When it’s time to buy your dream guitar, is Fender Custom Shop Vs Gibson Custom Shop on your mind? In this article, I’ll reveal everything you need to know about each of these boutique shops to help you make your decision.
Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of two of the most sought-after custom shops in the history of American guitar design!
You can use the table of contents below to take you to the area that interests you. Click on the little box to open it, and then click on the section of the article you want to read, or you can read from start to finish if you want the full custom shop experience!
The Short Answer
There is no clear choice between the Fender and Gibson Custom Shops regarding which is better. Both shops make outstanding guitars and have their strengths and weaknesses. You should buy the custom shop guitar that’s best for what you want in sound, playability, look, and budget.
Keep On Reading (Below) To Learn More
Choosing Between A Fender Vs. Gibson Custom Shop Guitar
When it comes right down to it, the Fender and Gibson Custom Shops are equally awesome choices for amazing guitars. It really comes down to personal preference. If you are predominantly a Fender player, you will probably appreciate owning a Fender Custom Shop guitar more, and vice-versa.
I’m lucky enough to own five Fender Custom Shop guitars and three Gibson Custom Shop models, but truthfully, I can’t say that one guitar is clearly better than another. For me, it really depends if I want the Fender or Gibson sound and playability experience.
If you’re in the market for a Custom Shop instrument, I recommend you play a variety of Fender and Gibson models to see which guitar best fits your needs.
If you’d like to go directly to the Fender Vs. Gibson Custom Shop comparison chart, click here.
Custom Shop Guitar Resale Value
Fender and Gibson Custom Shop guitars both have excellent resale value.
Some players feel that Gibson Custom Shop guitars may have a better resale value than Fender products because Gibson makes fewer guitars overall, based on the smaller size of their facility and personnel.
To maintain a guitar’s maximal resale value, keep it in excellent physical condition, and put all the case candy such as hang tags, picks, cable, manuals, and the bill of sale in a safe place. The certificate of authenticity is an essential part of the guitar and the most crucial supporting document to be presented if the guitar is sold!
Unconventional one-off custom shop guitars, such as guitars with the player’s name inlaid into the fretboard, can significantly lower the resale value unless the guitar was made for a famous player.
What Is A Guitar Custom Shop?
A guitar custom shop is a department in guitar companies that produces the highest quality products they offer. Most of these products are guitars, but some companies, like Fender, also make custom-shop guitar amplifiers.
For the purpose of this article, I am referring to the Fender and Gibson custom shops, but many other guitar companies, such as Paul Reed Smith (PRS) and Ibanez, have a custom shops.
Customs shops generally offer guitars that are available to the public and sold in guitar shops without the need to place a special order.
Special order (one-off) guitars need to be ordered through a guitar dealer, at which time the buyer may be assigned a builder, who works with the buyer through the salesperson at the guitar store. Some online guitar stores may also offer this service.
Custom Shop Builds
Some custom shop guitars can be built by several luthiers in the custom shop (team built), while others are designed and made by a single builder for the highest quality (master built).
Fender offers NOS (new old stock), Closet Classic, and Relic builds in their various guitar lines (series). For example, Vintage Custom, Artisan, Limited Edition, American Custom series, and “one-off” (original) designs.
The Gibson Custom Shop guitar line includes one-off designs, VOS (“Vintage Original Spec”) models, and Collector’s Choice Program (their Signature Series collection).
Most of the research and development for new guitar lines is done in the custom shop.
The Fender and Gibson custom shops have aging departments for relicing guitar necks, bodies, electronics, and hardware. Some aging may be done directly by master builders. For more info, see The Aging Process.
Fender Vs. Gibson Custom Shop Comparison
This table compares the two custom shops.
You can click on “Fender Custom Shop” and “Gibson Custom Shop” to get more specific info.
|Comparison||Fender Custom Shop||Gibson Custom Shop|
|Location||Corona, California||Nashville, Tennessee|
|Products Produced||Guitars/Basses/Amps 1||Guitars/Basses|
|Special Finishes, Pickups, and Hardware||Yes||Yes|
|Team Builders||Yes||No distinction 2|
|Master Builders||Yes||No distinction 2|
|Aging Department||Yes||Yes, including Murphy Lab|
|Build Turn-Around Time||8 -10 Weeks or longer||8 -10 Weeks or longer|
|Cost||Variable/Maybe less $ 3||Variable/Maybe more $ 3|
|Resale Value||Excellent||Excellent to Outstanding|
1 The Fender Custom Amp Shop makes hand-wired amps
2 All the builders in the Gibson Custom Shop are considered highly skilled luthiers, so there is no commercial distinction regarding “team vs. master” builders.
3 Some of the higher-end Gibson guitars are more expensive than some of the Fenders
Keep On Reading (Below) To Learn More About Each Topic
Fender Custom Shop
The Fender Custom Shop, also known as the “Dream Factory,” was started in 1987 in Corona, Riverside County, California. It has dealers in USA, Mexico, Canada, Europe & South America.
