“We want to be a part of the player’s journey,” Ethan Kaplan, the Chief Product Officer at Fender Musical Instruments, told me over the phone. On my laptop, I loaded Mod Shop, the online design tool that allows players to customize four existing guitar and bass models. Fender partnered with software developer Fluid to create the easy-to-use design interface, complete with 3D modeling. The customization factor, flourishing with brands like Timbuk2 and Nike, allows musicians to establish a personal connection with their instrument before they ever play a note. For Fender, a respected, 70-year-old brand, it’s yet another turn to modern convenience.
Fender’s guitars are designed to be modular, and for decades, players of all levels have swapped out pickups and hardware to create individualized instruments. With Mod Shop, musicians can make these choices proactively. Four classic Fender models — the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Precision Bass, and Jazz Bass — can be customized with a range of options, including body color, fingerboard wood, pickguard style, hardware and type of pickups. After the order is placed, the instrument is made in Fender’s Coronado, California factory and shipped to the customer within 30 days. With a base price of $1,650 – $1,800 (depending on the model), these instruments are for the musician who knows what he wants, both in playability and looks, and demands American-made quality.
Customizing a guitar on Fender’s Mod Shop is straightforward and intuitive from the start. While viewing a 3D model of an instrument, you can toggle through customizable elements, experimenting with combinations in real time. Rosewood neck and a four-ply tortoiseshell pickguard? Or a Vintage Blonde body with an American Standard bridge? 4th-Generation Noiseless pickups? Gold hardware? With up to 9 customizable features (depending on the model), there are around 50,000 different instrument combinations available. To inspire new designs and share creativity, Mod Shop also allows customers to take snapshots of their customizations during the process and share them with other musicians on the site. “It’s creating content and an ecosystem around customization that didn’t exist before,” Kaplan added.
Mod Shop is an elevated version of Fender’s previous customization tool, the American Design Experience, which was also available online. The new software streamlines the user experience, and the team at Fender curated the customization options based on what their data from ADE showed most players prefer. Instead of having too many options to choose from, which can lead to a “paralysis of choice,” the limited variables allow players to design a unique instrument without stressing over the minutiae. In the upgrade from American Design Experience to Mod Shop, Fender has also shaved 60 days off of delivery time.
The price tag and build of the Mod Shop instruments are aimed serious amateur and professional musicians looking to add an individualized instrument to their respective quivers. But, at its heart, it’s about the ability to be involved in the design process of a guitar. This can be incredibly rewarding for any musician, and the personal investment further strengthens the bond between instrument and player. Put simply by Kaplan: “The more personal it is, the more you’ll return to it.”