In the world of custom electric guitars, details matter.
High-end components, top-of-the-line pickups, quality woods, hand-wired electronics … all of those factors conspire to create instruments that rise above garden variety guitars you’ll find hanging on the wall at your local music store.
But what if you could take it a step further?
A unique idea
What if you could buy a custom Fender Esquire guitar made from 100-year-old Alaskan cedar wood that was once part of the bench board seating at Hollywood Bowl? Or how about a custom Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster with a pickguard crafted from the aluminum skin of a B-25 Mitchell Bomber that was used during Pacific battles in World War II?
Master builder Yuriy Shishkov, who works out of the Fender Musical Instruments Corp. manufacturing facility and custom shop in Corona, is creating a limited run of each. But if you’re thinking about buying one, it’s gonna cost you. The guitar made from Hollywood Bowl seats sells for $12,000 and the Pacific Battle Tele and Strat each sell for $8,800.
Wood from Hollywood Bowl
Shishkov, who has worked at Fender for 17 years, explains how the project came to be.
“We have people who do research to see if we can find interesting or exotic materials to use,” the 53-year-old Aliso Viejo resident said. “When some of the wood from the Hollywood Bowl seats became available, we decided to acquire it. I said it didn’t matter what condition it was in, I’ll make it work.”
Fortunately, most of the wood was in good shape. The Bowl’s original seats were replaced three years ago, but Shishkov said the original wood has proven to be resilient.
“Alaskan cedar is very beautiful and it will withstand termites and other insects,” he said. “It has the ability to fight all kinds of elements that would destroy other woods. If you cut it open it’s like virgin wood inside — there are no wormholes or deterioration.”
That wood is being used for the Front Row Esquire. Each guitar has an original Hollywood Bowl seat number on the front.
Piecing it together
“Those pieces of wood are long, but they’re not wide enough or thick enough to make a guitar body,” Shishkov said. “So I had to cut them lengthwise and make them thinner and then glue the pieces together to create the right thickness. It takes eight pieces to make one body — four pieces on the front and four on the back. It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle.”
Shishkov made sure to preserve some of the wood’s weathered characteristics so each guitar has a natural but unique look.
“Once all of that is completed, I put on a special coat of finish to preserve the front and back of the guitar,” he said. “It’s quite a project. It looks plain and simple, but there’s a lot of work involved.”
Lots of history
And if that wood could talk …
“When you hold it in your hands, it’s really quite remarkable because those seats have seen everyone from Louie Armstrong and The Beatles to the Rolling Stones and The Who,” Shishkov said. “I would say these guitars will appeal to collectors and high-end musicians. We’ve already gotten requests from those two groups, and there’s been a lot of interest from overseas. People know this place. You don’t have to explain what the Hollywood Bowl is.”
The Front Row Esquire’s design is based on the legendary Fender Esquire, a single-pickup precursor to today’s Telecaster. The guitar has the same punchy tone and snappy attack that vintage Esquire guitars are known for, but with the added touches only a master-built guitar can have.
A piece of World War II
The Pacific Battle Strat and Tele each have a two-piece ash body and a lacquer-finished transparent green stain that gives them a classic, military-style appearance. The tarnished brass knobs and hardware further add to their rugged, war-torn appeal.
But the focal point of each guitar is the pickguard, crafted from the aluminum skin of a B-25 Mitchell Bomber that saw action in World War II.
“It’s a musical instrument that is also historically valuable,” Shishkov said.
These custom guitars are unique and will undoubtedly appeal to well-heeled buyers. But scores of lower priced guitars — both electric and acoustic — are being snapped up by musicians every day.
Guitar sales on the rise
Figures from Statistica.com show that guitar sales rose dramatically from 2009 through 2016.
In 2009, U.S. guitar sales topped out at slightly less than $821 million, but last year that figure exceeded $1.2 billion.
Chris Breedlove, operations manager at Sam Ash Music in Canoga Park, said he’s they’re selling plenty of guitars there.
“It’s still going strong,” he said.
The upper-end instruments at Sam Ash range from about $1,500 to $4,500. And when it gets to the high end, the buyers are rarely serious players.
“It’s just collectors,” he said. “They see something fancy that could have the potential to be worth more over time so they buy it. And it’s always between Fender and Gibson — they’re running neck and neck.”