By Paul Riario | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
There are guitars you collect and there are guitars you play. Matt Brewster’s Rust guitars are the latter. Nestled in the back of 30th Street Guitars, Brewster’s vintage guitar store in Manhattan, is a workbench where he performs repairs and completes the final assembly of his Rust guitars.
If you love your axes shiny, immaculate, and unblemished, look elsewhere. But if you appreciate true working-class Strat- and Tele-inspired guitars (S- and T-Series, respectively) that look and feel like they’ve been played for decades, Rust guitars deserve your consideration. For this review, we test drove an alluring weathered Rust T-Series Custom guitar.
Brewster launched Rust Guitars after a growing number of players he knows requested distressed replicas of traditional guitars with player-friendly customization. After making the commitment to build his own brand, Brewster designed a neck with a relatively flat 12-inch radius fretboard, Dunlop 6100 jumbo frets, and his own distinctive headstock design, decorated with a “hot-rod character” logo inspired by the Thrush muffler woodpecker.
Brewster assembles his guitars from the ground up, using premium U.S.-sourced alder and ash body woods and maple necks. He chooses medium-to-lightweight wood for the bodies and prefers wood with the best density for tone. The bodies are sent out of house to be sprayed with thin, pure nitrocellulose finishes and are returned to Brewster for aging, distressing, and assembly.
For players who love the simplicity of a vintage Telecaster but aren’t so keen on its notorious intonation issues, the T-Series Custom employs a unique saddle system that Brewster designed for the model’s ashtray bridge. Although no three-saddle Tele bridge can intonate perfectly, Rust guitars’ brass saddles (another outsourced premium) are precisely arranged for optimal intonation while retaining the material’s desirable “twang.”
The saddles’ setscrews are trimmed to allow the palm of your hand to move freely without scraping the screw tops. Brewster also has a method for cutting an old-style bone nut that improves intonation and keeps the strings in tune. The guitar is set up with a low action that plays entirely buzz free, and the fretwork is impeccable. But what else would you expect from someone who works on jazz virtuoso Pat Martino’s guitars?
At just six pounds, this T-Series Custom is featherweight and delivers incredible resonance and loud volume output even when unplugged. The black finish on its double-bound alder body is lightly reliqued to make it appear worn in, but not destroyed. The C-profile neck appears unfinished but features an organic sealer that keeps the neck straight and lets your fretting hand glide over it smoothly. When playing the guitar, it immediately feels as comfortable and broken in as a favorite baseball mitt that has seen years of action.
Besides being a working musician and an extraordinary guitarist himself, Brewster is obsessed with making each Rust guitar sound great and versatile enough to be the only guitar you need to use at a gig. Its Lollar Special T-Series bridge and neck pickups provide all the complexities of vintage Tele pickups but also sound three-dimensional and airy. The CTS pots and electronics are hand picked for optimized tone and tweaked by calibrating the tone capacitor values to find the guitar’s sweet spot. Our T-Series Custom delivered pure Tele snap in spades, but it could pull double duty with the tone knob rolled off fully counter-clockwise to achieve P90-like growl.
Much like a native New Yorker, the Rust T-Series Custom is a no-nonsense instrument that is uncharacteristically loud and has a gritty personality, unlike the more laid-back West Coast instruments it’s modeled after. As a result, it’s ideal for performers who want an aggressive and expressive instrument that always provides a wholly satisfying playing experience.
LIST PRICE Starting at $2,150
Rust Guitars, 30thstreetguitars.com
Rust Never Sleeps: Matt Brewster discusses his heavily reliqued guitars
A reliqued guitar is an unusual approach for a boutique brand.
I’ve been aging things for 35 years, from clothes and shoes to amps and guitars. I’ve always favored older, worn guitars for their tone. When the finish is worn, the guitar’s tone is more open and complex. I also like picking up a guitar that is instantly comfortable and familiar. And I played the club scene for years, so I prefer guitars that are worry free when it comes to chips, dents, and marks.
Do you accept custom specs for the models or offer a list of options?
I shy away from custom orders unless it’s a request for certain pickups or things of that nature. I prefer to modify what I already have, like all guitar players did in the Sixties and Seventies, but nothing too grand. My theory is that if you stick to the original formulas of the players you love from the early days, you will get that sound.
Do any well-known players use Rust guitars?
Walter Becker of Steely Dan owns four, and “Captain” Kirk Douglas of the Roots also plays Rust guitars. Some others include Ian Hultquist from Passion Pit, Nashville session ace Dave Cleveland, and many other tone aficionados.