Fender Custom Colors in the 1960s

Misty Lakes, Foamy Shores
’63 Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red. ’64 Strat in Foam Green. ’64 Musicmaster in Dakota Red. ’59 Stratocaster in Mary Kaye dress.
’63 Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red. ’64 Strat in Foam Green. ’64 Musicmaster in Dakota Red. ’59 Stratocaster in Mary Kaye dress.
A ’56 Ford Thunderbird in Fiesta Red.
A ’56 Ford Thunderbird in Fiesta Red.
This ’56 Buick exhibits a combination of Foam Green and (darker) Laurel Green.
This ’56 Buick exhibits a combination of Foam Green and (darker) Laurel Green.

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.

(LEFT) This 1956 Ford color chart lists the famous Fiesta Red (which was <em>not</em> invented by George Fullerton!). (MIDDLE) Color names can be deceitful. The Blue Ice and Sherwood Green shades featured in this ’59 Mercury chart are <em>not</em> the colors actually used by Fender. (RIGHT) This 1964 GM chart includes the two Cadillac Firemist shades used (and re-named) by Fender.
(LEFT) This 1956 Ford color chart lists the famous Fiesta Red (which was not invented by George Fullerton!). (MIDDLE) Color names can be deceitful. The Blue Ice and Sherwood Green shades featured in this ’59 Mercury chart are not the colors actually used by Fender. (RIGHT) This 1964 GM chart includes the two Cadillac Firemist shades used (and re-named) by Fender.
A Lake Placid Blue ambiance dominates the front page of the ’58 Cadillac catalog.
A Lake Placid Blue ambiance dominates the front page of the ’58 Cadillac catalog.

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.

(LEFT) 1958 Stratocaster with what could be anything from Buick’s 1952 Aztec Gold to Cadillac’s ’55 Goddess Gold. (RIGHT) This Precision Bass is a color called Pompano Peach, a 1955 Plymouth color from the Beach Series (along with Miami Blue, Orlando Ivory, and Sarasota Sand). Daphne Blue is one of the many colors borrowed from Cadillac – here on a ’63 Strat with gold-plated parts. Fender Esquire: Jim Colclasure/Kathy Ketner. Fender Precision: John Sprung.
(LEFT) 1958 Stratocaster with what could be anything from Buick’s 1952 Aztec Gold to Cadillac’s ’55 Goddess Gold. (RIGHT) This Precision Bass is a color called Pompano Peach, a 1955 Plymouth color from the Beach Series (along with Miami Blue, Orlando Ivory, and Sarasota Sand). Daphne Blue is one of the many colors borrowed from Cadillac – here on a ’63 Strat with gold-plated parts. Fender Esquire: Jim Colclasure/Kathy Ketner. Fender Precision: John Sprung.
A ’52 Esquire with original Copper finish.
A ’52 Esquire with original Copper finish.

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.

In 1960 – the first year Fender published a color chart – it restricted the number of factory-available colors to 14 shades (plus Blond). The chart was amended in ’63, when Candy Apple Red replaced Shell Pink, and again in ’65, when six new metallic shades were included. The company took the trouble of specifying the actual paint code of each color as referenced by its preferred supplier, DuPont, though the same automotive paints were actually available from other suppliers such as PPG/Ditzler or ACME/Rogers. The summary table (see sidebar) was created after cross-checking the names and color codes listed by Fender. While consulting the table, consider:

A ’57 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz in Dakota Red.
A ’57 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz in Dakota Red.

1) The name of a color may apply to different shades and distinct paint formulas. For example, at least 14 different shades of Sherwood Green were used in the automotive industry between 1951 and ’67 – but only one was retained by Fender.

2) Conversely, a given color defined by a specific paint formula may be used under different names on different cars. For example, Fender’s Shoreline Gold – a 1959 Pontiac color – is exactly the same shade as Gibson’s Golden Mist, which is a ’59 Oldsmobile color.

3) Beware of similar color names that are, in fact, distinct. For example, Foam Green and Seafoam Green are not the same shade; Fender used only the former, contrary to popular belief. Likewise, Placid Blue and Lake Placid Blue are not the same color.

A 1969 Swinger (a.k.a. Arrow or Musiclander) in Candy Apple Red. Photo by John Peden.
A 1969 Swinger (a.k.a. Arrow or Musiclander) in Candy Apple Red. Photo by John Peden.
(LEFT) A 1969 Swinger (a.k.a. Arrow or Musiclander) in Candy Apple Red. Photo by John Peden. (RIGHT) A custom-order ’61 Stratocaster in Sherwood Green, a 1957 Ford color that was used by Fender until ’65.

Leaving aside black, Fender’s 1960 color chart reflects a strong bias toward GM, with 10 colors out of 13, and in particular toward Cadillac, with five colors. In ’65, this bias was somewhat mitigated as four new metallic colors came from Ford, but Cadillac continued to reign supreme with six. Nobody can say if the selection of colors was based on previous customers’ choices or Fender insiders’ own preferences.

