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Aug 22

Fender versus Shelby Main Image

We’ve always lusted after the 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350H that lives in the stable of cars just beneath the Music Zoo. It’s owned by the Zoo’s landlord, Howard Kroplick, a car collector who knows the way to our hearts via a pretty amazing collection of vintage cars. With its Wimbledon White finish and gold Le Mans stripes, Ford Mustang GT “Fastback” body style, and car-isma that nearly had us forgetting that guitars ever existed, Howard’s car and its ilk epitomized automobile greatness. It’s these cars that paved the road for those incredible Detroit muscle cars that came in the next few years, among them the Camaro, GTO, Barracuda, and AMC Javelin.

Car culture was beyond huge in the ‘60s, and the automobile mystique seemed to tie-in with everything, including guitars. It wouldn’t be long before the racing car motif found its way onto ’69 Fender Mustangs with competition “racing” stripes. Meanwhile, the off-white and gold mashup bridged the connection of cars and guitars when a very, very rare Fender Custom Shop guitar built specially for Reverend Billy Gibbons showed up at our door. We realized there was a Cars and Guitars hookup that had to happen.

We’ll start with the car since it was here first. On first glance, the casual passerby might think, “Okay, a vintage Ford Mustang with racing stripes.” Howard’s car is actually a 1966 Shelby Mustang. Certainly, the GT350 began life in a Ford factory in San Jose, California before making its way to the garage of race car legend Carroll Shelby, whose Shelby American company would modify the cars with custom Magnum 500 wheels, disc brakes, a Cobra engine (water-cooled V8 with overhead valves and 306 hp at 6000 rpms), high-performance shocks, and a torque-controlled rear axle.

Of the 2,370 GT350s acquired by Shelby, 999 were specially modified for the Hertz Sports Car Club, which invited card-carrying Hertz car rental customers the privilege of driving a Shelby modified racing car, for $17 dollars a day and 17 cents per mile. “Business travelers whoMustang Main (1 of 1) want a change in pace in motoring, sports car owners away from home, vacationers who consider driving an enjoyable holiday sport,” read Hertz’s advertisement. You can tell that its 1966, and traffic wasn’t what it is now. The GT350 earned the “H” designation for the purpose of distinguishing it as a Hertz rental car. Another tell-tale indicator of this car—and any other Mustang, new or old, is the gold racing stripes throughout. The gold stripes specifically indicate that the car is a Hertz rental, along with the standard automatic transmission. Kroplick acquired the GT350H in 2004 at an auto auction, the first car in a collection that also includes the famed 1909 Alco Racer that we profiled in the Cars and Guitars: Beauty and the Beast article that we published as a blog in July, 2014. Vroom! Let’s now turn our attention to the guitar.

Approximately three years ago, guitar journalist Tom Wheeler created a meticulous and detailed coffee table book that celebrated the Fender Custom Shop and its one-of-a kind guitars. Titled “The Dream Factory: Fender Custom Shop”, it captures some of the most fantastic, inconceivable solid-body Fender guitars ever created. Interviewed within are a cast of artisans involved in making the Custom Shop guitars such as jewelers, graffiti artists, fire breathers (just kidding!), wood carvers, pinstripers, pearl inlay artists, and a master luthier or two.

One of these master luthiers is Chris Fleming, a Music Zoo friend and Custom Shop veteran who’s built many incredible guitar imaginings for players such as Billy F. Gibbons—a guy known for his hardly unordinary guitars. In the “Dream Factory’s” introduction—written by Gibbons—he describes a visit to the Custom Shop to pick up three new instruments that he commissioned Fleming to build. Gibbons took two and left one behind with Fender Custom’s Mike Eldred, and much later the guitar made its way to The Music Zoo.

So what is it? In essence it’s a Fender Custom Shop Billy Gibbons Stratocaster. One of us—okay, this writer in fact—have called it the “Fender Custom Shop Duo-Strato-Tele” because it draws inspiration from three distinctly Fender designs: The late 1950s-era Fender Duo-Sonic (and Mustang Shoot (4 of 7)single-pickup Musicmaster), the Stratocaster, and the Telecaster. Fleming essentially took a Stratocaster’s contoured body, pickguard shape, the slanted bridge pickup, and Strat control knobs, and combined it with a Telecaster neck. The pièce de résitance, however, is the late ‘50s classic, eight-screw gold anodized pickguard which perfectly completes the look. And, all you have to do is hold this thing to realize it’s the greatest guitar of all time, or at least that moment in time; a feeling similar to watching a guitar master like Jeff Beck, when all sense of temporality is paused and for that distinct moment he’s the only guitarist that matters. And then the bubble pops.

