Catching up with Mike Eldred at NAMM

Mike Eldred
Watch our video interview with Mike Eldred in the Fender Custom Shop Showcase at NAMM.

Every year at the NAMM Show, the Fender Custom Shop gets a chance to showcase all of the projects its group of master builders has finalized, and the 2014 event is no different.

The Fender Custom Shop Showcase features a wide range of stunning guitars from the many creative minds that are innovating at the factory in Corona, Calif.

One of the booth’s top attractions is the color wall. Each season, the builders are given a body shape – whether a Telecaster, an Esquire, or this year’s Stratocaster – and paint each of the guitars in a different vintage color.

How are those colors determined?  The custom colors were manufactured by Dupont, who originally supplied General Motors with lacquer for their cars, such as Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, or even Corvettes.

“What happens when people come to the Custom Shop NAMM is they get drawn to the color wall first,” said Custom Shop Marketing Manager Mike Eldred. “Seeing each of those Dupont colors is something that draws the eye.  It’s part of Fender’s heritage.”

Eldred hung the guitars in order from light to dark on the top row and dark to light on the bottom row, resulting in a truly striking vision.

The 2014 version of the color wall also pays homage to the classics by painting color on color, a process in which the top layer of solid color is applied on a Sunburst guitar. When wear on the body takes off parts of the solid color, the Sunburst peeks through, making the guitar that much more unique.

But, the wonder of the Custom Shop does not stop there.

Olivewood Strat
Olivewood Strat

Walking around the Showcase, there are several master built works of art that most consumers and artists have never seen before.

Paul Waller’s Faded Tennessee Orange Telecaster – complete with two double-bound f holes – drew raves, as did the gold-leafed ’65 Taos Turquoise Stratocaster from Jason Smith.  John Cruz turned out a double-neck guitar with a 12- and six-string neck, and Dennis Galuzka’s olivewood Stratocaster features a natural chunk missing from the single piece of wood.

Many of the other guitars fall into one of four platforms:

-      Custom Deluxe, which boast a highly creative use of distinctive woods, hardware, inlay materials and electronics.

-      Time Machine, which are meticulous replicas that were made using the same techniques and tooling that created the originals.

-       Limited Edition, eminently collectible pieces only available for a short time.

-      Proto Series, the experimental testing ground for the Custom Shop developers.

What was evident at the Custom Shop Showcase is how impressive the work is that comes out of the Shop on a consistent basis. Eldred believes that they are not simply objects to be purchased, but more like investments when the buyer is ready to take the Custom Shop plunge.

“We have a mantra in the Custom Shop to build the very best guitars that Fender can build and provide a vehicle for artists and consumers to partner with and invest in Fender’s rich legacy and history,” Eldred said.

Also seen around the Fender Custom Shop during the NAMM Show:

- John Mayer, and later, his bassist Sean Hurley, who saw the release of his signature Custom Shop bass in 2013.
- Jim Messina, who was a member of Buffalo Springfield, Poco and Loggins and Messina.
- Skateboarding legend Ray Barbee taking note of a few basses.

View a Custom Shop Showcase photo gallery below, and an interview with Mike Eldred below: