Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 72

Willie Nelson and his
Martin N-20, "Trigger."

BEAUTIFUL WEAR?

The Fine Line Between Normal and Abuse
By Steven Stone

W

hen I first got into vintage guitars,
high-end collectors chased the cleanest, most-original examples. For most,
that remains true today. But not all collectors
play that game.

Today, there's a trend in production lutherie spurred by some collectors' pursuit of
guitars with "mojo"- a friendly term applied
to an instrument with obvious playing wear.
Builders apply tags like "aged" and "relic." But
why would someone prefer a new instrument
with wear?
If one must lay blame on a single person for
the acceptability of what dealers refer to as
"honest playing wear," it would fall on Willie
Nelson, whose Martin N-20, "Trigger," has a

gaping hole worn by Willie's picking motion.
It is perhaps the ultimate example of player
mojo. Also consider the impact of remarks
like Keith Richards' about how rock and roll
can't be played on a guitar that "looks like it
was just bought by your parents." Such words
from an icon weigh on impressionable young
rock and rollers... and baby boomers, for that
matter. But, really, is someone's music more
real or authentic because of the wear on their
instrument? Personally, I'd argue it is not.
Despite what I think, though, the "relic"
look has become desirable. "Pre-aged" guitars
have been around for at least a decade, their
popularity a result of basic economics as clean,
vetted, well-maintained examples of certain
models are simply out of reach, financially,
for many aspiring collectors.

VINTAGE GUITAR

72

October 2017

Most relic'ed guitars from Gibson and
Fender are solidbody electrics, but the former's
Original Acoustic Instrument (OAI) division
offers the Ricky Skaggs' signature F-5, treated
to closely resemble Ricky's Loar-era F-5 including scrapes and finish wear, with a price that
exceeds its varnished (and un-worn) F-5 by
several thousand dollars. The uptick is due to
labor dedicated to the "relic'ing" process, and
Gibson has no trouble finding buyers.
It's also easy to understand relic'ing as savvy
economics. Compare the price of a new relic'ed
Les Paul Standard with an original; the new
one can be had for a fraction of the cost and
will likely deliver satisfying sound and feel.
When it comes to collecting vintage instruments, most collectors' only option is instruments with "issues" like extensive wear. Still,
important reasons remain to opt for cleaner
examples. We've all heard the arguments;
a guitar that sounds good is played a lot,
and therefore exhibits more play wear. So,
if you're into the best-sounding instruments,
you develop an eye for the well-worn even
if the only thing you know for sure about a
pick-scarred instrument is that its owner had
less-than-optimal picking technique.
My primary issue with a battle-scarred
vintage instrument isn't the marks themselves,
but what they might indicate. Guitars that
are played a lot usually require more trips to
the bench, and sometimes those stops do not
involve "best current practices." Also consider
that "entry-level" collectible instruments such
as a Martin D-18 or Gibson J-45 exhibit a higher
percentage of inferior repair because when new
they were typically purchased by folks without
the economic means to properly maintain or
professionally repair them. Any luthier will
tell you that fixing someone else's bad repairs
is much harder (and more time-consuming/
expensive) than doing a proper repair the first
time. One classic example is a saddle shaved
to lower action, rather than the proper - and
more expensive - neck reset.
In a market where condition is a primary
determining factor in price, you'll find examples
discounted due to wear and tear; "honest play
wear" has always been the most obvious condition that can move a vintage instrument's price
from unobtainable to within your budget. But it
comes at the risk of improper repair in its past,
and the necessity of more-expensive "attention"
in its future. Mojo can cost more than you think.
Steven Stone is the editor of Audiophile Review. He
has also written for Stereophile, The Absolute Sound,
Creem, and Spin magazines. For relaxation, he plays
and collects guitars and mandolins. His e-mail address
is sstone8807@aol.com.

Willie Nelson: Steven Stone.

COLUMN Acousticville


http://www.vintageguitar.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - IFC
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 3
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 4
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 5
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Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - Contents
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Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - IBC
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