The Gibbons Strat was built by Fleming with an ultra-lightweight ash body, perfect for Gibbons who always plays guitars as close to featherweight as possible. There’s an aged maple neck with a Tele headstock, 9.5” radius, a big soft “V” profile, and 21 big 6105 frets. The pickup is a custom-wound and noiseless stacked humbucker pickup. Electronics also feature a volume control and a Greasebucket tone control that allows Billy G. to retain top end when he lowers the guitar’s volume. Then there’s a chrome vintage-style hardtail bridge that aesthetically compliments the gold pickguard. Finally, the Sperzel non-locking tuners have pearloid knobs that subtly blend in with the entire color story. And them’s just the parts; Chris Fleming’s brilliance as a guitar builder is evident with the Gibbons Strat’s brilliant aging. He could probably be on staff at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art doing anti-restoration or aging if he wanted. Let’s start with the body and its translucent Vintage Blonde finish, which is lacquer-checked throughout and aged such that a slightly brown-ish discoloration appears in all the right places: near screws on the side-mounted jack plate, on the tummy cut, on the body’s edges and cutaways. The very subtle dings and marks here and there have the kind of slight discoloration that would normally happen over time. Meanwhile, the neck is aged to show heavy player wear and lacquer checking, and Fleming even captured the time-honored discoloration around the frets that occurs with vintage guitars. Yep, exquisite is the word.

As we said earlier, playing the Gibbons Strat is like suspending the space-time continuum. That lightweight ash body contributes to amazing acoustic transparency and presence. And plugged in, it’s bridge-pickup Stratsville all the way—somewhat hot, but combined with the natural sustain Strat Edits (7 of 7)and acoustic properties you’ll hear amazing harmonic detail and nuances. Up the amp gain and this guitar growls and barks. Hit some nice broken chords while picking close to the bridge and it’s too beautiful for words. The sonic detail is the result of the lightweight ash, that great Strat-like custom-wound “hot” single-coil, and a whole lotta mojo and x-factor that we can’t pinpoint. Often, great guitars—and great American cars from Detroit’s golden era of high-quality, high-performance design—just have that…thing! Hats off to Ford, Carroll Shelby, Leo Fender and Chris Fleming, and Reverend Billy for helping to make American design and culture the envy of the world.

Written By Mike Bieber

Photographs By Walter Bryant

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Apr 03

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Since the very beginning of time – we think it’s fair to say around the same time the solid body guitar was invented – there has always been Fender.  Fender’s reputation in the industry is so deep, so meaningful, and so steeped in history that we won’t even attempt to characterize it here.   Instead, we can show you what it’s all about by diving straight into the creative beating heart of the brand.  There’s Fender, and then there’s Fender Custom Shop.  There’s Fender Custom Shop, and then there’s Fender Masterbuilt.  This is the magical world of wood and steel where the best builders chase the dreams of the finest guitarists to produce some of the most amazing instruments the world has ever seen.  If you’ve ever had the chance to play or own a Masterbuilt guitar, you know it came from somewhere special.  Join us as we go inside, and meet the men and woman who dwell in the realm of the Masterbuilders.

Want to see some Masterbuilt masterpieces you can own right now?  Check out our selection of in-stock Fender Masterbuilt guitars here.

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Feb 03

54

2014 marks the 60th Anniversary of one of the absolute legendary guitars of all time, the 1954 Fender Stratocaster.  It’s hard to imagine the world without the Strat; it has become so ubiquitous in our culture that it feels like it’s been around for centuries.  For this very special occasion Fender will be producing a year-long Custom Shop run of the 2014 Heavy Relic 1954 Custom Shop Stratocaster.  This guitar looks the part, like you just discovered it in the back of the world’s greatest pawn shop.  But Fender has learned a couple things in the last 60 years and it’s got a few modern touches as well, like the 9.5″ radius fretboard sporting 6105 fretwire for easy playability, and a modern 5-way switch.  This is a highly collectible anniversary guitar you can cherish and gig with at the same time.  Want to order one?  Get in touch with our sales team at sales@themusiczoo.com.

From Fender: The Fender Custom Shop celebrates the diamond jubilee of the world’s greatest electric guitar with the 60th Anniversary 1954 Heavy Relic Stratocaster guitar. This special guitar honors the Stratocaster’s very first model year and is finely crafted with a rich selection of features and appointments, in addition to a heavy relic treatment that evokes decades of use, abuse and hard-fought wear and tear.

