Feast your eyes upon the Rolls Royce of Stratocasters. In this Fender American Ultra Stratocaster review we’re going to take a look at the features, characteristics and performance on one of Fender’s high end guitars.
We’re principally looking at the HSS (Humbucker, Single, Single) model, but it’s also available with a single coil in place of the humucker pickup at the bridge. Let’s get started!
Overview of Fender Ultra American Stratocaster
The Fender Ultra series replaces the American Elite series. There are many similarities, but also some subtle differences that make a big impact to playability and tonal quality. Produced in Corona, California the American Ultra series represents a hallmark of guitar quality.
Measuring in at 25.5″ the Ultra is a full scale guitar. The body is made from Alder with a polyurethane gloss finish. Although the body shape is that of classic Stratocaster, we start to see some of the innovations introduced with the Ultra series.
Firstly there’s an accentuated belly cut for improved comfort. Another big difference to the design is the contoured shape of the heel and neck joint.
It’s a little difficult to see on the image above, but the contoured design extends to the top cutaway above the neck making it much easier to reach the higher frets on all six strings. The neck is made from maple, with a walnut “skunk” stripe running down the back.
The neck has a satin finish, making it easy to move around whilst playing. The neck is bolted onto the body, common in most if not all Stratocasters. The neck has a radius of 10″ to 14″ radius, meaning it’s rounder for chord work closer to the nut and flatter for lead work at the higher frets.
The neck profile is Fender’s modern D, which includes rolled edges to the fingerboard further increasing comfort. There are 22 medium jumbo frets, which when combined with the contoured heel, flatter feel at the high end and rolled edges makes lead work and soloing super comfortable.
On the HSS model, the fingerboard is made from Maple, however Rosewood fingerboards are available in the SSS models. On maple fingerboards, black pearloid dot inlays mark out the key frets. On the Rosewood models the inlays are white dot.
Moving further up the guitar we find a bone nut to accentuate the reverberation of the strings. The headstock has a gloss urethane finish and features a gold Fender logo.
Tuning is handled by a set of Fender deluxe cast locking machines. This makes tuning up a lot easier thanks to the locked tension on the strings.
The headstock also houses the truss rod adjustment, returned to it’s traditional position in the Ultra series. On the back of the headstock we have the all important “Corona, California” stamp.
Let’s talk about the electronics and hardware. At the bridge we have Fender’s Ultra Double Tap Humbucking pickup. The double tap is a hot pickup, meaning it’s high powered. Ultimately this leads to a more powerful sound. The middle and neck pickups are both Ultra Noiseless Hot Strat pickups.
These are slightly different to the ultra noiseless single coil pickups found in the Ultra Telecaster. They too run hot, which means they can keep up with humbucker when in split configuration. Talking of split configuration there’s a 5-way pickup selector switch, allowing to you select:
- Bridge – Humbucker Only
- Bridge / Middle
- Middle Only
- Middle / Neck
- Neck Only
The Ultra series also features an S1 switching system. Located on the master volume knob, push to split the humbucker and use in any position to use the bridge humbucker as a single coil.
So for example if you have the S1 switch active in position 3 you’ll us the bridge and middle pickups in series as single coils.
This provides a more dynamic variety of tones. The middle pickup in particular sounds great when the S1 switch is active.
We’ve mentioned controls breifly. There’s are three control knobs, master volume, tone 1 for neck and middle pickups and tone 2 for the bridge pickup. These allow you to fine tune your tone.
The Ultra series also features treble bleed circuitry, which preserves the high end when the volume is rolled off. Traditionally rolling off the volume causes the treble to degrade, leading to a muddier tone.
The bridge is a two-point deluxe synchronized Tremolo design. This has a pop-in arm instead of a screw in arm traditionally found in other models. Intonement is adjustable via the saddles. The guitar is string through, similar to most other Stratocasters. The jack input and bridge have a nice chrome finish.
The Ultra comes with a set of Fender USA nickel steel plated .009’s. They’re good quality, but as always you’ll probably want to switch these out for your favored brand and gauge. The Ultra Strat also comes with a premium Fender hardcase, which is almost bomb-proof!
The Ultra Strat comes in three colors in the HSS model.
All three finishes are beautiful. It’s difficult to tell via pictures, but the Texas Tea has a gold, oily brown finish when the light catches it. The Ultraburst has classic Fender good looks an the Arctic Pearl looks great with the maple neck and tortoise shell pick guard.
Let’s talk a little about the tone. The Ultra Strat is capable of producing a dynamic range of tones. The neck pickup offers a dry clean tone that’s great for jazz and funk styles. Apply a little overdrive and it’s great for a bit of classic crunch.
The middle and neck position provides a little more punch, great for jazz, funk and blues. The signal is a little bit hotter than at the neck position.
The middle pickup is similar, as you’d expect, to the neck pickup but has a little more punch to it.
The humbucker delivers a very punchy clean tone. Feed some distortion through it and it’s more than capable of playing high gain styles, something that’s not really associated with Strats.
It probably won’t keep up with an Ibanez, but it gets close and will hold it’s own. It’s thanks once again to that hot humbucker pickup. However you can also dial it back to suit a range of other styles and thanks to the treble bleed circuitry the tone doesn’t become muddy when the volume is rolled off.
The Ultra is a triumph in the preservation of the traditional features of a Strat, whilst modernizing the experience in it’s design, feel and tone. Here are a few of the best bits:
- Lots of Tonal Versatility
- Very Comfortable to Play
- S1 Switch Adds Dynamism
There are always some drawbacks, however in a guitar like the Ultra Strat these tend to be more about personal preference. Here are some of things I don’t like:
- Stiff Tremolo Arm to Remove
- The Back Plate Can Look A Little Ugly
The American Ultra Strat is a very nice guitar. To some extent it should be sitting in the upper echelons of the market. However there’s more to this guitar than premium hardware and good looks. Fender has done a great job of delivering a pleasurable playing experience thanks to thoughtful design.
The contours of the body accentuate the playability allowing you to more easily reach the higher registers. The fretboard is not only comfortable, but fast playing. Put together with the quality hardware, the Ultra Strat is a dream to play.
If the Ultra Strat is a little out of your range, check out some other guitars on my Electric Guitar Page. I hope you’ve found this post useful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Alternatively you can get in touch using my contact page.
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