Even the most casual music fan knows the name behind rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic electric guitars: Fender. The Stratocaster king has been outfitting top rock musicians since 1946, and the company continues to manufacture products at its factory in Corona, California. Whether you’re a music aficionado or simply someone who loves to see how things are made, the Fender Visitor Center, opened in 2011, gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at what makes its guitars so special.
For a $10 entrance fee (free for kids 12 and under), you’ll get to experience Fender up close and personal. Here’s what to look forward to during your visit.
See how a guitar is made—in real time
Fender offers a 60-minute tour of its factory, where you can see how wood blocks are transformed into finished masterpieces. There are upwards of 300 employees who work out of Corona, and you’ll be blown away by the craftsmanship that goes into each instrument. A special exhibit through the summer of 2016 highlights the talent of Fender’s eight master builders, who show off their chops with a crazy, hand-built custom guitar on display.
Ogle the world’s most expensive guitar
The Visitor Center acts as an art museum for over-the-top customized axes, like the exquisite $1 million Pine Cone Stratocaster created by master builder Yuriy Shishkov. He designed the guitar to mimic a Fabergé Easter egg, complete with 550 hand-embedded diamonds and an 18-karat gold fingerboard. Although it can function as an instrument (a Fender requirement for custom jobs), it operates best as a work of art.
Pick a guitar off the wall. Play it.
Catering to musicians who are contemplating their next purchase, Fender allows visitors to try out its instruments and amplifiers in a jam room. “We have a good selection of all the products we make, and it’s one of the only places where you can buy Fender direct from the company in a music-store type of interaction,” says Dave Brown, who manages the Visitor Center.
Browse through music history
History buffs will appreciate the Hall of Fame section of the museum and the video theater rolling the story of Fender’s path to success. “If you’re a fan of music, the Visitor Center is a cool place to see where songs originated,” Brown says. “There’s a banner across the inside with song titles—all those songs are recorded using Fender instruments, from ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones to songs by the Beach Boys to U2.” There’s a range of guitars donated by famous musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Holly, and you’ll even see a model that was destroyed onstage by Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore.
Create your own custom machine
If you’ve ever dreamed of customizing your own guitar, here’s your chance. You can choose everything from the body shape to a specific fret board in Fender’s custom shop, known as the Dream Factory. (You can even get a one-of-a-kind paint finish seen nowhere else on the production line!) Within 90 days, you’ll receive the finished product at your door.
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