A Tribute to Guitars Weathered and Worn, but Still Kicking

I’m sure I’m not alone in this opinion, but for whatever reason I find the more worn down, dinged up, dented, and bruised a guitar is the better it looks. There’s something about the character a guitar develops at the expense of its own matter. Sure guitars look nice when they’re sitting on a stand in the local Guitar Center with a full coat of paint, an even finish, and rows of fluorescent lights mercilessly beaming down onto them, but in my opinion it just doesn’t compare to the style of a guitar that has been whittled down bit by bit over decades of use.

Reliced guitars I very much enjoy because they harness that appearance, but I like them in the same way that I like red guitars. It’s an aesthetic that I find agreeable to my eye. Reliced guitars simply just have an asterisk because they lack the mystery as to where each little dent came from. The mystery for the observer and the stories to demystify from the guitarist are what imbue wounded guitars with the aura of awesomeness that they harness.

When a guitarist has Brillo pad arm hair you know paint is going to come off over time. If you’re as famous for sweating as Angus Young is your guitar is going to get stained and the metal bits might even rust. And if you’re Keith Richards slamming your guitar into the faces of fans that get on stage might very pop a dent or two into the body. These are things that reliced guitars sadly miss out on.

But I digress. You didn’t come here to read my philosophy on how I justify the new chip on the headstock of my Warlock from the last time gravity yanked it towards the floor. Because this is about authentic battle scars and natural wear and tear I’ve chosen not to include reliced and replica guitars.

The Guitars

More Fun Facts

There is a solid number of guitars that are every bit as renowned as the guitarist that wields them if not arguably more so, partially because of the abuse they’ve sustained with an untarnished sound. Willie Nelson’s Trigger Martin guitar, for example. For every crease Nelson’s facial features have acquired over the years his guitar has adopted matching scratches. Hell, he’s played it so much he inadvertently gave the guitar a second sound hole. Just looking at it you’d think it’s on the cusp of being officially broken yet it’s still in use to this day.

Steve Vai’s Evo Jem looks relatively healthy considering the mileage it’s gained. Modest paint chippings and scratches here and there aside nothing says wear and tear like a crack right down the backside of a guitar or having to replace the neck twice.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s treatment of his guitar he named the First Wife was… well… if it were his real wife there would have probably been a lawsuit for domestic violence. I don’t know many women that appreciate cigarettes being stored in their ears. Eric Clapton’s Blackie from the front looks quite well, but if you look at the back it looks like he took a potato peeler to it.

Tony Iommi’s SG looks like it’s been stored in an open fire what with the crinkled paint chipping away to nothingness. Bruce Springsteen’s natural finished Tele bears the wear from a sweaty arm fueled by determination to see how vibrant the wood is without that finish on it. Neil Young’s on the other hand is more akin to what you’d find on Eric Johnson’s guitars. No blemish so heinous that you’d second guess whether you’re looking at a guitar or some gestalt of junk MacGyver threw together to make something explode, but the smears, scrapes, and war scars are plainly visible in the right light. Speaking of MacGyverisms the late Big Joe Williams was known for making crude additions like pickups and pots with a few wires and some duct tape. He apparently didn’t mind having all the wires strung around the body while he played.

Kyle Smitchens (448 Articles)

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.