Rainbow Nation: Gibson Guitars’ World of Colors
Gibson’s early solidbody guitars, notably the Les Paul, were pretty simple when it came to color. Mr Les Paul himself first wanted gold for 1952’s Gold Top as it looked “expensive” – and he’d actually had a gold 1951 ES-175 archtop first made for a WWII veteran. The Les Paul model Gold Top was then followed by the Gibson Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” (“like a tuxedo”). Archtops and acoustics already had their own naturals and stained colors, of course, notably sunbursts, and sunbursts were introduced to the new Les Paul Standards of 1958-1960. Cherry red, on various models, and a few other colors also came in circa 1958.
The ‘60s and Beyond: In Full Color
But it wasn’t really until the 1960s that Gibson first started experimenting much more widely with color. After a huge growth in automobile sales in the ‘50s, cars were still king in the early ‘60s too, and Gibson drew on the colors of cars for its own guitars. A perfect recipient was the Gibson Firebird (introduced in 1963); the body outline was itself designed by auto-designer Ray Dietrich, so what better guitar to rev up with some fine new finishes? It was 1963 when Gibson introduced its first Custom Color chart.
There were clear parallels between the Firebirds’ 10 finish options and cars. Some of the roots of Gibson’s growing range of colors in the ‘60s can be traced to:
Polaris White, Frost Blue – Oldsmobile
Cardinal Red, Kerry Green – Buick
Ember Red – Ford / Edsel
Inverness Green, Pelham Blue – Cadillac
Sparkling Burgundy – Gibson’s own name for a GM color (under various names) on Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac
Many of these colors have endured, albeit in varying degrees of popularity, but many originals are now super-collectible. The newly-opened Songbirds Guitar Museum in Chattanooga currently has an exhibition on 1950s and 1960s guitar colors including these glorious 1960s Gibsons. Note, of course, that colors change over time...!
EB-bass in Sparkling Burgundy, Trini Lopez model in Pelham Blue, plus a selection of Songbirds Museum’s 1960s Firebirds (Kerry Green and Polaris White, front). Photos courtesy of Damien Rogers at Songbirds Guitar Museum.
2017 and the Gibson Custom Shop
These days, all manner of colors and finishes are applied at the Gibson Custom Shop. As well as producing exact replicas of Gibsons from bygone eras – including the guitars of stars such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Alex Lifeson and many more – the Gibson Custom shop also produces bespoke finishes and a huge array of colors. Some are special limited runs unique to individual retailers such as Guitar Center.
The best way to simply marvel at its unrivalled work is to follow the Gibson Custom Shop Facebook feed. Here is just a selection of some of the incredible guitars the Gibson Custom Shop has crafted so far in 2017... and those names don’t take inspiration from just cars any more.
Top row: 1959 Doublecut Junior in Cardinal Red, 1959-style ES-335 Aged in Candy Apple Blue, CS-356 Figured in Tangerine Burst. Second row: L-5 Studio VOS in Army Green, Les Paul Custom Figured in Hot Pink, SG Standard VOS in Silver Sparkle
2017 Gibson USA Colors
Straight out of Gibson USA in Nashville, Gibson’s 2017’s solidbodies continue to shine in new rainbows of colors. Yep, there are of course the “traditional” sunbursts, plus cherry reds, whites and blues, but there make sure you have a look at the brilliant value Firebird Zeros, continuing that tradition of unique hues on a trailblazing Gibson design, and the S-Series Les Paul Custom Studios that come in a host of bright colors, new and old.
Top row: 2017’s Firebird Zero in Frost Blue, Gold Mist and Heather. Second row: 2017’s S Series Les Paul Custom Studio in Radiant Red, Light Green and Rose Gold
What’s your favorite Gibson color? Does it depend on which model guitar it’s on? Feel free to share your pics.
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Browse 2017 USA Gibson electrics.