Saturday, May 15, 2010

Relic a Fender Stratocaster MIM Strat WHY? Relicing

So Brandon and I were checking out guitar videos and learned about Relicing guitars. Basically this is the act of taking a perfectly nice guitar and making it look, very used and worn in.  Maybe even abused.  Some of these guitars look really cool, like a replica of Stevie Ray’s Strat, or John Mayer’s guitar.  Some are heavily reliced and some are lightly reliced.  The funny thing about these videos is that at the bottom there are dozens of comments from people saying: Why the heck would you do that to a perfectly fine guitar?!”  They will call names and harshly cast judgment and state their opinions. 

This is funny to me because I personally don’t go online and find videos that I disagree with and comment on them.  Personally I don’t get horseback riding.  It smells bad, is not comfortable and costs a lot of money.  But I don’t go to any horseback videos and make these comments. 

Let me just spell out why I have reliced my two strats.

1.  I don’t buy dark blue, starched and ironed Levi jeans.  I buy faded jeans that are worked in and comfortable.  I feel the same about guitars.  I don’t know that I have felt a brand new guitar that feels totally natural and comfortable. 

2.  Poly finish is not comfortable.  Go and grab a new Mexican Fender guitar.  Flip it over and drag and push your finger up and down the neck.  You will notice that while it is smooth, your finger will not fly up and down the neck.  The finish slows your finger down.  Now lick your finger and do the same.  Notice that any moisture on your fingers or arm will cause your skin to almost stick to the finish.  This is not a gliding and comfortable feeling.  If you can find a neck that is just wood with nitro finish or worn wood, your fingers will glide with no resistance.

3.  I am hyper sensitive to keeping things “nice.”  Any time I have had a newer car, or a nice guitar, I am always uptight about other people possibly putting a ding in it.  I have a newer Yamaha Aes620 that I love.  The finish is beautiful, but there is a little ding in it.  The ding drives me crazy.  Other people playing it can make me feel like they are going to damage it.  I don’t want to be an anal tyrant telling everyone to stay away from my nice things.  When you relic a guitar, more dents and dings will add to the feeling.  Other people mistreating it, while not cool, is not going to damage anything that can’t be undone.

4.  Relicing a guitar makes it yours.  Relicing a guitar adds character.  In order to do it, you have to strip it down to nothing, you now know every piece of your guitar, you can clean them, or dirty them however you want them. 

5.  When you relic it, you don’t hurt the playability, you enhance it.  You don’t hurt the sound.  In fact, I have heard that the Poly finish actually limits sustain and lowers your overall tone.  Based on my last relic job, I totally believe it.

6.  I am not superficial.  I think that flaws and scars add character.  But what I am really trying to do is make it more playable and comfortable, those are my first goals.  The look is only secondary.  I imagine that the people who are so uptight about relicing believe that you are hurting a guitar or are somehow making it “less than” what it is.  Little do they know that you are enhancing it.

7.  A person who pays $2500 for a Custom Shop guitar is going to poop their pants anytime someone mishandles their perfect guitar.  Any damage will make it less perfect.  They paid someone else to design and create their guitar.  I am able to say that I did it myself.

When I relic a guitar, I am not trying to fool anyone.  I am not trying to make them think that I have played this guitar so much that I have destroyed it to this point.  I am not trying to sell it claiming that it is Stevie Ray’s backup guitar. 


I am thrilled to now have two guitars that are MINE.  I made them into what they are.  They are more comfortable and playable than any guitar in any store that I have tried out.

Mexican Stratocaster Review MIM Strat Fender

I think  I may be in love with Fender Guitars.  Back when I first started guitar fever, I really didn’t want one because they just weren’t “Metal” enough.  But now that I am learning some blues, I am pretty excited to try new things and get new sounds. 

In the last month the GAS has hit me hard.  GAS, of course is Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.  I have done a lot of research about what to buy, where to buy them and what to do once you buy them. So here is my knowledge dump for you based on buying 2 guitars and trying a bunch of others.

American vs. Mexican

This is the first big question that people seem to wonder about.  Is a Mexican Strat crap?  Should I just save and buy the American Made ones?  First let me say that according to most people every part of the American Fenders are higher quality.  Every component in the American Fender costs more money and is installed here in the USA where labor costs more.  So to get an American Standard Strat with no frills, you’re looking to shell out about $1000 new.  To get some with some cool upgrades, you’ll be looking at $1200 easily.  If you want a custom shop Fender, you’ll be paying anywhere upwards of $2000. 

So, many people will say:  Just buy a used American Strat.  You’ll pay $600 and get all of the features and frills of a great American Strat.  My advice is:  BE CAREFUL.  Stories of people who have put together junk guitars along with a Fender USA neck are all over the place. 