When the first chart was issued in 1960, only Olympic White and Shoreline Gold were still being offered on new cars. Automobile manufacturers frequently change names and colors, albeit without necessarily altering their shade significantly. For example, Cadillac’s 1957 Lake Placid Blue is not that different from Georgian Blue, which replaced it in ’59, or from Pelham Blue, which succeeded it in ’60. The cult-like status of some of these paints in today’s guitar realm is an interesting paradox given the planned obsolescence built into most industrial undertakings, including, of course, the car industry.

Whether for commercial and/or industrial reasons, Fender began to reduce its choice of colors in ’69, when six were abandoned including early classics like Fiesta Red, Dakota Red, and Foam Green. In ’72, four more were removed as natural-finish instruments became increasingly fashionable. It would take about a decade before the introduction of vintage reissues rekindled the fashion and propelled custom colors to unprecedented levels.

1960s Original Fender Custom Colors
NOTES: #1 The Olympic White color listed by Cadillac in 1957 has a different paint code (DuPont 2594-L) from the 1958 color (DuPont 2818L) that was used by Fender.
#2 The DuPont code for Black listed by Fender in its charts (1711-X) is inadequate because it does not match any automotive black paint! There are several DuPont black paints for GM cars which Fender could have used in the 1950s: #99 in 1954 (Corvette), #2817-L in1958 (Cadillac) or #88-L in 1958 (Corvette), but it’s impossible to say for sure which paint Fender actually used at the time.
#3 The name Fiesta Red was given to at least three other automotive red colors, all with distinct paint codes from the color (DuPont 2219-H) used by Fender. The DuPont paints 2523-H and 2610-H were both used in 1957, respectively by Ford/Mercury and Chrysler/DeSoto. In 1964, the name also appeared among the colors available on Ford Lincoln cars (DuPont 4294-LM).
#4 When this color first appeared in 1957, its name was spelled “Dakotah.”
#5 Listed by Fender from 1963 as a replacement for Shell Pink, Candy Apple Red was originally a genuine custom finish, whether for cars or guitars, and not a ready-made industrial paint. Like all candy finishes it requires a metallic base coat underneath a translucent color coat and a clear top coat. Its popularity was such that in 1966, Ford listed a Candy Apple Red industrial paint (DuPont 4737-LH) on models like the Mustang or the Thunderbird.
#6 The Blue Ice Metallic paint listed by Ford/Mercury in 1959 is not the color used by Fender from ’65. Fender’s Blue Ice (DuPont 4692-L) was concurrently used by Ford under the name Silver Blue on models like the Fairlane, the Falcon, the Galaxie, the Lincoln and the Mustang over 1965-66.
#7 The name Ocean Turquoise Metallic was first used by Ford in 1962, albeit for a paint (DuPont 4285-L) distinct from the color selected by Fender in 1965 (DuPont 4607-L). The latter actually made its debut on the Ford Mustang in 1964 under the name Twilight Turquoise Metallic.
#8 Sherwood Green is one of the most common names amongst automotive paints going back to the 1920s. It was first used by Ford/ Mercury in 1953, albeit with a paint (DuPont 1539-H) distinct from the one listed by Fender (DuPont 2526-H) which originates in the 1957 models. The same color was also used in 1957 on the Ford Lincoln under the name Vermont Green.
#9 The name Foam Green was used by Chrysler in 1951, albeit for a color (DuPont 1153) distinct from the 1956 Buick shade retained by Fender (DuPont 2253).
#10 Surf Green is a name that was given to several different paints over the years. It was first used by GM/Chevrolet in 1953, albeit for a paint (DuPont 1555) distinct from the 1957 shade (DuPont 2461) retained by Fender.
#11 The original automotive name of this color (DuPont 4297-L) is Teal and the “Green” suffix was added by Fender. It first appeared in 1962 on Ford/Lincoln cars as Riviera Turquoise Metallic, and on Ford Thunderbirds as Patrician Green.
#12 This color (DuPont 4579-H) came out in 1964 at GM/Cadillac under the name Firemist Saddle, later modified to Saddle Firemist by 1965. It was renamed Firemist Gold by Fender to be more descriptive since it was used from 1965 as a replacement for Shoreline Gold.
#13 This color (DuPont 4576-LH) also appeared in 1964 under the name Firemist Blue at GM/Cadillac where it lasted only one year. Fender renamed it Firemist Silver when it was selected in 1965 as a replacement for Inca Silver.
#14 Upon its inception in 1959, this color (DuPont 2936-L) was also used on Buick cars under the name Lido Lavender and on Pontiac cars as Royal Amethyst. From 1965 the Burgundy Mist name was again used by GM for Buick and Oldsmobile cars, albeit with distinct paint codes (DuPont4624-LH and 5063-LH).
The March ’16 issue contained a similar look at Gibson’s custom colors from the ’60s Access the article here: vintageguitar.com/26671/gibson-custom-colors-in-the-1960s/. Order the March ’16 issue here: store.vintageguitar.com/back-issues/back-issue-march-16.html.

Special thanks to Phil Laverne for helping with automotive paints.


This article originally appeared in VG September 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.