Monday, April 7, 2008

Sign #18 that ours is a doomed planet

The first time I cracked the lacquer finish on my childhood guitar--a cheap Squire Stratocaster, received as a gift in tenth grade and dented long before eleventh--I stared at the dent for about an hour, ruefully meditating on how I could have prevented the injury. Over time, the guitar got more worn, faded, and ugly. I replaced the pickguard with one that didn't fit exactly right. I changed the bridge pickup, which then didn't match the color of the other two. Inspired by the bats on Billy Corgan's Strat (before he was cast as the lead in Powder), I put dozens of little bat stickers on my own guitar, somehow managing to make it look even less cool. What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that the gradual uglification of my poor little guitar was perhaps increasing its value (I bet that thing peaked at about $250).

Or so goes the thinking behind the perverse and insidious rise of the "relic" guitar--the hot new thing in guitar collecting. As explained in this Wall Street Journal article (of course), relic guitars are brand new instruments that have been deliberately scratched, dented, and aged to mimic years of rock n' roll battle scars. Rubbed paint caused by gigging in too many smoky bars, spidery cracks in the lacquer due to thousands of nights on the road, a lattice of little scratches on the back inflicted by the player's belt buckle, worn fingerboards from countless scorching solos--rather than going through the trouble of actually earning such signs of guitar commitment, dentists and soccer dads are just buying guitars with these badges of honor already built in.

The lameness of this whole thing cannot be measured by our primitive earth tools. It's as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced and what not.

To add to the perversion, these scratch-and-dent jobs actually cost--surprise, surprise--more than the normal, pristine versions. A lot more. For example, a Fender American Standard Telecaster currently runs about $1000. When Andy Summers, guitarist for The Police, bought his 1961 Tele in 1972, he paid $200 for it. But a 2007 Fender Custom Shop tribute version of Summers's guitar--complete with distressed body, broken bridge, and certain electronics tweaks--sells for about $12,000 (pictured above and below--remember, these are pictures of a brand new guitar). Similarly, Fender's relic version of Jeff Beck's Esquire also costs about $12,000. Given these exorbitant prices, and given the profound lameness inherent in relic guitars, is it really any wonder who the target audience is?

(Rockin' Robin customers, I'm looking in your direction on this one.)

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