The Fender American Ultra Telecaster is a beautiful instrument, and its well-designed features make it an ideal fit for the modern guitarist. I recently obtained one in dark brown sunburst (the model reviewed here), and I’ve been enjoying playing it.
The 22-fret neck feels great under my fingers; smooth, fast, and comfortable. It’s not too thick, but not so thin that it makes me feel like I have to fight with it either. The jumbo frets are rounder than what you find on some guitars, which means they allow more of the string vibration to move through the guitar without buzzing or deadening. The combination of fret size and shape gives this guitar plenty of resonance, which is especially nice when playing clean. The neck is on the thicker side, but it doesn’t feel like a baseball bat (I set mine up with .010 and .011 round wound strings), and its action is well suited for beginners.
The fretboard radius—12″ —is smooth and comfortable to play on; once again, no dead spots or sharp edges here. And I found that its ebony fingerboard (not rosewood, as stated in one paragraph of the owner’s manual) looks great under stage lights.
The maple top is well-finished and attractive; though I’m usually partial to spalted maple tops, this one grows on me the more I examine it closely. The finish is well-applied to all parts of the guitar, and it doesn’t have any unsightly errors or craters that I could see.
The bridge sits solidly atop the body, with no play in any direction. The saddles are slightly curved so they match up with the radius of the fretboard; this means maintaining accurate intonation is easy once you’ve set it.
The pickups sound great—lots of twangy bite when you want it, and smooth low end when you need it. They don’t get muddy even at high gain settings, which makes them useful for everything from classic rock to metal (the latter requires a boost for lead work). I tried out several mini- and full-sized humbuckers in my search for the perfect bridge pickup, but this one came closest to what I was looking for.
The three way switch is solidly mounted with no side-to-side wobble or vertical play. It clicks precisely into each position without feeling “iffy” or sounding mushy. The tone control is top-notch; it rolls off smoothly at either end which gives me lots of tonal options on the fly. The plastic tip holds its ground well when moving between positions, unlike some other guitars I’ve used that tend to pop out of place slightly when switching pickups (especially on higher gain settings).
I didn’t like the flat-pole pieces at first glance because they looked small under the strings; however, I’ve noticed no tonal differences between pickups. The volume control knob is well-built and the knurled aluminum adds a nice accent to the hardware.
The tuners are Fender’s standard vintage-style machine heads with small hex screws for adjustment . They hold tune very well even when using heavy string gauges (I use .012s), which is useful since heavy strings can wreak havoc on Strat-style machines if they’re not properly seated in the nut or headstock.
Set up was quick once I removed some stickers that were obscuring the screws’ function (yes, there were stickers where you never want them to be). There wasn’t any binding or belt rash anywhere on this guitar; it was set up perfectly out of the box. The strap buttons are well-mounted and solid—the strap never comes loose when I play standing up (though I’m still waiting on a straplock system to be released for these).
The only problem I’ve had with this guitar is that the lower cutaway has a sharp edge that can dig into your hand during high-action bends if you’re not careful. This isn’t an issue with most guitars since they have rounded cutaways, but it’s something to watch out for if you like tackling tricky solos or playing at higher speeds.
This guitar weighs 7 pounds, 7 ounces unstrung according to my digital kitchen scale. That might sound heavy compared to your typical Strat or Tele, but I found it to be well balanced and easy to move around on stage; the body is actually much lighter than many similarly-styled guitars (which can weigh upwards of 9 pounds without strings).