As one of the preeminent archtop builders at the Custom Shop, Stephen Stern has studied under two of the world’s greatest archtop luthiers—Jimmy D’Aquisto and Bob Benedetto. Stern got his start apprenticing at a high-end cabinet shop straight out of high school. Five years of that prepared him for his first job as a builder at Jackson/Charvel Guitars. Stern came to the Custom Shop in 1993, working with D’Aquisto on the latter’s namesake line of guitars until the great luthier’s death in 1995.In the late ’90s, millionaire collector Scott Chinery commissioned a number of custom archtop guitars by two dozen of the world’s finest living luthiers; Stern contributed a custom-built D’Aquisto Ultra. Chinery’s “Blue Guitar Collection” is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution. Stern also built a handful of exquisite archtops in collaboration with the Walt Disney Co. to commemorate the anniversary of the animated classic Fantasia.
Calling Todd Krause the “Builder to the Stars” would be a vast understatement. He maintains and builds guitars for Fender signature artists Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Stu Hamm and Roscoe Beck. Further, he has built custom instruments for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters and Gene Simmons, to name only a few.Krause’s guitar-building apprenticeship began in March 1981 at Jackson/Charvel guitars. He started at Fender in 1991 and quickly donned many hats, including that of a one-off builder, R&D model maker, woodworking machinist, and, eventually, master builder.
Greg Fessler came to the Fender Custom Shop in 1990, working his way up through the ranks as an apprentice. He assisted with the Robben Ford signature line of guitars, eventually becoming the sole builder of those instruments and, later, Ford’s personal builder. Fessler has built one-off Stratocaster® and Telecaster® guitars for a host of players, including bluesman Jeff Healey, Rhonda Smith (Prince), Neil Schon and 311 to name only a few.Fessler’s unique abilities as a master builder have earned him accolades from many Fender artists and from discerning customers worldwide. His meticulous attention to detail is exemplified in every instrument he creates, each of which is a perfect example of the intense commitment it takes to earn the title of master builder.
Dennis Galuszka began building high-end acoustic guitars during his 13 years as a cabinetmaker, combining his passions for music and woodworking. As a self-taught drummer, it was a fateful audition with one of the Fender master builders that led to a job interview (and a steady gig). Hired as an apprentice, he was promoted to master builder in 1999. Galuszka has since built instruments for many influential players, including country legend Buck Owens and jazz master Robben Ford.With an eye for detail and a keen imagination, Galuszka built a series of clever one-offs, including a Record Stratocaster® guitar with a record player tone arm tremolo, a pickguard customized from a real vinyl album, and fret marker inlays resembling plastic yellow 45 record adapters. His matching pair of surf guitars (a Stratocaster® and Precision Bass® guitar) built for the 2003 NAMM Show featured a long board body graphic and a custom decal.
Dale Wilson arrived at Fender in 2003, joined the Custom Shop in 2005 and became a Master Builder in 2011. Building guitars has been a driving passion for the California native since childhood.“Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved guitars,” he said. “I didn’t dream of being a rock star; I dreamed of building the ultimate guitar. I was equally enthralled with the guitars just as much as I was with the players.”Wilson comes from a long line of expert woodworkers, and the requisite Custom Shop zeal for outstanding craftsmanship has long been part of his DNA. He did repair work and mods in a small guitar shop right out of high school in the late 1980s; subsequently moving on to stints at Dobro and Rickenbacker before arriving at Fender, where he worked on Guild, Gretsch and Benedetto guitars before beginning his apprenticeship with various Custom Shop Master Builders.He enjoys calling upon his extensive and varied experience as a craftsman to create unique guitars such as the Resophonic Thinline Telecaster. Wilson also built five beautiful custom guitars for the January 2011 NAMM Show while still an apprentice, but was asked to signed the back of the headstocks and subsequently promoted to Fender Custom Shop Master Builder.
As a 13-year Fender veteran and son of longtime Fender R&D legend Dan Smith, Jason grew up on Fender—“It’s always been in my family,” he said, “And I was always extremely interested in everything my father did.”Born in Rochester, N.Y., and raised in California, Smith remembers meeting guitar deities from about age five on through his father’s work with Fender—Eric Clapton, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jeff Beck and Robben Ford, to name only a few. He went to his first big rock concert at age six—Rush—and Smith remembers going backstage with his dad and meeting Geddy Lee after the show. Before he was even in his teens, Smith was going to see Pink Floyd, ZZ Top and many other major artists.Rock music and Fender are simply part of his DNA. Smith joined the Fender Custom Shop in 1995, and in 2006 completed a 5-year apprenticeship under acclaimed Senior Master Builder John English. Among many diverse projects with English, Smith worked on a pair of double-neck StratocasterÂ® guitars for Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo.Smith is an accomplished bass guitarist who brings a player’s sensibility to his work in the Custom Shop in addition to his expertise as a builder. With the Master Builder title that he’s strived for over so many years now his, he’s eager to start taking orders—after all, Fender is practically in his blood.“I’ve always loved it,” Smith said. “And it feels great that I’ve reached the goal that I’ve worked toward for five years in apprenticeship, and the eight years before that."
Master Builder Paul Waller is a Southern California native with woodworking and guitar making in his blood. He built his first guitar at age 14 in his high school woodshop and hasn’t looked back since.He joined a cabinet shop right out of high school and, after a stint at a small Southern California guitar maker, enrolled at the acclaimed Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix in 2000. There he trained extensively in electric and acoustic guitar construction and repair, specializing in arch-top work, which remains his favorite.Waller joined Fender in 2003 fresh from his training at Roberto-Venn. He spent two years working closely with master arch-top craftsman Bob Benedetto, and he became steeped in the many facets of building techniques from all the Custom Shop’s Master Builders.His Fender Custom Shop work has included bass guitars for U2’s Adam Clayton, co-work on a Stratocaster® for Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, and highly unusual hand-carved arch-top and “carved brick” Telecasterdesigns.
John Cruz came to Fender in 1987, joined the Custom Shop in 1993 and became a Master Builder in 2003. Custom guitars are his passion, and he is the man behind several famous Custom Shop instruments, including the replica of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s famous “Number One” Stratocaster® guitar.Cruz also built the limited-run Moto guitar and amp sets, worked on the ’49 Woody amp project and developed all production processes for the Rory Gallagher and Muddy Waters tribute guitars. Further, his meticulous work was essential to all aspects of the initial Custom Shop Relic guitars and basses, and he initiated the Custom Shop’s quality assurance program.Cruz has built fantastic guitars for players such as Doug Aldrich (Dio, Whitesnake), Dave Amato and Bruce Hall (REO Speedwagon), Mick Mars (Mötley Crüe), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Bono (U2), Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), Ike Turner and Brad Whitford (Aerosmith).
From handcrafting many of his own woodworking tools to showcasing his world-class luthier skills and custom inlay work, Yuriy Shishkov is truly one of the last of the renaissance guitar builders. It was in the small confines of a root cellar in his hometown of Gomel in the former Soviet Union that Shishkov got his start building guitars for friends and colleagues.When he arrived in the United States in 1990, Shishkov settled in the Chicago area and collaborated with a range of top artists, including late shredder Dimebag Darrell of Pantera, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Nuno Bettencourt, Robin Zander of Cheap Trick and Paul Stanley of Kiss. Shishkov joined the Fender Custom Shop’s elite team of master builders in 2000.