Are Stratocaster and Telecaster Pickups the Same?

The Stratocasters and the Telecasters are perhaps the two most popular electric guitar models ever.

And although they are conceptually similar, they have their distinct differences.

One of the dissimilar aspects between them that confuses many players is their pickups.

Although Stratocaster and Telecaster pickups are both single-coils, they differ in size and mount. Tele pickups are taller longer and of higher output. Tele bridge pickups are mounted on a steel plate with 3 screws while Strats use only 2 in the plastic pickguard. Tele neck pickups have covers.

In this article, I will dive deep into what sets apart Tele and Strat pickups, how that affects their tone, and if the difference is noticeable at all.

After leaving this page you will have a clearer idea of which of these guitars might work out better for your needs, and if getting one will allow you to get close to the tones you could achieve with the other.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

What kind of pickups do Stratocasters and Telecasters use?

For this article, I will refer generically as “Teles” to traditional two single-coil Telecaster. Thinline Telecasters use different pickups called wide range that look closer to humbuckers and are completely different. All of the answers here will be the same for these, however.

On a high level, both Strats and Teles use single-coil pickups. This was what Leo Fender had to work with at the time both models were conceived, and traditionally they stayed the same.

However, we will further explore in this article, that although both pickups are of the same broad type, their particular designs differ slightly, giving each of them a particular character.

Are Strat and Tele pickups interchangeable?

Sadly, Stratocaster and Telecaster pickups are not that easily interchangeable.

First of all, the mounting on original Tele bridge pickups is completely different than the one you will find on a Strat.

Also, Telecaster neck pickups are thinner than Strat ones, making it almost impossible to fit one on the later on a Tele’s routing or even its pickguard.

And I say “almost” because, with the years there have been lots of different models of both guitars, with slight variations, and it’s not uncommon that you would find a Telecaster routed in a way that will take Strat pickups, although it’s not the norm.

How similar are Tele and Strat pickups?

Strat and Tele pickups are similar in their being single-coil units, however, their shape and consequently their tone is noticeably different.

Telecaster pickups are taller and longer than Strat ones. This makes for the coils to be wound around a bigger area, resulting in a naturally higher output.

Furthermore, Tele bridge pickups are mounted on a steel plate that also influences their tone, giving them a bit more twang, while Stratocaster ones sit over a plastic pickguard.

Neck pickups differ in shape similarly, but also traditionally have covers that make them sound a bit mellower, with slightly more tamed highs.

Will a bridge Telecaster pickup fit on a Stratocaster?

You can’t put a Telecaster bridge pickup on a Stratocaster without modding it, because of its different size, and especially because of the three mounting hole system Tele pickups have.

Of course, the same goes the other way. A Strat bridge pickup will not fit a Telecaster.

There are modern takes of the Telecaster that use mountings similar to the ones on traditional Strats, but I’d argue those are not really teles, but just guitars with a Telecaster body shape.

Will a neck Telecaster pickup fit on a Stratocaster?

Telecaster neck pickups are smaller than their Stratocaster counterparts which makes it hard to be interchanged. A stock Strat pickguard will not fit a Tele neck pickup, however, pickguards are cheap and easy to mod.

As you can also imagine, the other way around a Strat neck pickup will not fit into a Telecaster’s pickguard or even because it’s bigger.

However, some Teles do have a slightly wider routing in the neck that might fit Strat’s or other kinds of single-coils.

Can you use a Stratocaster pickup set on a Tele?

No, a Stratocaster pickup set will simply not fit on a Telecaster. 

Even Nashville Telecasters (3 pickup Teles) have traditional Telecaster bridge and neck pickups which are different than Stratocaster’s.

Middle pickups from Strats and Nashville Teles will be indeed interchangeable.

Would you need to do any mods to install Tele pickups on a Strat or vice versa?

The only way to install Telecaster pickups on a Strat or Strat pickups on a Tele, in most cases, will require you to do some destructive modding which might involve rerouting, drilling mounting holes, and modifying the pickguards.

Although the size differences are small, they are not negligible, and you will have a hard time if you just try jamming the pickups where they won’t fit.

If you are not very skilled with power tools, or you have never done any mods on your guitar, I’d recommend you take it to a professional tech who will know how to do it properly and will advise you whether it’s worth it or not.

Are all Fender single-coil pickups interchangeable?

Although all Fender single-coil pickups look pretty similar, in many cases they are not interchangeable at all, such as with Telecasters and Stratocasters.

Jaguar pickups, for instance, are pretty much like Strat ones but have a “claw” that difficult their fit in Strat pickguards.

And well, don’t get me started on Jazzmasters and their particular type of dog ear P90s.

But that’s a topic for another article!