I doubt that I’ll ever buy a relic’d guitar.
I have nothing against them, of course—in fact, I drool over the heavy-relic guitars that the Fender Custom Shop sends us every day after I unload them off the truck. I fantasize about taking a relic’d guitar home with me just about every day, but when it comes time for me to actually pull the trigger, I always go with an NOS or closet classic finish. Relic’d guitars are cooler than the other side of the pillow, but I’ve come to realize they’re just not my thing.
Why? Well, the short answer is that I am weird about my guitars! I feel a little strange every time I play a guitar with checks and dings that aren’t my fault. Playing a battle-scarred guitar cultivates an aura of unimpeachable cool, but what I love most about relic’d instruments is the way the scuffs on the finish act as a living record of all the memories I’ve made while playing it.
For instance, I have a 2013 Fender American Standard Precision bass that I will probably have to be buried with, because I fully plan to be clutching it on my deathbed as rigor mortis sets in. When I was picking it out, I played about a dozen serials and before I plugged it in. It was love at first low E. It’s been my workhorse ever since, and though it hasn’t accumulated many scratches because of its durable polyurethane finish, I treasure each and every blemish because of the memories they conjure.
I put my favorite ding of all time on that bass at one of my current band’s first practices. I was carrying my bass through my drummer’s house, and I wasn’t looking where I was going because I was nervous. I hadn’t played bass in a band for about five years, my chops were rusty, I was having trouble remembering the changes to the songs, and all the guys I was playing with were much better musicians than me. I was in over my head. I was intimidated. My head was completely elsewhere, and in my anxiety-induced fog, I thwacked my headstock on a doorframe and left a half-inch long ding on very top of the headstock.
Fast forward to the present day.
I’ve been playing with that band for two years, and it has been one of the most rewarding creative partnerships I’ve ever been a part of. My chops have become formidable, I sometimes go a full song without making any mistakes, and the guys I play with no longer intimidate me—they’re my peers. Every time I look at that ding on my headstock, I think of how much I’ve grown in the last two years. To me, it’s not a ding—it’s a signpost that marks the beginning of my greatest creative endeavor and some of the greatest friendships I’ve ever built. To me, scrapes and bruises are not something to be avoided; rather, they are my way of inscribing my story upon my instrument.
If we want to continue with the guitar-as-narrative metaphor (and I do, because I have an English degree and I’m going to use it, darn it!), I think that the Fender Custom Shop’s team of builders could reasonably call themselves storytellers, too. Each relic’d guitar that they produce is like a finely crafted novel of historical fiction. For example, when I look at this Shell Pink ‘65 Stratocaster that Master Builder Dale Wilson put a heavy relic job on, I like to ask myself questions about who the previous “owner” was. What sort of player would manually relic this guitar in this manner? Why is it worn by the pickguard, but not by bridge? The choices that the builders make while performing the relic are what shapes the “history” of the guitar.
For that Dale Wilson guitar, I figure that the “owner” was probably a hard-strumming outlaw country singer that loved to thwack away at cowboy chords imprecisely but with great gusto. I think they were a singer because it’s a shell pink Strat, and singers like flashy guitars. The finish is worn down to the wood above the pickguard, so that tells me that the “owner” would strum using LOTS of arm over the neck pickup, and that they didn’t particularly care if they lost some paint in the heat of performance. This devil-may-care sort of attitude also makes me think he or she liked to have a few whiskeys before going on stage, which would explain both the lack of right-hand precision and the enthusiasm.
A great relic job tells such a convincing story that it doesn’t matter if the guitar was built in the age of smart phones. If it looks like a vintage guitar, feels like a vintage guitar, and sounds like a vintage guitar, does it matter if it’s not actually a vintage guitar?
But, here’s my problem:
I love the feel and sound of these relic’d guitars, but I insist on carving my own story into the paint. That’s why I am so excited about our new run of relic-ready guitars from Fender! If a great relic’d guitar is like a novel, the relic-readies are a beautiful leather-bound journal full of blank pages waiting to be blackened with ink (or, to use another metaphor, a Choose Your Own Adventure book).
Fender’s relic-ready guitars are just like our relic’d Custom Shop Guitars—same pickups, same wood, same initial finish, and the same impeccable build quality—minus the relic job! The nitrocellulose lacquer finish will accumulate imperfections at a much higher rate than normal, so chances are that most of these guitars will look like they’ve been around for forty years by their second birthday. Finally, people like me can have our cake and eat it, too! We can get a guitar that feels, sounds, and looks vintage while having the satisfaction of knowing that we are responsible for every single battle-scar!
So, I think that these relic-ready guitars are easily one of the coolest creations to ever borne out of our partnership with Fender’s Custom Shop! At Wildwood, we’ve been doing our best to tell our guitars’ stories as faithfully as we can for thirty-four years. Now, we are excited to step aside and give the reins to our exceptional customers. What sort of interesting tales will you carve into these finishes? We can’t wait to find out with you!
Check all our Fender Custom Shop Relic-Ready guitars by clicking the link below: