Like the ready-trashed Road Worns but need a touch of modernity with hotter pickups and a flatter fingerboard? Review by Alex Lees
Fender first applied the relic tactic to its Mexican-built range with the Road Worn models of two years ago, and now they’ve combined that philosophy with the more modern specs of the Classic Players to come up with the Road Worn Player range, comprising this HSS (humbucker/single/single) model plus a conventional Strat and a Tele with neck humbucker.
The gleam of newness has been taken off everything, including the heavily-tarnished saddles and pickup polepieces – except on the bought-in humbucker, although even there Mr Duncan’s name has been scuffed away at the edges. Perhaps the most impressive touch is the edging of the three-ply scratchplate, which is not so much ‘white’ as ‘bottom of a skip’.
In position 2 the pick attack can be even more piercing if you’re not careful, but it’s a pleasingly articulate rendering of the familiar out-of-phase cluck. The middle pickup on its own brings more middly aggression into the picture, but now it’s the other tone control that needs to do a bit of taming – and that’s even more true when it’s mixed with the humbucker.
The reason for this becomes clear in position 5: the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus is one lively puppy. The extra bark is no more than you’d expect from a twin-coil unit, but if anything it’s brighter than the singles too.
This, it seems, is all down to the ‘Plus’. Unlike the standard Alnico II-based Pearly Gates, this Fender-specific version has an Alnico V magnet, which is often associated with a more sparkly output. Based on this frisky fella, we’re not about to argue.
The single-coil tones warm up nicely with a touch of overdrive, and it’s not difficult to keep those spiky overtones in check with the right amp/pedal combination. Sustain is decent, the five settings each have their own distinct voice and playing this thing suddenly becomes a much more rewarding experience. You’re still not going to warp the floorboards with low-end whoomph… but that’s what bass players are for, isn’t it?
Again, we’re not talking about Les Paul levels of fatness, but in the right context it’s a sound that will work well. Spare a thought also for the vintage-style vibrato, which is no string-flop-capable Floyd Rose but copes with hairy-handed abuse remarkably well for a unit that’s pretty much faithful to the original design of 1954.
Let’s not go through the whole relic debate again. If you think the fake scuffs and dings on this guitar are fundamentally silly, or worry that there’s too much fakery in the music world already, don’t worry – you’ve still got plenty of showroom-friendly gleamers to choose from. If, on the other hand, you like your mojo ready-mixed, and are looking for an HSS Strat with a lightweight, cutting tone – and you’re ready to pay this kind of cash for a non-USA model – then the Road Worn Player might well be the one.