The one-piece ash body features a battered nitrocellulose lacquer finish in the model’s original 2-Color Sunburst. The one-piece quartersawn maple neck has a comfortable 1954 “U”-shaped profile and tinted lacquer finish, and the maple fingerboard has a 9.5” radius and 21 6105 frets for smooth modern playability. Three 1954 single-coil Stratocaster pickups deliver a singing original-era voice. Other features include modern five-way pickup switching, a single-ply white pickguard, synchronized tremolo bridge with six “patent pending” saddles and serial number-stamped tremolo backplate (a special 1954 touch), vintage-style tuners and nickel- chrome hardware. The guitar comes in a tweed “center-pocket” case with Stratocaster 60th anniversary embroidery and an included 60th anniversary commemorative book.

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SPECIFICATIONS

BODY One-Piece Ash

FINISH  Relic Nitrocellulose Lacquer

BRIDGE  Synchronized Tremolo Bridge with Six “Patent Pending” Saddles

PICKUPS  1954 Single-Coil Stratocaster (Bridge, Middle and Neck)

NECK  One-Piece Quartersawn Maple

FINGERBOARD   Maple, 9.5″ (241 mm) Radius

FRETS  21, Narrow Jumbo

CONTROLS  Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2.

HARDWARE  Nickel/Chrome

INCLUDED  Tweed “Center-Pocket” Case with Stratocaster 60th Anniversary Embroidery and an Included 60th Anniversary Commemorative Book 

 

 

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Dec 05

Fender ZF Series

There’s no denying the allure of the classic Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster.  They’ve got timeless design and feel as comfortable as your favorite old pair of jeans.  But sometimes, we find ourselves just wanting a bit more aggressive performance.  The Music Zoo is proud to announce our latest custom run endeavor with the Fender Custom Shop, which we are calling the ZF Series.  Why ZF?  Well, you’ll only find these at the Zoo, and each of these high performance guitars will feature a Floyd Rose tremolo for the ultimate control over vibrato and tuning.  These Teambuilt guitars will be arriving in a variety of colors and configurations, with the emphasis on hot pickups and all out performance.  We’re happy to be offering these guitars at a price point far below the typical Masterbuilt price tag, which previously would have been the only route to get a Custom Shop guitar this highly customized.

The ZF Series guitars will come loaded with our favorite features including nitro cellulose lacquer finishes, modern fingerboard radiuses, coil tapped, higher-output Seymour Duncan pickup in a variety of configurations, and of course the legendary Floyd Rose tremolo.  We have a couple of early production prototype ZF guitars in stock now, check them out here.  More ZF guitars will be hitting the website in early 2014.  Finally, custom orders will be open, so if you are dreaming of a custom neck shape, color, aging package, or pickup configuration, just let us know.  Long live the Floyd!

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Oct 24

Fender Custom Shop Acoustic

Factory Tour: Part One  Part Two  Part Three

In parts one and two of our factory tour of the Fender Acoustic Custom shop in New Hartford, CT, we saw how they pick tonewoods and construct all the parts required to build the guitar.  Now it’s time to get down to business and we start with body construction.

 

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These CNC side benders were designed and built in house.  The 2 axis design allows for the waist bender (shown) to push the shoe into the waist, while mechanical arms wraps a sealed shim on the upper and lower bouts.   The process including shutting down the heat is automated, allowing a worker to focus on other things during the process.

 

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Here are some bent sides cooling in a rack.

 

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Workers will use this fixture to join the two completed guitar sides by adding the head block and tail block.  The white plastic parts are clamp calls, that assist with locating the parts.

 

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Here’s the rim assembly process after getting removed from the fixture.  The head and tail blocks are clamped onto the calls.

 

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Here are some completely assembled rims with kerfing installed.  These bodies are an OM style with Gibson/Martin inspired wood sides stays (the brown lines inside the rim).   The sides stays add strength.  The collars used to shape these rims can be seen in the background.

 

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Fender uses basswood kerfing in the guitars.  It’s lightweight, easy to work with, and bonds well.

 

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Here’s an individual maple side stay getting sanded.  These have to fit between the kerf on the top and bottom of the rim.

 

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Colin is bonding in the side stays using clamps.

 

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This shot shows the clamps in action, and also gives us a look at the truss rod access in the neck block.

 

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If you look closely at the near edge of the rim, there is a bit of wood that protrudes past the kerfing.  This “stand off” is lasered in when the side is cut.  In the next step, the stand off is used to locate the specific position of the assembly once it is placed inside inside the collar.

