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Is A Custom Shop Guitar Worth the Premium Price?

by vaughn skow November 03, 2017 3 min read

SPOILER ALERT!!  Yes.  Okay, now let's get on to the big question: WHY?!?

Okay, first, I'd like for you to take a trip over to the article I just wrote on the Fender Custom Shop for Vintage Guitar Magazine, and after reading that, come back.  Sound good?  Okay, you can read my piece (as well as the entire issue) here:

Vintage Guitar Magazine Vaughn Skow Fender Custom Shop
So, what was your take-away from what the custom shop builders had to say?  Any of the pictures catch your eye (yeah, I know ... the Playboy Strat...)? 

Fender Custom Shop Playboy Marilyn Monroe Stratocaster

Well, here's my take.  Prior to the process of researching and conducting interviews for the story, I had never so much as considered a CS Fender, or any other custom shop guitar for that matter.  I really LIKE most off-the-shelf Fenders, except for many of the pickups of course!  But talking with the Custom shop founders, as well as past and present builders, really opened my eyes.  And yes, I now have made it a goal to own a Master-Built Fender Custom Shop guitar!  Why?  That's easy: because they are worth it.  They are worth the scrimping and saving.  They are worth sacrificing other wants.  Okay, got it ... so WHY are they worth all that?  Glad you asked!

Fender Custom Shop Tele Headstock

As I spoke with all the legendary Master Builders there were a few themes that just kept coming up, themes that compel and inspire.  They were all folks who have consistently lived, ate, and slept in the world of guitar building.  They breathe it in and absorb it through their pores; a DNA test would probably reveal they had Rosewood, Alder, Ash, and Pine DNA!  Another thread running through them all, they started YOUNG; man these dudes were like a bullet train on an express track, they knew what they wanted to do with their lives and got started at it fast.  How about this one: the builders all brought different strengths to the table, but since collaboration abounded, a Fender CS guitar is actually the best of what they ALL have to offer.  Cool, right?

Fender Custom Shop[ Master Builders Founders
Photo above left to right:
Founding Master Builder Mark Kendrick, Founding Master Builder and Chief  Michael Stevens, Founding Master Builder and long time head of the shop John Page, Founding Master Builder Fred Stuart, Founding Master Builder JW Black.

Fender Custom Shop Strat

Quality.  So this is pretty much a given, but it's worth mentioning.  Every single builder I talked to described the quality of a custom shop guitar in terms of "perfection" ... or as close as physics and humanity allow.  In a guitar world rapidly becoming swamped by the crap-shoot quality of guitars manufactured in mega factories in China, by the same people who build brazers and toaster ovens, consistent top-notch quality is getting beyond rare!

Fender Custom Shop Shattered Glass Tele

Artistry.  Every builder I spoke with wasn't just some great tech head ... they were, but they were also top-level artists, visionary artists.  That's important.  Think of it this way, what separates a truly magnificent painter from the average painter?  It's their artistic vision, of course.  Plenty of folks have went to art school and know all about the tools and techniques of producing a painting, but without a superior artistic VISION, they will never see their art sold above "starving artist" prices.  Same goes for guitar luthery, lots of folks out there know the tools and techniques, but will never produce a timeless classic without that same superior artistic vision.

Fender Custom Shop Jaguar Strat

Value.  Not many guitars hold their value these days.  Shoot, nearly none do.  Custom Shop guitars generally do.  Why?  Because of everything pointed out in the three preceding paragraphs!  So if you are like me, and you have reached a point in your life where you certainly don't NEED any more guitars, but yet you still have the bug and try to buy guitars that are "investments" that you can fully enjoy while they appreciate in value, well a CS guitar is perfect!  Let's face it, most of us can't afford pre-CBS Fender guitars, and I'm now convinced that a Custom Shop guitar is the next best thing.  So there.

Fender Custom Shop Clapton_Blackie

See ya all next week.  While this blog was practically a Fender Love-fest, my next blog will be about my recent experiences with Gibson guitars; suffice it to say that it will not be a love-fest.

Oh, and thanks to the fine folks at Fender and to photographer Henry Diltz, y'all Rock!

Fender Custom Shop Green Sparkle Stratocaster

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