My rule of thumb for buying a USA strat would be:  You’d better know exactly what you are looking for and exactly how you want it to sound. 

I will freely admit that I am not in need of the highest quality components.  Nor would I know the difference between a cool sound that costs $2000 versus a sound that I simply think is “cool.”


SOOOOO.  Mexican.

From what I have experienced and learned, Mexican strats are a very good quality guitar.  I am also going to tell that if you blindfold a large percentage of people who consider themselves guitar snobs and make them play a well set up Mexico Strat versus a USA Strat you will find that many of them will be fooled as to which is which.  The reason for this is that the Mexican strat has all of the components to make it sound amazing.  I honestly believe that if you stripped the Fender logo off of the headstock and made up a new brand name on a MIM strat that is well set up and handed it to Clapton, to do a commercial, you would have thousands clamoring for this new brand.

The problem with Mexican guitars is that the hardware is not as high of quality, there is more variation in the pickups (ie. the pups on one can sound waaay better than the pickups on another.)  This can due to lower quality control standards in the Mexico factory.  You will also notice routing mistakes in the body.  The frets might not be exactly consistently placed and you might feel their edges sticking out on the side.  (You may also feel this on some USA strats if you play one in a store that is too dry, the wood on the fretboard can expand due to humidity.  These can also easily be filed down. 

I have purchased two Mexico strats and stripped them down to the components.  Here is what I found:

On my 2000 Sunburst Strat, bought for $250 used from Guitar Center.  It felt very solid.  The neck feels great and comfortable, and the pickups had the right Fender sound that I was hoping for.  I could only inspect it so far before changing everything because the strings were rusty and dead.  It was flawless with no dings or scratches.  When we pulled it apart, we could see that the routing job under the neck was messed up, twice.  However, the neck fit very snuggly into the compartment and when screwed back in, hardly needed any tweaking to be perfectly set up.  The trem block (large piece of metal that you put your strings though that balances your tremolo) was very small and not heavy at all.  This will make the guitar brighter sounding, but should lower the amount of sustain.  The electronics were mounted neatly, but there were some pretty big globs of solder holding it together.  This can create more resistance and can interfere with tone.  When we reassembled it, I put some lighter gauge strings on it 9-42 gauge.  The tone is very bright, but can certainly be adjusted with the tone knobs.  This guitar has an amazing bright, aggressive sound to it.  I am personally shocked at how much I love the sound of this guitar.  It was kind of purchased on a whim, but it is really cool sounding.

My 2008 Fat Strat.  I still am having trouble finding this exact guitar in a Fender Catalog.  According to the catalog, the Sienna finish was not offered in the 2008 Mexico Models.  I picked it up at a pawn shop for $350.  It looked in great shape, although it smelled like cigarettes.  The reason I bought it was due to the feel of the neck.  It has a very cool feeling neck.  The action was high, and it was not the finish that I would have chosen.  When we plugged it in, the pickups all sounded really cool.  Pulling it apart, we found that this has much nicer hardware than the 2000 model.  The pickups were a higher quality.  The trem block is a much heavier piece of metal.  The entire pickguard is shielded, and the solder is more accurately done.  When we put it back together, the neck sat so low that we had to have a little shem put under the base of the neck to raise it to the right level to get the action just right.  (This should be included in the price of a pro set up, which I paid $40 for.  When this guitar got back from being set up, it sounded amazing. 


My advice on buying one…

If you are ok with taking it apart or switching out components yourself.  Find one that has the neck you like and good sounding pickups.  Everything else can be changed.  I found one that sounds great for a great price but has frets that are too small and just don’t feel right to me.  I had to pass, and bought one for a hundred dollars more.

If you are not ok with this… Go and try a million of them.  Pick your favorite one.  Your best bet is to go to a store that carries used ones and gives them a professional set up before they put them on the floor.  Play it through a similar amp to yours.  If you find one at a pawn shop, it will likely have horribly dead strings on it, and you might have to have it professionally set up.  So if you find a good deal, add about $50ish to the price, because that it was a good set up costs.


Don’t buy one on ebay.  Ebay is the best place for scammers to sell you their guitar that feels awful or is just plain counterfeit. 

If you buy a Mexico strat online at a reputable dealer, know that it might not feel as good as some others.  There is a high amount of variance.  You’d be better off paying a little more to get one in town.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Letter or the Spirit of the Law?

So, two news stories this week:

First story.  In California on Wednesday, which happened to be Cinco de Mayo some teenagers got in a bit of a controversy.  These 5 guys who are friends showed up to school wearing… gasp … American flag T-shirts.  Of course this shouldn’t be a big deal, but… they wore the shirts to their school which has a high attendance of  Hispanic teenagers who would be celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

The principal, called them into his office and told them to turn the shirts inside out, or they would have to go home.  They chose to leave the school.