 

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The position of the rim inside this collar is important, as you’ll see when the part gets sanded.

 

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Fender has three of these disc sanders, they are used to sand a specific radius onto the rim’s edge.  This is what helps the top and back of the guitar have a very subtle shape.  This one has a 30 foot dish radius and is used to sand the edge for the top of the guitar.  For backs, they use one with a 16 foot radius, and there is a flat one too for guitars like carved top jazz guitars, where the top or back is naturally arched.

 

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Remember the stand offs we saw on the rim’s edge that help locate it in the collar?  Here’s where they get sanded off, as the collar is placed on the aluminum blocks to rest at the exact right height.

 

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Here’s the interior of the guitar during fitting, complete with the laser Fender logo.

 

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Here’s Marty applying some glue to radiused braces for the interior of the guitar.

 

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This white locator is used to show where to attach the braces to the top.  It has holes in it that the braces fit in precisely.  Not all the braces are bonded at once, about half of them in one pass then the other half.

 

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This vacuum membrane bonder will lower over the braces and suck the parts down tightly together.

 

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Not only does the membrane apply very even pressure to the braces during bonding, it helps with the time required as well.  In a conventional clamp these would need an hour of clamp time.  In the membrane the vacuum action shortens that to 15 minutes.

 

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Here’s an Englemann spruce top, complete with bracing.  Note the tabs on the ends, these will be used for more locating and then removed.

 

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Next, the top and back are joined.  This phenolic plate has the arch of the top carved into it, and uses vacuum pressure to hold the top in shape while the rim is joined.

 

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Darren is showing us that suble arch to the back of this guitar body, thanks to the 30 foot radius sanding disc.  Fender makes a lot of effort to build the final shape of the guitar into every part, so there is as little stress as possible within the wood.

 

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Here’s a nice look at a beautiful FSR built with claro walnut and a carpathian spruce top.  Very elaborate purfling and rosette.

 

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Dave the fitter is working on the neck fit.  The tolerances are carved so tightly that he’ll end up using a clamp to drive the neck all the way home once it is in position.

 

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Fender uses traditional hand fit dovetail joints for the neck fit.  Dave is using a unique chamfered sanding block to get the shape just right.

 

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Now we’re in final assembly.  Here’s Andy McDonald touching up the shape of a saddle.  The saddle is what sits inside the bridge and supports the strings.

 

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This is Mike Shear, the body department supervisor.  He’s worked with Fender/Guild for years and has done bindings on thousands of guitars.

 

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The binding process is hard, precise work.  This is a Doyle Dykes Guild model with an intricate multi-laminate binding.

 

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Due to the porous nature of a wood like mahogany, vinyl sealer is shot onto the neck then paste-wood filler is applied.  A builder will apply the filler by wiping it on with the grain, then wiping it off against the grain.  That way, he won’t strip out the filler he just applied.

 

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Here’s Drew spraying color onto the walnut FSR run of guitars we’ve been seeing a lot of today.

 

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Some of these FSRs are getting a sunburst finish, while some (like the one in the back there) are staying natural.

 

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The sapwood part of the walnut is the lightly colored area next to the darker hardwood.  It’s bookmatched to great effect here.

 

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After the guitars have been painted, the paint that has covered the logo, binding, and other decorative elements need to be scraped off.  It takes a lot of concentration and a steady hand to do this job, and Leon has both.

 

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Scraping the Fender logo on this sunburst painted headstock.

 

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This FSR has been scraped, and will now go to get clearcoat.

 

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The painted guitars are left to cure for at least 2 weeks before they can be worked on.  Jason here has been with the group for years also and is seen here sanding the clear.  He’ll use gradually finer sandpapers to prepare the body for buffing.

 

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This guitar is being buffed by Todd, a long-time Guild guy who has been building guitars since the Westerly era.

 

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Lead buffer Chris is working the wheel on this headstock.

 

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Some of these areas have been reconfigured since our visit; this area is now used for neck fitting.  As we mentioned in part one, this antique building is huge and complex and it is easy as pie to get lost.

 

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Final setup time.  Chris Jarvis is shown here working on a Fender koa auditorium limited run.

 

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This builder is filing the nut slots.  All the nuts used on Fender Custom Shop guitars are made of bone.

 

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Bob is using a gauge to check the height of the string at the nut.  This action at the nut is important for the playability of the guitar.

 

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Dialing in the action.

