A few months ago, Sweetwater’s Fender rep called me up and told me that the company was coming out with some interesting new guitars and basses. He asked if I would like a chance to preview the instruments and write about them for Sweetwater’s various publications, including SweetNotes and Guitars & Gear.
Um…jeez, I really hate getting sneak previews and opportunities to check out new gear before anyone else does. Somehow I forced myself to say yes.
A couple of days later he dropped five gig bags off in my office and foreswore me not to let anyone else see them (no problem, there are only 350 musicians working in this building, and my office has a glass front wall…). He offered to let me keep them for a few days, though as it turned out, they lived here for several weeks.
Inside the gig bags were the five instruments in the new Fender Road Worn Series: a ’50s Tele, a ’50s Strat, a ’60s Strat, a ’50s Precision Bass, and a ’60s Jazz Bass. They’re made faithfully with period-correct hardware, woods, and nitrocellulose lacquer finishes.
The body finishes are “aged” to appear as if the instrument had been played – a lot – over several decades. The necks and fingerboards are worn in, with nicely rounded edges and lots of exposed wood on the back. The largish frets are clean and well dressed, without wear. The overall effect can be summed up in one word: comfortable.
The Tex Mex pickups in the guitars and the alnicos in the basses provide authentic tones with nice meatiness. The rich, sparkling tones and powerful sustain are also aided by the high-quality woods. In short, these are outstanding instruments. The tones are great, the strings sing, and the necks are comfortable. On top of that, they look like the real thing – you’d swear these were old instruments. I’ve read a few complaints on forums that the wear patterns are all the same, but I’ve also heard that the finish is very thin on these instruments. By spending a small amount of time with the guitar in your hands, you’ll quickly wear your own signature patterns into the neck and finish.
My favorite of the guitars was the ’50s Strat, with that soft V-shaped neck, but any of the three 6-strings was awesome – all three rang nicely and played equally well. Both basses thundered with plenty of articulation and punch. I expect that one of the Road Worn Jazz Basses is going to end up in my stable.
I’ve got three or four guitars that have been “aged” the old-fashioned way – I’ve played them for 20-30 years for endless hours of practicing and rehearsing as well as hundreds of gigs. Amazingly, these new Fender Road Worn guitars and basses duplicate the effects of all that time and use/abuse. The look is one thing, but I’m most impressed that they capture the “feel” of an old guitar. On top of that, they sound and play great.
The Fender Custom Shop “relic” instruments have done really well. It will be interesting to see how these Road Worn guitars, which are made in Mexico and come in at much lower price points, will do. My prediction is that the biggest problem Fender is going to have is making enough of the Road Worn guitars and basses to keep up with demand.