance Counts (but What Does it Sound Like?)
The sound and feel are the most important factors in choosing a guitar, but appearances always find a way to the top of the list. They’re both beautiful guitars in their own right, but I find that the Stratocaster is such an iconic instrument that its appearance just seems too common.
It’s sleek and stylish, and decorated with lots of knobs and a big pickgaurd. A Telecaster, however, has a sort of bulky utilitarian appearance, and is just a little bit plainer – but that’s the appeal of the instrument for most people.
There’s no definite answer when it comes to questions of Telecaster vs Stratocaster, but one of them is most likely going to match up with your preferences much more than the other.