This year, The Fender Custom Shop turns 30.
To celebrate the legendary shop that has built guitars for the likes of Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, The Stones, Jimmy Page and Bob Dylan, director Ross Haines has made a short documentary dedicated to the ‘nirvana for guitar lovers’.
The Dream Factory was born after Ross entered the Fender shop for the first time while scouting for another shoot. “When we walked in we were blown away. It’s just an incredible wonderland of vintage machines and hard-working craftsman doing what they’ve been doing for decades. Any photographer or filmmaker would have a field day in that place. After seeing the Custom Shop, the elite shop within Fender which is pretty much the Holy Grail of guitar making, I was super inspired to tell a deeper story about some aspect of the space. From there, the creative director, Nate Morley, and I brainstormed this concept and as timing would have it, it just so happened to be the 30th Anniversary of the Custom Shop.”
To tell the tale, Ross mixed previously unseen VHS archival footage from the early days and recent conversations with the eight original master builders. Though the film covers a lot in ten minutes, surely there were some wild stories that didn’t make the cut. Ross confirms there were plenty, but Michael Steven’s story takes the cake. “One of the best stories belongs to Michael Stevens, the very first employee of the Custom Shop. He was working on a new project for Eric Clapton. Michael is a real cowboy, Texas bred, and no bullshit dude. Both were getting a bit frustrated because a detail of the neck wasn’t quite perfect and they were having trouble getting in touch with each other to figure out why—this is pre-internet or cell phones, obviously. So eventually Clapton sent his guitar to the custom shop. This is not just any guitar, this is “Blackie“—a priceless piece of rock history. Clapton played “Blackie” almost exclusively on stage and in the studio from 1974-1985, recording songs like “Cocaine” and “Layla”. So for two weeks, Michael slept with Blackie under his bed and a gun under his pillow. In his words, “I didn’t want my tombstone to read, ‘Here lies the man who lost Blackie’.” Luckily no one tried to steal Blackie and Clapton loved the guitar they made for him.
Guitars are pretty personal things, and everyone has their favourites. For Ross, his all time favourite is guitar 001, Fender’s first double neck, which you can see in all its glory in the film.
If you’ve ever wondered what the coolest job in the world is, now you’ve got your answer.