6 Best Guitar Strings for the Fender Telecaster (2022)

fender telecaster with ernie ball slinky strings on it

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The Telecaster has the bad luck of standing in its cousin’s shadow. The Stratocaster, of course, is practically visually synonymous with the electric guitar. Yet, the Telecaster is an extremely proud and iconic guitar in its own right, a worthy pairing with the Strat.

With their fabulous curves and space-age portmanteau names, it’s little wonder that the Telecaster and Stratocaster have maintained central positions in American music for decades- even if the Telecaster is the real original.

Still, even the most legendary guitars need strings and the Telecaster is no different. But not just any old string will do and putting a low-quality set of strings on a Telecaster is like driving a Rolls Royce without hubcaps- you’re just not doing it right. Of course, the “right” string will vary between guitarists and you’ll need to consider your budget, style and playing preferences.

I’ll cover everything you need to know, along with recommending some of the best string options for the Tele but if you just want to skip ahead and see what made the list you can check out our favorites here:

Best Overall
Ernie Ball Super Slinky
9.9
  • True to the stock Telecaster strings but still an upgrade
  • Lower gauges are great for that classic country twang
  • More than 74,000 five-star reviews on Amazon
Premium Pick
D’Addario NYXL
9.7
  • High carbon steel core greatly improves the durability of these strings
  • An unwound 3rd string pairs well with many of the Telecaster's best genres
  • More than 8,000 five-star reviews on Amazon
Best On A Budget
D'Addario EXL110-3D
9.6
  • Easy on the budget but can still produce the classic Telecaster sound
  • No high-carbon steel core makes these more affordable but can also impact durability
  • More than 28,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

The Telecaster Legend

Despite a huge amount of versatility, the Telecaster is more typecast and specialized than its star-studded Stratocaster cousin.

The Telecaster has a rich tone that shines in numerous contexts but has really found its niche in country music first and foremost. Run through a classic tube amp such as a Fender Twin or ‘59 Bassman, the Telecaster achieves an iconic “American” sound. A twangy tone, suitable for lead or rhythm, is practically the foundation of classic country. I mean just check out some of these solos from country legend Waylon Jennings which highlight exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to that country tone:

 

But the Telecaster isn’t just for classic country. Modern artists like Brad Paisley are still shredding on the Telecaster and his song “She’s Her Own Woman” is a great example:

The Telecaster can do a lot more than just country though and it’s also an excellent choice for rhythm or lead playing in funk, soul, reggae, and blues. It has a place in rock and jazz as well, though it is more of an outsider in those genres.

But it has its limits as well- limits that even the right strings can’t fix. It’s not great for very high-gain genres, such as hardcore punk and metal, without customization and the right pedals. Overall, the Stratocaster may have the flashier and showier association (for which we can thank SRV, Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, and others).

But the Telecaster is a reliable, modest, yet gorgeous workhorse that can handle almost anything you throw at it.

Choosing The “Right” Strings For A Telecaster

I’ve already hinted at this, but the truth is there’s no “right” string set for a Telecaster that’s perfect for every style of playing. I can definitely point you in the right direction but things like your playing style and preferred genre have an impact, and my recommendations will come with notes about those.

Still, the strings are the tactile link between your soul, your fingers, and your sound. So at the end of the day, nobody can tell you the strings that will feel best to you. That said, this guide should get you started choosing but you should expect to experiment a bit on your musical journey.

Gauges

Discussions comparing guitar strings often start with gauges, before brands are even mentioned. String gauges refer to the thickness of the strings. They are usually differentiated in shorthand as “light,” “medium” or “heavy”; or by the numerical gauge of the high E string. For example, the popular medium-gauge string combination ranges from .010 to .046 in gauge, so this set is referred to as “.010s”.

If you are trying different strings out, the gauge is probably the most immediate difference you will notice.

Medium gauge strings are a good default for almost any playing style, but there are numerous reasons to move heavier or lighter. Lighter strings (common size .009-.042) are far more flexible and give you that classic electric guitar “feel”. If you like to play high, play fast or use lots of bends then lights may be the way to go. They also require less endurance- light strings require a lighter touch and are easier to press down.

This could be helpful if you are playing for multiple hours a day. On the other hand, lighter strings are less durable- they are more liable to break. Over time, constantly breaking your guitar strings can really add up. Furthermore, their tone is thinner and less “chunky.”

As you may expect, heavier gauge strings (such as .011-.048) have the exact opposite characteristics. They have a more substantial tone that’s thicker, deeper, and warmer sounding. Heavy strings can handle harder playing for a longer time. But they will resist your playing and expression more. Bends are harder, fretwork is harder.

No matter what genre you are playing, there could be a place for lighter or heavier strings. Country players like lighter strings for a more flamboyant, bendy playing style, or heavier strings for a thicker tone. Funk and reggae players praise heavier strings- the greater resistance contributes to the laid-back, percussive role the guitar plays in those genres. But even within genres, it comes down to play style and preference.

If this all seems a little hard to wrap your head (or your ears) around, this video does a great job showing off the difference with lighter string gauges specifically for the Telecaster:

When it comes to the Telecaster, it’s rare to throw on heavier (thicker) strings outside of specific genres so most guitarists will want to start with lighter (thinner) strings.

This will give you more of that classic Telecaster sound that probably inspired you to purchase your Tele in the first place. Because lighter strings are easier to play, they’re also a good choice for newer guitarists. However, there’s nothing wrong with medium gauge strings and these can work too.

Scale Length

The Telecaster has a scale length of 25.5″ which is pretty standard across most of the Fender rigs. Compared to a relatively shorter guitar like the Gibson Les Paul, there’s more tension on the Telecaster strings as a result of the longer scale length. And just to make sure we’re on the same page, I put together this little graphic of scale length since it can sometimes get confusing:

showing exactly how to measure scale length on a guitar

This idea might make more sense when you see it illustrated but a longer scale length leads to more tension and strings that are harder to press down. That means we usually want to avoid super-heavy strings on guitars with longer scale lengths as it can be pretty difficult to play fast unless you have very strong hands, a lot of experience, or both.

This extra tension also gives the Fender Telecaster its classic twang sound. So while we can definitely make heavier gauges work, the 25.5″ scale length of the Telecaster is another good reason to stick with light or medium gauge.

String Material

Once you have found a gauge that suits you, the next area to experiment with is different string materials.

Most strings are some combination of nickel or steel. Pure nickel strings are the vintage choice but they have also been experiencing a renaissance. The renewed interest is based on their warm, classic sound. On the other hand, stainless steel strings are brighter, with a “snap” to their tone. Stainless steel performs really well in some genres, especially punk music.

Nickel-plated steel is the default choice, with a tone between the two extremes.

For the Telecaster, your choice will largely depend on your playing preference but nickel-plated steel is always a good starting. We’ll look at several materials throughout this review so you’ll have plenty of options for experimenting.

String Construction

As for construction, most guitar strings are roundwound. If you run your finger down them, you’ll notice a bumpy texture. That’s a result of their construction which involves wrapping wire around a metal core, thus roundwound.

Alternately, flatwound strings have a smooth texture along all the strings despite being made by a similar process. They are sometimes referred to as “jazz strings” as their warm, smooth tone is most associated with jazz, blues, and swing bands.

Again, you can go either way with the Telecaster and there are pros and cons to both types of string construction. Flatwound strings are a bit easier on the fingers, which can be good for beginners. But they’re also usually faster to play thanks to their smooth feel. The rougher feel of roundwound can help some guitarists (myself included) feel more “connected” to their Telecaster. But this is one of those areas where preferences will play a big role.

Coated vs Uncoated Strings

Coated vs uncoated used to be more of a big deal but now it just feels like we’re getting into the nitty gritty of electric guitar strings. In the past, going for coated strings meant you’d be sacrificing tone in favor of increased resistance to dirt and grime.

But modern brands have perfected the coated string and it’s going to be very difficult to really identify any loss of tone. Still, I have to say I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to classic rigs like the Telecaster, and even if your Tele was made last year I still have to cast my vote for uncoated strings. Uncoated is going to get you closer to that traditional twangy Telecaster sound.

Still, coated can definitely work so if it’s a preference you already have don’t worry about picking up the coated version for any of the strings we recommend.

What Strings Do Telecasters Come Out Of The Factory With?

We’ve covered all the basics when it comes to picking out strings for your Telecaster but what if you want to keep things super simple and just stick with whatever the standards strings are?

In other words, what strings does the Fender Telecaster come out of the factory with as the standard setup?

Almost every Telecaster in the Squier line(including the Classic Vibe series, Bullet, and Affinity) uses nickel-plated steel strings with a .009-.042 gauge. The American Acoustasonic series uses Fender Coated Phosphor Bronze Dura-Tone strings in the heavier .011-.052 gauge. 

If you consider yourself a guitar string purist or you just want to go back to how your Telecaster used to feel, there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the standard strings. Even you don’t want to go standard, knowing what the factory standard is can help set a baseline that you can refer to from there.

For example, if you want to get an even sharper sound than the factory standard, then we can go for strings that are lighter than .009 and so on.

Do Different Telecaster Types Need Different Strings?

There are a lot of Telecaster guitars and even though this brand started as one rig back in the 50’s you now have dozens of variations on the original design. To make things even more confusing, there’s the Squier line of Telecasters which are mixed in with the rest on Fender’s website.

So, do you need a different string for each different type of Telecaster?

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details and differences between each line you could make a case for different strings. However, for 99% of Telecaster players (regardless of which line) the strings I’m recommending here will work and everything we just went over is still true.

So don’t get too caught up in the type of Telecaster and instead focus on the big picture. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be playing my Tele than reading about it and that’s exactly what this article is intended to help you do!

Best Strings For The Telecaster

Now that we know what we’re looking at when it comes to strings for the ‘Caster, it’s time to get to the reviews.

Best Overall: Ernie Ball Super Slinky

Best Overall
Ernie Ball Super Slinky
  • True to the stock Telecaster strings but still an upgrade
  • Lower gauges are great for that classic country twang
  • More than 74,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

Despite being relatively new to the string world, Ernie Ball has rocketed to a place of great respect among musicians.

So even though Ernie Ball might not have the same pedigree as some other string makers, they still have a history dating back to 1962 so they’re no newcomer to the industry either. They’re well known as a string maker but also as the parent of Music Man, an instrument maker founded with the help of Leo Fender later in his careerThe Music Man brand is beloved by professional musicians who play music for the sake of music, and hobby musicians are catching on as well.

But let’s get back to the strings: Ernie Ball Slinky strings are an iconic all-around choice that have more than 74,000 five-star reviews on Amazon alone backing them up.

Like the factory standard for most Telecasters, the Slinky strings are made from nickel-plated steel strings (with a plain 3rd string). We’re also sticking with the same gauge as the Telecaster’s stock strings and recommending the 9-42’s. This gives you the same light gauge strings that are easier to play fast but by upgrading to a premium string you’re getting extra durability.

However, if that’s not your thing you can stay within the Slinky line and move up in gauge. If you’re looking to experiment there, I’d recommend small jumps and you can start with the regular line which offers 10-46 gauge. If that feels good, you can move up from there.

Country players say these are great on a Telecaster for a “Bakersfield Sound” twang that sounds something like Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues”:

I’ve already mentioned that there are more than 74,000 five-star reviews for these strings on Amazon but it’s probably worth repeating. I mean, musicians are notoriously picky and especially when it comes to strings so I feel that huge pile of positive reviews says a lot.

Simply put, these strings are close to the Telecaster standard thanks to their nickel-plated steel construction and the option for a light gauge but they’re still an upgrade in terms of durability, clarity, and overall tone. That makes them a great option for the vast majority of Tele players. You can read more reviews, take a look at all the Slinky variations and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best On A Budget: D’Addario EXL110-3D

Best On A Budget
D'Addario EXL110-3D
  • Easy on the budget but can still produce the classic Telecaster sound
  • No high-carbon steel core makes these more affordable but can also impact durability
  • More than 28,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

The D’Addario name might be the most iconic and established name in strings. D’Addario is like the Steinways of guitar strings. Their history stretches back to string-making families in Italy in the 17th century, and the company is now one of the world’s top makers of guitar strings.

If you spend any time on forums, Reddit, or similar online spots where musicians hang out, you’ll probably notice that most guitarists (including Telecaster players) are either using Ernie Ball or D’Addario strings so it should be no surprise that these are the same brands making up the top spots on this list.

But even with such a prestigious pedigree of string making, it’s still possible to get D’Addario strings on a budget and the EXL110-3D’s are a great example of that. Like the stock Telecaster strings, these are also nickel-plated with a plain 3rd string. The most significant difference between these and the other stings is the lack of a high-carbon steel core, so expect these strings to be a little less durable. However, that’s to be expected with a budget pick.

Their bright tone is great for the Telecaster’s twangiest uses. Country players might try the lighter gauges such as .009s or .010s for a Jerry Reed chicken-pickin style like this:

One YouTuber did a great comparison between the standard Slinky strings and a standard D’Addario string, both of which are quite similar to the ones we’re reviewing. Even though it’s not a perfect experiment (and the microphone placement got pretty messed up), it’s still a good illustration of how these strings sound:

Just as with the Slinky line, you have several gauge options but I’d recommend most Telecaster players with the with the .009’s, .010’s or even the .011’s if you want to experiment a bit more. These strings are also no slouch in the review department either and there are more than 28,000 five-star reviews for the EXL110-3D strings on Amazon.

You can read some of those reviews, take a closer look at all your gauge options and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Premium Pick: D’Addario NYXL

Premium Pick
D’Addario NYXL
  • High carbon steel core greatly improves the durability of these strings
  • An unwound 3rd string pairs well with many of the Telecaster's best genres
  • More than 8,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

For our premium pick, we’re looking at another string from D’Addario but this time their NYXL line. Even though I’d recommend lighter gauges for most Telecaster players, these are available in a huge range of gauge combinations.

The NYXL line boasts a high-carbon steel core and nickel coating. As a result, D’Addario claim they are some of the strongest strings for their relative gauge size and provide a slightly warmer tone. The folks at D’Addario the durability claim pretty seriously and I’ve referred to their “torture test” videos several times where they have a professional beat up the strings to see how much they can take.

With these stronger strings, you can go for a lighter gauge without worrying as much about string breakage or compromising tone. The NYXL line is also known to require less stretching when brand-new, and stay in tune for longer. All of which justifies the premium pricing. 

What’s more, the NYXL strings feature a plain 3rd string- that is to say, the G string is unwound. Typically, the E A D G strings are wound and the B E strings are unwound. Players who employ a lot of bending, country or otherwise, appreciate the plain 3rd string. This allows easier bending on more notes- ideal for many of the same playing styles in which the Telecaster shines.

You can see a few samples of these strings in action to get a better idea of how they feel (along with a great overview) in this video:


Like the other strings on this list and the standard Telecaster strings that come stock on the guitar, these are also nickel plated. But beyond the other little features that D’Addario adds to increase the durability, the high-carbon steel core is what really helps these strings take a beating.

That makes these a good choice for Tele players that are simply hard on their strings or those that just don’t want to worry about changing them out too often.

When shopping for these, just make sure you pay attention to how many packs are included. Some vendors show the price for 3-packs while others show the price for a single pack and it can make it difficult to compare prices at a quick glance.

You can read more reviews, check out all the gauge options, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Most Unique Option: Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt Strings

Most Unique Option
Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt Strings
  • Unique material is a great change of pace for the Telecaster player
  • The usual light gauge isn't available which could be a pro or con depending on your style
  • More than 5,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

For something different, you can check out Ernie Ball’s cobalt strings which are part of the Slinky line.

The big claim to fame for these strings is that they’re the world’s first cobalt strings.

The company boasts that cobalt strings are higher-output with unmatched clarity of tone and there’s some good data that goes beyond the marketing hype to support this with the package showing graphs comparing the frequency response of steel, nickel, and cobalt strings.

Notably, cobalt strings have a huge boost in the mids and upper mids. This will translate to a massive boost in tone, especially in certain genres. Great news for Telecaster players- the guitar will be able to sing like never before! It’s better to have too much tone, rather than not enough- you can always lower it on the guitar or amp if necessary.

Even though he might not be who you think of when you imagine a Telecaster, it can’t hurt that legendary metal guitarist John Petrucci is a fan of the cobalts and you can see him talking about their sound here:

Still, these strings aren’t for everyone and they’re best for Telecaster players that are ready to experiment a bit with their tone and sound. But thanks to the relatively rare cobalt material, they’re perfect for messing around with new sounds.

It’s also worth pointing out that these strings aren’t available in the usual 9-42 gauge. The closest you can get is a 9-46 which is more of a hybrid approach. There’s no reason this can’t work on the Telecaster but it’s just another reason why these strings are best for guitarists that want to experiment a bit instead of being a tried-and-true approach.

You can read more reviews, check out all the gauge options, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best for Vintage Sound: DR Pure Blues

Best for Vintage Sound
DR Pure Blues
  • Round core strings give the Telecaster more of a mellow sound
  • Available in 10-46 gauge which also helps mellow out and warm up the Tele tone
  • More than 500 five-star reviews on Amazon which isn't bad for a smaller brand 

So far we’ve talked a lot about the Telecaster twang. But what if you want a mellower, more vintage tone?

That’s where DR comes into the picture.

DR is a smaller, but highly respected string company and we’re looking at their Pure Blues line of strings. These strings are pure nickel, which isn’t unusual. But the DR Pure Blues actually have a round core in the wound strings which is different from the usual hexagonal-cross section core that’s common on the wound strings, at least when it comes to modern strings. Telecaster players praise the sweet and mellow sounds of the round core and it can help break up that classic Twang if that’s not your style.

You can hear what I’m talking about in this quick demo:

 

The tone is definitely more mellow and even though that’s not a Tele in the video the same idea will apply. You probably won’t see these strings on a lot of other Telecaster lists but I think they still deserve a look thanks to the way they can mellow out the sound.

You can read more reviews, check out the gauge options, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Back To Basics Pick: Fender Super Electric Strings

Back To Basics Pick
Fender Super Electric Strings
  • Very close to the standard strings that the Telecaster comes out of the factory with
  • East on the budget
  • More than 3,500 five-star reviews on Amazon

For folks that don’t want to get too fancy, there’s nothing wrong with sticking close to what the Telecaster comes with.

After all, it’s what Fender (sort of) intended, right?

Just like the Telecaster standard, the Fender Super 250’s are made of nickel-plated steel and come in the .009-.042 gauge. We’ve seen several others with the same features, but these are made by the same brand that made the Telecaster so that’s gotta count for something.

Even though I’d pick an Ernie Ball or D’Addario string if I had the choice, the Fender 250’s can definitely hold their own and there are more than 3,500 five-star reviews on Amazon backing them up. If you search those reviews, you’ll see that there are a lot of very happy Telecaster players who wanted to get the traditional “right out of the factory” sound. It also helps that these are very easy on the budget.

So even though these can’t grab our best overall spot, it’s still hard to go wrong here. You can read some of those reviews from other Telecaster players, check out all the gauge sizes and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Closing Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you’re rocking an American Professional or a Squier Affinity,  Telecaster players are a modest yet proud bunch.

They carry the banner of tradition and fortitude. Whether you play blues, reggae, country, soul, or rock, the Telecaster can bring a gorgeous and iconic tone to the sound. Have fun trying out different brands, gauges, and materials of strings, searching for your perfect companion.

I’ve tried to present a wide range of options: from the class stock and standard to some more premium or experimental options.

But I’d love to hear what you think- which string set did you go with?