Review: Fender American Ultra Luxe Stratocaster and Floyd Rose HSS Telecaster
07.07.2021

Review: Fender American Ultra Luxe Stratocaster and Floyd Rose HSS Telecaster

Words by MATT DWYER

Fender Music Australia | fender.com.au | RRP: $4,699/$4,899

Before there was Rock ’n’ Roll there was Fender. The guitar now known as the Telecaster was released in 1950 with the Stratocaster following it in 1954. Both were designed by the late Leo Fender (a certified genius who interestingly enough never actually played the guitar!). Working musicians were attracted to their versatility, durability and affordability.

Leo Fender is often referred to as the Henry Ford of guitar manufacturing due to the specialised production methods he employed. The revolutionary bolt-on neck and solid wood body design is a legacy that continues in guitar manufacturing to this day and not just at Fender, but across the majority of guitar manufacturers world-wide.

In the 60 years since, the beloved Telecaster and Stratocaster has been revised and tweaked  with every passing year, the combination of familiar body shape and the incredible breadth of the product line, means that today there is a tele or strat for every conceivable player or application out there-which leads us to Fender’s the new addition to the storied lineage for 2021- the Ultra Luxe Series.

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Let’s start with the Ultra Luxe Telecaster, available in two finishes a traditional sunburst and the eye-catching transparent Surf Green with Tortoise Shell binding. 

Both the available colour-ways manage to pull off the nifty trick of bearing both a classy familiar aesthetic while also adding something new and left of centre to proceedings. In the case of the sunburst model, it’s in the distinct black headstock. In the case of the Seafoam Green it’s the faux tortoiseshell marine vibe of the finish.

The body itself is solid ash-  a classic tonewood, particularly for a Tele, while the modern 6 saddle bridge is a welcome addition, providing a more accurate intonation and flexibility of setup, especially when compared to the original 3 saddle bridge of the early Telecasters.

It must be said that  the finish and binding on the new Ultra Luxe models are nothing short of flawless- the Seafoam perhaps being a nod to the guitar’s origins when it was offered as an optional custom finish- with a much welcomed “belly contour” at the rear of the body making for a more comfortable, modern  ride. 

True to the series name, the satin finished neck is nothing short of Luxe and is a joy in the hand. Starting at the first three frets, open chords ring and chime with a sustain that is rarely found in a bolt-on neck guitar. Straight out of the box it feels gig-ready. The compound radius fretboard and satin finish neck makes the guitar a dream to navigate-whether you’re playing country, RnB ,jazz or modern rock.

The tapered neck heel is also a great addition making access to the higher frets (or “the dusty end” as it’s affectionately known) in turn making higher register shredding an absolute breeze.

Speaking of which, the Ultra Luxe has twenty two stainless steel medium jumbo frets on an augmented “D” shaped maple neck with  10”- 14” compound-radius rosewood fretboard, resulting in an incredibly fast and comfortable neck and is a real ‘players guitar’ from the get go. The matching painted headstock with a TUSQ(TM) nut and locking machine heads complete what is a very classy reimagining of Fenders utilitarian classic. 

The pickups are Fender Ultra Noiseless single coils,  which eliminates any fear of the dreaded 60 cycle hum that has plagued guitarists and sound engineers since the instrument was conceived. The discrete S-1 switch at the centre of the volume control means that wiring configurations can be changed on a whim (from series to parallel), in turn offering even more tonal variety than the Teles of yore.

In terms of sonic flavour, the Noiseless pickups offer all the the clean crispness you would expect from a Fender, from smooth throatiness in the neck pickup, through to bitey twang on the bridge, the Ultra Luxe hits all the regular Telecaster tropes and then some. 

With both pickups engaged, the S1 switch activated series mode it becomes a snarling rock beast. Add some gain and it’s capable of tricks that other Telecaster are not.

From Clark Kent to Superman at the push of a button. It’s an after -market modification that some more industrious players have been hacking for a while, but the reliability of the Fender factory electronics combined with the absence of any after market rewiring, extraneous knobs or switches makes for much more sturdy and static free prospect.

The combination of functionality and playability in the hand make the Ultra Luxe Tele and absolute swiss army knife of a guitar, perfect for session players or anybody playing across a broad range of genres. 

The other side of the Fender coin, the almighty Stratocaster, is probably the most recognisable and endearing electric guitar design on the planet. When people hear the words “electric guitar” the Stratocaster shape is most often the one that comes to mind, such is it’s dominance in the space.

Like the Ultra Luxe Telecaster, the Ultra Luxe Strat Stratocaster is also a luxurious, versatile modern take on a ubiquitous classic. From Hank Marvin to Jimi Hendrix, the Stratocaster has covered more sonic territory than any other electric guitar and the Ultra Luxe takes this premise and launches it into the stratosphere by way of the combination one Ultra Double Tap humbucking pickup at the bridge and two Ultra Noiseless Hot Strat single-coil pickups up top, with an S1 switch and Floyd Rose Original Double-Locking 2-Point Tremolo for good measure. 

These features work in unison to bring even more versatility to what is arguably one of the most versatile guitar designs in existence. The results are something to behold and extend the strats already enviable sonic scope in to previously uncharted waters.

The body itself is Alder with  a beautiful gloss urethane finish, belying a bombproof build quality that really carries the torch in regards to Fenders longstanding reputation for building tough as nails touring machines. 

While this is probably one of the least talked about aspects of the Fender brand identity, (especially given how much we as the public are accustomed to the brand), it is nonetheless also a welcome reminder that even today, nobody does build quality and overall durability as well as the big F.

When put in the context of something like the Ultra Luxe series  (a release that prides itself on providing those little technical and tactile creature comforts in regards to componentry, sonic potential and quality of finish), the result is something that truly has all bases covered. Both the absolutely perfect guitar for both the serious touring or session player and an awesome tool for the budding six string soundsmith.

Check out the full range on Fender’s website.