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RELIC 101...Or How I Learned to Like Relicing


I never thought I'd get into relicing guitars. I actually fell into doing it because I sell used guitars. Prior to that I held to the belief of many guitarists: "Relicing is just as bad as buying pre-ripped Levi's!" 

Then one day I realized sometimes you don't start with a "perfectly good guitar" and relic it. Sometimes you get a guitar that looks like crap. At that point you have three choices: throw it in the nearest dumpster and toss in a match; sell it for next to nothing; or...beat it up even more, hopefully in the process making it look kinda cool. 

fender tom delonge relic road worn guitar

That's what got me to try the relicing. And lo and behold, my first "relic" after me reading a few online posts and scrabbling through the garage for some sandpaper, really just went from "crap" to "crap warmed over and sanded with 220-grit." But here's the real surprise--someone liked it enough to buy it!

What I found was relicing a guitar can be a lot of fun. And lots...and lots... of work. Sand any piece of wood by hand for a couple hours. You will sleep well that night. Insomnia--solved. Also, relicing is a never-ending learning process. With each project, you learn something new. And make new mistakes. Something to fire your brain--good for hazy ones like mine. It's basically a ton of work and a pain in the ass--BUT can be rewarding in the end. 

gibson 50s tribute les paul guitar relic

Most of my projects happen because I have a guitar that's beat up, and ugly. So I try to give it a little love and send it on its way--hopefully looking a little more slick, and hopefully to make someone happy. It's backbreaking work, but it's a labor of love. Something nice about thinking maybe a guitar you worked on will be play for years. Someone will spill beer on it, write songs on it...yea, that stuff. I'm not fooling myself. I'm no luthier. I'm a hack. But I'm a hack that gets better with each new relic project (all pics here are of my recent relics). 

butterscotch telecaster relic fender tele worn

Relicing is very personal. What looks good to one guy looks like stale cat piss to another. And don't even get started on the whole question of whether thou shalt relic in the first place. Half the guys on guitar forums love to chime in with this crumb of wit: "Wannna know how to relic a guitar? Play it for 15 years. Don't clean it. Rinse, repeat." These guys are upset that anyone dare lay menacing hands on that "poor, beautiful, itty bitty guitar." I say if someone wants to beat up his or her guitar, I think it's up to them. 

gibson sg-z heavy relic guitar

The debate rages, but relicing looks like it's here to stay. Gibson and Fender have dudes making a science of it...cause, guess what? People are paying big money for beautifully beat up guitars. It's funny now that I do some guitar relicing. I've started wondering whether everything wouldn't look better reliced. Like maybe if I beat up my car just the right way, it'd be worth a bundle. Or maybe I could relic ...my cat?

V. Wade Contreras has been the owner of Still Kickin Music since 2007. He played for years in bands in the LA area. Now that he has a wife and kid and needs to eat more than Ramen once in a while he makes a living buying and selling really cool used guitars.

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