Masterbuilt Fenders

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Major9, Feb 1, 2006.


  1. Major9

    Major9 Supporting Member

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    Does anyone know the real story behind these guitars? It's hard to believe that about ten Masterbuilders are individually building something like 2000 '54/50th Anniversary Strats in addition to all the smaller "limited" runs of 100 or so AND some highly detailed one-offs. How long does it take one builder to make say 200 '54 Strats? I think these guitars are no doubt Fender's best in a long time, but there's got to be some production involved to churn out those numbers? Anyone know what's up?
     
  2. tjensen

    tjensen Gold Supporting Member

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    Gary:

    I don't know for sure what the deal is, except that they are great guitars and they have become stratospherically expensive.

    The '54s had an MSRP of $5400. The 2005 Mary Kaye LE was $7400, an increase of nearly 40 percent.

    Guys will argue 'till the cows come home about who is the best masterbuilder and I think each one builds subtly distinctive guitars.

    That said, just as Private Stocks are built on the same CNC machine as the production guitars, I would not be surprised if Fender Masterbuilts have some machine-made parts, which when you think about it isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    They are great, great guitars but cost a friggin' fortune these days.

    Tom
     
  3. Major9

    Major9 Supporting Member

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    Tom, I agree, they are expensive, but I usually can feel and hear the quality difference. Also, I have a very early Robert Cray with neck and body dates May/1990. It has a Fred Stuart palate logo (along with his initials inside) and a beautiful brazilian board....and the inca silver paint is amazing. That guitar has been my #1 Strat for years...It's not by new terms a masterbuilt...perhaps an "early" masterbuilt. Here's a shot of the board:

    [​IMG]

    My "guess" would be that all the masterbuilt bodies and necks come off the same line and are painted by the same people within a particular series...with the masterbuilder adding his touches to the instrument at various stages....perhaps details like wood choices, final neckshape, and set up? I just wanted to know the real difference between say a masterbuilt '54 from one builder vs. another, and realistically, how they are putting out those numbers!.....anyone else have some info?
     
  4. enharmonic

    enharmonic Old Growth Gold Supporting Member

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    I had a Masterbuilt Tele Jr. It took about 18 months to complete. I can honestly say that for as good as my Shoreline Gold Tele Jr. was (#10 of a run of 25), the Masterbuilt was that much better. I was lucky too. I got in just before the first price hike about 5 years ago...picked it up for under 3k. I wouldn't even want to think about what it would cost to have one made today. :)

    I think you're paying for premium woods, and premium experience. There's also a good markup due to simple supply/demand constraints. An 18-month wait means that there are a lot of people in line willing to pay a lot of money. Sometimes, it's not a whole lot more than that to it. You do get a different grade of instrument though...regardless of what you end up paying. 2000 54's is a lot of instruments. Perhaps the Masterbuilders got together and agreed on a certian group of specs for the instrument, and it is being built to Masterbuilder specs, rather than being built exclusively by the Masterbuilders...sort of like a "Lotus-tuned" suspension on a car...it's not a Lotus, but it adheres to certain design and adjustment parameters that the Lotus engineers are not ashamed to lend their name to.

    Good question...that's a lot of fiddles.
     
  5. AaeCee

    AaeCee Member

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    I dunno, man...a guitar a day? Sounds like a tall order for such apparently carefully built guitars. Budanyway, I have 2 masterbuilts, a John English and a Chris Fleming, and both have intense mojo. Got 'em a few years ago when prices were a little lower, but boy, what guitars they've turned out to be! You occasionally see minty used MBs for reasonable prices (closer to new CS Fenders), but you've gotta watch for them. They tend to get snatched up fast (by nuts like me)! AC
     
  6. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I've played alot of incredible guitars in my time. The John English Masterbuilt Tele that was at Make-N-Music in Chicago 3-4 months ago was definitely in the top 3 or 4 of all-time that I've ever played (a Lentz T was the best, btw). I couldn't afford it, they wanted $4200 for it and they weren't budging... it was gone 4 days later
     
  7. Intelligentpony

    Intelligentpony Member

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    I played a Cruz Mary Kaye Limited, wow nice guitar.
     
