Fender Custom Colours: the Pre-CBS Era

As the electric guitar became a more established form of musical instrument during the United States’ post-war years, a car craze swept across the nation in a wave of colourful finishes that reflected the bright, optimistic outlook of America’s young and upwardly mobile. It was a time of great cultural change and Fender’s new solidbody electrics seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the 50s entirely; from technology and travel to politics and music, the Californian firm’s futuristic instruments embodied it all.

The first known Fender custom colour guitar is a white 1951 ‘Nocaster’ which once belonged to Nat King Cole guitarist Oscar Moore. Also believed to be the first Fender guitar featuring gold hardware it was finished using a white paint from DuPont’s Duco range – a brand of nitrocellulose lacquer ubiquitous in the automotive industry at the time. Being relatively cheap, plentiful, and easy to obtain, DuPont’s Duco (nitrocellulose) and Lucite (acrylic) automotive paints were soon adopted by Fender as a standard choice for their bespoke finishes.

Although some well-known players owned custom colour Fender guitars in the early/mid 50s, such instruments are exceptionally rare. While being made to order on a singular basis, at that point they were ‘custom’ in the truest sense of the word. It wasn’t until 1956 when Fender began advertising custom finishes “at 5% additional cost”, but the concept/marketing didn’t really take off until 1961 when their first custom colour chart standardised a range of options for customers.

While the Stratocaster, Jazzmaster and Jaguar all featured a sunburst finish as standard, a regular Telecaster/Esquire-style blonde finish would be accounted for as a custom colour option and subject to a 5% upcharge. A further 14 DuPont custom colour options then remained, namely: Daphne Blue, Sonic Blue, Black, Sherwood Green Metallic, Foam Green, Surf Green, Fiesta Red, Dakota Red, and Shell Pink nitrocellulose/Duco, along with Lake Placid Blue Metallic, Shoreline Gold Metallic, Olympic White, Burgundy Mist Metallic, and Inca Silver Metallic acrylic/Lucite. All guitars finished in the above colours normally feature a nitrocellulose clearcoat.

Overall, Fender’s custom colours were a smashing success, although some of the options proved to be far more popular than others and the selection was reviewed on an ongoing basis. In 1963, the rarely ordered Shell Pink was supplanted by the far more numerous Candy Apple Red Metallic, and in 1965, the chart was further amended with new metallic shades which replaced six existing colours. These replacements included: Blue Ice (Daphne Blue); Firemist Gold (Shoreline Gold); Firemist Silver (Inca Silver); Charcoal Frost (Burgundy Mist); Ocean Turquoise (Sherwood Green); and Teal Green (Surf Green).