 

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Here’s Phil putting a Guild archtop through its paces.  All three of the guys in here can full setup and finish any of the guitars.

 

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We liked this neatly organized, decidedly not digital ledger book.  This book has literally every detail about every guitar built written into it, and as Darren Wallace said, it’s like “seeing your life pass before your eyes” flipping through it.  The Music Zoo has been to a lot of guitar factories and we are genuinely impressed with the craftsmanship and attention to detail that the Fender Custom Shop is putting into this current breed of acoustic instruments.  These are truly great sounding and authentically constructed guitars that we’re proud to carry at the shop.  Thank you to Darren Wallace, Tim Shaw, Ren Ferguson, Gary Waugh, Sean Morrissey and all the other good Fender folks who hosted us for the tour.  Want to see some Fender Custom Shop acoustic guitars that you could own now?  Check out our current inventory. 

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Sep 27

UPDATE: Fender is sending along an amazing Custom Telecaster loaded with TV Jones Classic pickups that we are giving away for FREE during this event!  See below!

Among Fender’s illustrious Masterbuilders, John Cruz is a towering presence.  Not just because he a tall guy, but because for the last 10 years he has been involved with some of the most important programs in the Custom Shop as well as having built some of the most spectacular guitars ever to come out of Corona, California.  Remember the unbelievable Samurai Stratocaster?   Cruz.  The super collectible SRV “Number One” replica Strat?  Cruz.  We can also thank him for his invaluable input into our Ultimate Relic series.  So, we’re very excited to announce that John Cruz will be in The Music Zoo on October 24th, hanging out and chatting, and also building a beautiful custom Telecaster in front of us all.  It’s going to be great.

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This is a free event!  Please join us and bring some friends.  In John’s words, it will be a great opportunity to “just be guitar geeks, as we all are.”  John doesn’t make it to the east coast often enough; don’t miss it!

Meet Fender Masterbuilder John Cruz At The Music Zoo

Thursday, October 24th 2013  //  6pm – 9pm
Need directions to The Music Zoo?  Click here.
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Jul 08

michael landau

Session ace Michael Landau has worked closely with Fender Custom Shop to create two new Stratocaster models that are right up our alley.  We’re very excited to get our hands on both his new ’63 and ’68 spec relic Stratocasters, with their customized tremolos, lovely neck shape, and custom wound pickups.  These will each be shipping by the end of the year.  MSRP starts at $5,200 and we are taking pre-orders now!  The ’68 comes in either black or 3-tone sunburst, and the ’63 is a gorgeous Fiesta red over 3-tone sunburst.

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From Fender:

We at the Fender Custom Shop are proud to introduce to you the newest member to the Signature Series Line, The Michael Landau Signature Strats. World renown session ace, Michael Landau has played on hundreds of albums since the early 1980′s with artists as varied as Joni Mitchell, Seal, Michael Jackson, James Taylor, B.B King, Pink Floyd, and Miles Davis just to name a few. He has also fronted several bands including the Raging Honkies and Burning Water and more recently, Renegade Creation with Robben Ford. With his own group, Michael continues to set the bar in electric / jazz / instrumental / rock guitar. Based on Michael’s 1963 Stratocaster, the new Michael Landau Signature Stratocaster comes in two versions; a small peg 1963 Fiesta Red over three tone sunburst, or a big peg 1968 version that comes in two colors, black and three tone sunburst. The guitar features a unique neck shape, custom pickups, and a customized tremolo bridge. 

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Mar 06

Fender Custom Shop Acoustic

Factory Tour: Part One  Part Two  Part Three

We saw in part one of our tour of the Fender Custom Shop Acoustic factory how religious the New Hartford, Connecticut builders are about acquiring and selecting the best tonewoods.  Next we’ll see them put the wood to work.

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Although the facility lives inside a 160-year-old maze of industrial brick, the factory floor is logically laid out in a loop of stations.

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Here we see Deb matching booksets that will become the tops and backs of the guitars.

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These are bonded together with glue and put into this fixture until they’re dry.

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The wood is strongly bonded together now, but it’s far too thick.  They’ll run the wood through this thickness sander and take it down to about .140 for now.  The wood will be thinned further down the line.  Then the part goes to the “supermarket” where all the tops and backs are kept.

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Next, the tops are put through a milling machine that has instantly transformed it into something that looks like a guitar.  Aside from the specific shape profile for that model, locating pin holes and precise routing for either a rosette (if it’s a top) or a back strip have been performed.

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A worker is creating the rosette she’ll inlay purfling into the route on this top.  It’s precise, and beautiful work.

