In the 1950s, America’s fascination with the automobile was running at a fever pitch. The booming economy of the country’s post-war years pushed the car from a purpose-built means of transportation to the center of family and social life. As a result, automakers started to offer their wares in ever-better dress.
Beyond plush interiors and dashboards with more dials, switches, and knobs, one of the key elements of the surge in the popularity of the automobile involved its paint. Competing furiously, makers offered a broad palette of potential colors to help Neighbor A differentiate his ride from that of Neighbor B.
Guitar makers, competing similarly and becoming ever more savvy, moved to capitalize on the cult of the car (and its many colors). What better way to make the electric guitar a similar object of desire, symbolizing the dawn of a new era of freedom, innovation, and rising affluence?
Regardless of the rationale or reasoning, custom colors are today an essential (and sometimes highly valued) feature of many vintage instruments, though their origins and specificity are not always adequately documented. In an attempt to clear the (lacquer-saturated) air on the topic, we offer a look at the custom-color finishes offered by Fender in the ’60s, including an aide for easy reference and a reminder of the debt guitar builders owe to the automotive industry.
From a guitarmaker’s standpoint, a “custom” finish does not necessarily mean a colorful finish, but rather a non-standard finish on a given model. For instance, in the ’50s, blond was standard on Fender’s Telecaster and Esquire, but it became a custom option on the Strat (on which the regular finish was sunburst). Any finish may or may not be custom, depending on the make/model. In 1952, the metallic gold of the Les Paul was standard at Gibson, but to get one on a Telecaster would have required a custom order.
Custom-color finishes appeared on Fender instruments well before the company’s first color chart was released in 1960. The mention “available in a DuPont Ducco color of the player’s choice at an additional 5% cost” first showed up in spec sheets for the Stratocaster and Precision Bass circa ’56, but customer requests for non-standard finishes actually go back to the early ’50s.
The custom colors used by Fender came from the automotive industry for three prime reasons: there were plenty of shades to choose from since colors were a strong selling argument to differentiate cars well before it became the case of guitars; automotive paints were well-suited to an industrial environment, easy to apply, and fast-drying; and finally, they were easy to procure.
It’s difficult to identify precisely which colors were used on Fender instruments before 1960, partly because of the sheer number of automotive paint shades available at the time, but also because of the effect of aging on these colors. It’s also impossible to determine whether a given color was specifically required by a player/customer or whether it was actually chosen by Fender to match a request for, say, a red or a green guitar. The up-and-coming company was keen to differentiate itself from peers and rivals by donning unusual finishes to guitars as evidenced by Eldon Shamblin’s gold ’54 Strat, Pee Wee Crayton’s red one, or the colorful Precision models exhibited in ’55.
That said, Fender instruments with a genuine custom-color finish other than Blond remained a fairly rare occurrence in the ’50s.
Today we offer a wide range of colours all with several faded shades.
SONIC BLUE OR FADED SONIC BLUE?
Sonic blue has outstripped all colours except for faded arctic white. I specialiase in making the paint feel faded by time and general light exposure.
ARCTIC WHITE FADED YELLOWING
This is a very popular colour choice and our whites vary from cool chalky feel to that Gilmour Strat 001 model to the faded ochre lacquers of the infamous but beautifully toned 70s genre.
Here’s the chart as we are growing and knowing it.