a year ago1,000+ Views
Relic Mischief Maker Build

Built from the ground up - everything on this guitar is "new" - except for the Floyd Rose bridge. It is a 1986 FR2 bridge and is authentically "vintage" at 30 years old.

Refinishing a guitar as a "relic" - means making it look old and worn deliberately. This process is the same for BASS GUITARS as it is solid body electric guitars.
A "Mischief Maker" is the funny name given by Fender for a new model of Custom Shop "Relic" Stratocaster which has a Telecaster neck. Newly designed for 2016 and presented at the 2016 NAMM Show - this typically "impossible" mixture of (square neck joint) Telecaster neck and (rounded neck pocket) Stratocaster body is only available outside of Fender's Custom Shop by either modifying (cutting & shaping) a Telecaster neck to fit the rounded Strat pocket - or squaring out the rounded Strat neck pocket to accept the square heeled Tele neck. Either should only be done by an experienced Luthier for one mistake and you've ruined a neck or body or both.
Worse would be to miscalculate the cuts so that the neck fits but fits incorrectly. This would create a nightmare of trying to intonate correctly or get the string height to work correctly.
Trust me - the quickest way to end up with firewood from a once perfectly good guitar is to mess with the neck pocket and foul it up.


What are you going to need to build your dream relic-road worn guitar? Besides the normal parts and components that make a guitar what it is - you know - the body, neck, screws, hardware, electronics, etc... I have stuck with authentic Fender parts for everything except the body of the guitar.
You'll need a wide assortment of tools. Not that you need to invest a fortune on dedicated lutherie tools - but knowing that having certain tools that make life much easier is highly recommended. What you should have at a minimum - a Dremel and several different sanding/polishing/grinding heads is a must. You don't need a bunch of power tools - besides a hair dryer (a good one that is around 1200w so you can get stuff really hot) - the only powered tool you really need is a Dremel. Everything else can be done with hand tools. I actually prefer this because I feel I have more control over what the tool is doing.
You'll need files - lots of them in all different sizes. Get a rasper - a long sharp file that works like a cheese grater for wood. This is for shaping and sculpting your guitar body (I always deepen the contours of my guitar bodies - I prefer deep and gradual contours over shallow/sharp ones. Sanding blocks and sandpaper (I also recommend small sanding pads for fine detail work). If you have a power sander - great - I find that back and forth sanders work better than orbital ones.
Paint Scraper(s) - Ideal for chipping paint.
You'll need the stains, paint, clear coat, etc... possibly stain/paint remover - and you'll want some sort of white paper glue - like the Elmer's glue you used to have in elementary school. This is an odd, but important component.
Wood Filler & Water Based Wood Dye - two things that are important - I like to fill in areas that may have deep gashes or in the case of some guitars - binding - you can remove and replace binding - but for another guitar I'm currently building (not the guitar in this card) I am simply filling in the routed space where the binding was and then sculpting the edge to form a nice dramatic roundness/softness between the top and sides. Wood filler can be used to fill in drill holes, then sanded and left exposed to add vintage character to your guitar.
Tan and Brown Shoe Polish - ah the Gods of guitar aging fakery smiled widely on us mortals with shoe polish.
You'll need a 2 liter bottle of Coke, several plastic containers, a few 9v batteries, and hydrogen peroxide. Yeah - sounds sketchy - but seriously - it's got a very important and legit purpose. And most importantly you'll need a safe place to work. Organization is important. Find a place where you have ample ventilation and you can leave things for days on end without them being disturbed.
This is a time consuming process; you're taking a new guitar (or parts) and making it look like it's 50 or more years old. Just as that sort of wear happens over 50 years - aging a guitar artificially is not something that can be done overnight. It will take a couple of weeks if you take your time and do not rush the process. Lastly - the best place to start with all of this is knowing what you want the final outcome to look like. You'll need a clear vision of what you want your guitar to look like... so Google "Relic Guitar" and look at the images that come up. Look closely at the ones that you are drawn to and pick out the details of what you like about them so much.


