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The Fender Custom Shop Is 20! [ Winter NAMM 2007 ]

United States
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years already.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (January 18, 2007) —For two decades now, the Fender Custom Shop has astounded players and collectors worldwide with marvels of creativity, ingenuity and sheer guitar artistry. From humble mid-’80s beginnings in Fender’s original Southern California home, the Custom Shop has grown to become perhaps the world’s preeminent maker of custom “instantly collectible” instruments; a veritable dream factory that has made Fender’s finest the world’s finest.

Whether we build it for Clapton or for you, a Fender Custom Shop instrument simply must be seen, heard, felt and played to be believed. Custom Shop Master Builders past and present are known by name worldwide for their ingenious vision, matchless skill and dazzling creations, be it one-off art guitars of astounding originality, or signature models and replicated instruments so meticulous in detail that they’re virtually indistinguishable from their artist counterparts and historical ancestors—witness, for example, the entire Time Machine Series, or 2006’s wildly successful Custom Shop Tribute Series Eric Clapton BLACKIE® Stratocaster® guitar.

For 20 incredible years now, many of these fantastic instruments were custom made to be delivered into the capable hands of the world’s greatest, most famous guitarists, and several Custom Shop models consequently became famous in their own right.

Even better, though, is the fact that while the Custom Shop has a colorful history of creating magnificent instruments for the Claptons, Becks, Gilmours, Vaughans and Mayers, et al, of the world, it’ll also build one for you. Indeed, the Fender Custom Shop’s artistry is available to all who appreciate a truly fine instrument—that includes the greats, and it includes you, too.

And what a 20 years it’s been …

The Beginning

Through the mid 1980s, Fender filled orders from artists for custom guitars through its R&D model shop. Craftsmen had envisioned a larger and more specific custom operation in the early “80s, but the business climate just wasn’t right.

But by late 1986, Fender was ready. Dan Smith, then marketing vice president, recalled that during the early “80s, “We looked at various ways to elevate Fender’s image from the “working man’s guitar” to that held by some of the most respected boutique builders.”

“Bill (Schultz, former Fender CEO) made it his personal mission to see to it that we made this happen,” Smith said. “Other manufacturers had custom shops for custom-built products, and so why not Fender?”

Smith recruited well-known Texas builder Michael Stevens and John Page, a former Fender R&D engineer. The idea was that they’d build a few custom instruments for artists and some showpiece instruments for trade shows. Little did they know what the very near future held in store for the fledgling operation.

Stevens and John Page began building the first instruments for the Fender Custom Shop in 1987 in a small, 850-square-foot space next to the main Fender factory. The first instruments drew rave reviews, and Stevens and Page soon found themselves deluged—more than 600 orders poured in that summer.

The operation was expanded immediately. Offerings were expanded to include special limited edition and price-list models, making the Custom Shop a viable marketing option in addition to being a true custom operation. Page became manager, and new master builders were gradually enlisted. Builders were “in the trenches”—working directly with artists on a daily basis, keeping Fender on the cutting edge and producing instruments of unbelievable beauty and startling originality.

“From the beginning, the Custom Shop built some of the most stunning guitars ever produced,” Smith said.

The Custom Shop embodied a new attitude at Fender—a commitment to responsiveness and to meeting the needs of the customer, be it a Clapton, a Beck, a Vaughan, or the man on the street. Indeed, features and production techniques that were devised in the Custom Shop for the greats sometimes found their way to Fender’s lower-price production lines, improving quality across the board.

By 1995, the Custom Shop had grown to 18,000 square feet, with a small army of 50 employees building fine and unusual guitars from the ground up and modifying existing models. In the hands of popular artists of the day, Custom Shop guitars began gracing concert stages and recording studios all over the world. All along, the Custom Shop’s reputation and prestige grew accordingly as Master Builders turned out one magnificent guitar after another, one dazzling series after another.

Such growth continues to this day, and established artists and amateurs alike clamor for distinctive Custom Shop instruments as never before. Among many electric guitar aficionados, in fact, it’s no exaggeration to note that it’s not at all uncommon for their voices to actually take on a kind of hushed reverence whenever conversation turns to a Custom Shop guitar or bass.

Instantly Collectible

Now, 20 unbelievable years later, the Fender Custom Shop continues its rich tradition of the finest craftsmanship and personal attention to detail. Its team-built and Master-Built guitars are among the most sought-after instruments on the market; musical creations that are indeed “instantly collectible.”

“The Custom Shop was created to push the envelope for Fender,” said Mike Eldred, a Custom Shop veteran who now heads the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation Custom Division. “We build dreams—we take your dream and transform it into a guitar. For the past 20 years, the Fender Custom Shop has pushed that envelope to blend our rich legacy and unique R&D capabilities to set the standard in custom and high-end products and design.”

Today, Fender’s acclaimed team of highly skilled individuals are poised to take the Custom Shop to the next level; to take it into the future while keeping a firm footing in its history and heritage. “There are many plans in the works to celebrate our 20th anniversary this year,” Eldred said. “We will be celebrating our past as well as our future, and you can be sure that a Fender Custom Shop 20th Anniversary piece will surely become “Instantly Collectable” as well.”

Join us in our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Fender Custom Shop, and here’s to 20 more years of artful and incredible “instantly collectible” instruments!
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