Every year, the Fender Custom Shop Master Builders seem to raise the ante with their unique one-off custom builds. The 2015 NAMM Show features eight stunning masterpieces that showcase the craftmanship, artistry and excellence of the Dream Factory.
Here are eight master-built instruments from the Custom Shop that are so phenomenal, the luthiers are having a hard time letting them go …
Tree Siren Stratocaster by Master Builder Dale Wilson
Master Builder Dale Wilson has his daughter and social media to thank for the inspiration behind the willowy look of his stunning Tree Siren Stratocaster. When Wilson asked his daughter in 2013 who her favorite artist was on Instagram, she introduced him to the work of acclaimed Canadian artist Mandy Tsung.
“I saw one of her art pieces that blew me away,” he said. “It was a painting of a woman that blended into the wood grain, and I thought the effect would look incredible on a guitar. So I contacted her and asked her if she was interested in painting a guitar for me in a similar vein.”
Wilson searched palette after palette for the right piece of wood, finally coming across a single piece of Japanese tamo ash that he immediately knew was the perfect canvas for this remarkable imagery. The bird’s-eye maple neck features delicate inlay work by craftsman Ron Thorn that takes the form of green leaves that ascend the fingerboard.
Baritone Guitar by Dennis Galuszka
Leave it to Master Builder Dennis Galuszka to create a baritone guitar unlike anything anyone has ever seen. You’ll first notice that it’s big—something of a Telecaster on steroids, with an expanded take on the classic body style and a 30” scale length that evokes the classic Fender Bass VI model. The lightweight ash body features a custom brown metallic finish from Custom Shop painter Jay Nelson, with a swirling custom pickguard and control assembly. Tuned B to B, it also features a Curtis Novak Goldfoil neck pickup and a hot Telecaster bridge pickup hand-wound by Fender’s Josephina Campos. AND, it has fingerboard inlays fashioned from fossil mastodon tusk ivory. That’s right—actual mastodon material.
“I have always loved the baritone guitar sound, so I wanted to give my take on it,” Galuszka says. “I basically built what I saw in my head. The feel and sound far surpassed what I was looking for. Everyone who has played it has fallen in love with guitar all over again. It sounds badass.”
It sure does.
Maple Top Blue ’57 Precision Bass by Greg Fessler
Master Builder Greg Fessler was marveling over several high-end instruments during a visit to a boutique bass shop in Japan several years back when inspiration struck him for a distinctive high-end bass that bore his own acclaimed touch. The result is Fessler’s Flame Maple Top Blue ’57 Precision Bass, the sole bass guitar among the 2015 Custom Shop showcase instruments.
The Precision was perfected in 1957 into the modern form that still exists today largely unchanged, and Fessler’s vision brings a ’57-style model to artfully elegant life with a gorgeous AAAA flame maple top stained in transparent blue, flame maple neck with white binding, abalone block fingerboard inlays, a hand-wound vintage Precision bass pickup and gold hardware.
Solar Eclipse Stratocaster by Master Builder Jason Smith
Inspiration for the Solar Eclipse Stratocaster struck Master Builder Jason Smith while he was showing his son photos of the difference between solar and lunar eclipses.
“There was something about the extreme color contrast I came across in the solar eclipse photos that I just couldn’t stop staring at,” he says. “The jet-black center and the bright orange corona just really caught my eye.”
Smith duly crafted a truly stellar Stratocaster featuring a satin “Solar Eclipse Burst” body finish, black anodized aluminum pickguard, and hand-stained bright orange maple neck with a matching black satin headstock. Equally stellar tone comes from a Texas Special neck pickup and DiMarzio® Super Distortion bridge pickup with custom switching, and the guitar also features a Floyd Rose® locking nut and bridge with original wood screw posts.
Needless to say, his son loves the guitar. Based on the traffic cruising by this instrument on the showroom floor, he’s not alone.
Zombie Stratocaster by Master Builder John Cruz
Master Builder John Cruz says his Zombie Stratocaster was inspired by his desire to create a more “dark and macabre” guitar “with a more rock ‘n’ roll attitude and vibe.”
Cruz also wanted to incorporate more of what he calls “the hidden talents within Fender,” so he enlisted the expertise of Custom Shop painter Joaquin Lopez to collaborate on the guitar’s deep, dark “zombie” theme, which Cruz said “shows the darkness of spells cast by witch doctors and headhunters.”
The canvas for this marvelously detailed artwork is the instrument’s beautiful quilt maple top, and the guitar also features distinctively detailed original inlay artwork by acclaimed inlay artist Ron Thorn.
“The hope is that there will be ongoing collaborations like this that encompass all of the enormous talent that the Custom Shop has to offer,” John said.
Cardinal Esquire by Master Builder Yuriy Shishkov
Master Builder Yuriy Shishkov is especially acclaimed for his dazzlingly meticulous inlay work, and the Cardinal Esquire is the latest example of his remarkable craftmanship.
On their own, the alder body with the deep green back, hand-stained black AAAA flame maple top, ivoroid binding and bird’s-eye maple neck with a hand-stained deep green finish would be gorgeous enough. But then Shishkov applies his inlay expertise, here with the theme of the beautiful cardinal flower and rendered in fine silver wire, diamonds, rubies and green diopsides (a mineral gemstone).
This rich look is complemented by an ebony fingerboard, a hand-engraved bridge cover and single control knob (volume with push/ pull coil splitting), gold hardware and a single Seymour Duncan® Hot Rails humbucking pickup.
Leatherbound Paisley Telecaster by Master Builder Paul Waller
Paul Waller’s beautiful Paisley Roundup Telecaster is, to put it lightly, a guitar with some history.
Its top is fashioned in pine reclaimed from a 100-year old barn and given a richly weathered treatment that accentuates its deep grain lines, knots and even bullet holes. The instrument actually pays affectionate homage to the western-themed Gretsch® Roundup guitar of the 1950s, with it chambered mahogany body, hand-tooled leather side work featuring a rope border and paisley leaves, and matching tooled leather guitar strap.
The bird’s-eye maple neck features elegantly engraved paisley pearloid block inlays, and craftsman Tim Adlam contributed delicate paisley engraving work on the two gold humbucking pickup covers, bridge cover and control knobs.
Waller is so proud of this guitar, he assigned his lowest serial number to date — No. 9 — on its neckplate.
Flicker Flame Stratocaster by Master Builder Todd Krause
Todd Krause’s Flicker Flame Strat features a remarkable 3-D flame graphic finish that the luthier has been frothing at the mouth to make.
He commissioned its “candy flame” graphics from his friends and talented artists at neighboring racing outfit Troy Lee Designs. The flames are hand-applied to gold leaf, which is manipulated in such a way that it reflects light at different angles, imparting an appearance of depth and a notable “flickering” effect.
“As far as I know this has never been done,” Krause says, explaining the novel dimensional look, which was inspired by vintage gold-leaf lettering. “I’ve been challenging the artists at Troy Lee to do this for ages now, and this was the year.”
Along with the ebony fingerboard, black headstock and black hardware, it’s yet another beautiful Todd Krause creation.