They make custom guitars, bass guitars, and hand-wired amplifiers (in the Fender Custom Amp Shop).
Fender offers NOS (new old stock), Closet Classic, and Relic builds in their various guitar lines (series).
The Custom Shop Series
Vintage Custom Series
This guitar series has Fender’s “Time Capsule” aging package, which includes their “No Buff” flash coat lacquer finish combined with their “Closet Classic” hardware. They represent some of the most iconic guitar models Fender has ever built!
These guitars have special appointments. They include things like exotic Okoume bodies, gold hardware, and premium “roasted” bird’s-eye maple necks.
Limited Edition Series
These guitars are created in a limited run and are only available for a short time, which adds to their collectability and investment value. They are primarily available for master-built instruments that pay tribute to select artists.
American Custom Series
These guitars are modeled after the contemporary features you find in modern guitars. They include the American Custom Telecaster and Stratocaster models. They are beautifully built and highly functional.
Custom Shop Build Levels
The Fender custom shop offers Team Built and Master Built guitars.
Team Built Custom Shop guitars are made in a hand-crafted environment by some of the over 50 artisans as a team effort. Each veteran builder specializes in an area of expertise, such as neck shaping, fretwork, and finishing.
Team-built guitars can be bought in stores (in person or online) as finished products or can be user-designed from base models by adding a vast selection of options, such as neck shape, tuners, etc.
Masterbuilt guitars are assigned to one master builder, who designs and creates the guitar from start to finish, including tonewood selection and aging. These guitars are Fender’s top quality.
They are available as pre-built models in guitar stores or as one-off instruments that are built to the buyer’s specifications through Fender’s online “Design Guide” and through guitar dealerships.
Here is a list of the Fender Masterbuilers:
- Dale Wilson
- Paul Waller
- Jason Smith
- Yuriy Shishkov
- Todd Krause
- Dennis Galuszka
- Greg Fessler
- Ron Thorn
- Kyle McMillin
- Vincent Van Trigt
- Austin Macnutt
- Andy Hicks
- David Brown
How To Order
You can download the Fender online Design Guide or work directly with a Fender Custom Shop Dealer.
Using the Fender online Design Guide:
- Choose build level (Custom-built or Masterbuilt), base model, woods, neck shape, colors, hardware, pickups, wiring, and aging package
- Add desired options
- Take completed design guide to Fender Custom Shop Showcase Dealer for a price quote and estimated build time
The turnaround time for receiving a Custom Shop guitar is approximately eight to ten weeks. Still, it can take substantially longer depending if you want a particular master builder and on the material and design characteristics.
Custom Shop customer care includes a warranty extension, priority service, worldwide repair and service options, complimentary shipping, attention to customer details, 21-point inspection, non-warranty repair work, and complete documentation.
The warranty extension includes worldwide limited lifetime coverage on the electronic and hardware components.
Gibson Custom Shop
The Gibson Custom Shop is located in Nashville, Tennessee.
It began with a department inside the Gibson factory in 1986 run by Edwin Wilson and John Murphy, who made custom orders as part of Gibson’s “Historic Program.”
In 1993 the Gibson Custom Shop was born as a separate entity of the Gibson Corporation. They make custom guitars and bass guitars.
The “Murphy Lab” is headed by John Murphy, who hand ages guitars to the most exacting and realistic specifications, particularly specializing in vintage-year Les Paul burst guitars. They are highly sought after and among the highest-priced custom shop Les Paul models.
In addition to the Murphy Lab, there is a separate aging department of about six people that does more general work.
Gibson Custom Shop guitars are in high demand due to lower guitar output than the Fender Custom Shop.
The Custom Shop Series
The Gibson Custom Shop guitar line includes one-off designs, Aged Versions, VOS (“Vintage Original Spec”) models, and the Collector’s Choice Program (their Signature Series collection) that works closely with recording artists to reproduce every nuance of their guitars.
Aged models are similar to the Fender Custom Shop relic models, which look and sound like they have been played throughout the years.
The VOS models are built to give the player a guitar that looks, plays, and sounds like a guitar built back in the 50s and 60s, including the exact design specifications as precise as individual screws.
These days, one-off guitars are tough to get from the Custom Shop due to the high demand for guitars, relatively small building staff, and high turnaround times. These guitars are now typically reserved for famous recording artists.
Custom Shop Build Levels
Unlike the Fender Custom Shop, Gibson does not have predefined build levels. Everything in the design and construction process is consolidated into one group of expertly skilled artisans that are master luthiers in their own right, with the exception of the Murphy lab.
You won’t find the builder’s name on the guitar’s headstock, like what you get on Fender Masterbuilt guitars. Gibson feels this is simply a “marketing ploy,” and they consider all their guitar builds top-quality.
Everything in the Custom Shop is hand-assembled from individually selected tonewoods with stunning nitrocellulose finishes, period-correct pickups, and hardware.
Gibson Custom Shop Humbucker pickups are made to the exact specifications of their originals!
