Vintage Fender Guitar Colors: A Buyer's Guide to Standard and Custom Guitar Finishes
America needed color.
The Second World Ward, a harrowing confrontation with the forces of darkness, had left its mark on the minds of mid-century citizens. Endless reels of black and white battle film had, understandably, worn out their welcome, and the country was healing in the form of a post-war economic boom unrivaled in human history.
As the page turned and a new era of American optimism began to dawn, two industries started thriving. You guessed it: cars and guitars.
Automobiles had shifted from a utilitarian form of transportation to a central pillar of family life and individual identity. Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac, and other major car manufacturers aimed their attention beyond technological advancement to aesthetic advancement, and began offering brilliant custom colors still sought after by vintage car connoisseurs.
But hotrods came hand-in-hand with rock 'n roll, and rock 'n roll came hand-in-hand with electric guitars. Fender sensed the music changing, and though they had been offering custom color guitars at the buyer's request (for an extra 5% on the sale price), they knew it was time to standardize the vibrant vibes a color Telecaster or Stratocaster could bring to the world.
Luckily, car companies were already doing the major legwork when it came to mixing fresh colors—and giving them fresh names. The original Fender color chart, released in 1960, included fourteen chromatic offerings that played directly off the colors being used in the automotive industry, which made for a lot of beautiful photos of a Tele riding shotgun in a Bel-Air. It included nine DuPont Duco nitrocellulose finishes and five DuPont Lucite acrylic finishes—
- Shell Pink
- Daphne Blue
- Sonic Blue
- Fiesta Red
- Dakota Red
- Sherwood Green Metallic
- Foam Green
- Surf Green
- Olympic White
- Lake Placid Blue Metallic
- Shoreline Gold Metallic
- Burgundy Mist Metallic
- Inca Silver Metallic
The original chart was amended in 1963, and replaced Shell Pink with the now-ubiquitous Candy Apple Red finish. Then, in 1965, as the Fender's CBS-era began, the chart was updated again to include five new metallic finishes as well, but we're going to focus on the pre-CBS colors here.
The color choice a player makes, whether it be on their first guitar or their fiftieth, is a big one. When it comes to guitars, color can be the initial point of inspiration for a collector or player. It acts as a kind of aesthetic sounding board for the soul and is rarely if ever chosen at random—especially when buying vintage. Let's meditate quickly on each of these original vintage hues and see what they could say about the one who plays a guitar in which it's clad.
Short-lived but delightfully beguiling, the now very-rare Shell Pink finish embodies mid-century sexy. In name and shade, it calls to mind mythical beach trips to Rockaway, summers of love in the decade of rock 'n roll, surf runs on the high E-string. Borrowed from Chrysler, this finish can be both playful and provocative—not to mention extremely valuable, should you find a true Shell Pink vintage Fender guitar.
Don't ever listen to someone who says that another color is the new black. There is no new black. Ever. Even as America emerged as a truly non-monochrome land, Fender knew one hue was timeless. Vintage black Stratocasters stand apart as unassuming, yet mesmerizing, relics of Fender's first color runs. For players who couldn't care less about their devil-may-care image, vintage black picks up the slack—you'll never go out of style.
Sonic Blue comes at you with a boyish vibe that looks great when the right lady plays it. As a sample, Sonic seems unassuming enough, but once it's double-coating a vintage Fender Mustang, the energy is undeniable. Another Cadillac color, Fender boosted this optimistic hue and started shellacking guitars with it in the early '60s, to popular response. Its elementary tone suggests peace of mind—if you hold it against the sky, you can almost see an eagle fly through it.
For hotshot guitar pickers of the mid-century, one tone shone alone as the party-starter: Fiesta Red. Fender picked up this rowdy color from the Thunderbird Fairlaine, and history was made. Fiesta's red aggression is offset by the slightest orange, giving it a none-too-serious ease that fit rockabilly, blues, and surf shows from the bar to the beach. To play it is to play it. Nothing says let's rock like Fiesta Red.
At least once, every guitar player deserves to play a guitar the color of blood. Dakota Red is an unapologetic shade from the General Motors skin-pack that screams passion. At home on any guitar from the Fender family, Dakota only works for those who play what they mean and mean what they play. On a vintage model, this red is remarkable for its resistance to fading—hold one in front of a bull and see what happens.
SHERWOOD GREEN METALLIC
Sherwood Green Metallic has a royalty to it that might justify a Strat that asks you pay taxes. This lush, sexy, sparkling shade came from Mercury—literally. Fender began borrowing it from the car manufacturer at the end of the 50s, and once America got a load of it on an electric guitar, the car didn't stand much of a chance. Sherwood has a brilliant benevolence that can inspire any player to greater skill.
FOAM GREEN and SURF GREEN
It's hard to talk about these two without each other. We could consider both equally responsible for the "seafoam green" debacle—a color that never existed at Fender, yet somehow remains lodged in the American consciousness as the catch-all name for any hue that falls somewhere between blue and green.
Either way, they're both related to turquoise, and we're all the better for it. Fender borrowed Foam from a Buick, and Surf from a Chevrolet to start selling guitars in these lovely coastal tones that just say paradise. Cool blue is somewhat simple to pull off—cool green, on the other hand, needs a real killer. Both Foam and Surf have that edgy nonchalance that validates the songbird.
Pure as the driven snow never looked so suggestive. Olympic White originally made its debut on a Cadillac in 1958 and found its way onto Fender's color catalog not long after. Olympic is exactly what white should be: white. Holding a vintage Tele in this tone feels like a fresh start—no matter where, no matter when. Olympic has remained a popular option for decades, in more than this earthly dimension.
LAKE PLACID BLUE METALLIC
Iconic. Nothing captures a magic stage sensation like Lake Placid Blue Metallic. Like light hitting water, the variety of color textures and refraction to found in a vintage LPB are endless. This Cadillac color found a fine home on Fender guitars in the early 60s, offering players a liquid beauty that suggests something out of reach. Representing the true iridescence of instrumentation, LPB is for everyone with a big imagination.
SHORELINE GOLD METALLIC
Once again leaning into its California roots, Fender offered Shoreline Gold Metallic as a glittering take on inspired guitar-making. This Pontiac-popularized finish catches the sun like sand on an evening beach, setting the stage for any player who's about to step into the light. In a moment, Shoreline can go from low-key to glitzy. What's more American than that?
BURGUNDY MIST METALLIC
Sultry doesn't begin to sum up a vintage Strat or Tele in Burgundy Mist Metallic. If you can find one, our simple advice would be to follow your heart. Somehow conveying depth and playfulness at the same time, Burgundy originally met the world on an Oldsmobile, but when Fender started dressing up electric guitars, the real show started. Turns out it's better fit for old souls than Oldsmobiles.
INCA SILVER METALLIC
It's rare, but on occasion, silver can outweigh gold. Insightful thinking must have guided Fender's hand when they lifted this dazzling finish from Chevrolet. At some moments understanded and at others ostentatious, Inca can spin on a dime for the right lover. Seeing a vintage Telecaster in Inca Silver is enough to suggest that silver doesn't always count for second best.
With these fourteen unforgettable colors, Fender joined forces with the American car industry to infuse the American heart with new hope. To own a vintage Fender in any of these classic shades is to hold a piece of the American dream. If that sounds like your dream, we'll do whatever we can to help make it come true.
Have at it, Fenderphiles.