Telecaster vs Stratocaster vs Les Paul – Which Is The Best?

Hey there rockstar! You’ve played the guitar for hours, you know some catchy tunes and feel like you need the guitar to match your star power. This is where a lot of players face the same dilemma: with a budget of around $500 which should I go for? Telecaster vs Stratocaster vs Les Paul?

You want to find that one guitar that makes you feel like invincible, the one which feels right in your hands. It can be a tough decision with many questions needing answered such as: the differences between types, price factor, build quality and how they each sound.

At a Glance: The Guitars We Compare

Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

First off, here are some of the main differences between the three types of guitars before we go deep into reviewing each of them:

Body

Both the Stratocaster and Telecaster have fairly similar body shapes, both being made of a wood called alder. The Stratocaster, however, features double cutaways and seems sleeker than the Telecaster. This allows for the Stratocaster to reach higher on the neck.

Neck

The neck on the Telecaster and Stratocaster are once again quite similar. The Les Paul neck has a heftier feel to it which is preferred by players who like string bending.

Pick ups

A Stratocaster comes with either 3 or 2 single coil pickups while the telecaster has a larger range including, 1 single coil and a two or three Humbuckers. Depending on what type of sound you want your guitar to produce will be affected by this decision.

Hardware

The Telecaster and the Stratocaster both have six adjustable saddles on the bridges while most Les Pauls come with Gibson’s Tune-O-Matic which has two adjustable posts between a bar containing the individual string saddles.

Electronics

The Tele and Stratocaster both look similar with basic electronics but the Telecaster only has one tone control whereas the Stratocaster has two. The Stratocaster allows for the guitar to give a bright, cutting tone whereas the Les Paul’s tone controls gives a warmer tone.

Sound

As mentioned, the Les Paul can give a warmer tone when compared to both the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. The Telecaster was originally designed for use with country music and therefore gives a bright, banjo like sound. The Stratocaster nowadays is more synonymous with sound distortion and is good for rocking out. The Les Paul is great for various hard rock, jazz and blues music, giving it some musical variety.

This is a great video review comparing the main differences between the telecaster, stratocaster and the Les Paul:

To help us with our decision, let's look at each in turn starting with the Telecaster...

1. Fender Modern Player Telecaster

Fender Modern Player Tele Plus  Electric Guitar, Honey Burst, Maple Fretboard

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

The Fender Telecaster has a slightly different shape to the Strat, looking more like a traditional guitar than what you’d find at a gig. This has a humbucker bridge pickup which offers loads of tones ready for you to mess around with.

  • The Telecaster is slightly cheaper than the Strat
  • Produces a beautiful, warm sound that can be changed easily using the wide variety of tones and controls on board
  • Feels light and easy to hold, also has a nice quality finish not found on many mass produced instruments
  • The actual colour of the guitar is a lot darker in reality than the description online.
  • The input jack has failed on me a couple of times, I’ve had to jangle and twist it a few times before getting a clear sound
  • Tuner isn’t the best, didn’t turn after several tunings

For a video review of the Telecaster, watch the following:

2. Fender Standard Stratocaster

Fender Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar - Maple Fingerboard, Brown Sunburst

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

If you asked a bunch of kids to draw an electric guitar, the Fender Stratocaster would most likely be what their scribbling would resemble. An iconic look that has lasted years, the Fender Standard is one of the greats. With a maple or rosewood fretboard and the typical brown sunburst design, it truly looks like a rock star’s best pal.

  • A traditional guitar, the Fender Strat looks, feels and sounds awesome no matter what song you are playing
  • This is a comfortable guitar to play, the modern C-shaped neck allows for some great string bending
  • This is a mass produced item, so if you’re wanting the feel of a custom and pristine guitar, this isn’t the one for you.
  • The price tag is cheaper than others out there yet is still quite expensive for someone who doesn’t play that often
  • String bending is fun, however on this model I found the E string to curve and warp after a few tries

A nice, short demo of the Fender Strat can be found here:

3. Epiphone Les Paul Standard

ENS-EBCH1 Epiphone Les Paul STANDARD Electric Guitar, Ebony

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

The Les Paul might be the guitar which epitomises the rock star experience. It looks cool and feels like you should be standing on a stage somewhere. It has been 50 years since the Les Paul was first introduced and is still one of the best selling guitars on the market, and with good reason. It’s rosewood fretboard and mahogany neck completes the Les Paul classic look and gives excellent string to body resonance.

  • Cheaper than the Strat and Telecaster
  • The Les Paul ‘look’ is renowned, looking truly like an electric guitar you’d be proud to own
  • The warm sound produced is ideal for blues, jazz and rock
  • The electrical components aren’t as good or as reliable as the Strat and Tele.
  • Frets are a little uneven which has given me a slight buzzing sound at times
  • Space between frets is quite large, smaller handed players may find it difficult to reach

A small video review can be found here:

Telecaster vs Stratocaster vs Les Paul...so which should I go for?

​I'm sorry but it's nigh on impossible to say one is the best. They are each legends in their own right. 

But if I was forced to choose between the three, I'd opt for the Fender Telecaster. The other two are great guitars and deserve the highest recommendations, however if it has to be the one to add to your collection, get the Telecaster!

It’s relatively cheaper price tag doesn’t negate on build quality. This is one beautiful instrument which feels wonderful to hold and produces a clean, warm sound that you often can't get on mass produced items. It’s not as rock star looking as the Les Paul or Stratocaster but the pick ups and overall quality of the Telecaster are awesome for the money.

And remember: The fact Keith Richards swears by one should alone be enough to convince you!

Still undecided? Here's a great video highlighting the different sounds produced from the three guitars can be found here:

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this? Which guitar would you go for?

Featured image source: Nadya PeekCC BY 2.0

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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