BY GREG OLWELL | FROM THE WINTER 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Fender’s new Fullerton series of ukuleles pays respect to the famous guitar maker’s signature six-string designs and reimagines the Jazzmaster, Stratocaster, and Telecaster guitars as concert-size ukuleles. The series is named after Fullerton, California, the original home of Leo Fender and birthplace of these archetypical instruments. As a long-time player of Fender’s electric guitars and basses, I was eager to check out the new ukes, and Fender sent me a Fullerton Tele Uke to review.
A few years back, Fender offered another Telecaster-based ukulele, the Ukulele ’52, but the new Fullerton Tele Uke features some improvements that increase its appeal while also connecting it more closely to the Tele guitar’s iconic features. The original Telecaster was born in 1950 (as the Esquire, renamed the Telecaster in 1952) and it was so right for players that it’s been in production ever since, with countless variations. While the Tele Uke echoes some of the touchstones of the oft-imitated solidbody guitar, such as the single-cutaway and butterscotch finish, this ukulele is an acoustic-electric instrument with some of its own unique touches.
The Fullerton Tele Uke has a laminated mahogany body capped with a laminated spruce top. This combination of woods is a reliable recipe for a sturdy instrument with decent tone, and as one of the heftiest wooden ukes I can recall strumming, “sturdy” is a good way to describe its feel. I suspect that its heft comes from the use of laminated woods, the onboard electronics, and—unusual for a uke—a maple neck. Maple is a little heavier than the more commonly used mahogany, but it’s also stronger and usually gives a brighter, clearer tone. Though I often find heavier instruments sound a bit muffled, this chunky little nugget delivered an impressive amount of volume. The Butterscotch Blonde finish had me wishing for a little more transparency so I could see the wood grain underneath, but it was still pretty cool and looks the part for a mini-Tele.
I really liked the feel of the thicker-than-average maple neck, and its C shape was comfortable in my hands for long playing sessions, especially when I rested my thumb over the edge of the neck when strumming open chords. My tester was set up with a medium action, which I found comfortable, but I could see some players preferring their strings a little closer to the fingerboard for easier fretting. This is really more of a personal preference and is something that any repairer could easily adjust at the bridge and nut. The walnut fingerboard is a handsome rosewood alternative and it has a flat radius. It’s bound with white plastic that is tinted to match the body binding and it gives off an appropriate vintage vibe. Though the ends of a few frets could have been shaped a little more attentively, there were no sharp ends and the fretwork was in line with what you can expect in this price range. All 19 frets on the fingerboard are easy to access thanks to the cutaway, should any fretboard delinquents want to get all the way up to the high E. The vintage-style sealed gear tuners made accurate tuning very easy.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Fullerton Tele’s acoustic tone, which was richer and more satisfying than many of the affordable guitar-like ukuleles I’ve played. It produced a notably deep sound, with a nice roundness to the low end that kept calling me back to play notes on the C string. Chords had a nice woofy bark, with enough high-end detail to shine. While the sound leaned a little towards warm and dark, it didn’t come at the expense of clear-sounding chords or single notes and passages on the higher strings, which had nice ring and sustain and spoke quickly when played fingerstyle.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the Tele is modeled after an electric, but the Fullerton really shined when plugged in. Like it has been for everyone else, 2020 has been a nearly gigless year for me, so I couldn’t test the Fullerton Tele in a live setting—so I relied on a Boss Acoustic Singer Pro combo amp for some amplified perspective. With the amp set flat and the onboard controls maxed, the sound’s high-end was a little spiky, but it warmed up well when I dialed back the tone control to about half. That was the sweet spot, and it gave me all of the clarity, punch, definition, and tone I’d want from an acoustic-electric ukulele. Despite getting a little too loud a few times, I also had little trouble with feedback—I might have to credit the laminated construction for helping to keep feedback under wraps.
Acoustic-electric ukuleles that look like little guitars are going to draw some people and push away some others, but for under $200, the Fender Fullerton Tele Uke delivers a solid and very usable sound for live use and a pleasantly decent acoustic sound. Say what you will about these guitar-based ukes, but they all circle back to the idea of fun. Even when we’re serious about making music, fun is an important part of playing, and the Fender Fullerton Tele Uke is fun.
BODY Concert-size with laminated spruce top and laminated mahogany back and sides; single-ply white body binding; gloss Butterscotch Blonde finish
NECK 15″-scale maple neck with gloss finish; 19-fret walnut fingerboard with flat radius; white binding and fingerboard dots; synthetic bone nut; nickel-plated sealed-gear tuners
ELECTRONICS Fender FE-U01 electronics with undersaddle pickup and preamp with built-in chromatic tuner and volume and tone controls
OTHER Walnut “no-tie” bridge with synthetic bone saddle; single-ply black pickguard; Aquila Nylgut strings
PRICE $199.99 street
MADE IN China