Fender Stratocaster Ultra was the "crowning act" of the Strat Plus series and was their highest end production model, just under the Custom Shop guitars. They were introduced in 1990 and Fender ended production in 1998. All Ultras will say "Ultra" on the neck plate except for some of the very first produced in 1990. I am thinking that they must have had the plates in making or it was a cool afterthought. And while this model was introduced in 1990, some carry an E9 serial number.
Since this was part of the Strat Plus lineup, they had most of the features of the Strat Plus, such a roller nut, Lace Sensor pickups, locking tuners, Schaller strap locks, and a 2-point american bridge. But there was some significant difference from the standard Plus line, such as all Chrome parts, such as the Wilkinson Nut and the Schaller tuners and Bridge saddles. The neck is much like that on the Plus and the Plus DX models, with 22-fret skunk striped Maple neck with a nice C style radius and a bi-flex truss rod, but used an Ebony fretboard with medium-jumbo frets. The ebony was usually rather dark which showed off the real abalone dot inlays. The Ultra was the only production Stratocasters, that I know of, with Ebony on the fretboard instead of Rosewood or Maple. In the middle of 1993 Fender changed the Wilkinson nut to the improved LSR Roller Nut. These reduce the friction when using the tremolo and tuning. On the LSR each string rides on a set of roller bearings. On the Wilkinson nut the strings ride on a roller pin. Great for staying in tune when diving with the Tremolo!
The Ultra shown above was one of the first to come out in 1990. Many of the "first issues" came with an E9xxxx serial number indicating they were a 1989 but in reality most were within the first couple months of 1990. This one is a kind of “one-off” as it has the most interesting grain I have ever seen on an Ultra—and I have seen a lot of them. This color is Antique Burst. The flamed Maple top is one-piece as are many of the very first Ultras to be sold. The grain on this one has, what looks like, a worming pattern. Very cool. The early Ultra have become more collectable, and the later ones (1995-1997) had very cool color options and grain.
Another feature on some Ultras was the Fender Deluxe Locking Tremolo system, which was introduces around 1992 to the series. But following suit to Fenders variables, it used on some but not all the Ultras just as it was used on some, but not all Deluxe Plus'. String changes are rather simple as you do not have to feed the strings through the tremolo on the back of the guitar, thus no holes on the back plate. You just cut off the end of the string and feed it into the string ferrules. It also reduced the chanced of scratching the body with the strings. What you do have to be careful about is not scratching the body with an Allen Wrench when tightening down the Allen screw on the string ferrules.
The very first V1 Strat Plus DXs came with the same 2-point American Bridge as the Strat Plus and American Standards had. Around 199o some some Strat Plus DX models came with the Deluxe two-point floating bridge. These had a block block and a pop-in tremolo bar. Around 1993-4 Fender introduced their new Fender "Mini-Floyd Rose" Deluxe Locking bridge. The Fender Deluxe Locking Bridge is loved by some and hated by others. Some claim it cuts down sustain and other say it increases it. I personally like them. To change strings, you simply cut off the ball-end of the string and feed it into the bridge saddle under the machines steel barrel and then tighten down the Hex Screw. Fast and east. No feeding strings through the tremolo in the back of the body thus risk scratching your guitar. Thus the back cover is solid as there is no reason for the hole for the strings. Click here to download a PDF on how to set these up.
And to make it even easier, the Tremolo arm that comes with these bridges has a Hex Key on the tip, which you can use to loose and tighten the Hex screws! Really handy! Setting the intonation is tricky (another reason some people do not like them). You do it from the underside of the bridge (from the back of the guitar with the the trem-cover off). There is a set of Hex screws that you loosen to move the string saddle back and forth. Again, NOT ALL Strat Plus Deluxe's use these. As stated, they are more common from 1993-4 onward.
There has been a lot of confusion about these tremolos. Over the years I saw these called Mini-Floyd Rose, Deluxe Fender Floyd Rose and a Floyd Rose Type II. Even at Fender today there has been discussion about what these were called. The early ones had fender written on tremolo arm side and had Floyd Rose on the upper side. Later on, they came with no name on them. Weird, eh? One current Fender employee told me they were nick named the Blanda Bridge named ofter George Blanda who they were told designed it. BTW, George was head of R&D at Fender around the time Fender's Custom Shop started up. He built the prototypes for Clapton back in the day as well as guitars for other well know artists. I decided to find out the real scoop, so I contacted George and asked him about these bridges. Here is what he wrote back:
"I did design this bridge. It is obviously inspired by the original Floyd Rose but we wanted to develop a more user-friendly locking tremolo. At that time, a lot of people didn’t want some of the features and hassles of the original. It started out as a Fender project but about the time that the prototype was done Fender entered into a distribution agreement with Floyd Rose. In order to fill a hole in Fender’s Floyd Rose lineup, It was agreed that Fender would promote this as a Floyd Rose product. This was both to lend credibility to the new design and to increase sales of Floyd Rose branded product by going to a broader customer base. This worked out well for both parties. When the Fender and Floyd Rose distribution agreement ended we continued to sell this tremolo but with the Floyd Rose logo removed. I think our marketing description was Fender Locking Tremolo."