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One of the cool things Fender does is use very subtle variations in their purfling.  It’s hard to even notice in this photograph, but that’s the difference between grained ivoroid cross-cut versus non-cross-cut.  The devil is in the details.

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A finished rosette.  The area with the gap will be hidden by the end fretboard later.

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Here are some different types of rosettes, made from some really interesting purfling.  You’ll find the one of the right on Guild Orpheum models, and that slick blue one on the left on the new Fender Custom Shop Ren Ferguson guitars.

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Here’s the same purfling, but as back strips.

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The same type of thing happens with the wood used for the fingerboards.  These boards are routed and profiled, and then sanded…

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…in this “time saver”.  We can only imagine how sore everyone’s arms must of been back before they invented stuff like this.

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But that machine is grade school math compared to this one.  Darren’s holding a billet of spruce that has been rough cut to fit the length of one of the pods inside this custom machine that will create the inside bracing of the guitar.

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These pods already have the curved radius of both the eventual top and the back built into their shape.  Then the automated cutting arm descends and cuts each billet down into many braces, to be separated later.  The customized tooling used here is made in-house.

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The customized form cutters give the bracing a “V” shape.  It’s perfect for both strength and lightness.

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The braces are trimmed, and flap sanded.

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Finally the finished braces are notched so they fit together perfectly.  Boom.

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 These braces are organized into a “bucket system” that is shared in the body assembly area.  The builders there have all these same buckets, and when they run out of parts they simply come over here and pick up a new one.  Likewise, workers can see when they should run some more parts if their buckets are getting low.

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This press is the oldest machine in the joint.  It’s a heated 30 ton press that came from the old ’60s era Guild factory in Rhode Island.  It’s still here pressing the backs for certain Guild guitars, but we included it because one, it’s cool…

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…and two, we noticed this shim under one corner of this beastly press looked an awful lot like a guitar neck.  Apparently all over this little town of New Hartford, you can randomly find these doorstops that were made here over the years from scrap Ovation necks.  Darren has even noticed them holding open the doors at his daughter’s elementary school.

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Speaking of necks, this one looks a little hard to play.  This is a very rough cut neck blank (for a Guild, the Fender headstock isn’t so wide that it would need the extra “ears” glued on like this).

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More neck blanks awaiting the next step.  They don’t look scared, but we would definitely be having nightmares if we had to come face to face with this monster…

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This is the terrifying view from the neck’s perspective inside the large multi-axis cutting machine that will take this next blank to the next level.  It can rotate and create complex, precise shapes that previously only could be done by hand.

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The neck will get a final hand-shaping later but it quickly gets its machine-assisted bold new shape.  The heel is cut at this time also.

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The same cutter can take care of the route for the truss rod as well.

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Fender necks have Fender headstocks of course, and the holes for the tuning pegs are drilled first to ensure that the pegs are perfectly positioned relative to where the fingerboard will exist.

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Then, it’s time to carve the headstock shape.  Every model has its own master template.

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The Fender Kingman is a big part of this new Custom Shop revival; the Stratocaster headstock is unmistakeable.  The first and sixth hole they just drilled will act as locating holes for the pins on this template.  Then an operator can just follow the guide with a router and then, like magic, it’s officially a Fender.

fenderEarlier we saw some fingerboards that had been profiled and routed for inlays.  Here’s the ebony used to make them.  Very dark ebony is no longer a viable option for production guitars.  It’s just not available anymore due to global overharvesting.  Fender is doing the right thing by using the more plentiful types of ebony on their high end models.  It sounds just as good, it’s better for the planet, and we think it has a cool look of its own.

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This machine is knocking out the fret channels on four fingerboards at once.  These days, all the channels are cut by the same blade and can be a uniform size.

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But that’s not how it used to be.  Back in the day, each successive fret required a slightly wider fret, and therefore a different blade.  That’s what this was made to do, and it cut one fingerboard at a time.  It’s still hanging around for when they need to do a reproduction piece, or just scare people.

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We’ve mentioned Ren Ferguson.  Here he is (far left) overseeing the construction of some fingerboards for the model he’s designed for Fender.  Ren is the lead builder for the entire Fender Acoustic Custom Shop, and brings decades of experience to the table.  We’re looking forward to working with him in 2013 to create some very special pieces for The Music Zoo.

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This builder is going to install the inlays and binding on the fretboard.

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Yeah, you’re gonna want to keep your hands outta there.  This monster cutter planes down the completed fingerboard to achieve the 10″ radius that Fender uses.  You can see the subtle curve on the blade that will give the fingerboard a gentle roundness from side to side.

