When a bassist experiences a custom shop bass guitar for the first time, it can be transformational. It also makes it hard to go back to retail store manufactured models. If you're eager to make that jump into the custom world, the following five custom shops are renowned luthiers who can make your bass guitar dreams come true.
If you're going to go custom, you might as well go with the brand that started it all. Fender rocked the music world when it released their Precision bass in the '50s, the first compact, portable, easily playable electric bass guitar. Their custom shop will take their masterful knowledge and build something one-of-a-kind. Their ordering process is as follows:
- Go to the custom shop ordering page and download their guide of custom options.
- Choose either the Masterbuilt or Custom-built options.
- The Masterbuilt allows you to have your guitar personally built by one of Fender's top luthiers. It gives you total freedom to create anything you want. No idea is too big or too crazy. You can probably tell them you want to start with a bass body shaped like a great white shark if you'd like. It costs more, presumably, though they don't publish price ranges. (You will get a personalized quote at the end of the ordering process.)
- The Custom-built option allows you to start from any of their base models and then choose from the published list of options. It's more limited, but you still have control over the little details of design for every primary area of the guitar. This option presumably costs less.
- After you choose your build level, you use the design guide to choose a base model, which serves as the starting template.
Choose your aging package.
Choose the details: woods, neck shape, colors, hardware, pickups, wiring, and other factors.
If you choose Masterbuilt, besides selecting the master builder you want by name using the design guide, you have an exclusive area in the design guide to choose other extra options not offered elsewhere. There is also a space for Additional Notes where you can hand-write other requests such as "body shaped like a great white shark."
- After you've selected all your options and made your notes, you bring the paperwork to the closest Fender Custom Shop dealer. Your custom order is then verified, and you're given a quote and an expected completion time.
The following video provides an example of a custom bass built by Fender.
A few tips about pricing:
- It is difficult to provide a reliable range for how much your custom bass will cost because much of it depends on what you want. Fender maintains a page of price lists, but these lists only show the cost for custom replicas. Custom replicas are exact duplicates of bass guitars that Fender custom built for famous bass players. They range from about $3,800 to $4,400.
- A custom-built bass that is not a replica but your own creation will likely cost more than the replicas because you are hand-picking every detail. For this reason, the price range for replicas is likely the bottom end of any custom work you do with Fender. In other words, expect your custom bass to cost at least the amount a replica costs if not higher.
- If you choose Masterbuilt and go sky high with your customizations, the final product could cost many thousands of dollars, though it will be a one-of-a-kind instrument handmade by some of the best bass luthiers in the world from the company that practically invented the modern electric bass.
That's hard to beat, if you can afford it.
Schecter Guitar Research
When Schecter began making custom instruments in the late '70s for celebrity musicians, such as The Who and Dire Straits, they developed a renowned reputation for their custom work. Their custom shop still exists today, and it is open to the public. Their master luthiers will hand-carve your guitar according to your exact specifications and requests.
This is how you navigate their custom bass guitar order process:
- Go to their custom order form.
- The form is a list of options corresponding to each area of the guitar. Click on the drop-down menu for each and select your preference or write in your own design ideas where the form gives you the option to do so. (In the drop-down there will be "Other" as a choice, which, when selected, brings down a box where you can type in your notes.)
- Click Submit at the end.
- Schechter will then get in touch with you about your request and go over the details and pricing.
The following video provides an example of the custom Schechter that Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony ordered with Schechter.
Schecter notes in its FAQ section that the baseline cost for a custom Schecter guitar is about $3,500 to $4,000, similar to Fender's pricing model (and fairly standard for all top-of-the-line custom shops).
The ESP custom shop has dozens of famous artists who use their bass guitars, especially among the metal and hard rock genres. Bands who've used the ESP custom shop include Metallica, Guns 'N Roses, Alice Cooper, Slayer, Anthrax, Korn, and some from other genres such as Madonna and Tower of Power.
To order a custom bass from ESP:
- Go to their order form online.
- Save the PDF form to your computer and use Adobe Reader to complete it. (This is what ESP requests).
- Select the kind of bass you want (4, 5, or 6 string).
- Type in the specifications you want in each box next to each area and material of the bass guitar.
- Print out the form or email it to the closest ESP dealer to your location. They will give then you a quote. It then takes up to eight months, give or take, to complete the order.
The following video provides an example of ESP's custom shop at work.
ESP does not offer any estimated price range but because they are a famous, world-class custom shop, you can expect it to be close to what Fender and Schecter project: about $3,500 to $4,000 as the baseline minimum price.