How To Order
Guitars are ordered through the Gibson website or with in-store or online Gibson Custom Shop dealers.
You choose your model and select your options (woods, neck shape, colors, hardware, pickups, wiring, and aging package).
The turnaround time for receiving a Custom Shop guitar is approximately eight to ten weeks, but it can take substantially longer depending on the material and design characteristics.
The easiest way to get customer care is through a Gibson Custom Shop dealer, preferably the one where the guitar was purchased for the fastest service time.
You can also contact Gibson directly via their website’s “Contact Support” page.
The Aging Process
The Fender and Gibson Custom Shops both have their proprietary aging department. What goes on in there is essentially a well-guarded secret, but here are some techniques that Fender and Gibson commonly use.
The guitar’s finished tonewoods are subjected to a variety of age-simulation processes by experienced luthiers and master builders, including the use of sandpaper, rocks, chains, belt buckles, and keys.
Finish “checking” of guitar bodies and necks is painstakingly simulated with razor blades.
Maple fretboard “finger wear” is created by selectively removing varying amounts of finish on strategically located areas, and cigarette burns may be added to the finish of the guitar’s headstock.
These techniques are used when recreating the exact specifications on guitars of famous artists, such as Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” guitar and Jimmy Page’s ’59 Les Paul.
The bodies and necks of these original guitars are laser-scanned into computer design programs to reproduce every subtle variation of the wood.
The outside and inside of these guitars are also painstakingly photographed so that every finish and hardware imperfection can be duplicated.
Pickup resistance and inductance are measured, and coil windings are duplicated.
Custom Shop Accessories
Fender and Gibson sell a variety of accessories, such as cables, capos, cases, care products, picks, stands, straps, tuners, and soundhole covers.
Fender sells several products under the name “Fender Custom Shop,” including guitar care products, tool kits, clothing, bar stools, cables, and guitar pickups.
However, the Gibson Custom Shop does not routinely sell accessories. However, I did see a Custom Shop hat once, and they have given away items to business associates from time to time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get asked about Fender and Gibson guitars.
If your question does not appear here, please put it in the comments, and I will get right back to you with an answer.
Is A Strat More Comfortable Than A Les Paul?
In my opinion, a Strat is more comfortable to play than a Les Paul because it is significantly lighter. Fender uses alder and ash, while Gibson uses mahogany. Also, I think the neck profile on a Strat is more comfortable, but a Les Paul neck is easier to play.
Is Gibson Good For Beginners?
Gibson guitars are excellent for beginners because they are high-quality instruments that look, play, and sound great. Many beginners favor Gibsons because they are easier to play than Fender guitars.
However, Epiphone guitars (made by Gibson) are more affordable, and Fender makes some of the most affordable high-quality guitars with their “Squier” series.
Are Gibsons Better Than Fenders?
No, not really, although opinions will vary. Each guitar brand has its pros and cons. It depends on what’s most important to you, looks, sound, playability, cost, etc. Both companies make outstanding guitars.
Do Gibsons Sound Better Than Epiphones?
I think the US-built Gibsons usually sound better than the Epiphone models. Gibson Custom Shop guitars will always sound and play better than Epiphones.
Does The Fender Custom Shop Make Amps?
Not technically, but the Fender Custom Amp Shop is a division of the Fender Custom Shop. The Custom Amp Shop produces limited runs of hand-wired amps.
Which Is Easier To Play, Gibson Or Fender?
There’s no absolutely correct answer to this question. It can depend on each player’s preference. However, Gibson guitars are typically easier to play than Fenders. Gibson guitars generally have a shorter scale length (24.75 inches) than Fender Guitars (25.5 inches) and a flatter fingerboard radius, which makes a Gibson easier to bend strings.
I hope this Fender Custom Shop vs Gibson Custom Shop guitar comparison helped point you in the right direction. Some players naturally gravitate toward Fender or Gibson guitars, but one isn’t clearly better than the other.
These shops build a standard series, a limited-edition series, and ‘one-off’ custom orders. They are capable of making anything you can imagine! You can totally specify the design parameters or give them a general idea of what you are looking for and let them come back with the final product.
Guitars are aged to varying degrees or to your custom specifications by highly trained staff in the art of relicing.
You should buy the brand and model of custom shop guitar that best suits your sound, playability, look, and budget needs. Find a local music store that is a custom shop dealer, like Guitar Center, and play as many guitars as possible through various amplifiers.
If you want a one-off guitar, the turnaround time is generally eight to ten weeks but can be much longer, depending on the materials and design required and if you request a particular builder.
The resale value of Fender and Gibson Custom Shop guitars is generally excellent.
Here’s a video from Regent Sounds that will give you an idea of the difference between a Custom Shop Les Paul and a Telecaster.
Related Article ➡ Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Which Set Is Best?
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about Fender or Gibson Custom Shop guitars, or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- Do you own a Fender or Gibson Custom Shop Guitar? Which model?
- Are you more of a Fender or a Gibson player? Why?
- After reading this article, are you favoring one custom shop over the other?
- What else is on your mind?