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This fingerboard has been planed and glued to a neck.  Now, it’s time for final sanding on the surface.  It’s got to be perfectly flat from end to end.  Builders use a straight edge and backlighting to look for any low spots and hand sand it with progressive grits until a flat, perfect playing surface exists.

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Next stop, frets.  The frets are pressed into the channels by hand with this lever press.  It takes feel to do this right.  After this is done the worker will use powerful pneumatic snips to bite off those protruding fret ends.

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Tools of the trade.  These builders each need to know how to do many of the steps in this area.  It’s not so much an assembly line process as it is a workflow that is managed by many skilled builders.

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Off topic: speed picking Swedish shred-Yoda Yngwie Malmsteen still has an Ovation signature model acoustic guitar made here.  On the right, normal size frets.  On the left, Yngwie size frets.  Holy crap.

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One more key component is required, the nut.  All Fender Custom Shop Acoustics feature a bone nut for maximum tone.  You ever smell bone being cut?  Think burning hair.  Old school.

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They’ll route the slot for the nut after the fingerboard has been radiused.

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These necks are done and now waiting to meet the body of their dreams.  In the 3rd and final installment of the Fender Custom Shop Acoustic factory tour, we’ll check out body assembly and finish.  Part Three

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Feb 16

Fender Custom Shop Acoustic

Factory Tour: Part One  Part Two  Part Three

Just days after the 2013 Snowpocalypse called Nemo dumped literally feet of snow on the east coast, we found ourselves fleeing our relatively slushy New York City home and heading straight into the arctic wilderness of Connecticut.  Why?  We had an invitation from Fender Custom Shop to be the first dealer to ever tour their new Fender Custom Shop Acoustic factory in New Hartford.  We learned a couple of important things.  First, folks in Connecticut know how to plow the hell out of a road.  Second, the guitars we will be seeing and strumming coming out of this gorgeous 1849 brick factory building will be, without a doubt, the very best acoustic guitars ever to wear the word “Fender” on the headstock.

For many years Fender’s acoustic guitar line was composed mainly of affordable units imported from overseas and designed to hit a price point.  Under the direction of master luthier Ren Ferguson, these new guitars are a whole different ballgame.  The Music Zoo is thrilled to be a part of this rebirth of Fender acoustic instruments, and it all starts with a tour.  So let’s get started shall we?

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Let’s start with the building itself.  It’s an enormous, labyrinthian place that is older than the city of Los Angeles.  See those hardwood floorboards?  Ancient maple six inches thick.  We joked that we would love to make some necks out of it; apparently we weren’t the first visitors to say that.  The place is just chock full of vibe and history.  We could tell that those who work here they enjoy their place and what they do here.

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This is Darren Wallace.  He’s the engineering manager of the factory who gave us the tour.  Notice that he is wearing a Guild shirt – that’s because parent company Fender has nestled their new Custom Shop Acoustic guitars into the KMC Music plant where Guild guitars and Ovation guitars are also built.  Having the resources of all these brands is a huge bonus.  We started in the wood storage area where literally tons of different tone woods are organized and stacked on pallets.  We love seeing this.  Darren is pointing towards the kiln, where the fresh wood that is shipped in will be heated and dried to achieve the optimal moisture content.

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Rosewood, for example, always needs to be kiln dried.  They’ll set a tightly strapped pallet in there, and a week later the wood has shrunk so much that the straps have fallen off.

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This is a mix of both red spruce and sitka spruce wood that will be used to make the braces for inside the guitar.  In almost all aspects of building musical instruments, good hard wood is what you want.  Red spruce (also known as Adirondack spruce)  is usually very stiff, regardless of the width of the grain.  Sitka tends to be less consistent, but still a good wood.  Fender always uses red spruce for the all-important top bracing of a guitar, and on some more high end models full red spruce bracing is an option.  Red spruce was the standard material before World War II for guitar building, but during the war the supply of it was depleted massively; it was used to build airplanes.  65 years later, Fender’s suppliers are so determined to find the best red spruce that they’ll drive around and offer to buy someone’s tree right out of their yard.

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Really nice quilted maple is hard to come by, but here’s some gorgeous stuff.  Fender’s got these choice pieces slated to become the sides of some upcoming Custom Shop guitars.

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Here are some beautiful figured maple boards.

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And this black walnut is typically used to make necks.

