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Fender Custom Shop Tour

Fender Custom Shop Factory Tour with Master Builders Andy Hicks & Austin MacNutt

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!

A pair of new, mighty Sunn 100S amps—the company’s original flagship amplifier—built by the new team led by James Lebihan, Mike Eldred, and Steve Skillings.

Since forming to help early garage rockers the Kingsmen bring their hit “Louie Louie” on the road, Sunn amps have roared behind everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Leslie West to Kurt Cobain to the doom-metal act that bears their name. After laying dormant for decades, the brand is back and the new team promises to live up to its legendary reputation.

“Have you ever considered covering ‘Louie Louie,’” I ask Stephen O’Malley over Zoom. The doom-metal guitarist and half of the band Sunn O))) is a native of Seattle but has lived the past 20 years in Paris, France. “I see where you’re going with this,” O'Malley chuckles, and says, “but we’re not a rock ’n’ roll band. Still, the Kingsmen and Conrad Sundholm building a bass amp for his brother—that’s a legendary Northwest story.”

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Introducing the limited-edition HALO Core by Keeley Electronics, with only 300 units available.

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ESP Guitars introduces the new LTD DX Series, offering high-quality guitars at a more affordable price.

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In Flames' Björn Gelotte, Chris Broderick & Liam Wilson Rig Rundown
Rig Rundown: In Flames' Björn Gelotte, Chris Broderick & Liam Wilson

The Swedish melodic death metal pioneers continue solidifying their reign as technical titans. That’s due in part to signature guitars—Epiphone Les Paul Customs plus Jackson Diabolics and Soloists that rip and roar—as well as Zon Sonus basses. Altogether, these steely vets with thundering tenacity are feeling the surge of fresh sonic blood.

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