Relicing Guitars: Making New Look Old

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Relicing Guitars: Making New Look Old

An Example of a "heavy relic" on a set of vintage style stratocaster tuners

What Is Relicing?

“Relic” is a term used to describe the various processes used to make new parts or instruments look old.

When done properly, the job is far more involved than simply throwing some dirt and haphazard scratches onto a piece and calling it a day.

At its best, it is an art to create a detailed simulation of the aging process by professionals who have studied and documented the aging of vintage guitars.

Why Relic New Guitars or Guitar Parts?

Vintage guitars are coveted for their look and feel as much as for their sound. 

In our shop, there are generally two situations in which relicing comes into play. 

Matching New Parts To An Old Guitar

In our busy shop, we have the pleasure of working on vintage instruments with some frequency. Though we always prefer to retain original parts, sometimes they have degraded to a point where this is not possible. When parts must be changed on a naturally aged instrument, it is sometimes necessary to artificially age the new parts in order to match the look of the old. If not, the changed part will stick out like a sore thumb. We wholeheartedly endorse relicing for this purpose.

Making A New Guitar Look Old

Sometimes a client has a modern instrument that they wish had more of a vintage vibe or look. Though we understand this desire, vintage guitars are objectively super cool, it’s not always practical. For starters, many modern polyester guitar finishes do not lend themselves well to aging techniques. Ironically: they were specifically designed to prevent the “unwanted” aging effects of nitrocellulose lacquer. Satin and/or nitro finishes are much more cooperative to aging.  

How To Relic Guitar Parts?

Clients often don’t realize how much time and effort goes into the process of relicing. Anything done well takes time. For starters, the client must decide how far they want to go. Do you want it to look like a guitar that has been sitting in a case for 50 years, like one that has seen the inside of every honky-tonk and barroom in a 500 mile radius, or something inbetween?

For a full relic, the first step is to disassemble the entire instrument. A variety of different processes are used to age the various components so it is important to have them all separate to avoid inadvertently seriously damaging one part while cosmetically “damaging” another.

Various chemicals may be applied to the hardware such as the bridge, control plates, tuners, etc. in order to age them, while endeavoring to avoid unintended consequences that could come with that aging. For example, acid fumes may be used to age a bridge plate, but to use that same process on the tuners could potentially degrade the gears inside as well, preventing them from working smoothly.

Other common techniques may include but are not limited to: warming then rapidly cooling the finish to promote cracking and checking, drawing in finish checks with an exacto knife, UV light aging, various chemical aging techniques, etc.

How Much Does It Cost To Relic A Guitar?

The costs associated with relicing vary depending on what needs to be done. Relicing individual replacement parts is relatively straight forward and can usually be done for a small upcharge to the regular installation. 

Since we are first and foremost a repair shop, our primary concern is how the instrument plays. If there are any issues with playability, we strongly recommend clients to focus their money and attention on that before worrying about aesthetics. We typically do not accept cosmetic relic work on new instruments in our shop.  However, clients seeking a full instrument relic should expect a bill for between 3-5 hours labor at a minimum.

About Guitar Repair Long Island

Guitar Repair Long Island is the area’s premier destination for fretted musical instrument care and maintenance. Led by owner/head technician Erik Salomon, the shop is dedicated to providing quick, honest, and reliable service. Our vast experience in all aspects of instrument repair ensures that we can help with whatever your needs are. Contact us with any questions or book your appointment today.

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