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Here’s a big hunk of spalted maple.  Darren explained that what they call “ink”, the black lines that make spalted look so cool, when sanded will really kick up your allergies if you’re allergic to mold.

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Check out the coloration difference between eastern red maple on the left and big leaf maple on the right.  The eastern red is harder, brighter, and gives a cleaner, whiter look.  The softer big leaf maple often has more figuring to it.

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Here’s some cocobolo, which is available for custom guitars.  It’s apparently “itchy” to work with, but damn it looks good!  We immediately noticed this wood on the shelf because we thought it looked just like brazilian rosewood.  Some of this figured cocobolo could really fool someone.

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Matching woods is a big part of the job when figuring out just which pieces go together to make a good guitar.  Darren told us that the woman who works in this area would be a real weapon at a casino because her memory is unbelievable.  She organizes hundreds of pieces of wood for tops, backs, sides, fingerboards, and can photographically match pieces in her mind that might be buried in a stack on a shelf.

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This laser cutting machine is used to cut out pieces of wood that will be used as guides later in the build process.

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For example, this guide piece is cut to determine the dimensions of the inside of the guitar body, and provide some locations for things like internal components and bracing that will later be read by a CNC machine.

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Some of the information lasered onto the wood aren’t just for measurement, they can also give the builders reminders of what the heck guitar they’re working on!

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Here’s a top for one of the new Fender Custom Shop Acoustic models coming out this year.  Notice the tabs still attached to the top.  Those will be trimmed off later but for now will come in handy during the body assembly process.

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Here’s a guitar back that has been routed and had a decorative inlay installed.  Traditionally when you see a strip like this running down the back of the guitar, there might be a two piece back glued together, hidden by the inlay.  What Fender does is route a perfect channel down a one-piece back for the decorative inlay, no two piece back required!

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Here’s a closeup of the inlay in the perfectly routed channel.  Check out part two of the Fender Custom Shop Acoustic Factory tour, where we’ll get into tops, backs, necks, and frets!

Continue to part two

 

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Feb 01

Western Boots

Here at the Music Zoo, the staff is lucky enough to see some incredibly cool instruments come through our doors on a weekly basis.  Whether it’s a mojo-filled guitar that a customer has brought in for some maintenance work, a new and exciting one-off Custom Shop piece, or an all-original vintage guitar that one of our in-house elder statesmen has brought in from their own personal collection – we’re always eager to crowd around and examine something we’ve never seen before.  This guitar is sold, but we wanted to share the photos with you of this amazing work of art.

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Which brings us to this guitar – the Fender Custom Shop Western Boots Telecaster Set.  This set is number two  out of only two sets of guitar and boot duos made by the Fender Custom Shop, this one created by Fender Masterbuilder Alan Hamel.  The guitar was originally displayed at the 1995 National Association of Music Merchants convention, and bought by Robert Galassi of Ossining Music in Ossining, New York. Fast forward to 2013, and the guitar has been consigned at the Music Zoo, and we’re ecstatic about it.

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We got excited about this piece before we even opened up the case, as the case is covered in a fabric with a western cowboy motif, and on top of that, every bit of leather has been tooled with designs and patterns – even the handle! It’s a sure sign that nothing has been overlooked in this set, in terms of aesthetics.

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Uncasing the guitar is a bit overwhelming, as we really didn’t know which aspect of the guitar to admire first.  Right off the bat we were struck visually by the multi-color kidskin covering to the alder body, but as we examined further we saw that there wasn’t a piece of hardware on the guitar that wasn’t intricately engraved, even the strap pins! The body is double bound with calfskin lacing, and the pao ferro fretboard has been inlaid wires made from hand-twisted and hammered sterling silver and jeweler’s bronze.

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The counterpart to the guitar are these cowboy boots made by Renicks Boots, with the design and leatherwork by Hamel in collaboration with Nicholas Gutierrez, all the colors and patterns matching the leatherwork of the Tele.

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The accessories made with the guitar are just as impressive, with a tooled leather and engraved buckle strap, and a tooled leather belt with a heavy-duty engraved Fender Custom Shop belt buckle.

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The Western Boots Telecaster Set was so impressive, and left such an impression on people that it was featured in the Fender Custom Shop Guitar Gallery book, by Richard. R. Smith and published by Hal Leonard in 1996. It was also pictured in an article about the Fender Custom Shop that was published in Men’s Perspective magazine in August of 1996. And now, in 2013 it will also get one more bit of praise and recognition, as a mainstay in the Music Zoo Hall of Fame as not only a Telecaster, but a fine piece of art that we will never forget.

 

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