I started with a USA-made Warmoth Strat (SSS - recessed Floyd Rose bridge route - and TELE neck pocket which is a special order option) finished in high gloss Arctic White - Nitrocellulose Lacquer. "SSS" means Single, Single, Single - it is the pickup route configuration for a Strat or any guitar. You can have HSH (Humbucker, Single, Humbucker), etc... Strats have (traditionally) 3 pickups - some have 2 or 1 - they are not typically called "Strats" at that point... although the double cutaway Stratocaster style body is extremely popular. A true VINTAGE Strat will always be an SSS configuration. First this guitar was pristine - new - and was flawless. I don't understand why the Floyd Rose recess route was stained black. It was not clear coat finished - it looked like it had been colored in with a Sharpie or other "Magic Marker". The routes were pretty rough - meaning there was a lot of raised areas inside the pickup and back routed areas that had been pained over. These are problematic because if you want to install copper shielding (I highly recommend it to prevent "buzz" - interference from other electric appliances around your guitar) - it doesn't like to stick to bumpy areas. So I had to sand and file the routes out - sand the black "marker" crap out of the route - and repaint it. That was before I could start the "relic" process. You want everything to match. TIP - ALWAYS COVER YOUR NECK POCKET AND PREVENT STAIN/PAINT/CLEAR COAT from getting in it. If you allow these things to get in there they will stick to your neck over time and work like glue. Meaning that when you take your neck out - if you ever do - months or years down the road there's a good chance you'll pull wood out with it - or leave wood from the neck behind. Never a good thing.
Once you have your body prepped - think about WHERE a guitar has a tendency to wear - or get damaged with age. Edges are a given. But the area just above the pick guard where a pick may wear through the finish from aggressive strumming - the area around the input jack where you miss the jack/jack cover and scratch the paint. The areas around the strap buttons. The place where your arm rests - if you wear bracelets or shirts with cuff buttons - those will wear into the finish over time. On the back where your guitar rests against your belt buckle (called "Buckle Rash") - where you rest the guitar on your leg (over time jeans will gently wear finish away). All of these places have potential to show damage or severe wear.
Color - vintage guitars were typically finished with a type of lacquer called "Nitrocellulose". Lacquers hold the color and bonding agents for a finish in suspension (liquid) until applied where they cure. The lacquer evaporates and leaves the solid materials behind. Durable and hard - Nitro finishes also have a tendency to become brittle and they yellow over time. Old guitars - especially ones kept in more Northern/colder climates - will develop stress cracks in the gloss clear coat from expansion and contraction due to temperature differences. Brighter colors will fade and yellow. Yellowing can be caused by being exposed to smoky environments such as bars and recording studios (back in the day when you could smoke anywhere).


Gently sand the entire body of the guitar with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper - don't dig in - you simply want to take the edge of the perfect "shiny" gloss finish. DO NOT sand in circles or sideways. I always sand the same direction that you would strum.
Once you've taken the shine off the finish - decide the areas you want to really wear down and take your paint scraper or chisel and make some scrapes. Think about the motivation for them - the angle they'd occur - and try to replicate them. Use heavier grit sandpaper (60-100) to rough up the sides of edges and the arm rest/back comfort cutout areas. Once you'd sanded your guitar up and scratched it to satisfaction - DO NOT CLEAN IT - don't wipe the dust/power away from the recessed areas. Leave it. Especially if you have a top route for a bridge that will remain exposed. These paint chips and flakes will crust when you add new clear coat - creating a grimy - dirty look - many vintage guitars have "muck" built up in the crevices and nooks of their bodies - this freshly sanded material will only assist with this look.
Now it's time to do a quick fine sand over the surface of your guitar again. I use a 320 grit sponge sanding block. I quickly brush over the entire surface. The reason is that sharp - fresh - deep scratches into the finish are obviously NOT old. Older scratches soften and wear down in time. So you want everything to appear worn down and softer. Once you've sanded and taken the edge off of your rough sanding and scraping - take the tan shoe polish and start working it into the finish with a micro fiber cloth. This will add a yellowing affect - add more to the edges and around the outside of the guitar's body - add more to the area behind the bridge. For darker finishes use the brown shoe polish. Once you've done this and you've gotten the level of yellowing you want you're going to put a couple of light coats of spray Polyurethane clear coat on the guitar. This will "melt" into your existing finish - sealing in the shoe wax and scratches - and adding important moisture protection to your guitar. You want your guitar to LOOK old... but not be damaged by the process.