Halo Custom Bass Guitars have one of the best websites for custom bass shops on the internet, thanks mostly to their amazing real-time build-a-bass customization tool, which allows you to choose all of your custom options and watch the bass take shape before your eyes as you do so. This allows you to know exactly what your custom bass will look like.
To use their custom build tool:
- Go to their build-a-bass custom page.
- You will see an image of a bass guitar with a square body. This is their "blank canvas" preview bass that will change as you select options.
- In the columns below the preview image, you will see categories such as "General Options," "Body," "Neck," etc. Under these headers are sub-headers that specific which part of the guitar you want to customize. Click on each one and make your selections in the drop-down menus.
- As you work through all the columns and choices, the preview image will take shape into your custom bass guitar. You will also see a price to the right of the image that will change, higher or lower, as you select option so that you know exactly how each choice affects the cost.
- Once you finish you simply click "Order," then check out like a normal shopping cart.
The following video provides an example of Halo's amazing bass customization tool.
If you add as many "extras" to your custom order as you can-i.e. in the drop-down menus, always select the most expensive options that cost more-your bass guitar will cast about $4,000 at least, give or take. The baseline minimum is around $3,000. Endorsed artists include rock bands such as Colossus and For Today.
Though Halo does not have as many celebrity artists as big name brands, its ordering process online is superior and their price range is a bit cheaper. In addition, they have received an average rating of five stars out of five stars by previous customers.
Halo's amazing customization tool provides another wonderful service: education. It is the perfect tool to help you become more acquainted with the terminology of different parts and materials of a bass guitar. As you click on each term that is often thrown around in bass jargon, the preview image will show you which part of the bass this term refers to. This will increase your awareness of what all the different customization options really mean and arm you with knowledge about bass guitars that will come in handy not just in the customization process but in future repair situations.
Skjold Designs, operated by luthier Pete Skjold, is known for its personal touch and labor-intensive attention to detail by its founder who personally works on each custom order. Artist endorsements include David Dyson (Jack Lee, Brainstorm, New Kids On The Block) and Damien Erskine (Pete Erskine, Buddy Rich Alumni All-Star Band).
Its order page is a mix between a basic drop-down menu form like Schecter's site and Halo's real-time price feature (though without the cool visual preview that Halo has). To order a custom Skjold bass:
- Go to their custom order page.
- In each drop-down menu, which corresponds to a certain detail on the bass, click the option you want. Next to each option is the individual price of that customized selection that you make.
- Make sure the custom options you choose are really what you want to commit to. Do not complete the order form until you know with certainty what you want. They require a 30 percent non-refundable deposit, and the remaining full amount must be paid within 30 days of the bass guitar's completion or the bass will be forfeited and sold to another party.
- Once you finish making all of your selections, all the individual prices will be totaled at the bottom to give you your final quote. Click "Get Quote" at bottom to generate the total, and it will take you to the next step in the payment process, which will include instructions about your deposit and other details.
The following video provides an example of a custom bass built by Skjold Designs as Pete Skjold himself gives you a personal tour of some of his models at the 2017 NAMM show.
The baseline cost is $3,600 for a 4-string ($3,700 for 5-string, $3,800 for 6-string), and then the price goes up as you select your custom options. If you select the most expensive option in each category of customization, your bass guitar will cost several thousand more than the baseline shown above.
Mike Lull bass guitars, though not as well known in pop culture as the Fender brand name or other famous brands, is one of the most sought after custom shops by professional musicians and has affiliated dealers across the nation. Artists and bands who use Mike Lull custom basses include Pearl Jam, Cheap Trick, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the bassist for Justin Timberlake and Rihanna.
The ordering process is similar to other sites mentioned above, though a little less tech-savvy perhaps:
- Rather than filling out any form online, Mike Lull prefers you first contact them by phone or email, and they will get the process started for you with that initial conversation. However, before you contact them, they do provide some information so you can choose options and have an idea what you're looking for before contacting them.
- To first see their options gallery and make some choices about your custom bass, go to Mike Lull's custom ordering page.
- The page does not have an ordering form with drop-down menus like the other sites. It is more like a catalog or gallery of different options and the price of each option.
- Scroll down through the options gallery and make note of what you want in each. You can either write it on a piece of paper or type it in a word processing document or an email that you create in another browser window.
- Once you know what you want, click on "Just get in touch!" in the top right corner of the page's sidebar.
- This next page will have their contact information. Call them to discuss what kind of bass you want or send them an email with the notes you made. During this dialog process, you can also mention any other custom features you want that were not included in their options gallery.
