Have you ever wondered how to relic a guitar? Well, wonder no more – we can teach you how to relic a guitar in one easy step, with no tools nor experience necessary! Here’s the secret no other guitar tech is willing to tell you: in order to give your guitar that amazing, broken in look, all you need is a category 5 hurricane and some patience! That’s it! Don’t take our word for it – check out the results:
Now that’s how it’s done! This guitar, owned by one of our favorite New Orleans chefs, Donald Link, was pretty much wrecked by hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. It sat in Donald’s house, submerged in disgusting flood waters for over three weeks, and was in all practical purposes destroyed. Donald held on to it for 10 years, and was just about to throw it away when his friend Gordon Stewart (the man behind our soon-to-be favorite New Orleans distillery, Bootleg Spirits) interceded on his behalf and brought the guitar to us. Donald didn’t have high hopes for his guitar, and Gordon simply gave us the simple instruction to “make it awesome”. So that’s what we did.
The trouble with hurricanes is that while they make your guitar look amazingly weather-beaten, they don’t quite play so well anymore. Our first order of business was to see how much we could salvage, if possible. We really liked how the neck looked (it almost had a spalted look), but we had to make sure it actually was going to be functional. We were able to get the truss rod to move, and even though the neck was threatening to blow apart, we guessed that it would be salvageable (mostly based on intuition). The body was mostly in good shape, so we decided to use as much original parts as possible. We pulled everything apart, removed a handful of broken, rusted out screws, and ended up replacing the nut, tuners, trem springs and bridge saddles – and managed to keep all the rest of the hardware.
The walnut strip on the back of the neck had become unglued, and had swelled and was pushing out of the back of the neck. We cleaned out the old glue as best possible, then reglued and clamped it back in place:
Once glued in place, we reshaped the skunk stripe to blend seamlessly with the rest of the neck contour with a series of scrapers and some sanding. Most of the finish had flaked off the fingerboard, and some had also bubbled and flaked off the back as well. We initially thought this would look really cool leaving as much finish intact as possible – we scraped away the worst parts, and flooded water thin superglue under the remaining finish to secure it to the neck. Then we sanded the edges of the cracked finish, to blend it into the rest of the neck and make it feel nice without loosing that survived-a-hurricane look. We then coated the entire thing with a few coats of gunstock oil. We spent a LOT of time on this, and in our estimation it looked great:
Well – all that work was for naught. Gordon happened to stop by, and while he agreed it looked and felt great, he thought that Donald would like a little less of the distressed look. Oh well – not everybody likes ’em as beat up as we do! So, we ended up removing all the finish on the fingerboard and back of the neck, and left the finish on the headstock, and again oiled all the bare wood. It still looked great, just not as totally destroyed looking as what we were initially going for. But it wasn’t our guitar, and we were happy to switch gears to suit Donald’s vision.
Once the neck was fixed, we installed a new roller nut and tuners, and refretted it. This is a process we’ve explained in detail before, so we won’t go into that here, except for this time we opted not to plane the fingerboard first. We skipped this step because the neck was in surprisingly good shape, and we didn’t want to remove the “Katrina patina” on the fretboard. We instead removed any imperfections in the fretboard out of the new frets instead, so there was still a perfectly level playing surface. (Although we are skipping most of the details of the refret, you gotta check out these rusted out old frets. Yuck!)
Donald was apparently not looking forward to replacing the pickups, as he really liked the Lace Sensors that came stock in his Strat. Fortunately, the pickups survived the “pickle test” – but the pots, switch, and jack had to go. We replaced all the broken electronics, and also fully shielded the pickguard while we were at it:
Most of the finish on the body’s pickup and trem cavities had bubbled and cracked, and had to be removed and cleaned out. We scraped all the loose finish out then, cleaned out all the unmentionable gunk, secured the edges of the finish with water thin superglue, and then painted all the cavities with conductive shielding paint. (We somehow failed to get a picture of the newly shielded cavities – sorry about that! We were busy!)
Alright! The body, neck, electronics, and hardware had all been either fixed or replaced, and all there was left to do was to put it together and set it up. And here’s how it turned out:
Wow, that is awesome! It looks great, plays fantastic, and sounds fantastic! There were a ton of tiny little steps we had to go through that we couldn’t detail here, let’s just say that this was a TON of work. But it was a hugely satisfying job, and it turned out better than any of us expected when it first came in. Gordon was blown away when he picked it up, and we hope that Donald feels the same way when he sees his guitar again. Thank you for this opportunity, gentlemen – it was an absolute pleasure.