Are Fender Custom Shop Guitars Really Worth The Extra Price Tag?

As a guitarist and Fender lover, you may be encountered daily by thoughts and queries such as: are custom shop guitars more worthy than their cheaper counterparts? Is the Strat I own a good investment? Does it play and feel better then a Mex or USA standard build? These concerns are completely normal. Anyone filled with the love and passion for music has their respective perspective and preferences.


To answer all your doubts and uncertainties, read the complete article. We are going to discuss all these major concerns, so that you can decide for yourself whether the upgrade is worth your while.

So let us dive into the article.


Fender Custom Shop

The Fender custom shop, which pledges to turn your musical dreams into reality, is a division of Fender Musical Instruments located in Corona, Riverside Country, California.

The Fender custom shop manufactures specially ordered guitars for its buyers. The custom shop is popularly known for its high-quality edition, high-end guitars, and amplifiers played by some well-known guitarists and music lovers from all around the globe.


Why Fender custom shop guitars are high-priced?

The major distinguishing feature that separates the low-end Fender guitar from the high-end ones are its build quality. The lower quality guitars are made by machine precision cuts with less ‘man hour’; consequently, they are typically easy on the pocket. On the other hand, almost every Fender custom shop guitar has had a considerable amount of hands-on luthier time during its construction. Generally speaking, this includes things like material selection, fretwork, finish quality, improved ergonomics and overall set-up. These are then assembled with more care by experienced custom shop builders.

The pickups and materials used in manufacturing also vary in quality and price. Most custom shop guitars feature premium quality hand-wound pickups installed in them and the amount of time a worker spends on the laboring once again adds value and cost to the overall build.

Quality of The Guitars

Its clear to see that Fender have immediate access to the finest tone woods and most skilled luthiers. The building mastery, the fine quality materials, and especially the hand wound pick-ups all play a part in the recreation and creation of some of the finest guitars on the planet. Testament to this is thousands of quality builds and its well supported fan base online.


Quality control during the manufacturing and setup process seems to be very thorough. Whilst there does not appear to be a lot of specific information on the exact process, like any factory tour online we can see what goes on behind closed doors, and there appears to be repeated inspection through every department.


In my personal experience I can say that whilst Fender do keep things simple, there may be the odd complaint with set-up and neck alignment, but a lot of the time this tends to be the dealership’s fault and the neglect the guitar may incur whilst in store for lengthy periods. Nothing a quarterly check and set-up couldn’t fix. PRS and Gibson on the other hand, are continually faced with finish and fret-work issues. However, in their defense they tend to be more innovative, and with that may arise issues in the long run as things are trialed.


The Artistry of The Guitars

Fender Custom Shop is the only way you can customize a new Fender guitar from the factory. There is no way to get a more "for you" or higher quality new Fender instrument. This is a way to either find or create something that is completely unique to your discerning specifications. And whether a guitar is created with your own specs in mind or they were a vision by the Custom Shop itself, these instruments embody more than a half-century of history. With all of the cool and unique instruments they have created since the early 50’s, their design limitations are endless. Just check out some of these sweet builds..



Investment Potential

In a time when it is nearly impossible for guitars to hold their value, custom shop guitars generally do well. Whether you want a new or pre-owned Fender custom shop, I have seen prices increase dramatically in recent years (Just be sure to keep the COA).


Please see examples below.


Whilst it’s not quite the 1954 Strat purchase of $289.45 which in today’s market is now worth over $68000. There is still opportunity for at least a small profit. I have seen secondhand prices for standard relics range from £2700+ in recent months. In 2015 we would be looking at around £2100 for a standard Fender relic. Same can be said for NEW guitars in 2015 when we saw GUITARGUITAR sell standard relics for £2799.99. with current prices at £3499.99 much greater then the 5.39% inflation we saw during this period. There are several potential factors contributing to this price increase, including:


- Its true that Brexit has pushed prices up: the UK dealerships are now face with additional unaffordable costs which have limited supply, and as such new Fender custom shops have become scarce as demand has increased. Simply put, the supply is not there, and this can be said for many other countries around Europe.


- Fender’s costs have also inevitably increased. Materials become scarce and the demand for certain woods which offer better ergonomics are sought after by a more competitive and inflated market. Ultimately, costs have increased creating unaffordability


In response to this Fender are now struggling more then ever to compete with the used market as buyers look to save on used guitars. Whilst a used guitar may be a better option for the short term, one may still find profit to be made even on a new purchase given such trends. Build cost coupled with the material required for the build will continue to force both markets to increase.


What else adds to the price?