I did a lot of research and experimented with a lot of "methods" for aging a pick guard that many online "experts" swore to.
WHAT DOES NOT WORK - I found that chemicals - bleaching - treating with stuff like coffee grounds - none of it really does anything but make a mess to clean.


Good old fashioned sanding and my 2nd favorite coloring material for aging a guitar (we'll discuss my #1 favorite when I get to refinishing a guitar's neck) - SHOE POLISH.
TIP - go to a beauty supply store and get a set of fingernail shaping files - 150 and fine - and get some polishing files (3 or 4 stage). These are easy to work with and they can be controlled with precision.
Plastic is pretty durable... so in looking at how it wears in time you need to think about where it is most exposed to being damaged. Edges are a great place as are the places around knobs and switches.
TIP - DO NOT FILE OR SAND THE AREA DIRECTLY UNDER THE STRINGS. This area is typically protected BY the strings and usually shows little or no wear on true vintage guitars.
Work the edges until they are really soft and rounded. Be sure to scratch randomly around the screw holes - not every one - but a few. Do the same with knobs, switch covers - the tremolo cover - and the pickup covers.
TIP - ALWAYS FILE IN ONE DIRECTION - THE DIRECTION THAT STRUMMING YOUR GUITAR WOULD FOLLOW. Do add a couple of random "across the grain" scratches - I know that in maintaining my guitars I've slipped while tightening screws and had my screwdriver bite into a pick guard. It's usually a deep gouge - deeper than scratches from a pick.
With the pickup covers you want to bite into their edges (in the same direction the strings lay) to simulate string wear.
Once you've scratched it up to satisfaction take the tan and brown shoe polish and start working it in with a microfiber cloth. The result at first will be dramatic and look really dirty/nasty. You can leave it this way OR you can take a fine sanding block (400 grit) and do a couple of light passes over the entire guard - this will soften and blend the effect and make your guard look aged and not so much mistreated and dirty.


