There's more in Corona than a slice of lime. The California city is also the home of Fender’s Custom Shop, and PG’s John Bohlinger, with our crack video team of Chris Kies and Perry Bean, descended on the shop recently for a different kind of rundown.
The tour starts with master builder Andy Hicks, who recount his CV, including a stint in the Gretsch Custom Shop, where he built the Malcolm Young 1963 Jet Firebird G6131 limited edition. At Fender, he leads a tour through the company's metal shop, which includes a press installed by Leo Fender. Saddles, pickup bobbins, shielding, bridge plates … check. You can watch a CNC machine cut Strat pickguards, and then stop in on Josefina Campos, perhaps Fender’s most famed living pickup maker, with 31 years of experience. Campos’ pickups are destined for Master Built guitars. How do you know if you've got a Campos pickup? She signs and dates each one. At Fender’s wood mill, where both the Fender USA and Custom Shop sawing gets done, you see alder, ash, and maple blanks, plus rosewood for fretboards. Learn about the "Golden Neck,” and see how Custom Shop necks get hand shaped. In Custom Shop final assembly, everything comes together. Guitar bodies have been painted and aged. Assembled neck are bolted in. The wiring and electronic installed. “All the guys in here are experts about their own work as well as everything else,” Hicks explains. That's part of Fender Custom’s quality assurance gameplan. On this day, Team Built instruments were on the menu. Master Built guitars are the province of a single builder, from start to finish. And master builder Austin MacNutt gives us a close-up look at one of his special projects, the Jerry Garcia “Alligator” Stratocaster, in a limited run of 100. And in Hicks’ own shop, he talks about the process of creating a custom guitar, from talking to the buyer about his or her desires, to plugging it in and playing it. He also displays a very special Jaguar, made from a 50,000-year-old piece of partially petrified wood, with a blonde inlay from mastodon tusk. FYI, he currently has 50 to 75 guitars at various stages of the three-month process of custom building. Hicks also talks about creating his annual prestige model. It's a secret. You've gotta wait till next year!
This pair—a Precision bass and Stratocaster from 1959—have much in common besides their iconic status.
If any of you have delved into the history of Fender—and how can you play guitar and ignore it?—you probably know that Leo Fenderintroduced the Precision bass in late 1951, following the success of his radical electric 6-string solidbody, the Telecaster. The P bass proved to be even more groundbreaking. The new-fangled guitar-sized instrument was widely embraced by bassists and guit-pickers alike, following its early appearance in the band of jazz vibist Lionel Hampton and, in rock, in the hands of Bill Black, who used one while supporting Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock.
In 1954, the Stratocaster was developed with input from players dissatisfied with the Telecaster. Their suggestions—which included a more comfortable body shape, an adjustable bridge allowing intonation for each individual string, and a vibrato system—were incorporated. As we all know, the Strat also added a third pickup and a second tone dial, providing it with more sonic options. The model also was the first Fender with a vibrato bridge. (For a wild example of early Strat vibrato, check out the Ike Turner instrumental “Prancin’.”)
These instruments were among the last of the 1-piece-maple-neck versions. By the middle of the year, a separate rosewood fretboard would be added to most Fenders.
The lines of the P bass more closely resembled those of the Strat than the Tele. In 1968, Fender would introduce the Telecaster bass, which more directly reflected the look of its original solidbody guitar. By 1957, the P bass’ headstock fattened up a bit, becoming more like the Strat’s, although larger. The P bass also received a new split humbucking pickup to replace the original single-coil.
By 1956, Stratocasters and Precision basses switched from ash to alder bodies and were available in two-color sunburst. By ’58, both models switched to three-color sunbursts. The early 1959 Stratocaster and Precision bass we see this month both have vivid, unfaded red in their finishes. These instruments were among the last of the 1-piece-maple-neck versions. By the middle of the year, a separate rosewood fretboard would be added to most Fenders.
The headstock of the P bass was initially thinner, like that of the Telecaster, but it fattened up to more Strat-like proportions as the model’s first decade went on.
The original price for this 1959 Strat was $274.50. The current value is $40,000. And the original tag for the Precision bass was $219.50, while the current value is $10,000. If you’re wondering, the amp pictured is a 1958 Bassman Model 5F6-A. This is considered to be the classic version of this model amp. It was originally intended for bass, but guitar players also found it to be exceptional. Just ask Brian Setzer. This circuit was so revered that Jim Marshall pattered his early amps—especially the historic JTM45— after it. Two 5881 power tubes push 45 watts of power through four 10" Jensen speakers. The control panel houses two inputs each for bright and normal channels, volume controls for each channel, on/off and standby toggles, and presence, middle, bass, and treble chicken-head knobs. The original price was $339.50, and now it’s valued at $7,500.
Sources for this article include The Fender Stratocaster by A.R. Duchossoir, The Stratocaster Chronicles: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat by Tom Wheeler, The Fender Bass: An Ilustrated Historyby J.W. Black and Albert Molinaro, and Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung.
An amalgamation of Johnny A.'s four favorite model years—1963 through 1966—that features a select two-piece alder body with an off-center seam.
Born John Antonopoulos in Malden, Mass., Johnny A. first got the guitar bug when he saw the Beatles in Boston at age 13. Taking the stage name “Johnny A.”, he steadily acquired a sterling reputation as a rock, blues and jazz ace with artists including Delaney & Bonnie, Derek and the Dominos keyboardist Bobby Whitlock and Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford. The 1990s saw a seven-year stint as guitarist and musical director for J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf, and to really bring his career full circle, Johnny A. joined the Yardbirds in 2015 for a three-year stint. Today, he continues to wow listeners with his impeccable playing in a variety of studio and onstage projects.
The Custom Shop is proud to honor one of the “City on the Hill’s” finest guitarist/songwriters with the Johnny A. Signature Stratocaster. “I had a lot of discussions about pickups to match my tone and style… I was really able to go in and sculpt and dial in the specs for these guitars. I’m hoping that when the guitars are released to the public, it's the specs people enjoy,” added Johnny A.
- Select two-piece alder body with off-center seam, paired with a 3A birdseye maple neck featuring a ’65-style “oval C” profile and contoured heel. The round-lam rosewood fingerboard has a comfortable 7.25” radius and 21 medium jumbo (6150) frets.
- The neck and middle pickups are hand-wound 11/56 models, while a steel bottom plate on the custom 11/56 bridge pickups delivers a livelier tone with more wide-ranging response; all are fixed to a three-ply mint green pickguard, along with a five-way switch and Strat Blender wiring with Tone-Saver bleed circuitry.
- Other premium features include Custom Shop synchronized tremolo bridge, vintage-style tuners, bone nut, wing string tree with tall metal spacer, deluxe hardshell case, strap, and certificate of authenticity.
- The guitar’s special Time Capsule flash-coat lacquer finish comes in striking Lydian Gold Metallic with Closet Classic chrome hardware and in Sunset Glow Metallic with Closet Classic gold hardware, combining several classic ’60s design elements to honor one of New England’s most accomplished sidemen and solo artists.
MSRP: $5,200.00 -$5,450.00. For more information, please visit fendercustomshop.com.