Aside from the high-quality parts and handiwork, the wood types, and hardware are also excellent quality which again add to the overall price, making it more expensive. The necks can be made from quartersawn Maple, which makes them better-built than ‘riftsawn’ varieties. This is a positive factor for touring artists who take their guitars through various climate changes.


The bodies can be made up of Swamp Ash and Mahogany, high quality grade A maple and other exotic woods which offer a different dynamics in sound, largely favorited by the majority of the market.


Fender: Custom shop vs Standard vs Mexican

Either you buy a USA Variety (£900-£1900) a Mexican (£500-£900) or a Custom Shop (£2800+) one; ultimately, you are owning a product with the name of Fender. So far, we have discussed on paper why the Custom shop is priced higher. We have acknowledged that the parts seem to be more expensive. There is more experienced hands on time spent with construction, and also lets not forget the exclusivity and added artistry which many of these models seem to feature. But given all these upgraded elements which Fender custom shop have to offer, whilst they may look better, do they sound better? Afterall, that’s what we would expect. Before I discuss my opinion, feel free to check-out the video below to so that you may draw your own conclusions.




Listening carefully, all three sounded great; vastly different in subtle nuances. The USA Standard sounded more open in the high frequencies compared to the MIM while the Custom Shop sounded more open in the mids as well as the highs compared to the MIA. The Mexican was distinctively harsher and muddier. Whilst the USA standard tele was brighter it lacked that authentic depth and tone that the custom shop had. In my humble opinion, any differences in tone are nothing that a pickup change wouldn't fix, or at the very least get you 95% of the way there. But nevertheless, we can see that Fender custom shop have in this instance improved tone over the other guitars for the weight class.


Its also important to note that whilst sound is important, another determining factor which we have yet to discuss is the feel, which Shane address’s at the end of the video. Whilst sound may be subjective in its own right, feel is even more so. And I can tell you from experience, everyone is different. Neck shapes, body contours, weight etc. will either make or break a person’s decision to buy.


So, are we getting that feel-good factor with the Fender custom shop? Well only you can answer that. Fender do a great job in offering exclusive guitars through a variety of special runs, with specifications not offered on standard runs. On paper we can see such features like rolled fingerboard edges, lighter bodies, improved hardware, nitro finishing and if you’re looking for something better than your current axe chances are you will find it with the Fender Custom Shop.


Public Review


According to W Doug Bosse

“The Custom Shop has Fenders best and most experienced builders working there. Lots of hands-on work, lots of different variations are available. Many Custom Shop items have a limited run and they are not made that way again which makes for some uniqueness and originality. I own two Custom Shop guitars- a matching Strat and Tele set. There were only 22 sets of these guitars made, so yes, I have some really rare ones. That’s what sets the Custom Shop apart from the rest of the pack. Whether you feel it is worth it or not is up to you and your pocketbook.”


David B states;

“I like the Straight up American stuff from Fender. The Custom Shop certainly offers some nice instruments, plus it's really hard to beat Fender in the American Professional price range, not to mention you can go into a well-stocked store and compare a bunch and pick the best one, with Custom Shop you often have less to compare. My Custom Shop Fender is not better sounding or better playing than my American Standards. All that said, if you find the true magic-sounding guitar, you buy it while you can regardless of which marketing range Fender put it in, they are all Fenders at the end of the day.”


One more buyer, Rowdy Yates, expresses his viewpoint stating;

“I have never regretted the money spent on a Fender Custom Shop guitar, and I’ve had several. The non-custom shop Strats are good, but never grabbed me.”

All the above reviews clearly show that Fender custom shop guitars prove themselves worth the extra price tag by offering both quality and harmonious sound.


Conclusion

This article provides a comprehensive insight into why Fender custom shop guitars are worth the extra price tag. We have acknowledged that the Fender custom shop take extra measures to ensure the build quality on their custom shops are superior through material selection and additional hands-on luthier time. We have also discussed the positive investment potential which is affected by political and economical demand. That being said, whether you choose to buy new or used, the guitar is likely to hold its value at the very least. Its true that both sound and feel are subjective to the buyer and whilst Fender have attempted to offerhand-wound pick-ups on these builds coupled with other design features to aid playability, they will always be faced with a no size fits all market. In response the Fender custom shop offer a huge variety of guitars with different specs, experimental wood combinations etc. in an attempt meet the needs of this mark, in hope that they can offer every player their perfect build.


Nevertheless, they are slightly heavy on your pocket, but you are getting back your investment both in terms of quality and sound. Knowing what you know now the only question you need to ask yourself is – if you pick it up and think "that feels/sounds/looks gooooood", would you be more inclined to pay a higher asking price? And if so how much more?