From my experience the rod is more important than the reel and extra spool.
I won't buy a custom rod from someone unless:
- I've cast the blank.
- Bought the blank and sent it to them.
- Researched the blank heavily they will build on.
Get past customer information and ask them about the experience they had, the quality of the build, how long it took.
Sadly you can HIDE a lot in photos by not showing a lot. Look for builders that take MACRO shots of wraps, guides, all the hardware and where it all meets.
And if you can, and they believe in their work, maybe they will send you a tester.
And don't always trust the fact that someone is an 'authorized' builder on a blank. That just says they use their blanks and may or may not do a fantastic job.
For me, buying a custom rod is about getting what I want…not paying for someone's inability to deliver on that desire. Essentially you're buying something you can't get off of a shelf. But I have realistic expectations, great work takes time and costs $$.
If you are wanting a custom rod and expecting to save money, well that to me sounds strange. I would expect a custom rod, finished as good as any production rod would be at least the same price, probably a bit more since you can pick out appointments. So you're not really saving money.
If you want custom, put the money in that.
What's a "GOOD REEL" $200? $300? $400? I would not put a several hundred dollar reel on a rod that costs less than the reel.