  8. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    Yeah, apparently and evidently I was way off with my "stats" there... which certainly does call into question just how "Masterbuilt" those guitars could be if they are putting out the numbers they are... "Master Assembled" perhaps?
     
  9. GDSblues

    GDSblues Member

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    How refreshing to read a thread that's in appreciation of great quality instruments.
    Countless times I read great praises of "affinity" / "Esquire" models that makes one believe they are the best guitars ever produced. They are what the price says they are and not more then that. That's not to say that for a small budget you cant get a decent sounding instrument. BUt when compared to the larger picture of whats available, they still are what they are priced to be.
    Thanks for this refreshing thread...its appreciated.
     
  10. amper

    amper Member

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    According to PRS' marketing materials, Private Stocks are hand-carved. Their DVD even shows one of their guys carving a top with a chisel and mallet. Are you saying they're *not* entirely hand made? Not that I think this is a bad thing. I'd actually rather have my guitar cut by a CNC router. That way, each one is *perfect*. But, if they're billing the PS guitars as hand-carved, and not actually hand-carving, that's false advertising.

    They're great, great guitars, IMO, only in the sense that they are well-made examples of what are essentially low-cost designs.

    That said, it seems the only way to get a properly quartersawn neck out of FMIC is to buy a Master Built, as opposed to Lakland and PRS, where every maple neck is quartersawn on guitars that cost less than half the price of a typical Fender Master Built. Cintioli's in Philadelphia has a number of Master Built guitars and basses in stock, and they are the only Fender instruments I've seen that have quartersawn necks (and not all Master Builts have them, BTW).
     
  11. Timbre Wolf

    Timbre Wolf GoldMember Supporter Gold Supporting Member

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    At the risk of being laughed off this thread for my naivete, I'm curious: can someone explain why a "Masterbuilt" Tele I encountered at a nearby music store had almost 1/8" lip of body sticking out from under the neck? It was quite a poor fit. Is this a historical thing (recreating the mistakes of the past)? I just don't get it, and, honestly, it really undermined my respect for Fender's "mastery."

    Then again, at over $5000 cost, this is probably a healthy aversion for my budget.

    - T
     
  12. John C

    John C Supporting Member

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    I think that is, in fact, an historical thing on the '51 Nocaster models.
     
  13. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    The very earliest Fender Broadcasters (Tele style guitars) in 1950 had that "lip" in the neck pocket... so yeah it is a historical thang
     
  14. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke Member

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    Does the concept of a "masterbuilt Fender" strike anyone else as bizarre? I wonder what Leo Fender would make of such a beast. Isn't it really the polar opposite of what he tried to achieve? Workingman's instruments produced on a large scale that could be easily repaired and/or replaced if need be-guitars that were built using bins of parts then assembled by a series of employees-many of the most highly regarded vintage Fenders were built that way not by one dedicated person. I am not doubting for one second the posts that declare these great guitars-I haven't really played any. I have played plenty of great Custom Shop Fenders. I just think it is an odd concept-almost a contradiction in terms from a purely historical viewpoint.
     
  15. Distortion

    Distortion Member

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    There have been several discussions regarding the building of Masterbuilt instruments.
    I personally never really cared that much for Real Fender Strats. My thinking was the Boutique builders had to build better instruments, so I gravitated to Anderson, Suhr, Grosh, Callaham, and Lentz instruments. All of these guitars were great in every way, but one day I had the opportunity to purchase a Mint John English Masterbuilt Strat from a friend and reputable gear junkie.. :D
    When the Strat arrived I was totally blown away with everything regarding this instrument.
    The feel, tone, and playability were the best I had ever seen.
    This particular instrument has a maple neck with the laminated maple fingerboard.
    I was able to compare all my Strat style guitars, and without a doubt it is the best Strat or Strat style guitar I have ever encountered.

