When Fender introduced its Custom Shop Relic models in the mid-’90s, few could have guessed how big the market for relics would become. Guitarists by the score craved vintage authenticity and new-guitar reliability in the same instrument. Replete with strategically placed arm-wear; nicks, dings, and checking; corroded hardware; and other signs of extensive use, Fender’s relics could be dead ringers for their vintage inspirations. But most importantly, these guitars cost a fraction of the price of their predecessors and unlike vintage instruments, were replaceable—handy for touring guitarists who didn’t want to take their beloved original instruments on the road.
While those first Fender relics may have been accessibly priced, they weren’t necessarily cheap. But in 2009 Fender began using the same proprietary aging process for its new Ensenada, Mexico-built Road Worn guitars to bring vintage specs and feel to an affordable level. This year, the company released the Road Worn Player Series, which are still affordable, but add a lot of modern player-friendly features and mods like higher-output pickups and bigger frets that weren’t available on vintage-inspired models. I checked out the Road Worn Player Telecaster, with its neck-position humbucker and relatively flat fingerboard radius and was impressed with the effortless and effective combination of modern and time-tested design attributes.
The Road Worn Player Series features lighter wear than the original Road Worn instruments.
Pre Hot-Rodded Styling
Our Player Tele could easily be mistaken for a guitar that its owner retooled 25 years ago and has since played several nights a weeks in a smoky bar. The black nitro finish (it’s also available in candy apple red) looks like an weathered high-quality refinish, and the PAF-style neck pickup is typical of the sort of hot-rodding that was common in the ’70s and ’80s to old single-coil guitars. Some of the details, like the 21-fret maple neck, spa-ghetti headstock logo, and eight-screw pickguard look vintage. While others, including the squared-off tuners and six individual bridge saddles, are more current.
The Road Worn Player Tele has medium jumbo frets and a 9.5-inch radius (as opposed to the vintage 7.25), which gives it an unmistakably modern feel. Electronics include a Seymour Duncan 59 humbucker and a Fender Tex Mex single-coil bridge pickup, which is slightly hotter than a vintage-spec unit. And the three-way switch switches between bridge, two-pickup, and neck pickup settings.
Our Player Tele is a well-made guitar. While you can fast get into subjective territory assessing the quality of something that has been intentionally abused, the finish—actual nitro and not the smothering poly often used on inexpensive modern guitars—is nice and thin and the patterns of wear look convincing and not overdone. The neck fits nicely in its pocket. Though on the fingerboard, the fret ends are a little rough and the action a tad high—details that can be addressed easily enough by a good tech.
Vibrant overtones popped out on the simplest barre-chord work and the guitar responded to blues-based soloing with an excited snap.
The Sound and the Feel
The medium C-shaped neck, with a smooth satin finish, also lends a
modern feel to the Player Tele. It’s fast and extremely comfortable to
grip in all positions from the to the highest frets. Whether playing
complex chords or single-note lines I never felt like I was fighting
the neck. And thanks to the 9.5-inch radius, it was easy to bend the
strings pretty aggressively without the notes fretting out.
Unamplified, this Road Worn Player Tele is livelier than most guitars
you encounter in this price range, which may owe something to the thin
finish. Vibrant overtones popped out on the simplest barre-chord work
and the guitar responded to blues-based soloing with an excited snap.
I plugged the Tele into a Blackstar HT Stage 6 amplifier,
dialing in a clean tone and activating the guitar’s bridge pickup.
Right out of the gate, the sound was slightly fatter than you’d
typically expect of a Tele, but it did have that unmistakable twang
that works so well for pedal steel–style bends.
When I switched to the neck pickup, it came as little surprise that the guitar reacted like a Tele on steroids. This pickup had a rich and spongy tone that added excellent definition and presence to John Scofield-style jazzy lines as well as substance and grit for some classic shuffle It’s a wide sound that you can adjust be at home in a great variety of idioms, from roots rock to reggae and even punk—just what would be expected from a no-nonsense multipurpose guitar like a Tele. And it’s all very easily shaped with use of the tone knob and volume control.
With its Road Worn Player Telecaster, Fender has incorporated some of the mods most commonly applied to vintage Teles in a brand new instrument that looks convincingly loved and well travelled. The Road Worn Player surpasses the sound, both acoustic and plugged-in, of most guitars at this price range, and incorporates features, like a nitro finish, generally found on Fender’s more expensive guitars.
The Road Worn Player Tele would only be cooler if it came with a slightly better factory setup, were available in finishes other than black and red, and came with an optional rosewood fretboard. But all things considered, the Road Worn Player is a superb guitar for the price—a perfect, blank slate of an instrument for La-Z-Boy instrumentalists and working pros alike.
you’re looking for an awesome but inexpensive Telecaster with a vintage look and modern upgrades.
you’re a stickler for vintage specs.
|Street $950 with deluxe gig bag - Fender - fender.com