Behind the scenes of Fender Custom Shop’s bass creations – Guitar World

Posted in Tattoo Shop on Sep 03, 2020

In the pandemic-stricken era in which we find ourselves, the word Corona is often followed by the word virus, sadly.

However, cast your mind back afew months and youll recall that in bass world, Corona has a far more cheerful application in the name of the California city where Fender has its Custom Shop.

That, friends, is where we found ourselves a while back, for a tour of the facility courtesy of Chris Fleming, Director ofCustom Operations.

On arrival, our friendly Fender rep informs us of a few ground rules wear safety goggles, stay inside the yellow lines, dont disturb the Master Builders all of which make eminent sense given that the factory is full of powerful machinery and that the staff are working on bass guitars that cost several thousand dollars each.

Chris then takes over and shows us around the factory, as the following pictures reveal, before we sit down in his office forachat about life at the Big F.

The most popular bass we make is probably the Jazz, overall, but from my point of view, Fenders most important invention was the P-Bass. It changed music

Chris, approximately how much of the Custom Shops output is bass?

"I dont know exactly, but Id say 20 to 25 percent is bass. There just arent as many bass players. Look at my tattoos: I have one of a Telecaster which says Live To Play and this one is of a '50s P-Bass which says PlayTo Live."

Thats wisdom, right there.

"It is, because if you really want to be aworking musician, you should play bass. And be good at it, of course..."

When we make a bass, youre gonna have a much better chance of getting a really, really good one

What are the specific challenges with making basses that you dont get with guitars?

The biggest challenge with bass, especially with Fender basses, is the design of the neck. With the early Fender basses, they didnt think through how small and flexible the neck is, especially with the Jazz bass.

With the early ones especially, you have to be really careful, so thats why all of our basses have quarter-sawn necks, because it really helps to stabilize them. But other than that, theyre not a whole lot different as far as the process goes. The necks are definitely our biggest trouble.

Are bass players requirements changing as the years pass?

No, I wouldnt say so. Bass players are alot more practical and less conservative than guitar players. Theyre open to new things new sounds, new shapes, new materials and so on. Id much rather make a bass for somebody than aguitar for somebody. Bass players are a lot less persnickety. I dont think bass is as much of a fashion statement as guitars are.

How much of your output is five-string?

Very little. We dont make many five-strings in the Custom Shop at all, although we have done in the past. The Custom Shop is largely vintage-based, or vintage-modified stuff.

An American-made bass remains the gold standard, just as it always has been, but production quality of overseas-made basses has increased hugely over the decades. Is it as important as it once was to have an American-made bass?

Thats a good question. The difference with the Custom Shop is that we spend more time, and were more choosy about the materials we use and theres the level of craftsmanship that we have. When we make a bass, youre gonna have a much better chance of getting a really, really good one.

But, you know, every instrument has its own thing going on, and Id agree that these days instruments made in other countries are much better than they used to be. I recently bought an Ibanez guitar for$500, and its a really great little jazz guitar. Now, I can make a nice jazz guitar here if I want to, but I wouldnt be able to do it for $500.

Our reviewer of your recent Squier 60s Jazz swears its as good as the real thing.

Yes, I wouldnt be surprised. Part of that is due to us [the Custom Shop], because we have folks who go to all the factories and help them improve what they do for us. I did that for about five years myself. We started asking for more exact specifications, and theyre doing that for us, so the stuff thats coming from there now is really good.

Fender remains the worlds best-known electric guitars and bass brand. Is that primarily because you guys were first?

I think thats definitely a part of it, but I also think that the designs of the instruments were really useful for musicians, and they looked extremely cool too. It all happened in the right time and at the right place. Music was blossoming country and western, surf music, and then rock. It was also alifestyle, so its all connected. People sawFenders being played on TV.

Which sells more, the Jazz or the Precision?

The most popular bass we make is probably the Jazz, overall, but from my point of view, Fenders most important invention was the P-Bass. It changed music.

How far ahead do your orders go?

Weve found that the sweet spot is about six to seven months for teambuilt guitars, and for a couple of the masterbuilders, they have about three, three and a half years of orders. A masterbuilt guitar takes nine to 18 months, although it depends. Most of the folks that buy custom-built guitars from us are dealers. Were doing really well right now. Theres still something aspirational about a Fender guitar.

If you could choose any single Fender Custom Shop bass to play yourself, which model would it be?

Id actually choose a P-Bass, but with a Jazz neck. I made a bass to that specification for myself and its really great. I could have built a standard Precision, because I really like the shape and the feel and the pickup of the P-Bass, and the punchiness of the tones that it has, but the thinner neck of the Jazz is really comfy.

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Behind the scenes of Fender Custom Shop's bass creations - Guitar World

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