Adrian Belew’s Iconic Strat: The Birth of DIY Relic’ing with Seymour Duncan’s Unconventional Methods

by Madonna

“He took the lighter fluid, squirted it on the guitar, and set it on fire. That might be the first relic’d guitar – and you can thank Seymour Duncan for that”: The time Adrian Belew DIY aged his Strat with a screwdriver, spray paint, and motor oil.

Adrian Belew is known for his collection of Fender Stratocasters, but one of his most notable is a heavily relic’d brown sunburst model.


The worn and battered Strat – featured on the cover of Guitar World magazine – was bought by Belew in the late 1970s when he needed a new guitar for an upcoming tour with Frank Zappa’s band.


However, the unattractive Strat wasn’t stage-ready until a bold cosmetic overhaul, thanks to a famous friend of Belew’s.


As Belew explains in the latest Guitar World issue, the relic’ing wasn’t from natural wear and tear: it was a DIY project led by Seymour Duncan.

“I went to a local used guitar store and found this kinda ugly Stratocaster – a brown sunburst hanging on the wall,” Belew recalls. “I asked, ‘How much for this one?’ They said, ‘It doesn’t have a case, so we’ll give it to you for $285.’ I thought it was a pretty good buy.”

Despite the bargain, the guitar wasn’t visually appealing, so Belew turned to Duncan, who had an unusual solution involving screwdrivers, spray paint, and lighter fluid.

“I called Seymour in California and told him, ‘I have this ugly-ass guitar.’ He said, ‘I know what to do.’ He took files, a screwdriver, spray paint, and lighter fluid from his car.

“He laid the guitar on the lawn and before I could react, he squirted lighter fluid on the guitar and set it on fire. I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m committed now!’

“Then he started working. He dragged it through the grass, sanded the neck, applied motor oil, and used screwdrivers to chip pieces off. I added some spray paint touches.”

This rudimentary method of relic’ing contrasts with modern techniques like those from Gibson Murphy Lab and Fender’s Heirloom aging process, which have refined the art.

Nevertheless, Belew’s approach was innovative for its time, with the King Crimson icon claiming it might be the first relic’d guitar, all thanks to Seymour Duncan.


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