In December 1986, Michael was hired to become the Founder and Senior Design Engineer of the Fender Custom Shop along with design engineer, John Page. In the early months, the team worked out of Michael’s garage in Corona before there was a Custom Shop. He spent late nights “trying to salvage history”, finding, stacking and filing steel templates and blueprints. During his time with Fender, Michael and his team built guitars for music’s biggest stars, including the Eric Clapton model Stratocaster, Danny Gatton Telecaster, Robert Cray Stratocaster and the Waylon Jennings Telecaster. He also became the first person in the history of Fender to have his name on the front of the peghead on an instrument of his creation.
Not only has Stevens continued to design instruments for players around the world, he participates in cowboy gatherings, playing rhythm guitar and singing.
The inspiration for Michael Stevens’ Founders Design Esquire stems from his vintage roots at Guitar Resurrection, where he and Larry Jameson loved blonde ash Stratocasters with gold hardware; they called these instruments Mary Kayes. "Some sassafras slipped into the run of ‘54 Strats, early ‘54s, that many people, for years, have been trying to figure out what it was,” he said. It is Michael’s belief that it was quartersawn, one-piece sassafras. So, instead of ash, the Founders Design Esquire is one-piece sassafras. A first glance, the front is classic Fender, with the control cavity switched backward. However, Michael insists that players will discover other custom features once they pick up the guitar and take a closer look. Under the bridge cover is a pickup in a left-handed bridge–reversing the traditional Telecaster orientation–and when the guitar is turned over, there’s a cutaway for the player’s wrist and thigh, adding comfort in the sitting position. "A lot of it is ergonomic," he said. "My thing, my style, pretty much is form follows function. Bauhaus. I love those guys."