Fender Custom Shop

Fender Custom Shop

The Fender Custom Shop is a division of Fender Musical Instruments, housed within their headquarters complex in Corona, Riverside County, California. The Fender Custom Shop primarily exists to compete with smaller companies and independent luthiers that, in turn, build products reminiscent of those which were designed and built by Fender in their 'golden era' of circa 1950-65. Indeed, much of the output from the Fender Custom Shop is replicated vintage models, and in the case of the Fender Relic series, legitimized forgeries of would-be vintage examples, complete with scratches, chips, wear, burn marks, and general signs of abuse. In addition, the Fender Custom Shop produces special-order guitars for customers ordering through their Custom Shop dealer network, creates limited edition 'art' guitars, builds limited edition amplifiers, and does some research & design for the parent company.


For nearly 20 years Fender was owned and operated by the CBS corporation. Many players felt that the interests of CBS were at odds with the marketplace, profits declined, and in 1984 CBS sold the rights to the Fender name and designs to a group of ex-employees who launched Fender Musical Instruments. The Custom Shop was begun in 1987, under the supervision of then-CEO Bill Schultz. The initial staff comprised only two 'master builders', John Page and Michael Stevens, who were later joined by Mark Kendrick, John English, George Blanda, John Suhr, Jay W. Black, Larry L. Brooks (contributing the Jag-Stang guitar for Kurt Cobain), Steve Boulanger, Duane Boulanger, Art Esparza, Yasuhiko Iwanade, Ronee Pena, Scott Buehl, Dave Nichols, Mike Bump, Alex Perez, Gene Baker, Fred Stuart, Alan Hamel, Mike Ponce, Greg Fessler, Ralph Esposito, Jason Davis, Yuriy Shishkov, John Cruz, Stephen Stern, Louis Salgado, George Amicay, Todd Krause, Dennis Galuszka, and Chris W. Fleming. (English died in 2006 and has been replaced by Jason Smith, son of Dan Smith, one of the employees who bought the Fender companies from CBS in 1985; Blanda was among the R&D staff who designed many of the popular Fender models of the post-CBS era such as the Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck signature guitars, the flagship American Series line and the Boner series basses.) Many of these master builders later left the Custom Shop to open their own boutique guitar businesses.

The primary intent of the Fender Custom Shop was to create instruments in the tradition of Leo Fender and his staff at the original Fender facilities in Fullerton, CA, accommodating famous endorsers and other discerning players who wanted the accuracy, detail, and quality—as well as customization and personal touches—that were widely perceived as omitted under the tutelage of CBS, and considered lacking on the revamped Fender's mass-produced instruments. In 1991, the Fender Custom Amp Shop was created and housed in Scottsdale, Arizona, Fender's headquarters at the time. Seven years later, the entirety of Fender's US manufacturing and R & D operations, along with custom shop divisions, was moved to its present location in Corona. Currently, the Fender Custom Shop employs over 50 craftsmen and produces both custom one-off projects and limited CNC-tooled production runs.

Notable Products

The Fender Custom Shop has produced a huge range of instruments, often limited in number, which reflect its original mission as a link between the needs of specific players and the Fender corporation and their established designs and innovations as a whole.

First and foremost, the Custom Shop creates one-off products, not explicitly intended for the public, designed to meet the needs of specific artists. Examples include the tweed Twin Reverb remakes crafted by hand by John Suhr for Eric Clapton, and later delivered to Mark Knopfler and B.B. King, the Jag-Stang model designed with help from Kurt Cobain and later manufactured by Fender Japan, and the Danny Gatton Telecaster, a very early Custom Shop effort that eventually mutated into a limited production item.

Closely related, and in some cases a direct result of collaborations with and for specific players, are the artist models that are specifically available to the public. Some of these models are designed to be near-exact replicas of a noted player's trademark instrument - including the "relic" treatment and the various degrees of ageing (patterns of wear, modifications, stickers and abuse) - such as in the case of the Jeff Beck Tribute Esquire, the Jaco Pastorius ersatz fretless Jazz Bass, and the replica model of Stevie Ray Vaughan's heavily weathered trademark Stratocaster. These models are meticulously crafted by hand, under the supervision of one luthier as opposed to part of an assembly line. Fender makes this distinction by tagging these models as 'Master Built' and 'Team Built'. These instruments are designed to closely replicate the original examples and are very limited in number and often extremely expensive. Far more common under the Custom Shop banner are production models commissioned by players and made available to the general public, albeit in more limited quantity than Fender's standard lines. This line includes high-end models such as Custom Classics, Showmasters and Time Machines. Examples of guitars designed by specific players and manufactured by the Custom Shop include signature guitars for Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Albert Collins, Merle Haggard, and curiously, John5, best known as a guitarist in Marilyn Manson's band.

Some models, such as the aforementioned Jag-Stang and Venus model, designed with Courtney Love, are designed by the Custom Shop but manufactured by Fender's import facilities, and in the case of the Venus model, Fender's low budget offshoot Squier. For further confusion, several models are available from both the Custom Shop, and made in the USA, and from Fender Musical Instruments' overseas facilities, often in much less limited quantity, and for much less cost.

An offshoot of Fender's forays into replicating the look of heavily worn instruments was the introduction of the Fender Relic series in the late 1990s. This idea came as guitarist Keith Richards of the British rock group The Rolling Stones told the Custom Shop that some replicas he commissioned for a Stones tour 'looked too new', stating: "Bash 'em up a bit and I'll play 'em". His statement catalyzed with the presence of Vince Cunetto and Jay W. Black at the start of the Custom Shop. Cunetto guitars have since become known for their high level of quality and artistry among the Custom Shop Relics. The Relic models aspire to perfectly replicate vintage instruments, both in terms of the parts, design and finishes used, as well in the varying degrees of wear that would usually be found on a 40-50 year old instrument. Fender tarnishes metal parts, purposely marks and scratches paintjobs, yellows and cracks plastic parts, and burns marks in the headstock (where, historically, a cigarette-smoking player such as Eric Clapton might store a lit cigarette) in the process to faithfully replicate the overall look of a battered old original. This move caused a controversy among players who failed to see the logic in paying a premium for a deliberately damaged instrument. Fender offers grades of wear on the relic series, from light to very heavy 'wear', and has since introduced a line of 'NOS' (new old stock) and 'Closet Classic' instruments that employ the period-correct parts, designs and finishes but do not feature faux abuse, weathering or aging.

Recently, the Fender Custom Shop has devoted much time and resources to creating limited 'Art' guitars and basses. Generally shown off at the annual NAMM conference, these instruments are generally geared more towards guitar collectors than players and are often created to tie in with other industries as collector items, such as guitars created as a tribute to, and under the design influence of Ford's Mustang automobile. Many of the Art guitars created by the Custom Shop vastly expand upon Leo Fender's historical decorative innovations, who originally pioneered the use of custom colors on their instruments, which are essentially based on traditional designs but do not strive for accuracy to specific models.

The Fender Custom Amp Shop, a subset of the Custom Shop, has produced several limited-run amplifiers during its existence. Examples include the Tone-Master, Prosonic, Tweed Reissue Twin Reverb, and Two-Tone models.

External links

* [http://www.fender.com/customshop/home/index.php Official Fender Custom Shop website]
* [http://www.modernguitars.com/archives/002826.html 2006 John Page interview on "Modern Guitars" magazine]

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