Welcome to Jim Miller’s Guitar Questions Answered. Jim Miller also authors Tech Notes Online, a weekly Sweetwater column covering all aspects of today’s music, from stage to studio.
Q: “Is there a noticable sonic difference between Strats & Teles?”
A: This is somewhat of a loaded question. Of course there are differences between any two guitars – sometimes even between the same model built different years. Historically, the Telecaster (Tele) featured a solid ash body with single coil bridge and neck pickups along with a maple neck and fingerboard. The Stratocaster (Strat) was Fender’s “upscale” model, with a contoured body, three single coil pickups, a tremolo tailpiece and a maple neck and fingerboard.
As you might expect, having three pickups offers more tones (particularly when you factor in the two “out-of-phase” positions available on models with a five-way switch), but some Strats may have a rosewood fingerboard that will warm up the sound slightly. The same would be true for Teles. Both are legendary for their clean, bright tone (sometimes referred to as “spank”).
Newer releases of either instrument have added various options such as maple tops, additional pickups (or different pickup types: humbuckers or active Lace Sensors with midrange boost for instance).
To a true guitar-a-holic, Teles and Strats are quite different instruments, normally used to achieve different sounds for different types of music. On a recording, most “normal” people would not hear a noticeable difference between a recording of a Strat or Tele using the bridge pickup. The main tonal differences would be most noticeable when a Strat is played using the “out-of-phase” pickup combinations, which produce a clear, glossy tone, perfect with a chorus effect.
Most players actually choose a specific Fender model based on looks and feel as much as for their respective tones. Unquestionably, both are classics that have stood the test of time!