Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Art of the Relic Guitar

So I'm sure you've seen them, brand new guitars that look like beat up used guitars. They call them "Relics" and every time I read a post about them, most people seem to look down on the idea. The comments range from  "Why would you pay extra to have someone beat up a guitar?" or "just play the thing enough and it will look that in a few years!" or "what a waste" to "man that's cool looking" or just "beautiful". As usual, beauty is in the eye of the beholder or, as it may seem,  the pocket book.
Old Guitars or Relics?

For the most part I've been in the group that doesn't like them. I tend to think of a relic guitar as something that should be earned more than bought. But I can't fault guitar companies for making them, they are making a killing on them. The other interesting thing is that a lot of the "relicing" I've seen isn't done well. That is, a guitar doesn't tend to wear like that. Most guitars don't end up looking like SRV's Number One. Point in fact look at David Gilmours Black Strat. It's got a few bumps and dings but it still has most of the finish. Part of that is that how Nitro lacquer wears as opposed to Polyurethane. I've got  an 81 Gibson that has a few bumps and chips and a little buckle rash but that's about it and it's over 30 years old. So why are people so interested in these things? Why buy a relic? I can only guess but there are a few reasons. The most compelling reason I've heard was a guy who had two older Gibsons, I think they were Flying V's and he didn't want to take these very valuable guitars on the road anymore. So he had someone make perfectly matching guitars, every nick and dent had to be perfect. Ok that makes sense. And what about signature guitars. I got the chance to play the EVH Frankenstein, the one that they only made 300 of, and while I wouldn't have paid the $20 grand or so they were asking, it was a very cool evening that I got to play with that guitar. Probably the closest I'll ever get to playing the real thing.
the ADHD guitarist with an EVH Frankenstein
That guitar was a work of art. Every nick and dent tells a story. And I'm sure Eddie can tell you most of them. I know most of the nicks and dents on my guitars. I do think that relicing a guitar is an art and a science. If you do an image search on google for relic guitars, you'll notice that some of them don't look right.  Now if you spend some time studying them you'll see it more. Why would a guitar have that type of gash down that middle of it? Or why would wear like that? Some of them are down right awful, and some look like they came right out of the 50's or 60's. Like many things, the more you learn about them the more interesting they become. Recently I came across this piece.
Black and Paisley Relic
Now for me, this thing tells a story! The story of an older paisley strat that someone didn't like and did a poor job of paining black, then probably sold it to someone else who, as they played it, discovers the old paisley finish underneath. Maybe I'm reading to much into it but I totally get this guitar. It has inspired me to think about relics in a whole new light. I'm not sure about the chips behind the bridge but other than that the entire relic job looks right to me. A lot of chips around the edges of the body, and where your arm would sit, the worn down fretboard, the aged pickups. I've got an 80's Kramer I've been wanting to do something with and this strat has got my mind turning. Of course It's not a 60's strat so I have to think of what an 80's guitar would look like and what someone else would want to cover up and then someone else would find underneath later. Whew! That's a lot of thinking but I've come up with an interesting idea, at least it's interesting to me. What are your thoughts on relics?

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