“Before I could say anything he'd set the guitar on fire; I said, ‘Well, I guess I'm committed now!’”: Adrian Belew on the time Seymour Duncan set fire to his Strat – and inadvertently created the first relic’d guitar

Adrian Belew performs onstage (left), his partially burned Strat
(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Jeff Fasano)

One of Adrian Belew’’s most famed Stratocasters wasn’t relic’d through years of touring like you'd think – it was a DIY cosmetic job to fix what the veteran guitarist deemed to be an ugly guitar. 

Speaking in the new issue of Guitar World, the former King Crimson guitarist explains how pickup maker Seymour Duncan essentially abused its now-adored relic’d finish out of the 1969 Stratocaster after he’d bought the instrument for a bargain price. 

“I went to a local used guitar store and was poking around,” Belew remembers. “And in the back they had this kinda ugly Stratocaster hanging on the wall – like a brown sunburst. I said, ‘How much for this one?’ They said, ‘It doesn’t have a case, so we’ll give it to you for $285.’ A pretty good buy, I thought.”

The guitar would later star, alongside Belew, on the front cover of Guitar World magazine, but not before Duncan helped fix its less-than-desirable brown finish in a slightly brutal fashion. 

“I called up Seymour when I was back out in California, and I said, ‘What am I gonna do? I have this ugly-ass guitar.’ He said, ‘I know what to do.’ He got in the trunk of his car and took out all these things – files and a screwdriver and spray paint and lighter fluid.

“He laid it on the lawn, and before I could say anything, he took the lighter fluid out and squirted it on the face of the guitar and set it on fire,” Belew continues. “I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m committed now!’

Adrian Belew holds his burned Strat (left), the headstock of his burned Strat

(Image credit: Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images)

“Then he went to work. He dragged it through the grass. He sanded the back of the neck and put motor oil on it. He took screwdrivers and things and chipped some of the stuff off of it. I did the spray paint – a few bits here and there.”

“This is what I used on Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti, Bowie’s Lodger, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, and in my early days with King Crimson. I’m holding it on the cover of Lone Rhino,” he later told Guitar Player of the “beat to heck” Strat.   

Relic’d guitars have become highly sought after in recent years, with a number of off-the-shelf guitars imitating road-worn finishes. 

Fender has meticulously recreated Joe Strummer’s time-ravaged Esquire, and Monty's Guitars has even made a wax to help relic unfinished bodies and fretboards as firms jump on the trend. 

Rory Gallagher's 1962 Fender Stratocaster and Vox AC30 amplifier, with a copy of his 1971 self-titled debut solo album

Rory Gallagher's 1962 Fender Stratocaster and Vox AC30 amplifier, with a copy of his 1971 self-titled debut solo album (Image credit: Future)

Gibson's Murphy Lab unveiled its first round of relic'd guitars in 2021, and, most recently, recreated Jason Isbell and Ed King's 'Red Eye' Les Paul for a limited, relic'd run. 

Still, as impressive as those creations are, there’s something more appealing about the idea of creating body blemishes and beyond yourself. 

Rory Gallagher’s Stratocaster wouldn’t be the same without its relic’d body, but it also wouldn’t have been the same if he bought it from a guitar store in that condition – the guitar has personality and history.    

Belew seems to echo that sentiment, adding: “I’m gonna be bold and say that might be the first relic’d guitar, and you can thank Seymour Duncan for that.”

Phil Weller

A freelance writer with a penchant for music that gets weird, Phil is a regular contributor to ProgGuitar World, and Total Guitar magazines and is especially keen on shining a light on unknown artists. Outside of the journalism realm, you can find him writing angular riffs in progressive metal band, Prognosis, in which he slings an 8-string Strandberg Boden Original, churning that low string through a variety of tunings. He's also a published author and is currently penning his debut novel which chucks fantasy, mythology and humanity into a great big melting pot.