The kids’ parents made it a big deal and called the media, and were very upset that their sons were being assessed an unexcused absence for wearing the shirts.  The media, namely fox news, grabbed the story and ran.  The headlines said: “American Flag banned at California School.” and “Is Wearing the American flag an act of Rebellion Now?”

The principal was reprimanded and was forced to make an apology. 

This frustrates me.  It frustrates me because, this principal was doing his job, doing what he thought to be right.  He was worried that these students, who all appear to me on the news to be kind of punk/standoffish teenage boys wore the American Flag shirts to start a controversy, to start an argument.  We all know what can happen to arguments and controversy when national pride and testosterone get involved.  Why is the principal forced to apologize when he was trying to keep students safe?  He was doing his job.  He was not banning the flag, he was banning potential violence. 

I am not sure that he did the right thing, but I am sure that he did it for the right reason.  In my book he does not owe anyone an apology.  The students put him in a bad situation and he did what he could to make sure that it did not get worse.  I will go a step further.  I believe that the parents who allowed their kids to leave the home with these shirts on, and possibly even encouraged it; these parents deserve the apology the least.

Let’s look at what may well have happened… The 5 students show up to school wearing the shirts and the principal pulls them aside to tell them that he is concerned about safety and potential fights breaking out over these shirts, but because of their right to free speech, he allows them to keep the shirts on.  During the course of the day, several hispanic students question why they have the shirts on.  Perhaps someone on either side of the argument uses some coarse language or some racially insensitive language and fists go flying.  At the very least, cops are involved and students are arrested for assault.  At the very worst, someone is seriously injured or killed.  Either way, people are charged with race hate crimes, expelled from school, possible time in juvy etc. 

We would be reading about the racial violence at the school in california, and not about the shirt controversy.  We’d be saying that the administration should have done more to stop it. 


Less than a week earlier, in the same state, a League Title was on the line at a girl’s track meet.  They were down to the final competitor in the final event.  A High School Senior would have to pole vault over seven and a half feet to get the points to win the meet for her team over their rival, who were the defending champions.  The Senior ran down the track ready to make the jump and backed off.  She said that the nerves made her feel unsure about it and she regrouped to try again.  The second time down the track, she planted the pole and easily soared over the required mark.  Her team celebrated.   However, the opposing coach, stopped the fun to point out that she had broken a rule.  He pointed out that there was a rule that competitors in track meets were not allowed to wear jewelry, and this senior was wearing a friendship bracelet made of a couple pieces of string. 

He petitioned the officials who then deliberated and realized that they had no choice but to disqualify her jump and award the defending champions the title.  The Senior immediately burst into tears.  The other team celebrated. 

The coach of the losing team, says that he believes that the coach who called foul had seen the bracelet and was waiting to use the rule to disqualify her after her jump rather than to point it out to her before her jump.  The bracelet in no way, caused her to win, in fact, the rule is only in place because of the safety for the athletes. 

The athletic director of the winning school said that “it was a victory that no was was particularly proud of”.  The coach, who has won many state titles as well as a national high school title, was quoted as saying: “you have to teach these kids that rules are rules.”


Two stories.  The principal broke the rules in the first story, the coach in the second story followed the letter of the law.  Was either one right?  Was either one wrong?  Both men will be blasted in the media for doing the wrong thing. 

My question is this: does it come down to motive?  If the principal acted the way he did in order to keep kids at his school safe; I believe he made a great choice.  In hindsight, he probably could have kept kids safe and involved his superiors and may have found a creative way to keep the kids at school without allowing their shirts to aggravate tempers. 

I believe that the motive of the coach was: to win.  I believe that he did not do what he did out of concern for anyone.  I do not believe that his thought process told him that if he did nothing that potentially this girl may have worn a thick chain necklace at the next event where she might strangle herself on the pole vault.  I believe that he found a loophole that would help his team’s record and used it. 

I believe that the motives of the students who wore the t-shirts were not to glorify our country or show pride.  I believe that they wished to take a controversial stand.  I believe they knew that they might well have to defend their decision to teachers as well as to classmates who might be very upset. 

I believe that the motive of the girl who wore the bracelet was that a piece of string gave her no advantage and could not possibly harm herself or anyone else and she may have forgotten that she had it on. 

In short.  I really, truly believe that it comes down to the heart.  Not that we can always use the heart to make a judgment or a decision, but when a decision is made based on the heart motive of keeping others safe and the opposing heart motive is to be confrontational.  I will side with the principal.

And when the heart motive of the coach is based on his desire to win by any means, and the heart motive of the athlete is that she simply forgot that her decision was so minor.  I will side with the athlete. 


Perhaps there is something wrong with us when we find ourselves arguing for the letter of the law when someone else’s motive for breaking that law was compassion, or protection.  Interesting debate.