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Every Painstaking Step It Takes to Make Fender’s Legendary Guitars

Clapton and Dylan turn to the California-based destination for guitars with soul and serious sex appeal.

Fender Custom Shop Martina Albertazzi

To a rock star, buying a ready-made guitar hanging on a store wall is like grabbing a cheap suit off the rack. The pros require instruments designed to their personal specs, and for the ultimate craftsmanship and artistry, many commission Masterbuilt guitars from the Fender Custom Shop

“Leo Fender loved artists, and as long as people have been playing guitars, there have been customizations,” says Mike Lewis, vice president, product development, at the 76-year-old California-based company. “In the early days, people would come to the shop and ask for new colors or a different neck shape. This spirit goes all the way back to our founding.” 

Getting a Masterbuilt guitar takes patience and money. “We have 13 master builders, all at the pinnacle of their craft,” says Lewis. “And they are responsible for every aspect of every guitar they make.” Prices start around $8,000 and average $10,000, with some hitting $500,000, based on the materials selected and the time involved—a guitar with intricate artwork may take a year to complete. 

But first, expect a two-to-nine-year queue, depending on which artisan you enlist—so a newer master builder may be your best bet if you’re intent on playing your instrument this decade. For some musicians, though, only the craftsperson who makes guitars for their hero will do. That level of fandom creates demand for veteran master builders such as Todd Krause, who over the past 40 years has fashioned axes for Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour and Bob Dylan. “They figure if I’m making Clapton’s guitars,” Krause says, “I’m good enough to make one for them.” 

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