Fender Custom Shop “Custom Koicaster Strat”

November 20, 2003

Fender Custom Shop “Custom Koicaster Strat”

by Tom Watson

While Cyprinus carpio are known throughout the world as “swimming flowers”, “living jewels”, or Nishikigoi (Japanese for “brocaded carp”), this beautiful species of fish is best known simply as Koi. Japanese rice farmers began breeding these elegant freshwater pond creatures in the seventeenth century. Today, they serve as a cultural icon representing the style, grace, and serenity of the classic Japanese garden.

The Art of Koi

The art of raising Koi is a serious business and hobby. Every year a large number of “Koi shows” are held in which proud owners submit their Koi for competitive judging. Judging, which is usually conducted in several categories, is based upon size (including volume and shape); pattern (shapes of the coloration in multi-colored koi); color (depth, purity, and richness); and, the animal’s “character” (intelligence, personality, social behavior and regal presence).

Koi have also often been the subject of a rich history of artwork, primarily in the orient, but now popular with many fine artists around the world (see, for example, the work of Terry Gilecki).

The Koicaster draws on that rich history and once again proves that the basic design of the Fender Stratocaster works well with a wide variety of art forms.

Below: closeup of one of the three inlaid Koi produced by inlay artist, Ron Thorn for the Koicaster.

© 2003, Ron Thorn
Birth of a Fender Custom Shop Art Guitar

Fender Custom Shop Senior Master Builder, Todd Krause, perhaps best known as the builder of Eric Clapton’s “Rainbow” Strat (which was painted by Clapton’s friend and well known NYC graffiti artist “Crash”[John Matos]) had been thinking about applying the art of Koi to a Stratocaster for some time. Last summer, that thinking materialized as the concept behind the Koicaster.

Krause enlisted the aid of airbrush artist Dan Schultz, whose touch is seen in the graphic elements of the Koicaster, such as the dragonflies and the various leaves, rocks and pagoda-like shadow images on the body (front and back) that create the illusion of a Koi pond; and, inlay artist Ron Thorn who crafted the three Koi on the front of the body and the Koi inlay work on the fingerboard at the twelfth fret.

Below: Schultz’s airbrush work on the back.

© 2003, Guitar Center, Inc.
Senior Master Builder Todd Krause has been with the Fender Custom Shop since 1991 after a ten year stint with Jackson/Charvel. In addition to Eric Clapton, he has built guitars for players such as Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, Roger Waters, Jonny Lang, Richie Sambora, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Robbie Robertson (The Band), Doyle Bramhall II, Stu Hamm, and Roscoe Beck. He crafted the Koicaster over a three month period, completing it in late September, 2003, and is currently hard at work creating some equally incredible instruments for the upcoming Winter NAMM Show.

© 2003, Guitar Center, Inc.
The Art of Inlay

The heart of the dramatic visual appeal of the Koicaster are the three inlaid swimming Koi on the front of the instrument’s body, the work of inlay artist Ron Thorn.

From Ron Thorn:

When Todd [Krause] contacted me about this project we discussed inlaying one large Koi or doing multiples to fill up more of the top. We decided on three or four depending on how they might fit.I visited numerous Koi related websites to get a feel for the variety of color motifs that these beautiful fish feature. After sketching five fish and playing with different sized photocopies of each, I opted for just 3 and made them all slightly larger.

Using a fine-lined technical pen, I redrew the designs and scanned them. Using raster-to-vector software, I converted the scanned images into a CAD file.

The line work is cleaned up in CAD and each separate entity or individual inlay piece is isolated. Numerous CNC programs are then written to cut out the larger pieces for the bodies of each fish.

The materials used were white mother of pearl, black mother of pearl, and orange spiney. All approximately .060″ thick.

The smaller pieces, such as the fins, were cut out by hand. This method allows me to hand select each piece of black pearl utilizing the different shading and color to give a certain desired effect once inlaid.

Once all the pieces are cut out, I pre-assembled and glued together each fish then positioned them on the body. Using a .3mm drafting pencil, I traced around the Koi and removed them. I routed the cavities using a rotary tool in a custom made router base. The fish were inlaid as a whole and leveled once the glue dried.

© 2003, Ron Thorn

© 2003, Ron ThornThe Result

The Koicaster is now part of the Guitar Center’s Certified Reserve, Private Stock Collection located in Fountain Valley, California (see contact information below).

© 2003, Guitar Center, Inc.

© 2003, Guitar Center, Inc.

Published November 20, 2003 02:10 PM.