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.
A birds-eye view of the talent-packed Masterbuilder’s area at Fender Custom Shop. The first thing you notices is that it’s much more quiet in here than the rest of Fender’s bustling Corona, California factory. These guys are truly the best of the best; having a private workbench in this room is pretty much the ultimate gig for any luthier.
Masterbuilder Yurij Shishkov is one of the last of his breed, an authentically old world craftsman who learned woodworking growing up in Soviet Russia. His woodworking skills are legendary and he often builds his own tools to get just what he wants. Not all his guitars are traditional, however. He’s personally responsible for some of the most stunning, over the top guitars we’ve ever seen, like the Diamond Legend Cabronita (shown at NAMM 2013) which featured over 370 individual diamonds as decoration. We loved visiting the builders in their own workspaces. The way their spaces are decorated and their benches are organized gives a lot of insight to their personalities and way they approach their work.
One of the most important facts you should know about Masterbuilder Dennis Galuszka is that he flies his own frickin’ helicopter. That is awesome. But it’s no less impressive that he’s a true veteran Masterbuilder – since 1999 – who has combined his cabinet-making background with creative guitar ideas to produce stunning instruments for players like Robben Ford and Buck Owens.
Masterbuilder John Cruz is a towering presence around the Fender Custom workshop, not just because he is way over six feet tall and has a booming low voice, but because he is one of the most sought-after and talented builders around. He helped pioneer and perfect “relic” style aging, starting with the SRV #1 Tribute Stratocaster. We started collaborating with John a couple years ago that resulted in dozens of Music Zoo Exclusive Fender Custom Shop “Ultimate Relic” guitars. John’s workspace is jammed with parts, because he is damn busy!
Masterbuilder Jason Smith joined the fold in 2006, making him one of the young guns in the shop. But he’s been around Fender guitars and rock and roll his entire life: his father is Fender R&D legend Dan Smith. Jason is a bassist, so naturally the basses he builds are stellar, but his guitars are incredible too and we have played a lot of them: he built many of the Ultimate Relic guitars for The Music Zoo designed in conjuction with John Cruz.
Meet Masterbuilder Greg Fessler. He’s got a sterling reputation for his attention to detail and super-clean execution. He spent time as Robben Ford’s personal guitar builder and was invovled with the creation of his signature model. Always friendly and smiling, he’s a veteran of the Fender Custom Shop as well, having started in 1990.
Masterbuilder Dale Wilson is the newest builder on the block at Fender Custom, earning his stripes in 2011. But don’t think he’s wet behind the ears. Dale’s got a ton of experience, previously at Dobro and Rickenbacker, then once at Fender he built Guild, Gretsch and Benedetto guitars. Dale is a native California boy who comes from a woodworking family, making him a perfect fit at Fender Custom Shop.
We missed getting Masterbuilder Todd Krause’s mug on camera during our visit, because the 30+ years industry veteran was at lunch. But here’s a look at his bench, the exact place where the guitars are built that grace stages the world over. Todd’s guitars are stellar and he is simply “the man”. You could ask the people who play his stuff for a living: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Stu Hamm, Roscoe Beck, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters and Gene Simmons, just to name a few. Need we say more?
The other Masterbuilder we didn’t get to photograph is Paul Waller, and while Paul is undoubtedly very handsome, it’s just as well he’s not in the shot since he has one of the best looking workshops at Fender Custom. Check out those custom display cases, and the leather amp handles on the cabinets. We love it. Paul is one of the most highly trained builders on the scene, building guitars right out of high school and into the highly regarded Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, where he graduated in 2000. He has got all kinds of skills, and has soaked up many of the styles of the Masterbuilders around him at Fender, and loves to work on archtops. Check out the wild semi-hollow Fender on the wall: it’s the “White Chicken”, a carved-top Telecaster which Paul carved totally by hand. Awesome.
This is the room in which pickup winding legend Abigail Ybarra worked until her retirement in 2013, capping an amazing Fender career that goes back to 1956. Abby’s handwound pickups have always been synonomous with the very best Custom Shop guitars, and we were very happy to meet her replacement, whom Abby personally trained, Josefina Campos.
Josefina wound pickups for Fender for years before becoming apprentice to Abigail Ybarra. All the Masterbuilders depend on her to complete their sound, and connoisseurs of tone around the world are already seeking out “Campos-wound” pickups, cementing Josefina’s place in Fender’s history. We hope you’ve enjoyed this inside look at the world of Fender’s Masterbuilders. Thanks for reading!