Fender recently announced the addition of Kyle McMillin and Ron Thorn to the esteemed list of Master Builders in its prestigious Fender Custom Shop.
The appointments come at an opportune time for Fender, which is poised for continued growth. Sales remain strong for fretted instruments, and the ever-increasing demand for Fender Custom Shop guitars could only be satisfied by bringing on some of the greatest luthiers to the company’s Master Builder team.
Thorn brings decades of expertise in guitar luthiery; namely inlay work, to the Fender Custom Shop. His relationship with Fender stems from his wildly successful inlay business, Thorn Inlay, which has been the sole inlay provider for the Fender Custom Shop since the mid-90s.
McMillin brings fifteen years of musical instrument experience to the Custom Shop. A Fender employee for 15 years, McMillin also recently finished a five-year apprenticeship under Principal Master Builder, Yuriy Shishkov, where he worked on nearly 1,000 guitars with the esteemed builder.
Guitar World recently spoke with Master Builders Kyle McMillin and Ron Thorn about their new roles at Fender and more in this new interview.
Congrats on your new positions. I guess the first question to ask would be, what's it like working for Fender?
Kyle McMillin: Working for Fender is an absolute honor. They have the greatest reputation and the finest instruments, for both players and collectors. I'm still beside myself that I have the honor of being a Master Builder.
Ron Thorn: The same goes for me. I've only been doing this a short while, but the amount of pride flowing through me is unbelievable. I've loved the product for decades, and to be part of the team is really a dream come true.
What do you think makes Fender guitars so special?
Thorn: They have a beautiful design, and what people might not realize is just how much they've impacted rock and roll and almost every other genre of music. What's been done with them over the last 50 years is a testament to that.
McMillin: In my opinion, they're the best designed, most copied and the most practical. They're my favorite guitars, hands down.
What can you tell me about your musical upbringing?
McMillin: I've been around guitars and music all my life. My dad plays guitar and some of my earliest memories are of him playing in a band with his two brothers. I was probably around seven when I started learning how to play.
Thorn: I actually started as a builder. At age 13, a friend gave me a guitar neck, and my dad and I built the body. I remember fabricating the pick guard and bridge in my metals class in junior high. It was as homemade as you could get. Sadly, that guitar didn't go on to have much notoriety, but the idea was there.
What made you decide to make a career out of building guitars?
McMillin: When I was a teenager, I had a friend who’s step-dad tried to make guitars. Back then, I never thought about making a career out of it. I just wanted a guitar that no one else had. So, I bought some wood, borrowed a router and just went for it. Later, when I started working at Fender, I met a few master builders who showed me their techniques. Guitar making became my passion.
Thorn: My grandfather, uncle and my dad are all carpenters by trade. I grew up in a wood shop, so I had an advantage at an early age. Once I finished my first guitar, I started getting more into playing, but I always felt I was a better builder than a player. It seemed very natural to me.
What do you enjoy most about the process?
Thorn: I really like the inlay work as far as details go. I've been doing it for the Custom Shop for over 20 years. I really enjoy the final set up. Taking my time and dialing it in, like a high-performance race car.
McMillin: The whole thing is a fun process, but the most exciting thing for me is being creative and doing the R&D. Whether it’s modifying existing templates or starting from scratch and coming up with something completely different, I find a lot of fun in that process.
What can customers expect from future builds?
McMillin: All of these guys have their own niche that makes them stand out. At the moment, I'm working on a hybrid. Taking certain things from the vintage and modern era and whipping them together.
Thorn: I'm looking forward to possibly revisiting an obscure model from back in the day. Maybe a Custom Shop Coronado or taking an off the wall model and implementing it into a fresh design.
What excites you the most about this next chapter of your career at Fender?
Thorn: I'm looking forward to working shoulder to shoulder with rest of the builders. Being inspired by them, and hopefully inspiring them in the same way.
McMillin: Being creative and learning new ways of doing things. Taking existing designs and tweaking them, or maybe even coming up with something new and refreshing. You have to be creative. But I’m excited just by being a part of the Fender family. It's a great company and great product. I’m looking forward to being with the best.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.