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Fender American Ultra Precision and Jazz Bass review

Fender's new flagship line delivers the Precision and Jazz basses as you've never seen them before

  • £2009
  • $1899
Fender American Ultra Precision and Jazz Bass review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

Stunning finishes and smart new features make for a welcome if not radical update for Fender's top-line US production models

Pros

  • We love those finishes.
  • The three-band EQ offers wide-ranging tones.
  • Excellent build.
  • Modern playability, classic tones.

Cons

  • Quite pricey.

What is it?

Fender's American Ultra Series marks a new era for the Californian guitar giant. It replaces the American Elite Series, rolling out a number of contemporary features, new finishes and the promise that you will "never play a Fender the same way again."

We'll see how that plays out to the traditionalists weaned on Hank Marvin – and besides, we've still got the American Original Series if we want a vintage-minded option at a reasonable price – but in the here and now that means that Fender's flagship US-built line should have everything today's player is looking for. 

The newly designed noiseless pickups and a more ergonomically sculpted heel were the big talking points with the electric guitars, and these have made their way onto both the Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass and Precision Bass. So, too, the newly carved Modern D neck profile, the compound radius fingerboards with "extremely rolled edges" and enhanced contouring on the body.

Both our American Ultra Jazz and P-Bass Bound share 10”-14” compound-radius fingerboards, with 21 medium-jumbo frets. They also welcome the debut of the HiMass bridge and onboard preamps have been redesigned with a three-band boost/cut EQ and switchable active or passive circuits. 

The Precision Bass has a split-coil Ultra Precision Bass pickup in the middle position and an Ultra Jazz Bass in bridge while the Jazz has two Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz Bass pickups in the neck and bridge positions.

The finishes are pretty tidy, too, with our Jazz resplendent in Texas Tea – an oily off-black colour. It is one of the finest Fender has come up with in a while, but then the new Mocha Burst, sadly not available for the Jazz, is another stunner. We'd forecast some agonising decisions when it comes to the finishes. 

But is the American Ultra Series really such a radical update on the American Elite models, which were introduced in 2016 to widespread acclaim? Let's take a look...

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(Image credit: Future)
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(Image credit: Future)

The Mocha Burst looks good on this Precision. 

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(Image credit: Future)

The American Ultra Series features the new HiMass bridge, a new preamp and Noiseless pickups as standard.

Image 4 of 4

(Image credit: Future)

Performance and verdict

The Jazz Bass offers you the option to run it active or passive. We went for the latter first and found that, despite this being a bold move into the future for Fender, the tones were reassuringly familiar. There were warm, rounded tones in the neck pickup, redolent of the pre-internet age, and that sharper, more defined attack in the bridge.

In passive mode, the three-band EQ is offline so you only have as master tone control for tweaking. This is what you would expect, and yet there is something a little bit different, as the Noiseless pickups clean everything up nicely – even at high volumes.

The Jazz's midrange control is similarly musical, adding an expansive range and an up-front punch that's ideal for busier passages, Jaco-style fingerstyle, that sort of thing.

The active mode kicks the Jazz up a notch. There is a lot of tone to play with here. Treble and bass controls share one stacked tone control with the midrange position of the other stacked control. Dialling in a little more bass will give you that little something extra on the frequency floor, a tone that will really bring out the best in slap players.

The midrange control is similarly musical, adding an expansive range and an up-front punch that's ideal for busier passages, Jaco-style fingerstyle, that sort of thing. A little goes a long way here, though, as the active tone controls have plenty of sweep.

The Precision's controls are set up similarly, though only the split-coil is operational in the passive mode. You'll find this to be a on-the-money when it comes to classic P-Bass tones. There's that low end solidity, the warmth, and then that more mid-heavy sound that pares nicely with a pick. In active mode, there's a heap of range. 

If the bridge pickup is close to the Jazz, the neck pickup and the EQ is positioned just nicely to unearth a heap of interesting tones that should please most players. 

Also consider...

(Image credit: Future)

Sandberg California II TM5 Grand Dark
The Grand Dark is an enticing prospect; the rolled fingerboard edges, adjustable string spacing and comfortable neck profile all contribute to making the player come back for more.

Both the Precision and the Jazz are super-comfortable to play. The light-weight vintage paddle keys help balance things out while the Modern D neck profile strikes a neat compromise between offering a fast feel and offering the player something substantial to hold onto. The satin finish is a winner, too.

As for the hardware, the HiMass bridge is a neat piece of engineering, designed with stability and sustain in mind, and it is easily adjusted. The most radical changes are in the body contouring, and a neck heel that invites some upper-fret adventurism. Not everyone needs it but it's an easy fix to make and we're glad Fender made it.

The build quality is exceptional throughout. Sure, this is Fender taking a leap into the future, but they have also been mindful of the past, and when you pick up a Precision or a Jazz there are certain expectations of tone and feel, and, ultimately, these are not going to alienate anyone whose favourite bass predates the colour TV.

At this price, the competition is fierce. There are cheaper alternatives that might offer similar features. But then, we are drawn back to the gold-foil logo on the headstock, and the idea of a premium US-built Fender is never going to go out of style, whatever its vintage. This is a worthy update.

MusicRadar verdict: Stunning finishes and smart new features make for a welcome if not radical update for Fender's top-line US production models.

Hands-on demos

Fender

Andertons

Guitar Center

The web says...

"The changes and updates to the look and design are both clever and commonsense. The attention to detail warrants the price tag—which is still positioned below many other bass makers’ boutique Jazz-style instruments."
Premier Guitar on the American Ultra Jazz

Specifications

Fender American Ultra Precision Bass

(Image credit: Future)
  • Made In: USA
  • Body: Alder or ash
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fretboard: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz Bass and Ultra Noiseless Vintage Precision Bass
  • Controls: Master Volume, Pan Pot (Pickup Selector), Treble Boost/Cut, Midrange Boost/Cut, Bass Boost/Cut, Passive Tone, Active/Passive Mini Toggle
  • Hardware: HiMass bridge, Fender “F” Light-Weight Vintage-Paddle Keys
  • Case: Fender moulded case

Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass

(Image credit: Future)
  • Made In: USA
  • Body: Alder or ash (transparent finishes)
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fretboard: Maple
  • Pickups: Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazz
  • Controls: Master Volume, Pan Pot (Pickup Selector), Treble Boost/Cut, Midrange Boost/Cut, Bass Boost/Cut, Passive Tone, Active/Passive Mini Toggle
  • Hardware: HiMass bridge, Fender ‘F’ Light-Weight Vintage-Paddle Keys
  • Case: Fender moulded case 
  • Fender