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Leader: Beyond Our Years

Sam Inglis By Sam Inglis
Published April 2024

Beyond Our Years

It’s always uncomfortable when someone says the quiet part out loud. Doing just that at the recent NAMM Show were hardware manufacturers Audioscape, whose Trainwrecked series is, in short, a collection of distressed or ‘reliced’ outboard equipment.

Now I don’t know about you, but I long ago gave up the idea that functionality was the most important aspect of guitar design. If what we really wanted was the most efficient, versatile tool for the job, we’d all be playing Yamaha Pacificas. In real life, appearances do matter, and so the popularity of relic Strats and Teles isn’t hard to understand.

Are we in fact so shallow that we’re more likely to patch in an LA‑2A clone if it looks like it was rescued from a house fire?

But does the same really hold true for studio equipment? Are we in fact so shallow that we’re more likely to patch in an LA‑2A clone if it looks like it was rescued from a house fire? Surely we are all golden‑eared professionals, who make our equipment choices strictly on the basis of sonic integrity?

Well, probably not, and the introduction of ‘reliced’ audio equipment is disconcerting because it pulls aside the curtain and exposes this illusion for what it is.

We are all influenced by appearances. We expect gear to sound a certain way because it looks a certain way, and manufacturers can play on these associations to make their gear more appealing. Nothing made in 2024 really needs to have Bakelite knobs, or Hammertone finishes, or magic‑eye meters — but they at least have a veneer of utility. What shocks about the idea of relicing is that there’s no conceivable functional reason for it.

But does that actually matter? Studios are environments designed to foster creativity. If we choose distressed furniture for the lounge, or retro lampshades for the kitchen, is that so different from buying gear that has been artificially aged? It all goes to creating a vibe, after all.

In the end, I think, what bothers me isn’t that relicing is nakedly aesthetic. It’s that the aesthetic misses the point. Fine wine and expensive cheese get better as they mature. Debatably, so do some guitars. But the idea that audio equipment somehow improves with age is just daft. Inasmuch as I love the aesthetic of vintage gear, that has nothing to do with it being scratched and dirty. (I wouldn’t want to work in a studio that allowed its gear to get into that state, anyway!) It’s because it reflects the highest engineering standards of its time. It reminds us of the creativity and ambition of designers who were pushing boundaries at the time. It’s because, although it’s now part of our collective past, it once pointed towards the future.

I wonder what equipment made today will inspire similar feelings in 50 years’ time?

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief