Stratocaster and telecaster are two types of guitars that were first made popular by Fender. Guitarists around the world hail both as legends. Fondly called strat and tele respectively, the stratocaster and telecaster are easily among the most popular musical instruments in the world. There is substantial difference between stratocaster and telecaster but that should not be taken as a standard. There have been many variants of the two types over the years and it is quite likely that the variants too will have substantial difference so it is better to check the model you consider and deem its suitability given your needs or preferences.
The two types of guitar usually have a body made of alder, which is snappy tonewood. The shapes however are different. The upper horns in particular are different. Stratocaster has a different shape for the upper horns and many feel that this makes it easier to access the higher registers. Others say that the difference is minimal and almost insignificant. Both guitars can be made from standard alder but ash is also a popular choice.
The stratocaster and telecaster have c shape necks, typically made from maple wood and in some cases there is a maple wood neck and the fingerboard is made from rosewood. Both the types have medium jump frets, the same scale, fret board radius and nut width. The headstock is where they vary. Stratocasters usually have a larger headstock. This is preferred by many as guitarists feel a heavier and larger headstock will produce a better tone and facilitate a more sustained sound. It is necessary to mention here that many guitarists would not even observe the difference, either due to unawareness or the different would be too subtle and unnoticeable to observe.
The stratocaster and telecaster can be made of same materials and be of the same form with subtle differences but there is a distinctly different feel when you hold it and play. Even beginners or amateurs will be able to check the difference during touch and play.
The real difference between stratocaster and telecaster becomes apparent when you try the pickup. The former has a five way pickup selector switch. The latter has a three way pickup selector switch. While both are single-coil pickups, stratocaster has three fat 50′s single-coil pickups, the telcaster has a broadcaster in the bridge with a twisted tele pickup in the neck. The five way pickup selector switch in the stratocaster allows more options and tones while switching between pickups. You can also employ various pickup configurations.