Wednesday, July 09, 2008

FOR FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS: I'll trash your new guitar

To quote from a 2007 summer post, "[Behold] the extreme high-end of the American custom market, where often mediocre [guitars] attain intelligence-insulting pricing, indicating the total extinction of common sense and the middle class."

Arrival in the mailbox of Guitar Center's summer advertiser signaled it was once again time to consider the "relic" guitar -- one artificially aged and banged up at the factory so the vanity-addled can look like they've been rocking for thirty years, instead of managing a hedge fund or running a software company.

For $4,000 before sales tax -- nitric-acid corroded, ciggie burned, sanded Fender Strat.

Trick question: What's your beat-up-from-years-in-clubs Sixties-made Gibson SG worth? Depending on how beat it is, almost nothing, relatively speaking. The collector's market prefers vintage guitars which have either light wear or have been in closets for a few decades. In those cases where they belong to "stars" and are sent to market or a museum, they're classified as memorabilia. And while they are not worthless, they do not hold value like a vintage instrument in almost never playedexcellent condition.

More trick questions: How much does this inauthentic authentic cigarrette burn to the headstock of a Fender Strat done at the factory add to the price of the instrument?

How much does the cigarette burn depreciate the price of the instrument after you bought it if you do it yourself?

Still more tricks: How much does dipping the bridge in nitric acid add to the price of the guitar if it's done at the factory? (Note to readers: The human body does not produce nitric acid in sweat, so an HNO3 soaking is not an acceleration of a natural process.)

How much is your thirty-year old instrument depreciated by corrosion due to sweat and smoke?

Despite the mentally-ill gymastic required to swallow the idea that an artificially aged instrument is worth a lot of money, there is a notable enthusiasm for them on the review boards of the Internet. (In answer to the penniless child who also requires a beat-up-looking instrument, a company which uses slave labor-manufacturing now furnishes cheapo pre-aged instruments, too. The idea is to take crap wood and hardware and make them look crappier, just for very young men of low IQ and liquidity.)

"Features aged knobs, switch tip and trem arm tip, worn-in maple neck, dinged up Fiesta Red body with lightly checked thin nitro finish," writes one buyer of his pricey new Fender axe at "The single-ply 7-hole pickguard and pick-up covers are not aged as originally -- they were of a different plastic that kept its color. The bridge pieces are slightly corroded."

Still another buyer informs:

"[The] fret work absolutely sucks D&(*&)*ck.....since I already had such low expectations for their fret work, I knew that before I even took the guitar out of the was gonna need fret and neck work...... This is my second relic ... the first was a 60's relic ...... and both came from the factory with totally fuc&*^%&7ed up necks and unplayable conditions.........."

As piquant as this tidbit of buyer's remorse is, the buyer also relates how he replaced some of the feature factory-distressed parts in the guitar, which logically seems like -- if DD follows it correctly -- to have been a home jerry-build back to just plain "new" new.

"On this one there is masses of wear (about 25% less than a Rory Gallagher) and it ALWAYS gets a lot of attention!" writes another fan of his new relic. "The neck is back to the wood with rusted parts and heavily worn fingerboard (every fret)."

Yes, if I were in the audience I'd be paying attention. Hey, look at the clown!

Readers will note the use of a proper name -- Rory Gallagher -- as new jargon for a heavily beat-looking Stratocaster.

Rory Gallagher was an Irish guitarist who produced many good blues-rock albums in the Seventies and early-Eighties. He toured the States extensively but never scored the breakthrough single or album which would have made him known to people who are not fans of the style.

Rory Gallagher's thoroughly-played Strat was famously pictured on the album Against the Grain.

The use of Gallagher's name leads one to believe it could be a metric in determining how much, precisely, you would like your guitar to be "aged" during manufacture.

The above buyer, using his own eye, bought a Stratocaster aged to 0.75 Gallagher (or, perhaps, "G's" for short). Someone wanting a guitar that looked exactly like the instrument on the cover of Against the Grain would ask the Fender Custom Shop for a 1.0 Gallagher relicking.

Additional testing and visual comparisons would have to be done to determine the Gallagher quotient of a Stratocaster set on fire before sale.

Chronicles of the Annoying -- The market for relic guitars.


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