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Wildwoodians Principal Masterbuilder Ron Thorn has gifted us with yet another drool-worthy tone machine: the California Special. The California Special is especially interesting because it is an entirely new design with no historical precedent. Ron Thorn has pushed the boundaries of what the Fender Custom Shop can do, and the results are magnificent. He built a brand-new body shape, a vibrato system that he designed himself, new pickup placements, and an innovative switching system that is both inspiring and versatile.

A True Golden State Warrior

Despite its newness, the California Special will feel immediately familiar. It has a comfy oval C-shaped neck profile with a 9.5" radius and narrow-tall frets, which is a combination that makes for buttery bends and easy chording. And, the Brazilian rosewood fingerboard imparts a sweet, musical brand of compression to the attack that will be immediately familiar to vintage guitar aficionados. Speaking of vintage tones, the Fat '50s single-coil pickups also sound like old friends with their sweet, chiming highs and warm lows.

California Screamin'

What really makes the California Special sound...well, special is its unique pickup placement and switching. By placing the middle pickup close to the bridge pickup, Ron Thorn has unlocked a whole bunch of cool new tones that are fresh and exciting yet unmistakably classic. Here's a breakdown of the various sounds you can find on the 5-way selector:

Position 1 (Neck Only): The neck pickup in a Fat '50s set is worth a small novel's worth of superlatives by itself. The low-end is robust and full-bodied, the midrange is rock-solid, and the highs have a sweet, glassy chiming resonance. It's the sort of sound that has formed the backbone of dozens and dozens of classic records, and Ron Thorn has recreated it with remarkable accuracy.

Position 2 (Neck and Middle in Parallel): Here is where things veer off the beaten path into exciting new territory. The large distance between the two pickups has an interesting effect on the typical in-between Strat sound. It has oodles of that classic vocal quack and squawk, but there's more roundness and depth in the lows and more sparkle in the highs. It is also righteously smooth, almost like a Tele neck pickup.

Position 3 (Middle Only): Because the middle pickup is so far back, it combines the best aspects of the typical bridge and middle positions. The trebles have the wonderful bell-like clang and jangle of a great Strat bridge pickup, but the midrange and lows have more oomph for a more balanced overall sound.

Position 4 (Middle and Bridge in Parallel): In position four, the twang and the jangle begin to tangle (twangle?). It sounds like an in-between Strat position had a baby with a Tele bridge pickup. It has that Tele-like snappiness, but it's a bit smoother and more mellow The lows are tight but present, the midrange quacks and bites, and the highs are filled with lush sparkling overtones when you play a big chord.

Position 5 (Bridge and Middle in Series): Position 5 is also a revelation. With the two single-coils in close proximity working together in series, you get a wonderful blend of humbucker-sized girth and single-coil clarity and sparkle. The bass response is solid and satisfying, but it remains well-mannered. The midrange is punchy and woody, and the highs have plenty of sizzle.

A Whole New World of Vibrato

Though the pickups are quite inspiring, we would be remiss if we didn't mention Ron Thorn's incredible new Vibradyne vibrato system. Designed and machined by Ron himself, the Vibradyne system manages to be be both expressive and precise--an incredible feat! It's quite sensitive, and it allows you to do everything from subtle expressive warbles to full-on seasick madness to big dives. Also, its tuning stability is simply marvelous.

Shutting the Shop Down

When the Ron Thorn Masterbuilt California Special arrives, the shop basically shut down as we all crowded around the case to ogle and jostle for position to play it first. When we resumed work after fifteen minutes of excited yelling and pickup switching, the California Special had impressed every member of the staff, from the staunch traditionalists to the punk rockers. We simply couldn't find anything to argue about, which is really saying something, because we love to argue about guitars here at Wildwood. The proof is in the pudding: the California Special's charms are undeniable. It's so fresh and exciting that it can't help but ignite your creativity, and we are proud to help introduce it to the world.


Brand Fender Custom Shop
ModelMasterbuilt California Special
Master BuilderRon Thorn
Finish Color2-Tone Sunburst
Finish TypeNitrocellulose Lacquer
Weight7.10 lbs.
Body WoodAsh
Neck WoodFlame AAA Maple
Neck Shape'60s Oval C
Neck Dimensions.930 1st - .970 12th
Scale Length 25.5"
FingerboardBrazilian Rosewood
Fingerboard Radius9.5"
Nut MaterialBone
Frets21 6105s
Pickups3 Handwound Fat '50s Strat Single-Coils
Controls1 Volume, 1 Tone, 5-Way Switch
BridgeRSD Jaguar/Jazzmaster w/Vibradyne Tailpiece
CaseHardshell Case

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Serial Number: RT0175

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