The Fender Stratocaster is by far one of the most successful guitars ever created. From its signature sound to its equally signature build, players from across all genres have embraced the legendary Strat! And in case you haven’t checked out the sale on our front page, Fender and ProAudioLand will be lowering prices on some of our favorite Strats but you better hurry because the sale ends March 31st! There's extra savings on Standard Stratocaster, Blacktop Stratocaster, American Special Stratocaster, American Standard Stratocaster and American Deluxe Stratocaster for the next two weeks, so make sure and take advantage today on the models listed right here!
With so many different models of Strats to choose from, it can easily become a daunting task trying to figure out which one will best suit your needs and taste. You might be thinking that the Standard Special model looks great but wondering what exactly separates it from the American Standard – or the regular Standard for that matter! To make finding the right Strat a bit easier, we here at the PAL Blog would like to take the time today to breakdown plenty of the notable features and differences that makes each Stratocaster unique. From the differences between an American and Mexican to how it differs from its cousin, the Telecaster, we have all the info you need to find that perfect Strat!
The Differences between the Telecaster and the Stratocaster
The Big Brother
Although to the unknowing person it seems as though the Stratocaster is the natural evolution of Telecaster (seeing as how it came out later, featured an extra pickup, “better” body shape and an added tremolo bridge), those who have played the two are more likely to akin it to a little brother big brother relationship, as the two are similar but uniquely their own, with players on both sides of the argument as far as which one is superior.
As mentioned above, while the added tremolo bridge seems like an extra, it detuned guitars quicker so those who had no interest in the tremolo affect saw it as a negative. The added pickup also didn’t necessarily make the Stratocaster superior as many still preferred the sound of the Telecaster (and nowadays you can get a three pickup Tele, nullifying that argument). I think I’m making my point that what works for some doesn’t for others and that doesn’t necessarily make either guitar “better.” So now, on to the deeper differences and what they mean for those trying to decide between the two.
The main differences that matter as far as tone and timbre are a bit harder for those unfamiliar with electric guitars to comprehend, so newcomers might have a hard time deciding which sound they prefer from simply reading about it. The best way to compare the sound of two guitars is to play both CLEAN (I can’t stress that enough, as any two guitars will sound similar enough if you give it enough distortion), this will allow you to be able to hear the natural timbre of the instrument. If you would like Eric Clapton’s take on the Strat versus the Tele, he has described the sound of the Stratocaster as more compressed while the Tele has more highs and lows. From personal experience I found this to be true, although which sound is preferable is up to what kind of music you will be looking to play. Those searching for a twangy and bright sound like that prized in country or rockabilly gravitate more towards the Telecaster while those looking for a bit more simple with greater gain control such as that found in several types of hard rock, such as punk and metal, more often head towards a Strat.
Other general consensus descriptions regarding tone describe the pickup timbre of the Telecaster as snarling and biting on the neck and warm and smooth on the bridge, with a jangly sound in the middle. The Stratocaster on the other hand is more or less described as smokey and woody with a bit of quack on the neck while the bridge pickups a bit more brazen, otherwise confirming the breakdown of Mr. Clapton. Those confused by the use of colorful words should do well by getting used to it, as there is rarely a uniform way of describing the little details in guitar timbre better than the use of emotional adjectives. Then again, you can simply try the two out yourself and decide first hand.
In the end, the differences between the Telecaster and the Stratocaster may not seem apparent at first, but once you spend time with the two, they are truly and uniquely their own. Those looking to exploit the tremolo effect and don’t mind a bit more frequent tuning along with a slight growl would be wise to pick up a Stratocaster while those more prone to playing bright and clean with a nice versatile set of pickups will love the sound of the Telecaster. Ultimately though, they are both great guitars that have lived on strong ever since they were both introduced in the ‘50s. Whichever side of the fence you end up leaning on, just know that there are plenty of greats at your side.
The Difference between American and Mexican Made Fenders
What’s the Big Deal Anyway?
Well, the first thing that most people will tell you – and you will undoubtedly notice – is the stark difference in pricing. While an American Standard Telecaster will run you close to about a grand, a Mexican made Tele – such as this FENDER Standard Telecaster with Maple Fretboard – can be grabbed at about half the price. Why so much? Does it mean is only half as good? Is a Fender American Standard Telecaster worth the extra coin? Well, hopefully by the end of today’s article, all these questions will be answered – and then some.