There were many types of finishes on the Ultras. You can see a few nice samples above. Some had highly flamed matchbook Maple caps front and back, laminated on an Alder body. Some of the first produced only had a simple one piece Maple cap that was not so highly flamed, and then there were a few of match-booked curly Maple tops, which were pretty rare and only made around 1997-1998. All the bodies with finished in a transparent burst to show off the Maple caps, with the exception of a few Mystic Black Ultras. The first one above is a solid top Maple cap with some nice burl too it. Several of these are from a friend's collection and are ealy 1990-91 Ultras. There was a host of colors which at this time I have not tracked down, but I know they follow the same transparent colors used on the Plus color line-up. (I have customized many Strat Plus' like Ultras. Check out my link to the Customized Stratocaster Plus'.
There was also the unique Firestorm finish which I talk about in length here: Firestorm Stratocaster Plus finishes. The Firestorm Ultras are very rare as Fender made more of them in the Standard and Deluxe Plus line way more than the Ultras. There was a number of the Telecaster Plus (Version I) that came in this finish as well. It had a short life between late 1989 to mid 1991.
Below you will see and advertisment for the newly released Ultra guitar found in a 1990 sales brochure. They called it the ULTIMATE STRATOCASTER!!
The Ultra features a special wiring system using 4 Lace Sensor pickups. The pickguard comes shielded from the factory. One thing all Ultras did have, and that was the 4 Lace Sensor and the 3-way mini-switch used for the two red Lace pickup referred to as a Dually in the bridge position. Most came with a Blue/Silver'Red Dually Lace Pickup configuration, but there were a few early models that had a Gold Lace in the middle position. When you pop the hood on some of the Ultras you often find things like Fender's Custom Shop logo on the inside of the pickguard, as some of these were used on the CS Neck-set Strats which often used Lace Sensors. There will sometimes find the word "Ultra" stamped inside the neck socket.
NECK pickup is a Blue Lace Sensor which has an increased output with the warmer 50's humbucking sound. It delivers a Gibson P-90 type sound.
MIDDLE pickup is a Silver Lace Sensor which delivers a fat 70's single coil sound with increased output and more midrange. Great for those out of phase sound when combined with the neck or bridge pickups. Some ealry Ultras came with a Gold Lace in the middle position.
BRIDGE pickup is a Dually Red Lace Sensor which is two Red Lace Sensors placed side by side. The Red Lace are the hottest output of the Sensor Series, and gives a fat, punchy humbucking output. Sometime you pop open these and find interesting things inside like finding out the pickguard came from Fender's Custom Shop. Some have Ultra stamped in the neck socket!
Very few people know the secret to the Ultra wiring schematics, which produces a unique variation in sound. Here is how the switch works:
Position #1: The bridge pickup using a 3-way mini-switch. This alone gives several variations, which are really cool. Here is what the "mini-switch" does to the Dually bridge pickup (and remember too, that these settings can be mixed with the other pickups). Up) activates the front bridge pickup which creates a out of phase hollow sound, which then can be mixed with the middle pickups with the 5-way Super Switch. Middle) has the bridge pickups in series creating a hot humbucker sound. Down) activates the back pickup on the bridge to give a single coil sound which mimics the tone of a Telecaster bridge pickup. The distance of the pickups from the bridge creates different tones.
Position #2: The bridge and the middle pickups mixed together, which can get a multitude of Strat out-of-phase tones because of the mini-switch and the TBX tone control.
Position #3: Here is where we part from standard Strat wiring. Instead of just running the middle pickup, this position mixes the neck pickup with the bridge pickup like on any 2 pickup guitars, such as a Telecaster. Again, with the mini-switch you can shape the color of the sound. Full, rich rhythm sounds. And both tone controls are also combined in this position too.
Position #4: Is the neck and the middle combined in an out-of-phase vintage Strat tone.
Position #5: Is totally vintage Strat with just the neck pickup and the middle tone control.
As on all the Plus Series, the Ultra comes with Fender's TBX tone system. I explain the the TBX tone control here in great detail (When you click on that link, just scroll down!) The bottom tone control is a stacked set of potentiometers that cuts either treble or bass instead of the standard style of tone that cuts treble only. T (treble) B (bass) X (Cut) thus TBX). When you turn this knob, you can feel a halfway point which is tone neutral. This tone control gives the bridge and middle pickups a unique variety of sounds
This is a 1994 Antique Burst Stratocaster Ultra. Again, some Ultras used the Floyd Rose Type II tremolo system. String changes are rather simple as you do not have to feed the strings through the tremolo on the back of the guitar, thus no holes on the back plate. You just cut off the end of the string and feed it into the string ferrules. It also reduced the chanced of scratching the body with the strings. What you do have to be careful about is not scratching the body with an Allen Wrench when tightening down the Allen screw on the string ferrules.
This is a 1998 Curly Maple topped Ultra with a 1997 serial number but the date stamped on the butt end of the neck says May of 1998, making this among some of the very last Ultras made by Fender. Very seldom will you find and Ultra with a match-book curly Maple top and back. This guitar is like in new condition. Very hard to find color and top.
This is a 1991 Antique Burst Stratocaster Ultra. You will notice that this one has a solid, one piece, flamed, maple top and back.
This is a 1993 Fender Stratocaster Ultra. (Serial #N3132907) Once again you will note the features. Chrome everything. The mid 1993 and old Plus' had the Wilkinson nut, so those were chrome plated on these too. Also the name Ultra will appear on the name plate on all 1992-3 and later guitars.
This one is the one peice Maple top and back. I have customized many Strat Plus' like Ultras. Check out my link to the Customized Strat Plus'.