The following video provides an example of the Pearl Jam custom bass (the Jeff Ament Signature Model) built by Mike Lull.
Their website doesn't have a range for price totals for custom basses, but they do show how much each special custom option costs. You can assume it will be somewhat similar to the heavily endorsed Fender, Schecter, and ESP brands: about $3,500 to $4,000 as a baseline minimum cost.
Why Buy a Custom Made Bass Guitar?
Some people might wonder why you would want to go through the trouble to build your own bass guitar. Below are some of the positives and negatives you can expect.
- Wood: Every serious bass player dreams of choosing their own wood material for their bass. Basswood, mahogany, Brazilian rosewood, alder, and other exotic woods are all options. You can also specify the type of wood for the neck, which is another dream come true for bassists.
- Shape: When the custom shops above say no idea is too wild or big, they mean it. Any shape you dream up, they will do their best to make it happen. And considering you're working with some of the best luthiers in the world, it's a good chance they can pull it off.
- Color/Imaging: This is one of the most fun parts because luthiers have come up with a dizzying kaleidoscope of colors from which you can choose: everything from satin Lake Placid blue to purple chunky sparkle. Being able to choose your own wild, unique color allows you to stamp your personality all over the guitar. Or if you'd rather have some kind of logo or graphic or even photograph or art on your bass guitar, most custom shops can make they happen too.
- Pickups/Electronics: One of the most important decisions to make when you buy an electric instrument is which kind of pickups you like. Do you want a warm, languid sound that melts into the mix or a sharp, crisp, punchy sound that makes your bass stand out in any situation, or do you want the electronics that allows you have to switch between more than one sound? Custom shops will help you understand some of the complexities of this option.
- Hardware: Gold or silver, vintage or modern, you can outfit your guitar with whichever kind of hardware you like and add those little details that give an instrument its unique vibe.
- Education: The custom shop will often work with you closely throughout the ordering process. Even if you're a bass guitar veteran and you know a great deal about basses, the custom process will be an education. You will learn to see the building process the way a luthier sees it, and you will come away with an in-depth knowledge of the bass guitar.
- Cost: Custom work costs money. As you noticed in the descriptions above, you're looking at paying about $3,000 to $4,000 minimum for a custom bass guitar by a top-notch builder.
- Time: You may have also noticed that it takes a long time to get your custom bass guitar-up to eight months, give or take. This is industry standard and just comes with the territory. So if you're in a rush to get a new bass for a tour that starts in two weeks, going custom is likely not a good path for you.
- Challenges With Future Service: The good news is that the custom shops above or more than happy to repair any issues with the custom bass they build for you, and they will do at a fair price. However, if you're not able to get the bass to them or one of their affiliated dealers closest to you, you might have to hand over your custom baby to a local shop. Sometimes your local guitar repair person might not feel comfortable working on a really wild custom guitar. For this reason, you might encounter problems getting people to work on your guitar since it won't be your average instrument.
- Bigger Stakes (and Bigger Letdowns): When you are paying thousands of dollars and waiting several months to get one instrument, the stakes are big. This means there really is tremendous pressure on you to know exactly what you want when you go through the ordering process. If you spend all that money and wait all of those months, and then realize you didn't really want it to have some kind of feature once you have it in your hands, it will be a huge letdown that you can't undo.
Consider the following when customizing a bass.
- Do not rush the ordering process: For the reasons above, it is critical you force yourself to be slow and deliberate about every custom option you choose. Do as much research as necessary to make sure you're ordering exactly once you want. Once you commit to a custom design and they begin building it, there's no going back in most cases.
- Go to your local bass shop and jam on as many models as you can: Most retail guitar stores will let you try out instruments. Do this. Go to your local store with a notepad (or notepad app) and play as many models (whether they're custom or not) as you can. Make notes on each one. Which features did you like? Which features bothered you? Use this information to help you make informed decisions about your custom bass.
- Play a bass made by the custom shop before you order: You'll most likely want to get your hands on the work done by the luthiers listed above before you commit to buying their custom. This can be difficult since these basses are not sold in every neighborhood guitar store. However, if you're serious about your playing and willing to invest the money in a custom bass guitar, consider making a pilgrimage to the shop of these builders to see their work. This way, you'll really know what you're getting into before you drop your hard earned money.
The Joy of One-of-a-Kind
It's hard to put in words the feeling a musician has the first time she holds her new custom bass, made just for her to her exact specifications, knowing she is the only bassist on the planet with a bass just like that one. It really is a one-of-a-kind experience that is worth the trouble and the money if you can spare it and if you do your research carefully.