For many guitar players, a new guitar just doesn’t carry the cachet of a worn, well-played vintage instrument. The romance of the used six-string that gave a superstar his start, trumps the sleek look of a brand-new guitar fresh from the guitar shop. There are several ways to 'age' a new guitar for that vintage look.
To make a guitar look like it’s had hard use for years, the first step involves understanding where a guitar becomes worn after years of playing. One should consider such things as where a palm would rest on the neck of the guitar, or how a belt buckle or shirt buttons would scratch the back.
Vintage guitars sound different from new ones, too, so knowing how old guitars should sound is another step in creating an authentic vintage feel. Wear patterns around the strings and on the body affect the guitars sound, so adding wear to those areas can help to create the sound that goes with the look.
Some basic equipment is all that’s needed to age a guitar body. Sandpaper, a screwdriver and some wood stain can help simulate the wear and tear of years of playing. First, disassemble the guitar. Using medium sandpaper, sand down the finish on the neck and body in the appropriate places. It’s helpful to refer to photographs or actual vintage guitars to make sure the wear pattern looks authentic.
Many authentic vintage guitars have cigarette burns on the neck, from players holding a cigarette in a couple of fingers on the strings. Creating a simulated cigarette burn adds another touch of authenticity, and this can be done with a dark wood stain. Using sandpaper, roughen a small circular area on the guitar’s neck and rub a small amount of stain over it to mimic a burn mark.
The aging process doesn’t stop with the guitar body. The instrument’s hardware and strings also need to match the vintage body. One way to do this is to place the hardware pieces into a large coffee can with some small stones and sand, and shake the can vigorously until the desired amount of distressing is achieved. The knobs can be distressed with wood stain, too, or even soaked in coffee to for an aged look.
The back of the guitar plays an important part in creating vintage effects. Although largely hidden, the guitar back suffers wear and tear from constant contact with clothing and other surfaces. Scratching and gouging the wood with a screwdriver or dull knife can simulate nicks and scrapes. Some players drop the instrument a few times to get some authentic chips and paint scrapes, but this requires some caution, or the wood will crack.
If all this seems like too much work, some online custom guitar shops sell new guitars with a pre-worn look. And it’s always possible to buy an old, genuinely aged guitar online or find one at a thrift shop. Although some guitar experts say that the only way to really create a vintage look is to play the guitar long and hard, it’s possible for anyone to enjoy the glamour of a well-worn guitar without having to wait decades for the look.
~ Dave Quinn