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Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster and Stratocaster HSS review

Fender's flagship US models raise the bar for the electric guitar

Fender American Ultra Stratocaster HSS and Jazzmaster
(Image: © Fender)

Our Verdict

The best instruments to have come off the Fender production line, the American Ultra series combines luxurious playability with a huge variety of incredible tones, each with their own character.

For

  • Body contours enhance playability and feel.
  • D-profile neck profile is ideal for fast, precise playing.
  • The attention to detail is remarkable.
  • Noiseless pickups.
  • Cool new finishes.

Against

  • Quite pricey.

It can be an intimidating experience when shopping for a new Fender solidbody electric guitar. There is an overwhelming variety of instruments on offer today. Fender produces about a dozen different series of Stratocaster models alone, with numerous variations within each range. 

It requires a daunting amount of research and legwork to choose from an American Original, American Performer, American Professional, Deluxe, Player or Vintera model, but there is an upside: if you have an ideal Fender guitar in mind, Fender inevitably makes it.

For those looking for the very best they can find, that task is now much easier. All you need to remember are two words: American Ultra. If you favor traditional over exotic tonewoods, have no interest in artist models and instead need a player-centric combination of modern upgrades and timeless, classic appeal, the is the series for you.

Here we are going to be looking at the American Ultra Stratocaster HSS and Jazzmaster, but Fender also offers a Stratocaster model with the traditional triple single-coil pickup configuration and a Telecaster in the series. 

Features

The guitars in the American Ultra series share some common features, including a body made of either alder or ash (ash on the trans finishes), some enhanced body contouring, tapered heels, and bolt-on a maple neck with a Modern D-shaped profile. The scale is 25 ½-inches. The neck's are finished in Ultra satin, with a choice of maple or rosewood fingerboard depending on the body finish. 

Here we have a 10- to 14-inch compound radius 'board, with 22 medium jumbo frets on the Stratocaster HSS, 21 on the Jazzmaster), a bone nut, locking tuners and each guitar comes in a premium molded hardshell case.

The American Ultra series also offers advanced electronics. The Stratocaster HSS has an Ultra Double Tap humbucker at the bridge and Ultra Noiseless Hot Strat single-coil pickups at the middle and neck. The controls comprise a five-position blade pickup selector, master volume with an S-1 switch to activate the Custom Double Tap feature, a neck/middle tone knob plus bridge pickup tone knob.

These are the best production models that company has produced to date

The Jazzmaster, meanwhile, comes equipped with two Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazzmaster single-coils in the bridge and neck positions. It has a little more going on with the controls and features a three-way pickup toggle, master volume with S-1 switch, neck tone knob, bridge tone knob, inset individual bridge and neck volume controls and a phase switch. 

On the Jazzmaster, the S-1 switch engages both pickups in series, while the individual bridge and neck volume controls only work when the phase switch is set to its out-of-phase position.

Performance

Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster

Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster (Image credit: Fender)

The quality and Fender's attention to detail are noticeable from the first moment you open the case. Details like the gold logos and the gorgeous finishes immediately identify these guitars with an image of luxury. 

Having played hundreds of Fender guitars, I can unequivocally state that Fender got it right when they decided to name this series Ultra; these are the best production models that company has produced to date. 

That feeling of luxury is only intensified when you start playing. The finger board edges are smoothly rounded off, the frets immaculately dressed. The feel is so polished. 

I particularly loved the contours on the rear of the treble cutaways. They provide smooth, comfortable access to the uppermost frets. I found myself pulling off difficult licks that I typically struggle with on other guitars.

The Ultra series' greatest feature, however, is their stellar variety of tones. The Strat HSS offers big and beefy single-coil tones from both middle and neck pickups, and the bridge pickup too whenever you have the  S-1 switch engaged. With the bridge humbucker in its default mode you'll find fat, aggressive wallop. There's plenty of definition and treble bite. 

Quite simply, the Jazzmaster sounds awesome. It has a unique midrange snarl, with more body than a Strat or Tele but also more cut and snap than a P90. It has killer clean twang and delightfully demonic distortion. 

This Jazzmaster’s sounds are perfect for those tired of the same old tones that most companies are offering these days. But both models offer a wider range of textures and tones than their rival Strat and Jazzmaster models – they're the perfect option for pros and those seeking a wider variety of tones than your average player.

Specs

American Ultra Stratocaster HSS

  • LIST PRICE: $1,899.99 to $1,999.99
  • MANUFACTURER: Fender
  • BODY MATERIAL: Alder
  • BODY FINISH: Gloss Polyurethane
  • NECK MATERIAL: Maple
  • NECK FINISH: Satin Urethane with Gloss Urethane Headstock Face
  • NECK SHAPE: Modern D
  • FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
  • FINGERBOARD RADIUS: 10" to 14" Compound Radius (254 mm to 355.6 mm)
  • NUMBER OF FRETS: 22
  • FRET SIZE: Medium Jumbo
  • BRIDGE PICKUP: Ultra Double Tap Humbucking
  • MIDDLE PICKUP: Ultra Noiseless Hot Strat
  • NECK PICKUP: Ultra Noiseless Hot Strat

American Ultra Jazzmaster

  • LIST PRICE: $1,999.99 to $2,099.99
  • MANUFACTURER: Fender
  • BODY MATERIAL: Alder
  • BODY FINISH: Gloss Polyurethane
  • NECK MATERIAL: Maple
  • NECK FINISH: Satin Urethane with Gloss Urethane Headstock Face
  • NECK SHAPE: Modern D
  • FINGERBOARD: Rosewood
  • FINGERBOARD RADIUS: 10" to 14" Compound Radius (254 mm to 355.6 mm)
  • NUMBER OF FRETS: 21
  • FRET SIZE: Medium Jumbo
  • BRIDGE PICKUP: Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazzmaster
  • NECK PICKUP: Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazzmaster