A job overseeing the manufacture of wooden wine barrels gave Charles Whitfill an intimate knowledge of wood, while earlier work as a machinist afforded him an understanding of metal tolerances. Add a decade of repairing instruments and handcrafting custom mandolins, and you have someone with the skills to create instruments that are played by guitarists such as Brent Mason, Vince Gill, Warren Haynes, and—most recently—Peter Frampton and Billy Gibbons. The Whitfill instrument under review here closely resembles Gill’s white ’53 Fender Telecaster, save for a modified headstock and the relic-ing that makes it seem even more worn than the country legend’s guitar.
The first thing I noticed about the Relic’d “T” Style was the weight, or lack thereof. Whitfill takes great pains to find the lightest wood possible for his bodies, and this meticulousness pays off in instruments with extremely resonant characteristics—I could feel this one vibrating noticeably when I played it acoustically. The thinly lacquered, C-shaped neck felt comfortable in my hand, and its perfectly finished frets made for easy bending and no buzzing—even with the low action. Whitfill’s fastidiousness also extends to the cloth wiring, CTS pots, CRL switch, Vitamin Q oil-and-paper capacitor, and Switchcraft jack.
Whitfill is secretive about the origin of the hand-wound pickups he installs, but the sound spoke for itself. The neck pickup boasted a tubular, blues-approved tone rarely found in the front pickup of a Tele. The bridge pickup provided all the classic Tele-style tones, from Brad Paisley twang to Jimmy Page rock. I also dug the dual-pickup setting for clean rhythm playing, as the pickups complement each other to produce an exceptionally open and detailed sound. The Tone pot offers useful timbres throughout its entire range, and whether through serious shielding or clever pickup design, these single-coils were also surprisingly quiet.
Far from being just another well-made boutique instrument, the Whitfill resides among a rarified group of guitars that don’t merely look old, but feel and sound vintage as well. Both of the Whitfill guitars I sampled sounded and felt as if they were made in the ’50s or ’60s, and then broken in through thousands of gigs. The model I chose for this review has the warmth that normally comes only with age—the kind of mellow tone that keeps the bridge pickup sounding sweet and musical for clean chicken pickin,’ yet adds girth to distorted tones with no trace of muddiness.
Nashville is rife with talented builders whose instruments are used by the town’s hottest pickers. On the evidence of this guitar, Charles Whitfill’s guitar building talent positions him to take his place at the front of the pack, and this baby deserves an Editors’ Pick Award.
TRANSPARENT WHITE RELIC’D “T” STYLE
PRICE $2,750 street
NECK One-piece maple
FRETS 21 Dunlop 6105s
TUNERS Gotoh Aged Nickel Vintage-style
BODY One-piece swamp ash
BRIDGE Gotoh Aged Nickel Vintagestyle w/three brass saddles
PICKUPS Whitfill proprietary hand-wound pickups
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL 110, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6 lbs 5 oz.
KUDOS Looks, sounds, and feels like a fine vintage instrument.