“He didn’t just work here; he lived and embodied the spirit of the brand”: Mike Lewis, legendary head of the Fender Custom Shop, has died

Mike Lewis, vice president of product, Fender Custom Shop, who died
(Image credit: Fender)

Mike Lewis, vice president of product at the Fender Custom Shop and stalwart of the Californian gear brand has died. Fender described Lewis as “not just a colleague but a beloved member of our family,” and promised to continue his legacy.

Justin Norvell, executive vice-president of product, FMIC, said Lewis “lived and embodied the spirit of the brand”, and brought a player’s perspective to his work.

“Mike Lewis didn’t merely oversee product lines; he possessed the rare ability to reimagine them, stripping them down to their essence and rebuilding them anew,” said Norvell. “His strong vision, cultivated over decades as a player, shaped his approach. From touring with Chuck Berry and opening for the Rolling Stones to serving as a studio session musician in 1970s NYC and owning a music store in Virginia, Mike’s wealth of experience, perspective, and wisdom became the foundation he brought to Fender. He didn’t just work here; he lived and embodied the spirit of the brand.”

Throughout our time he consistently remained a mentor, a wellspring of wisdom, and, above all, a treasured friend until the end

Justin Norvell

When Lewis joined Fender in 1991, initially taking a role in sales, he had already amassed quite the resumé. He had made a living as a session player, making his debut in the ‘70s with Chuck Berry’s touring band, supporting the Rolling Stones and chalking up dates at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. He also had an off-Broadway career in New York, and played with various bands in California before opening a guitar store in Virginia.

After selling up and moving back home to Arizona, Lewis had planned to open another store – but the sales position at Fender, which was headquartered in Scottsdale, piqued his interest. Speaking to dealers would be no problem for Lewis. After all, he had been an authorised Fender dealer. His talents, however, would soon be required elsewhere, with his attention turning to product design.

Fender amps were his passion – his favourite Fender was an original 1957 Tweed Bandmaster. “I’ve had it for over 40 years!” he said. “It’s pretty beat up, but just perfect in every way.” Lewis was soon in charge of revitalising the amplifier range, and under his stewardship the DeVille Series and the Vibro-King were launched, with Fender reclaiming its place as market leader.

Lewis was also responsible for the first production run Stratocaster to have a humbucker, the Lone Star. This remains a cult classic Strat, and super versatile, too. He would turn his hand to anything, including web design and coding, and would lead the development of Fender’s first online store. Fender also lists bowling, tattoos, ukuleles, painting and photography among his skills. 

But guitars were his specialty, and the Fender Custom Shop would be the natural environment for someone of Lewis’ attention to detail. 

When Fender acquired Gretsch and began revamping its lineup, Lewis was the man who put a 1959 Gretsch 6120 through an MRI and a CAT scan to make sure they were getting the details just right. You can just imagine the faces on the medics. Presumably they had been expecting a Mr Chet Atkins as the patient.

As vice president of product, Lewis was responsible for overseeing every model that left the Custom Shop, and for offering wise counsel to his colleagues.

“Though I initially worked for him for many years, there came a point where the dynamic shifted, and he started working for me,” said Norvell. “And yes, throughout our time he consistently remained a mentor, a wellspring of wisdom, and, above all, a treasured friend until the end.”

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.