Like pre-worn and torn jeans it has become all the rage to have a guitar bearing the marks of time. And because beat-up 60's Stratocasters have become scarce and/or unaffordable, Fender is now offering, through its custom shop, "Relic" reissues, which come fresh out of the factory with that beaten-up look. The Relic series provides you with a new quality custom shop guitar, but with a look of having been around on the scene for years.
Before trying out one of these "relics" from Fender's custom shop, I was very skeptical about the whole concept: Factory made chips and dents on the body?..., I can do it very well myself, thank you. Yet when by chance I came across a 60' Relic Stratocaster, it became clear that the guitar was more than just a gimmick! It's very subjective of course, and will vary from one guitarist to another, but I found that this guitar seemed to have a little extra something to it, and provided the "feeling" of a vintage guitar, although in this case the "vintage" part was illusory. The aging process seemed so successful that I wondered for a few minutes if it was a reissue or an original before learning that it was a Custom Shop model recently issued. Custom Shop models nevertheless come at a price: sailing blithely in 2500 € / 3000 € for these models, all hand-made by the Custom Shop.
Fender then decided to make the "relics" more accessible by launching the Worn Road series. The concept is simple: made in the Mexican Fender factory, they're put through a "Relic" phase, but still done hand during construction, and all at a price around 1000 euros. Let's see if the feeling of playing on a museum piece is still present on theses Road worn relics?
On the Road Again
- 50's Stratocaster, maple fingerboard, available in black or 2-tone sunburst
- 60's Stratocaster, rosewood fingerboard, available in "olympic" white and 3-tone sunburst
- 50's Telecaster, maple fingerboard, available in blonde or 2-tone sunburst
All models share, in addition to the relic aspect, the same nitrocellulose lacquer finish, and "Tex-Mex” electronics.
The Relic touch concerns 4 aspects of the instruments. First, the most visible: worn-out varnish. Originally very thin, cellulose varnish is known to be fragile, easily marked, and wears out easily. Fender has played on these points to mimic the characteristic wear of vintage models:
Dents and chips throughout the body, belt buckle marks and scratches on the back, worn out varnish on the body, especially where the player's arms typically come in contact with the body. The neck varnish also receives an aging process, as if you've been sweating on it for many years. The fingerboard wood is worn also and the varnish disappears behind the neck especially near the headstock.
As for hardware, the bridge (or vibrato) is oxidized, and rusty, and all hardware has lost its luster. Plastic microphones and buttons have also been treated to look old.
As far as finish goes, there's no way of telling that the guitar is new. I myself found the "relic" treatment on the the Road Worn series less subtle than on custom shop models, particularly with regard to neck wear, but the result is still very good especially in light of the price difference!
A '50s blonde Telecaster and two Stratocasters (a '50s and a '60s) were put to the test. One thing was immediately obvious: the similarity of the aging process on both Stratocasters. The marks and wear on the body in particular were very similar on both models tested. This of course reflects the low cost of these models: the industrialization of the "Relic". However, I found out, after speaking to Fender, that the process is done by hand by workers from Fender. Still, the standardization of the method is blatant.
This is not necessarily a negative, and nothing prevents you from getting out a bit of sandpaper to customize your instrument the way you want it, or even, who knows, let time do its thing ...
One Important thing to mention before closing this chapter, under the dents, the craftsmanship is good and solid. We're dealing with quality instruments nonetheless.
- Rosewood Stratocaster in clean/ crunch
- Rosewood Stratocaster with all 5 positions one after the other.
- Telecaster bridge pickup clean/ overdrive
- Telecaster neck pickup clean/ overdrive
- Telecaster middle position clean/ overdrive
To tell the truth, I'm undecided. These Road Worn guitars are somewhat more expensive than similar models with a standard Mexican finish (classic series or classic player). The "relic" finish will cost a few hundred dollars more, which is logical since it calls for additional work. However, this treatment is only about the visual aesthetic and doesn't influence the sound, where there is, of course, no objection, since it's the classic "Tex-Mex" sauce. All that's left is the look and feel.
The finish is really excellent and made with attention to detail. Nothing is left to chance, either in the varnish, hardware or plastic, you get the impression of playing on a 30 year old axe! Moreover, one of the advantages of these guitars is that the worn aspect brings out a different attitude when compared to a new guitar. Even if the instrument is, in fact, new, you're less liable to treat it like you're afraid of scratching it and will therefore feel more comfortable with it from the start.
For those of you who have never had one of these artificially aged guitars in your hands, I suggest testing one in a store, but try and leave your preconceived notions at the door; you might be surprised!
- Quality of Relic finish
- Tex Mex Pickups
- The feel
- Relic finishes very similar models tested