WHEN FENDER INTRODUCED ITS RELIC SERIES GUITARS back in the mid ’90s, people were blown away by how authentic these carefully “aged” Strats, Teles, and Jazz and Precision Basses looked. And not in a stashedunder- the-bed-for-40-years way either, as Fender’s goal was to make their new line of premium priced Custom Shop instruments appear as if they had been played nightly for 40 years. The success of the Relic line led to Fender’s introduction of the Tribute Series instruments, which were exacting knock-offs of the actual guitars played by such famed players as Andy Summers, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The laborintensive process of going ding-for-ding with these storied guitars made the limited-edition Tributes some of the most expensive guitars that Fender has ever produced (an SRV Tribute, for example, will currently set you back around $13,000), so it’s logical that Fender would eventually come around to building Relic-style guitars for regular folks who can’t afford a Custom Shop Relic or Tribute model, or, for that matter, a real Strat or Tele from the ’50s or ’60s.
The Road Worn ’60s Stratocaster and ’50s Telecaster are Mexican-made guitars that share with their Custom Shop compatriots distressed nitrolacquer finishes, worn looking metal parts, and enough nicks and scuffs to resemble an old Fender with lots of miles on the odometer. We tested these guitars though a variety of amps that included a Bogner Alchemist, a Mesa/Boogie Electrodyne, a Fender Super Reverb, and a Vox Night Train head into a Bag End S12B cab.
ROAD WORN ’60S STRATOCASTER
Dressed in a suitably scuffed sunburst finish, the Road Worn ’60s Stratocaster came out of its included gig bag looking quite a lot like a real Strat from the 1960s. From the dull patina on the nickel-plated tuners to the “sweat and nicotine” stains on the knobs, pickguard, and pickup covers to the sections of the neck where the lacquer is almost completely rubbed away, this guitar could be easily confused with the real article if the two were set side-by-side on a dimly lit club stage. The Road Worn pretty much takes the anxiety out of scratching your brand new ax, but where the aging seems to really make its case is in how this guitar feels to play. The C-shaped neck is as comfy as old denim and the polished frets feel great under your fingers. Fret buzz was problematic above the 12th fret, however, and the Road Worn sounded a little out of tune in some spots on the neck. Since our reference Eric Johnson Signature Strat (which streets for over $2,300) arrived here buzz free and very in-tune sounding, though, it’s reasonable to assume that the Road Worn Strat could be made similarly so with some help in the setup department. The Road Worn’s vibrato is tensioned to float with three springs attached, and the system stayed in tune quite well when performing moderate upward and downward bends.
Fitted with a standard complement of controls—but with a 5-way pickup selector— the Road Worn Strat offers the same limitations that come from not having any way of attenuating the highs on the pickup that needs it the most. Through our test amps, the Road Worn’s neck pickup is warm and clear sounding, and it yields a sweet wail when played wide open though an overdrive pedal. The middle position is fat and twangy—great for Texas-style blues—and the bridge setting is bright and cutting yet capable of delivering stout rock tones when fed into a high-gain distortion or fuzz pedal. The Tex-Mex pickups aren’t the vibiest models that Fender offers—our Eric Johnson Strat sounds deeper and more complex thanks to its modded Custom Shop pickups— but the Road Worn ’60s Stratocaster is still a cool sounding guitar that should satisfy anyone who seeks the vintage Strat experience at a modest price.
ROAD WORN ’50S TELECASTER
Introduced in 1951, the Telecaster was the world’s first truly viable production solidbody. Yes, Paul Bigsby was making more advanced electric solids by that time, but each one had to be custom made by Bigsby himself, and the waiting list and high prices for his instruments left the market wide open for Fender’s revolutionary Tele. The Road Worn ’50s Telecaster certainly looks like a guitar that has been around since Dwight Eisenhower was president, and while most of the comments made about the Road Worn Strat’s finish apply here, the Road Worn Tele looks even more believable because of the way the body’s yellowed top coat has been sanded in places to expose areas of lighter color, which is exactly what happens when the finish is rubbed away by years of playing.
Most of the details that pertain to an early ’50s Tele are accounted for on the Road Worn, which sports a slab body, a walnut “skunk” stripe on the back of its one-piece neck, a circular guide for the E and B strings, and a bridge pickup with non-staggered polepieces. The U-shaped neck with its areas of exposed wood, rolled-over fretboard edges, and nicely shaped and polished frets is a delight to play. The setup on this guitar is also happening. Chords sounded tuneful in all regions of the neck, and there was minimal fret buzz in the high positions. Played acoustically, the Road Worn Tele is full and vibrant sounding, and when pumped through our test amps it delivered appropriately cutting bridge pickup tones and did not sound raspy when pushed though distortion pedals or high-gain amp channels. The warmer dual-pickup and neck settings flesh out the Road Worn’s range of sounds to accommodate rhythm textures and less slicing solos, but suffice to say, most of the joy with this guitar—and most Teles, for that matter— occurs with the selector in the rearmost position. Here too, a set of upscale pickups would probably make this guitar really come alive, but in stock trim, the Road Worn ’50s Telecaster is a fun to play and very sweet looking replica of the guitar that made Fender famous.