Talking Custom Teles & Fender Masterbuilders With The Guitar Store’s James Schultz
By Roddy Scheer
In anticipation of the Fender Custom Shop Road Show stop in Seattle coming up on August 1, Roddy Scheer sat down with James Schultz, owner of The Guitar Store, to find out what it’s like designing a custom run of unique Telecasters — the so-called “Underbound Tele” — with the best luthiers in the business...
Roddy Scheer: What is the "Underbound Tele"? What features distinguish it from other Telecasters? How did the idea for it come about?
James Schultz: I had been planning a trip to the Fender Custom Shop to discuss what we could do for a unique guitar that could be offered as an exclusive. There had been a number of suggestions of guitars to build: Strats, Artisan woods, p90'd items etc. But none of them thrilled me as a project to take on right now.
Meanwhile, I had been talking to [Fender Masterbuilder] Paul Waller about building me a guitar based on my #1, a 1985 Made in Japan Red Tele Custom. I had bonded with this guitar — or various iterations of it — for the past three decades. I wrote songs on my original one when I was really starting to play — and play out — in the early 90's. It was a punk and college rock warrior.
Of course, I hated it too. I sold it, and then bought others that looked like it. At one point I had 23 Red Custom Teles. One of them, though, I started to mod, adding an adjustable brass saddle that Fender offered for a short time as an aftermarket part, Duncan Antiquity II pick-ups and a 4-way switch with the 4th position a tone circuit bypass. I was getting close but I realized it would have been a waste to have a Masterbuilder just make me another version of something I already love.
What did I want? So I thought, “Let's take the roots of my instrument and sweeten it up.” They advertise the Custom Shop as the "Dream Factory" so here was the challenge: I wanted this Tele made with a lighter roasted body. Instead of white or cream binding, I wanted to see the wood, what I call an "underbind" with the paint scraped to reveal the roasted ash or alder.
The pickups are something special and unique to us as well. We started with the ‘62 wind and toned it down a bit so it wouldn’t be so bright but would retain the sweetness in the mids. You can hear every note. I live and die by the swell so this really speaks to me. They are hand-wound at the Custom Shop and currently are only available on this Underbound series. We’ll be working on a version with a mini humbucker in the neck position in the future.
Really the part of the guitar I like the most is the 8.81" fretboard radius. Sitting just in between the purist vintage player at 7.25” and the 9.5” that so many guitars have nowadays, it’s a great chorder I can really bend into. I call it the "Left of the Dial" radius after KWVA 88.1 FM, the student station at the University of Oregon where I did the morning show during my formative years.
How many is Fender making for The Guitar Store? When will they be available and for how much?
Our first run is of ten guitars that will be Team Built [where different Custom Shop luthiers handle different parts of the buiid]. These will be hitting the shop this fall. I picked out some classic Fender/Dupont colors with anodized pickguards. They will be amazing looking. A couple Journeymen, Standard and Heavy Relics [The Fender Custom Shop offers different “relic” levels]. Prices will be in the mid-$4,000’s; there’ll be a lot of guitar in there.
The next run will be open for people to order off of: pick your color, guard and even which of the 12
Fender Masterbuilders to work with. Paul [Waller] will be building one for me.
Can you describe the process of what it's like working with the Fender Custom Shop on designing and building out this special run for you?
First and foremost, working with the Custom Shop is fun. We do a lot of custom orders. The Underbound Tele is one of two unique runs that are being made currently for The Guitar Store. The second run is one that [Masterbuilder] Ron Thorn is building with some woods he and I picked out from the Fender wood warehouse the first week he started working there last year after they poached him out of self-employment. He looked at me and said, “Thanks for letting me build my own guitars here at Fender.” This wasn’t a slight, but he is an amazing artist who works with exotic woods and builds his own pickups and designs. He feared that he would be making '52 Telecasters for the rest of his life when he went in-house at Fender. Most people would want him making such a classic for them. He makes a hell of a classic but Fender hired Ron to be Ron. I trust him in that. It will be cool to see these six exotic Materbuilts come in.
As far as ordering one for customers, we work off of a template that Fender provides. This gives us the greatest chance to dig in a bit with people and see what they really want.
How often do you get to ask for what you really want? I think most people design the “almost” guitar. We try to help them get the “all there” guitar. When a customer jumps to the Masterbuilder level, it takes time but anything can happen.
In the future, I want to take more customers down to Corona [Fender’s HQ and factory in Southern California] and let them design the guitar in the workshop there. Imagine being able to have that experience and bring home more than just a t-shirt?
To find out more about working with a Fender Master Builder or the new forthcoming Underbound Tele series, check out the Fender Custom Shop’s road show stop at The Guitar Store (8300 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle) at 5:30 PM on Thursday, August 1.