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Fender's American Ultra guitars: redefining an icon

How the US brand behind the world’s greatest guitars is using design to stay relevant

Fender guitars
Fender PR

Iconic designs come in many shapes and sizes. From streamlined Porsche sportscars and Dieter Rams clocks for Braun to slick Italian chairs from the likes of Antonio Citterio, even the iPhone or computer you’re reading this on… Great design touches every area of our lives. When it comes to musical instruments there are few designs more recognisable than Fender’s Stratocaster or Telecaster guitars, integral pieces that have been at the heart of modern music since they were introduced in the 1950s.

But icons have to adapt and move with the times and for this reason Fender has recently launched its American Ultra Series, a new line of the most advanced electric guitars boasting all-new modern features, state-of-the-art craftsmanship and nuanced design. Most notably this series offers a new body design and contours, decades since the last significant alteration to the seminal Stratocaster and Telecaster body shapes.

Woman with Fender electric guitar
AIM Studio

As younger players create new sounds, meld existing genres and push the limits of what a guitar can do, Fender products also needed to continue to evolve. ‘Moving the design on was not something we took on lightly,’ says Justin Norvell, Fender’s executive vice president of product. ‘but technology has moved so far since the Fifties when we were cutting them out on bandsaws and now we can achieve much more with computer-controlled manufacturing. We’re calling these the sports cars of the line-up; they’re just so much more sculpted and ergonomic.’

Features include an all-new ‘Modern D’ neck with a compound-radius fingerboard, smooth American Ultra satin back finish and extremely rolled edges. The result is a neck that’s slim and fast – yet ergonomic and comfortable.

For next level comfort and playability, Fender redesigned the body contours of its most iconic models for the first time in decades. New back body curves offer hours of gigging comfort to musicians while a super-sculpted neck heel gives unparalleled access to the upper register of the fingerboard, resulting in better accessibility and comfort. ‘We’ve spent about two and a half years working on this form, making everything a bit more sculpted and cutaway, so you’re no longer fighting with a huge block of wood when you play,’ says Norvell.

‘The Stratocaster and the Telecaster have often been written about in industrial and commercial design terms as products that got everything right, so to evolve those, but to do it in a way that pays respect to and fits with the original has been a challenge, but we were up for it and think it went really well.’

Man playing Fender electric guitar
AIM Studio

The American Ultra instruments are available in a variety of colours, including Cobra Blue, Mocha Burst, Texas Tea, Arctic Pearl, Aged Natural, Plasma Red Burst and Ultraburst. ‘Guitars back in the old days were finished like furniture,’ says Norvell, ‘Fender was the first company that was like, let’s paint them more like cars. That was why our founder Leo Fender used to pick those pastel colours from old cars. Now as we’re considering the American Ultra Series as sports cars we wanted to go with bolder metallics and colours that play with light really well and have more depth to them.’

‘It’s a really nice throughline of our evolution that you are really still getting the original Fender mojo just reinterpreted in a new, modernistic way.’

The Series includes seven new electric guitar and bass models and retails from £1859 and is available from local dealers and at fender.com

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