T HELOWEN D
The Four R’s – Relics and Reissues
Welcome back to The Low End. The the difference in the back contour. Plus,
research for these columns went fast and I relic basses just don’t feel completely cor-have to say that I actually learned a thing rect. To my ear, the pickups usually sound a
or two. I got to play scores of really cool little more modern and the pole pieces on
basses in the process and even bought the newer issues are visually incorrect. The
one myself. My “hands-on” for this final funny thing is that I love these pickups and
segment, however, was mildly curtailed – I use them as replacements all the time.
recently broke my wrist and it hurts like hell
to play. I guess a 46-year-old body is no
match for a 16-year-old brain. Last month
we learned about refins and replicas; this
month we’ll tackle relics and reissues.
As discussed two issues ago, the term
“relic” actually has two meanings. A relic
can be a factory built, higher-end copy of
an original vintage item or it can refer to
the process used for aging. In this installment, we will only be discussing the bass,
not the process. Relic basses come in multiple levels of wear:
A: Dragged behind a truck and cleaned
up with a belt sander
B: Rode hard and put away dry
C: Used in church on Sunday
D: The player wore a chamois dress and
gloves both times they used it
A relic is usually made by a company’s
Custom Shop, where the wood, setups and
finishes are of a higher standard. There is
also sometimes a Master Luthier-built line,
which takes the quality to an even higher
degree. The nice thing about relic product
lines is that while you have your staples – a
fifties or sixties sunburst version of a more
common bass – there are some very creative products developed as well. I’ve seen
small batch, limited edition items in rare
colors with even rarer features. If buying
one new, you will also get the factory warranty, a case and goodies.
The misconception, however, is that these
basses are exact knock-offs of real deal
vintage items. They are not. I’ve seen many
that look exactly like the real thing from a
foot away, but upon closer inspection the
neck shape and back contours are slightly
off. The necks – especially maple boards
– do not have rolled-off edges like original
issue items, and any vintage expert will see
My two cents: these are very good basses
that represent a solid value. They play and
sound terrific, and feature killer visuals to
boot. If you’re buying one on the used
market, these typically hold a steady value
– when your needs change, you can typically
break even. Interestingly, some older relic
basses made by certain luthiers are actually
selling at a great premium, although personally, for I’d rather spend the same amount
on an original, refin’ed item.
I love reissues. We’ve all owned at least
three of these in our playing careers! We
4 PREMIERGUITAR APRIL 2008
know what they are and what they do
– they’re off-the-rack, factory built interpretations of the 40-year-old real deal. They
use premium hardware and electronics and
decent wood, they look sweet, and when
properly set up, can be murderous players.
They feel great and generally fit your budget. Brand new US reissues can typically be
found for $1600 and under; the common
price point is $1200 to $1400.
We are now beginning to see early reissue
basses passing the 25-year mark and taking on vintage status. Early Fender USA
Reissue basses in the V00 to V03 range
can demand a huge premium – I’ve seen
these basses tagged as high as $3500. If
you get a good one (I’ve seen many with
lousy necks) they may be the best basses
Fender has made since 1966. They play
and sound great andthey look fabulous.
I’ve owned a few that weigh in under eight
pounds, which makes them a joy to play.
New instruments represent a solid, affordable value, but when purchased used, they
are outright cheap for what you are getting. I would consider these the best bang
for your buck.
Food For Thought
A client recently brought in a special
run bass that was originally paid $4800.
I offered him $2200 – full retail value on
trade. When he declined, I sold the bass
he wanted and he ended up settling for
$1800 at a big box store. Think about the
long and short term; whenever I buy a
bass, I think about what will happen if I sell
it. Finally, keep in mind that some of the
higher prices we’ve discussed will also buy
you a really nice 40-year-old refinished bass
or an original model from the seventies.
This series was a lot of fun; if you’d like to
see something covered, please drop me a
line. Until next time, drop the gigbag and
don’t forget the cannolis.
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is
currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at