Fender has announced the new American Ultra series, their latest family of electric guitars and basses. Like you, we at Musician's Friend had plenty of questions about this exciting new series, so we reached out to Max Gutnik, Vice President of Fender Electric Guitars, Basses and Amplifiers for some answers.
The HUB: Tell us about Day 1 of American Ultra development. What were the key features and specs you honed in on for this product line?
Max Gutnik: The goal of American Ultra was to create our most advanced series of guitars and basses for discerning players who demand the ultimate in precision, performance and tone. We wanted a series of versatile, state-of-the-art instruments to inspire players to push their playing to new heights.
A closer look at the Fender American Ultra Stratocaster.
The HUB: Who’s typically involved in the earliest development stages? Anyone we wouldn’t typically think of?
MG: It all starts with the innovative spirit that began with Leo and permeates from Andy Mooney (Fender’s CEO) down through every part of the Fender organization.
A lot of people don’t know this, but Leo Fender never played guitar. What he did, maybe better than anyone, was listen to musicians talk about their gear, their music, their needs and invent revolutionary tools designed to meet exceed those needs. This approach to designing instruments is just as relevant for us today as it was back then.
The product development team at Fender is a small group of life-long guitarists, with decades of experience playing, performing and recording professionally. We work with our amazing R&D team and the artisan builders in our Corona factory to create prototypes and then share them with artists and players around the world, as well as all of the amazing players within the Fender organization. We put the instruments in their hands, get their reactions, jam with them and ultimately take everyone’s feedback back to The Bungalow (Fender’s Hollywood Product Team HQ), where we iterate on the designs until we have it exactly right. Just like Leo did.
Check out the Ultra Noiseless pickups in the new Fender American Ultra Telecaster.
The HUB: Whereas other product families, such as Vintera or American Original, are working off of clearly defined blueprints, the Ultras seem like an opportunity to innovate without restraint. How do you bring classic designs to new and exciting places?
MG: While Fender is renowned for continuous innovation, there is an iconography to the original designs. To many fans and players, this geometry is sacred.
Despite that, Fender designs have always progressed, changed and evolved. Take two Strats, one from 1954 and one from 1959. They have different neck shapes, fretboards, pickups, pickup covers, body woods, knobs, switch tip and pickguards. They appear similar, yet almost everything about them is different. And then there’s the Telecaster. From 1950 to today, the Telecaster has seen massive transformations, however the overarching design and sonic palette remained true to form.
For players that want the authentic Vintage instruments, we have designs like the American Original and Vintera Series. For those that want more of a contemporary interpretation, we have the new Ultra Series. These modern evolutions are achieved by ‘coloring inside the lines’, keeping the identity, spirit and sonic signature intact, but adding playability, construction and performance innovations, all in service to the ever-changing needs of musicians the world over.
The Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster introduces several modern features to the iconic offset guitar.
The HUB: How are the American Ultra models different from the American Elite models?
MG: American Ultra represents the most dramatic change to the Fender lineup in decades. Almost every aspect of these instruments have been redesigned to meet the needs of today’s player.
Starting with the Ultra neck, we wanted something slim and fast, that was still ergonomic and comfortable and didn’t sacrifice the tone or resonance of the instrument! We call it the “Modern D”. It has a slightly thinner back and a bit more shoulder for leverage and comfort. We also created a new satin finish for that feels more natural than ever before. Wrapping your hand around the neck for the first time is an absolutely thrilling experience.
To compliment the neck we designed a new tapered heel and rear body contours that are as beautiful as they are functional. Players will immediately notice how effortless it is to play in the 12th position and beyond, without the contortions we all go through bending to get to that high E at the 22nd fret. On the front side, we wanted to ensure that all playing styles from the traditional to the extreme were being served without compromise. The Ultra fretboard has a new 10-14” compound radius and super-rolled edges for that 40-year broken in feeling. The result is effortless pyrotechnics and comfortable comping in every position.
Take a listen to the new Fender American Ultra Jazz Bass.
The HUB: Tell us about these new Ultra Noiseless pickups. What’s different about them?
MG: One of the most challenging and rewarding innovations on Ultra are the all-new noiseless pickups.
We were determined with Ultra to make the absolute best sounding noiseless pickups. It’s hard to get the classic Fender vintage tone in a noiseless design. But we rethought everything: the wires, tension, magnets, even the stagger. The results are incredible. The Ultra Noiseless pickups are the best sounding noiseless pickups we’ve ever made. In addition to the new pickup designs, all of the Ultras feature advanced wiring configurations, and the basses have a newly voiced preamp that is the best sounding bass preamp we’ve ever designed.
The American Ultra Precision Bass features both P Bass and J Bass pickups.
The HUB: Which instrument is your favorite at the moment?
MG: I can’t pick a favorite – that would be like picking which of your kids you love the most! I have personally been gigging with an American Ultra HSS Strat in Aged Natural finish. I love the tonal versatility of an HSS Strat, especially with the hotter Double Tap™ Humbucking Pickup we designed for Ultra.
The HUB: Leading up to the launch, what type of feedback have you been getting from people that have seen the new instruments?
MG: The overwhelming feedback has been around how comfortable and fast the neck feels, how easy the overall guitar is to play and how amazing they sound. Of course the new eye-popping colors have been very well received, too. It’s been really great to experience the joy that Ultras have brought to the artists and players we’ve shared it with. Ultra embodies the innovative spirit and understanding of the customer that Leo originally brought to Fender. We can’t wait to get these instruments into the hands of players all over the world.
The HUB: Thanks for your time, Max!
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