I started with a new Fender Modern Telecaster Neck (22 Frets - made for a vintage/classic model) - unfinished (but sealed) with no head stock markings or hardware.
TIP - KNOW what neck will work with your guitar. MODERN Telecasters have a slightly deeper neck pocket than classic/vintage Telecasters. Modern Tele necks have 22 frets that are not on an overhang - whereas classic/vintage models are 21 fret necks. You can get a 22 fret neck for a classic/vintage - but the 22nd fret will be on an overhang - where the fingerboard extends past the main part of the neck and the end where the neck pocket is. DO NOT make the mistake of thinking that because both have a Tele heel and are 2-3/16" wide that they are the same. Put a modern neck on a classic body and you'll mess the scale length of your guitar up and it won't tune correctly.
I used a water-based wood dye - most notably "Amber" in color - to give the wood an aged - vintage Nitro color and look. Rub it in with a soft cloth and don't worry about it covering the frets - it will come right off of them later.
Once the neck is dyed (it has already been sealed - all Fender necks are at least sealed - to protect the wood from moisture damage - you can think about your water slide decals and their placement. TIP - Water Slide Decals can be purchased online from a number of sources - NONE of them are official - NONE of them are legal - from the standpoint that Fender and the Fender name/logo etc... are all trademarks of Fender. You have to go to a Fender Dealer to get legit water slide decals. BEWARE of the ones you can get online. They are typically "printed" on a water slide decal sheet using a standard home computer printer and depending can be pretty crappy in quality. They will fade or scratch or their color is not good - or I've seen ones that were made from low-resolution images and they are pixilated and obviously fake. For me I wanted my Stratocaster to have a Stratocaster water slide... why not? I'm building a Strat and not a Tele... So I picked up an AMAZING high quality foil printed (gold) classic Strat logo and for giggles a Custom Shop logo - which came from a different printer and wasn't very good in quality. But it worked. I had to scratch up and gash the back of the headstock and smear the finish to cover over the lame quality of the decal. But the end result looks authentic enough for me.
Once you have your decals installed and dried - you want to take your time getting them sealed under a clear coat of some kind. I used spray lacquer. You very lightly dust the logo every 30 minutes for about 6 hours. I mean NEVER directly spray onto the decals... the lacquer or poly (you can use both - I have and both work fine) you want to spray near the head stock so that some of the "mist" of the spray drops down onto the decals. If you spray them directly they will lift and wrinkle and be ruined. After you have a thin - solid coat (from dusting - each dusting will slowly build to a solid coat - melting together) - let the neck sit overnight. The next day you can had thick coats to your headstock to properly cover and protect your decal. I do NOT add any clear to anywhere BUT the head stock front and back until the final stage of finishing.
Once you've added 3 or 4 healthy coats of lacquer (or poly) to your head stock to set your decal into a deep layer of clear coat - let the neck sit overnight again.
Now comes the fun part - creating wear - using your Drimel with a medium or soft buffer head on it - do light passes under where the strings would sit between the frets - look at patterns on true vintage necks to get an idea of which frets typically show more wear between them.
Sand the back of the neck - through the wood dye but not into the wood grain - around the back where your hand would wear through the finish in time.
Create some gashes (be gentle!) and scrapes on the headstock. Places where the ends of your strings might scratch - or areas where the neck may have been bumped into something. Once you've gotten the wear you want you're going to use my absolute favorite coloring/dirtying material for doing a relic job - fine powered graphite (like you'd use to "lubricate" a door knob or lock). Powered graphite is extremely fine - will find its way into cracks you didn't even know where there - and looks just like dirt but is not. It is a deep dark grey and can simulate string dust, dirt, grime - or be sanded/softened to look like general muck from age. You are going to put a little dab of graphite on each area you've worn down and you're going to take a damp microfiber cloth - not wet - just slightly damp - and you're going to rub it into the wood. Do this on the back of the neck - to the head stock where you've created wear. You'll see quickly how it spreads and what it does to get into the finish to simulate dirt. Once you are happy with how "dirty" and worn your neck is - do a light dusting of poly or lacquer on the back and a heavier application on the head stock and the front (to "lock in" what you've created with your sanding and graphite) and let your neck cure for the next 48 hours. Once it is cured you can take a 400 grit sanding block or steel wool and lightly sand the back where your hand rests and if you want between the frets... I usually only do the back.


I've read everything about chemicals and acid to some silly stuff about putting it in the ground for a few months and/or putting it in a lobster cage and dropping it into the ocean for a few weeks.
It's rubbish.
Acid - BTW - will work in some instances and depending on the application and prep - but acid is dangerous, toxic, and potentially deadly - so I recommend not messing with it.
You can - however - use science to get around the very purpose that "Chrome Plated" items exist - to resist corrosion. Chrome Plating - modern day chrome plating - is a multi- step - multi-coating process which pretty much protects the base metal from any elements. The purpose of acid or sanding or anything else is to get through these coats to the underlying metal - which is susceptible to rusting and corrosion - a chemical process that once starts really doesn't stop. Because modern chrome plating techniques are so good - it's really hard to get to this base metal without causing a lot of physical damage to the item that has been plated. This is where Mr. Wizard comes in - remember when I said you'd need a 2 liter bottle of Coke and some 9v batteries? Here you go. Chome is an electroplating process. This means that electric currents are run through a bath of liquid chrome where the item is dipped and the current causes the chrome to bond with the item. First that item is prepped - given coats of other materials that will help the chrome react and adhere - most notably nickle.
You can partially weaken the electroplate by giving it another "electrical" bath - dropping the item into an acidic fluid that is electrically charged. Thus a bath of Coke - charged by a 9v battery. What's wild is how the items bubble when you touch them to the electrodes of the naked (exposed) 9v as it sits in the liquid - by having the items touch the poles of the battery you create a circuit and the energy of the battery is passed through the item. You can use larger batteries - but be careful. You can electrocute yourself. I stay grounded by wearing thick rubber gloves and shoes. And I never touch the items directly - I use a plastic chop stick - you can never be too careful. A 12v or 18v battery would work too. But understand any battery you drop into this solution is going to die - and may actually leak acid into the bath. So I'd stick with 9v batteries. Cheap and less likely to leak and cause a burn or property damage. I also use a ceramic bowl... Because it is insulated. I leave the items - each item gets its own bath - for 12 hours - then I give it a 2 hour hydrogen peroxide bath - and the end result is a tarnished finish - uneven and with a grungy patina. It looks old and weathered. TIP - DO NOT DROP YOUR TUNING MACHINES INTO THIS - the Coke will ruin the gears. Take them apart and only drop the outer covers (housing) and the knobs into the bath. Keep the gears in a dirt/dust free place and lube them with titanium lube or other recommended lube when you put them back together.


Is a guitar that looks authentically aged and worn. Once it is put together and set up - then the fun part begins; actually breaking it in and playing it! And that's how you "relic" a guitar!
This looks so cool! I never would have expected coke to be the secret ingredient
a year ago·Reply
This is so amazingly detailed and it makes me want to build my own guitar. Seriously, you're so cool! First photography and now this!? AMAZING
a year ago·Reply
Coke - it's a mystery fluid from the future I'm tellin' ya! @TessStevens - I started playing when I was 12 - stopped around age 17 - and didn't touch a guitar until I was 39... at that point I started working with (as a business consultant) one of the top luthiers in the world - this guy has made guitars for Sting and a bunch of famous musicians - his hand made guitars range from $5,000 to $15,000 each... and I learned more than I'd ever though I would/could about guitar design and construction. Photography is a vocation as well as something I sincerely enjoy - but this... building guitars is a passion. I know plenty of professional musicians who have "techs" who do all of the upkeep and setup of their guitars. I know guitarists who don't know how to intonate their own guitars. And I am saddened by this. I never want to have to take my guitar to someone just to properly tune it. What's the point if I can't do it myself? I started going to the NAMM Show each year and I've held and played some of the rarest, most amazing guitars in the world. And yet no one makes a guitar that is EXACTLY what I want. I've had a rare custom made electric guitar - a $5200 work of art - in my guitar rack for several years and I really don't like it. There are things about it that are perfect - and things that just suck ass. I finally decided last month to sell it and take the money and build me not one or two but three guitars that I want - guitars that are specifically built to my specs, my standards, my needs... and who else could build them and I be 100% sure that they'd be what I wanted? Me... So it's not been much of a learning curve since I'm already way way way experienced with guitar design and construction. It's been more of a theory to real-world transition for me and I love it so much! I'm having so much fun and already I've had 5 people see what I'm doing and ask me if I'd build them a guitar. So who knows... it may become a side thing I do for fun. I certainly enjoy it. Right now the Strat is in my guitar rack waiting for me to finish soldering the electronics. But right now I'm still in stain, paint, relic, and finish mode. I'm converting a 1984 Telecaster over to a Bad-ass-caster... It's going to be beyond wicked. It's the dark soul mate to my white relic Strat. A black relic Telecaster - And HELL YES you should build you a guitar. Or mod one you already have to get your feet wet. It's great in my opinion because you can take a guitar that's good and you really like - and experiment and make it something awesome that you really love.
a year ago·Reply