2017 marks the 30th anniversary of Fender's Custom Shop, the limited edition/special order arm of the famous marque that turns "musical dreams into reality." At the NAMM show in January, the company's Master Builders got to celebrate the milestone by displaying a fine array of one-off creations, including the art-deco camera-inspired Studioliner from Yuriy Shishkov. Now it's the turn of the original craftsmen to show off their ultimate instruments.
The Fender Custom Shop was started in 1987 to satisfy the particular guitar needs of top professional players. Based at Fender's Corona facility in California, the dream factory initially had a staff of just two craftsmen, and it's Michael Stevens and John Page who kick off our look at the 2017 2017 Fender Custom Shop Founders Design Project.
Each of the Founders Design builds is restricted to a limited run of just 30 instruments, and the Custom Shop is making one guitar model available every month for the next eight months. The first out of the stable is the Michael Stevens Esquire, which became available this week priced at US$5,500.
Stevens was hired by Fender – along with John Page – in December 1986, and initially worked out of his garage. He's made custom models for Fender-endorsed artists like Eric Clapton, Danny Gatton, Robert Cray and Waylon Jennings, but it's his early years that Stevens has drawn on for the Esquire. The Telecaster-shaped guitar in white blonde with gold hardware, including a bridge cover that hides a pickup "in a left-handed bridge, reversing the traditional Telecaster orientation."
Instead of ash, the body is fashioned from one piece sassafras, like some early 1954 Stratocasters, with an ergonomic cutout to the bottom for improved comfort while seated. The body bolts onto a 21-fret, 25.5-inch scale birdseye maple neck topped by a maple fingerboard.
You can watch Stevens talk about his Founders Design in the video below.
Next month, a model by fellow original John Page will be released for $7,200 – and it's a stunner. The Double F-Hole Esquire was based on a limited number of Custom Shop guitars called the Page-o-caster that were originally designed 30 years ago for both acoustic and electric noodling.
A roasted mahogany body topped in koa (instead of the spruce found on the original) make the F-Holes really pop, and this Esquire also has a 21-fret flame maple neck with an ebony fingerboard, and no inlays. It rocks an original handwound blackguard Tele bridge pickup, John Page Woodtone ebony saddles and Gotoh miniature tuners.
Coming in May for $6,600 is the George Blanda Founders Design Jazzmaster. This creamy white instrument was inspired by Jazzmasters of the early 1960s and features a two-piece ash body with maple burl pick guard and white single-coil pickups.
Bolted onto the body is a 21-fret, 25.5-inch scale maple neck with Trim-Lok staggered tuners for tightening the Fender strings running from the RSD Jaguar/Jazzmaster bridge.
Fred Stuart kickstarts the northern summer run with a June release for the $8,400 Herringbone Telecaster. Said to have been inspired by the pre-World War II Martin Herringbone D28 guitar, it has a two-piece roasted ash body topped with Bear Claw Sitka Spruce with herringbone purfled binding.
The guitar sports a 21-fret mahogany neck with an African Blackwood fretboard, a Tele bridge with John Page Woodtone ebony saddles, Gotoh tuners with "butterbean" buttons, a "tortoiseshell" ply pickguard and Stuart's own blackguard single-coil bridge and neck pickups.
The first Stratocaster of the bunch breaks cover in July for $6,950. The J.W. Black Strat has its roots in the kind of axes that the Master Builder used to create for weekend warrior doctors/lawyers. This gorgeous 50s-style Strat is built around a lightweight ash body with a quilted maple top in tobacco burst finish.
There's a 22-fret birdseye maple neck and fingerboard, ending in a classic 50s head, and lashings of gold-colored hardware, including the poles in the single-coil pickups.
It's always the way. You wait ages for one to turn up, and two come at once. August will see the release of the Mark Kendrick Stratocaster, priced at $7,450.
Reported to be an amalgam of the work he did during his time in the Custom Shop, the guitar has an alder body in teal sparkle burst finish, a 21-fret maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard, Kendrick pickups (the middle one being reverse wound/reverse polarity), and knurled flat-top control knobs.
More sparkle is due for September when the Alan Hamel Telecaster becomes available for $6,000. Hamel's Fender pedigree includes designing the Twisted Tele neck pickup, working on the company's 50th Anniversary Precision Bass and its 30th Anniversary Ford Mustang guitar.
The Sparkle Tele has an ash body with alder front and back, a 21-fret maple neck and maple fingerboard, brass saddles on the through-body Tele bridge, his Twisted single coil pickup at the neck, a custom blackguard pickup at the bridge and Gotoh vintage tuners. Interestingly, the pickguard is in clear plexiglass to let the sparkle finish show through, but there's a black "halo" around the neck pickup – a neat effect.
The last Founders Design guitar to be released will be the Gene Baker Stelecaster in October, and it's also the least expensive at $5,450. Said to have been inspired by Strat and Tele mashups created by his former apprentice Mike Bump, Baker says that "just about everything is the Strat and the Tele, 50/50, right up the center line – mirror images of each other when you look at it. It looks very vintage and very familiar and friendly, although it makes you take a second thinking, 'Whoa, what is that?'"
Taking the best from both iconic guitars, it has an ash body with a chocolate burst finish, a 21-fret maple neck and fingerboard ending in a weird multi-tier head, nickel/chrome hardware, a Tele bridge pickup and '69 Strat single coil pickups to the middle and neck, and modern Tele push/pull controls.
All eight Founders Design instruments are cracking examples of guitar-making at its finest, but if you want one to grace your collection, you'll need to get your name down quick as only 30 of each will be produced. The Fender Custom Shop has released a 10-minute Founders Design documentary, which you can see below.
Source: Fender Custom Shop
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