Remember... you are trying to recreate 40 years or so of natural wear and tear - don't expect to finish the work in a couple of hours! First off, you will need to make a plan of what you hope to achieve. Think about what (and how) you are going to do each step; make notes, look at pictures of the "real deal" in books or on the internet. I saved close-up views of naturally-reliced vintage guitars and printed them out so I could refer to them as I was progressing. Here are some examples:

THE BODY * Click on any picture for larger image *

Pic 1 is Bill Kirchen's 1980's 52 RI Telecaster - an ash body with a factory blonde finish. Note the wear on the upper body from years of the playing arm rubbing over it, and all the nicks and dings around the edges from years of being rested on the floor after finishing playing.

Pic 2 is an original 1974 Telecaster body - note the similarities in the arm wear and around the edges. You can also see where those hot, sweaty hands have been rubbing against the surface of the body around the bridge and control plate.

Pic 3 is an original 1956 Telecaster - again, arm wear on the upper body, nicks & dings on the body and around the edges, and some wear and dings on the lower body.

Note: you can clearly see in Pic 1 the lacquer checking to the finish - this only happens on the nitrocellulose-finished bodies, and will NOT occur on the thick poly finish used on all but the most expensive instruments today. You may wish to refinish your body in 'nitro', but it is extremely difficult to find in the UK. In my section on relicing, I do not intend to cover lacquer checking, and would advise against trying to artificially recreate it on a poly body. Many have tried, many have failed!

Pic 4 shows the wear on a 1955 Telecaster. Apart from the wear around the edges, and the usual nicks & dings, note the worn area caused by such things as shirt buttons and belt buckles as the instrument has continuously rubbed against the owner as he has played. It has to be said that this is quite extreme wear compared to that usually found, and I do not recommend you relicing your own guitar to this extent!

Pic 5 shows the rear wear - again, quite extensive - on the 1974 Telecaster pictured previously. Quite a lot of 'buckle rash', but really nice finish wear around the edges - note how the lacquer has worn through to reveal the paint finish underneath. Nice! This is really hard to replicate with a modern poly finished body, as the poly coat does not 'age' - once you have removed the poly, you only have a thin layer of paint before you expose the wood.

Pic 6 is a 1967 Telecaster - nicks & dings again, and nice wear around the edges. The 'buckle rash' here is probably a more realistic relic finish to aim for, although I haven't gone to such lengths on my own relic - yet!

Pic 7 good pic showing the wear to the top and bottom edges, as well as around the jack socket, of this 1952 Telecaster. You can clearly see how the instrument has 'dragged' along the ground as it has been picked up, and how another little random-shaped ding has been made each time it has been banged against a wall, an amp, or a door frame for example - or simply put down on a hard floor perhaps a little hurriedly. We all do it!

Pic 8 the 1974 Telecaster again, this time showing the body wear and nicks & dings around the lower bout. The wear probably caused by the guitar rubbing against some good ol' Levi jeans whilst resting on the player's lap, and the nicks caused by the instrument being leaned up against amps, furniture, or simply up against a wall.

Pic 9 another view of Bill Kirchen's 1980's 52 RI Telecaster, again showing how the finish around the lower edges has been chipped away as it has been picked up and put down. Bill's guitar is a perfect example of a "natural" relic - what a great looking instrument, and an inspiration to 'relicers' everywhere!


Note: I deliberately chose NOT to relic my neck and headstock (other than applying a few coats of button polish to give it a slight vintage amber colour) as I personally consider that the feel of the neck & fingerboard are an integral part of the playability of the instrument. After all, it is that intimate contact between your left hand (or right hand if you're a 'lefty'!) and the neck that dictates the sounds that the strings make when picked. I would not like to feel my hand sliding down a rough, dirty & sticky old neck, and when I'm fretting a chord I don't want deep worn spots under my finger tips.

Reproducing 40 years of gigging wear on the neck is the hardest part of relicing, simply because although you may get your neck to LOOK old, you can easily ruin how it plays. However, for the purpose of this section on relicing, I have shown pics of vintage necks & headstocks below, and I will include notes on how others have achieved that reliced look on their own instruments.

Pic 10 shows the neck of a 1952 Esquire, which has clearly seen a lot of nut chords over the last 50 years! What can I say? The finger nails have gradually worn through the neck finish, and the edge finish has become worn and "rolled" as the hand has rubbed up and down the neck.

Pic 11 another Esquire here - this time a 1959. No doubting where that sweaty left hand has weaved its magic up and down that neck over many years of dedicated playing. This instrument has worked hard earning someone a living. The finish has simply worn away, and the bare maple neck has absorbed all the sweat, dirt and oils from the player's hand.

Pic 12 this is the headstock of a 1954 Telecaster, and despite its age, shows remarkably little wear. Not so unusual, as the headstock tends to get the best deal when it comes to nicks & dings. No finger wear - apart from maybe a little sweat from restringing or constant tuning adjustments - and other than a few scrapes to the top rear edge if the instrument is leaned up against a wall, your headstock-relicing work will be minimal. In all honesty, the headstock will tend to cause more damage than it receives, with players swinging their guitars around and hitting the guitar body of the guy standing next to them!

OK - have you started to put together your plan yet? Are you mapping out your vision of how you want your relic to look? Let's move on to Part 3.....