Alright, so we already know the pricing is a bit different, but besides that – to the naked eye – they look pretty much exactly the same. And in more ways than not, they pretty much play very similar as well. So why they big price difference? Well, you might be thinking that it all comes down to the quality of the manufacturing or maybe even the parts used and to that I say – kind of, but it’s a little deeper than just that.
The first major difference between the two – besides the price – is the wood used for the bodies. While an American Fender has a three piece body made of ash, its Mexican equivalent is made either superior choice in wood and build. And if you know electric guitars, you know that the choice and wood can mean a big difference in tone but you should also know that wood alone doesn’t give you the whole story, so let’s talk a few more differences before we get into some specifics on the sound. Another pretty significant difference that should interest you is the number of frets on each. While the Mexican variety comes with 21 frets the American Fender tops it with 22. Although one might not seem like a lot, it actually does add a bit to its tonal range when it’s all said and done.
Taking a look at the inside of a typical Mexican and American Fender electric guitar will also show you that some other interesting variations as well. The inside cavity of a Mexican Fender comes with one humbucking or two single coil routers. With an American Fender on the other hand, the body comes equipped with three cavity routes which allow for many more pickup combination possibilities – a big plus if mixing and matching different pup’s is your thing.
Next we’ll take a look at the truss rod of both varieties; an American Fender comes equipped with a truss rod that allows for bi-flex headstock adjustment – meaning that you will be able to make both convex and concave modifications using the rod alone. A Mexican Fender’s truss rod meanwhile simply allows for single convex headstock adjustments – meaning that it is up to string tension alone for concave alterations to be made. And speaking of necks, while a Mexican Fender comes with a standard four bolt, an American Fender comes equipped with a four bolt micro tilt that allows for more string adjustments. So essentially, the neck on a Mexican Fender – truss rod and all – simply does not allow for as many modifications as the American variety. If you are someone that constantly likes to switch the gauge and brand of strings as well as fine tune every little aspect on your guitar, the American Fender is most likely what you’re looking for.
As far as looks go – and while they honestly do look very much the same to the naked eye – the body of a Mexican Fender has a polyester finish while an American Fender the again superior polyurethane body finish. Not at all important as far as sound goes* but it’s well known that polyurethane should last you a bit longer, has a nicer feel to the touch and just slightly looks kind of nicer. Even then, Fender themselves claim that nitrocellulose is the “best” lacquer finish available – which they would gladly apply for some extra cash. So with that said, the difference among these finishes is pretty much the cost of the material and their inherent qualities but rest assured that it should not make a difference as far as sound goes.
And finally, both Fenders come in a Synchronized Tremolo style but the American fenders have stainless steel saddles – not much of a difference as far as performance but again, a marked improvement over the Mexican Fender as far as quality in materials goes.
The Fender Stratocaster Today
Along with the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster is the most popular guitar today in terms of sales and design, with multiple upon multiple copies produced by companies around the world (some authorized, most not). The body design alone is regarded by many as synonymous with the electric guitar. Think for a moment about any cartoon you’ve seen with someone using an electric guitar and chances are they’re replicating the look of the Stratocaster.
The original Stratocaster was designed by Leo Fender, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares in 1954 and has remained in constant production since then. The design featured several improvements over most guitars at the time, including Fender’s own Telecaster. The body itself was contoured and more ergonomic (known as the Comfort Contour Body by Fender) in contrast to the Telecasters flat slab design, the cutaways on both sides of the guitar enabled players to reach the highest frets on the neck which was also thinner than the Telecaster’s, and that’s just a few of the marked improvements. All in all, it was a breakthrough for its time, much of which is still copied to this day.
The Fender Stratocaster remains one of the most enduring and popular electric guitars ever made with a professional player list that resembles a who’s who in rock, blues, country as well as several other genres. And when you consider all of the different varieties and flavors that the Blacktop and Pawn Shop lines have brought to the table, there truly is a perfect Stratocaster out there for all of us. Although there have been minor tweaks, additions (subtractions even) and plenty of clones along its history, it remains the go-to-guitar for anyone looking to not only to experience a piece of music history, but create some as well.