What is it?
If you stand still at Fender for too long, the chances are you will be refreshed, renamed and sent out to market. That’s what has happened to the relatively new American Elite series (opens in new tab), which has been supplanted by the new American Ultra Series – Fender's flagship US production line models.
As Fender’s senior product manager, Matt Davey told us, Fender's product categories are split into three main strands: vintage-inspired, contemporary and advanced. “The vintage-inspired is obviously Vintera and American Original," explained Davey. "Contemporary is Player, American Performer and American Professional; and then advanced is the Mexican-made Deluxe series and now the American Ultra – the pinnacle.”
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The American Ultra series takes the American Elites of yore and swaps out the Tele Thinline for a Jazzmaster. We are still waiting to see if there will be some southpaw models in the range, but there are definitely plenty of options for righthanders.
There is a comprehensive new range of colours, with the typical Fender choice of maple or rosewood fingerboards depending on which colour finish you are after. These are a little more expensive than the American Elites. You'll need £1,899 in your sky rocket to nab a Strat or Tele. The Jazzmaster, meanwhile, retails from at £1,969.
The American Ultra models arrive in the same moulded cases of the American Professional range.
Performance and verdict
This Texas Tea-finished Tele is one of the finished finishes we have seen on a modern Tele, and looks particularly good with that Silver Anodized (aluminium) scratchplate.
Like the Strat, the scratchplate colour is dependent on which finish you get. There is single-ply Black on Butterscotch models, three-ply Mint Green on the Ultraburst and Mocha Burst. You'll find three-ply White 'guards on the Arctic Pearl finished models, three-ply Aged White on the Cobra Blue (kind of nicotine yellow), and three-ply Aged White Pearl on the Plasma Red Burst.
Most of the bodies are alder with the exception of the trans Plasma Red Burst and Butterscotch Blonde models, which revert to ash.
The neck profile is the same across the series, Modern D. The top edge of the body is bound and there is a very generous ribcage body contour.
This is a modern Tele. As such, we've got the six chromed brass block saddles, offering a little more foundation for sustain. Just as the Elites did, both guitars have Schaller S-Lock strap buttons and the locking elements are bundled in the case. The side-placed Electrosocket jack mount is another nice modern touch.
Unlike an original that screws directly to the body, the neck pickup is suspended from the scratchplate, making height adjustment easy. The Ultra Noiseless bridge pickup has flat stagger poles that sit proud above the cover. The switching options are like the Elite's, with one extra sound of both neck and bridge pickups in series.
Our Tele measures 20.9mm and 22mm at the 1st and 12 fret respectively, which suggests not much has changed from the previous American Elite models, if maybe a little more beef in the shoulder in lower positions.
This is not a ‘D’ shape neck where you get a fairly flat-back with square shoulders. No, here you have a relatively shallow depth, but it is very comfortable. The fingerboard edges are nicely rounded, and the fret job is excellent. The frets themselves are medium jumbo.
Some people can get very excited about quoted fingerboard radiuses. Okay, this is not as rounded as vintage 7.25-inch Fender 'boards but it is up there with all manner of contemporary makers and is far from flat. The setup is excellent.
As is the weight. It is a little lighter than most Fenders we’ve played in recent years. At 7.44lbs this Fender isn't feather-light, but far from heavy.
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A smart makeover for the Mexican-made Fender
Of all Fender production models, only this and the Mexican-built Deluxe line are fitted with hum-cancelling pickups. Perhaps 60-cycle hum isn’t such a huge problem for most. It’s absolutely not an issue here, and comparing these to your standard single coils, then sure, they absolutely do cut out a lot of that noise. Is there a compromise with ton?
Well, this Tele does not have the most pronounced vintage voice, the bridge has plenty of treble bite until you back off the tone a little. If you find it on the ice-pick side of things, just remember it's a no-load tone control; when the tone control is up full, it's effectively taken out the circuit for maximum treble.
This is a lively six-string, and the cut-steel voicing on the bridge is very happy in that squashed country Tele tone, and excels with a little crunch for a modern Music City vibe. The neck softens the attack while the parallel mix is bouncy and accurate. The mix with the S-1 switch depressed thickens things, adding a little volume while retaining some definition on the top end.
Many of you will have played a Tele with a four-way selector switch. The American Ultra does the same, albeit via a three-way selector and an S-1 switch. And in truth, it feels a little more intuitive than a four-way.
The tones are plentiful, wide and varied; the treble bleed does a great job of keeping it clean as you pull back on the volume. This Tele's neck feels thinner – in both depth and, oddly, width – than our reference guitar, but it feels right in the hand.
This is a premium US guitar, and as such it delivers a grown-up, vibrant Tele experience, complete with some refined voices and a fuss-free control setup that has options for a number of styles. Compared with a big- necked, brutally simplistic vintage piece, this is a very pleasant drive indeed.
Fender's production series offer choice. Each has its own theme and style. It's not easy deciding which is best for you, and often the price is not an issue. Clearly, the American Ultra is the most modern Tele you can find, with a number of carefully considered upgrades, and yet it still feels and sounds like a Fender. We haven't gone over the top into the realm of Charvel, with stainless steel frets, roasted maple necks and all that jazz.
The Modern D neck profile is not that different from those found on the American Elites. Does if feel slinkier with the compound radius? Not particularly, with the 'board effectively boasting a Gibson-like 12-inch curve at its centre. What we are saying is this: yes, absolutely, it is modern, but it's not so radical that if you were to show up at rehearsal with a Deluxe and a TS-9 in front of it, it'll do what you need it to for a 12/8 blues shuffle.
It just does it with a more contemporary feel. Is that an improvement on vintage models? That is all a question of taste.
MusicRadar verdict: The American Ultra Telecaster has a very classy modern build with more than a hint of Fender's showing off about it. From the tones, the playability to some of the coolest new Fender finishes we have seen, there is a lot to like.
• Body: Alder
• Neck: Maple, 'Modern D'
• Scale: 648mm (25.5")
• Fingerboard: Maple (10-14") compound radius
• Frets: 22, medium jumbo
• Pickups: 2 x Fender Ultra Noiseless Vintage Tele bridge and neck
• Controls: 3-position pickup selector switch, master volume control (with S-1 switch and treble bleed) and master no-load tone
• Hardware: Nickel/chromed-plated American Tele bridge with 6 chromed brass saddle, bone nut, Fender Deluxe rear-locking tuners
• Case: Deluxe moulded hardshell included
• Left-handed models: No
• Finishes: Texas Tea (as reviewed), Butterscotch, Ultraburst, Mocha Burst, Arctic Pearl, Cobra Blue, Plasma Red Burst – gloss polyurethane body
with ultra satin neck and gloss headstock face
• Contact: Fender.com (opens in new tab)