AF’s Weblog

July 6, 2009

Fender Road Worn Series: Well-worn or Worn-out?

Introduction

What’s an impatient guitarist to do when looking for a guitar that’s been worn and aged through years of playing and gigging, but who doesn’t want to wait for time to do its thing? Two options: buying an old used guitar or a “Relic” which, like some jeans, is new, but artificially worn-down. Like the series Worn Road that we are testing today …


Guitarists such as Rory Gallagher, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Strummer have embedded in our minds images of used and abused guitars with faded and worn-down varnish, oxidized hardware, and rusty pickups. It’s not surprising therefore that many guitarists have come to seek out old looking models such as these, and having a Stratocaster with numerous chips and dents and worn-down varnish has become very “hip”. Objectively, however, the main reason why many artists in the past sought out these beaten-up guitars was the price. Often bought second hand in pawnshops for a few dollars due to their condition, they were a good choice for “great sound” at a lower cost.


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?

Conclusion

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!
Positives:

  • Quality of Relic finish
  • Tex Mex Pickups
  • Workmanship
  • Affordable
  • The feel

Drawback:

  • Relic finishes very similar models tested

To read the full detailed article see Fender Road Worn Series Review

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