    I don't know if mine is a fluke of nature, but my English Masterbuilt is flat out amazing.

    Here is a picture of it on the left with my old Lentz..

    [​IMG]
     
  16. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

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    They look much the same.:jo

    I am trying to figure out what aspects of a guitar's specs and physical presence contribute to opinions such as this, but I don't get much of a response. Can you describe, since you can do a side by side comparison, WHY and HOW you think such differences contribute to your perception of improved quality?
     
  17. raz

    raz Member

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    I'm no expert on all of this, but here's what I think I know.

    The Stratocaster cost on the order of $300 in 1954. Adjusted for inflation to 2005 dollars, that would be about $2071 and change. That's what it would cost you if everything had remained exactly the same at Fender between 1954 and now. But it doesn't take a lot of neurons to figure out that things didn't stay the same.

    It is much more expensive to manufacture in the U.S. now than it was in 1954, far beyond the issue of inflation. The tax picture for businesses has changed pretty radically, as have regulatory issues concerning everything from employee healthcare to workman's compensation to workplace safety to retirement. The cost for equivalent quality materials has risen drastically, in part due to decreasing supply and environmental regulations. Then there's the cost of petroleum, which affects the price of plastic parts, finishing materials, the cost of the machinery, and a host of things we don't stop to think are tied to oil. And that's really the tip of the iceberg.

    Obviously, Fender (like most manufacturers) has adapted by decreasing workforce, increasing automation, leveraging technology, and manufacturing overseas.

    But there is still demand for Fender guitars built the old-fashioned way. That means more expensive materials and far higher labor costs. Adjust it for inflation and these higher costs and it doesn't seem to me that $4-5K for a guitar assembled "the old way" is far out of line, if at all. Given that today's master builders are probably more experienced and better trained than were Leo's employees in the fifties, it starts to look like you're getting more for your money now than you would have then. IF that's what you're into.

    The Lentzes, Callahams, Soloways, Bakers and other boutique builders today can build cheaper because they serve a niche market of snobs like us - Internet-wired guitarists with disposable income :) - and the Internet enables them to reach their clientele affordably and keep staffing costs way down. But even at multi-Kdollar price points for their instruments, if you ask them I'll bet they'll tell you they aren't getting rich on their work. They have to compete with Fender's master builders, right?

    At least, this is how it looks to me.

    No, I don't work for Fender. I'm an IT guy for the State of Washington.
     
  18. Crumblebum

    Crumblebum Member

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    Getting back to Major9's original question, I've also wondered how Fender produced so many. Although there might be 10 Masterbuilders, I don't think Steven Stern builds Strats or Teles so there were actually 9 builders available. Assuming these guys have holidays and are sometimes sick, the numbers become even more curious.
    I'm no expert but I guess the Masterbuilders might just each produce one or two guitars per week but with the support of their apprentices they are able to increase those numbers considerably, especially for a run of similarly spec'd instruments such as the 50th Anniversary Strat. I'm guessing also that they began building the 50th Anniversary Strats well before the launch date so production spanned more than 12 months.
    I'm fortunate enough to own a few Masterbuilt Strats and can confirm that they are superb instruments. Some of mine are earlier, some are later builds but they are all different, even my Claptons that in theory should be very similar. In my opinion this is a reflection of the Masterbuilder's talent and individuality that gives the Masterbuilt guitar it's character. :jo
     
  19. thintele

    thintele Member

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    the 54/50th Anniversary models were "teambuilt" custom shop guitars, not "master built". Masterbuilt guitar runs are done in smaller runs ...genereally no more than 250 pcs
     
  20. AaeCee

    AaeCee Member

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    And let's just hypothesize that 9 master builders can each complete 1-2 guitars a week (say 1 1/2), that's still near 60/mth. = 700+-/yr. Seems about right. AC
     

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