Master Builder Stephen Stern has led the Gretsch Custom Shop since 2005. Under his expert leadership, the selection has grown from a mere two models to an entire stable of impeccably crafted Gretsch guitars of breathtaking beauty, tone and feel.
A native of South Pasadena, Calif., Stern combined his love of guitar playing and woodworking early on. After high school he apprenticed at a high-end custom furniture shop for five years before arriving at the Charvel/Jackson instrument shop, where he worked from 1979 to 1984. He then returned to cabinetry for nearly a decade and ran his own shop before returning to luthiery full time with renewed dedication.
Stern arrived at world-famous Fender Custom Shop in 1993, where he became a Master Builder in 1994 and studied under the great arch-top luthiers Jimmy D’Aquisto and Bob Benedetto. Stern’s own exquisite arch-top construction skill eventually led him to the Gretsch Custom Shop, which was founded in 2004.
When Stern took the reins in 2005, he gradually started to expand the Gretsch Custom Shop’s very few offerings (only two guitars at the time). One of his top projects early on was the Brian Setzer Tribute Nashville™ model, an exquisitely detailed 2007 limited-edition model handmade by Stern. Other high-profile Gretsch projects ensued for Stern, including the Billy Zoom Tribute Custom Shop Silver Jet™ and the Chet Atkins 125th Anniversary Hollow Body (2008), and the Eddie Cochran Tribute Hollow Body (2010), which Stern personally examined and took precise measurements of at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
One of Stern’s biggest Gretsch projects and proudest achievements was the 2011 release of the George Harrison Tribute Custom Shop Duo Jet. Once again, Stern personally examined and recreated a historic Gretsch guitar—the 1957 Duo Jet that Harrison played early in the Beatles’ career.
Stern also crafted the prototype for Gretsch’s Duane Eddy Signature Hollow Body and has built Gretsch Custom Shop instruments for other noted guitarists including Steve Miller, Steve Hunter and Brian Ray.
Stern lives in San Dimas, Calif., with his wife, Gina, and their two children.
Tony Corona rose to the Gretsch Custom Shop from humble origins. He started at Fender in 1995 and gradually progressed from packing guitars to inspecting them to buffing them. Others took note of the quality of Corona’s work, and he joined Stern in 2004 for binding detailing, sanding and buffing on fine Benedetto arch-top guitars.
Corona subsequently contributed to notable Fender Custom Shop models featuring extensive relic treatments, including the Eric Clapton "Blackie" Stratocaster, Jeff Beck Esquire, Yngwie Malmsteen "Play Loud" Stratocaster, Stevie Ray Vaughan "Number One" and "Lenny" Stratocasters and Andy Summers Tribute Telecaster, and to the EVH "Frankenstein" replica guitar. Given Corona’s matchless relic experience, Stern enlisted him in 2010 for an extraordinary Gretsch Custom Shop undertaking—all the relic work on the acclaimed Gretsch Custom Shop G6128T-GH George Harrison "Tribute" Duo Jet.
Oh, and in his spare time, Corona likes painting and gardening.
The extent of Ken Hillebert’s expertise was so immediately evident that within six months of starting at Fender crafting Custom Shop necks in 2004, he was re-assigned to work on Benedetto guitars. He subsequently became involved in many high-profile “tribute” projects, including the Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton “Blackie” Stratocaster, Stevie Ray Vaughan “Number One” and “Lenny” Stratocasters and Andy Summers Tribute Telecaster, and the EVH “Frankenstein” replica guitar.
His meticulous work also led directly to projects with Stephen Stern and the Gretsch Custom Shop, including the Brian Setzer and Eddie Cochran 6120 models, the Billy Zoom Silver Jet and the G6128T-GH George Harrison “Tribute” Duo Jet.
Oh, and in his spare time, Hillebert plays in surf band “Eddie Would Tow.”
Gonzalo Madrigal started out at Fender in 1996 by binding and sanding guitar bodies on the production line. A superior craftsman, he gradually made his way to the Fender Custom Shop in 2004, where he worked on Benedetto guitar bodies, binding and neck fitting. He too worked on various high-profile “tribute” projects, including the Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton “Blackie” Stratocaster, Stevie Ray Vaughan “Number One” and “Lenny” Stratocasters and Andy Summers Tribute Telecaster, and the EVH “Frankenstein” replica guitar.
Madrigal’s exemplary work also brought him to the attention of Stern and projects at the Gretsch Custom Shop, where he contributed to the Brian Setzer and Eddie Cochran 6120 models, the Billy Zoom Silver Jet and the G6128T-GH George Harrison “Tribute” Duo Jet.
Oh, and in his spare time, Madrigal enjoys playing soccer and basketball, and going to the movies with his family.
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