Fender American Ultra Stratocaster 2019-Current

Fender American Ultra Stratocaster 2019-Current

 

Fender American Ultra Stratocaster

 

The Fender American Ultra Stratocaster replaced the Fender American Elite Stratocaster in 2019 making the Ultra the most advanced American made guitar in the Stratocaster line. The Ultra Stratocaster features some very exciting upgrades to the Stratocaster design. Most notable are the new body contouring on the back of the guitar, the D-shaped compound radius neck and new Ultra Noiseless Vintage pickups.


Downgrades on this model are a less versatile S-1 switching system, a more friction prone string tree and the loss of the truss rod adjustment thumb-wheel. Let’s talk about the downgrades for a moment. The S-1 switch no longer gives you a selection of parallel and series pickup wiring. When the S-1 switch is engaged it simply adds the neck to pickup to any position that the blade switch is set to. This is a pretty serious downgrade as you lose two of the pickup combinations that were available on the Fender American Elite Stratocaster. The truss rod adjustment moves back to the top of the neck making it necessary to have an allen wrench handy and causing potential string damage as you adjust the truss rod. The thumb-wheel on the Elite Stratocaster eliminated those issues but a lot of people complained about the cosmetics and how they didn’t like the look of the thumb-wheel at the base of the neck. The classic style string tree adds more friction than the round string tree found on the American Deluxe Stratocaster series. These downgrades are a bummer, especially the limitations of the S-1 switch but do the upgrades offset these problems enough that the entire guitar can be looked at as an upgrade to the American Elite Stratocaster?

The new neck is a compound radius neck that moves from a 10″ radius to a 14″ radius as you move up the neck. This makes the neck flatter in the higher frets which aids in keeping the guitar from fretting out when doing extreme note bends in the higher frets. There is one aspect of the neck that could be looked at as a downgrade in the fact that it is a D-shape along the entire length of the neck instead of moving from a C-shape to a D-shape as the Elite Stratocaster did. The Ultra neck also has a satin finish on it and rolled edges which makes it extra comfy in my opinion. It is a very nice neck although the flatter radius may take a little getting used to.

Fender American Ultra Stratocaster features Ultra Noiseless Pickups

The Fender American Ultra Stratocaster features a set of brand new noiseless pickups called Ultra Noiseless Pickups. They are much brighter to my ear than the American Elite 4th Generation Noiseless pickups. The 4th Generation pickups may have been a touch hotter but they sounded much duller to me. I think the Ultra Noiseless Pickups are a very nice upgrade and they are extremely noise free with hardly any noticeable hum at all. For twang, the Ultra Noiseless Pickups have the 4th Generation Noiseless pickups beat.

American Ultra Stratocaster Rear Body Contouring

Probably the most exciting change to the American Ultra Stratocaster is the new body contouring on the back of the body. The belly contour is deeper than before allowing the guitar to lay more closely to your body. The neck heel has been scooped out at the 4-bolt joint allowing it to lay in the palm to allow your fingers to reach across the neck better. The body is also scooped from the lower horn to the neck joint allowing your palm to sink into the body as you twist your hand while soloing. This results in amazing comfort in the upper frets while playing. I personally love it.


Fender American Ultra Stratocaster has S-1 switch and soft touch knobs

Let’s talk about the new S-1 switching configuration. You get fewer switching options with the new Ultra Stratocaster as the S-1 only turns on the neck pickup when the blade selector switch is in positions 1, 2 or 3. I consider this a downgrade because on a hot-rodded guitar like this you want as many options as possible. But I will say this, the new sounds that come from engaging the S-1 switch are all useful. The sound good whereas some of the settings on the Elite Stratocaster and even the American Deluxe Stratocaster tended to sound muddy and be quite useless. These three extra settings are all very useful in my opinion. The volume knobs retain the soft-touch feel which is very nice for quick volume swells and handy for when your hands are wet with sweat.

American Ultra Stratocaster features locking tuners and the Corona California badge

The Fender Ultra Stratocaster also features locking tuners which increase tuning stability and make string changes a breeze. It also has the Corona, California badge underneath the serial number on the back of the headstock.

Fender American Ultra Stratocaster front of headstock

The truss rod is at the top of the neck and the string tree is the “extra friction” type so make sure you grease that string tree up good. The Ultra Strat also features a real bone nut, strap locks and it comes with a hard shell case.

In summary I think this is a very nice change to the Elite Stratocaster. Is it an upgrade? In some ways I truly feel that it is. I like the pickups much more than the Elite Stratocster pickups and I love the new body contouring especially at the neck joint. That said, there are things about the Elite Stratocaster that I will miss such as the quick adjust truss rod and all the S-1 switching options. I guess the answer for us is to have one of each guitar. You might be able to pick up and Elite Strat for cheap as stores close them out or you could find some really sweet deals on eBay.