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FDP Forum / Fender Bass Guitars and Bass Amps / The continuing saga of Fender's "Ghost Reds."


Newberg, Oregon

Fender...never say never.
Aug 20th, 2016 11:09 AM   Edit   Profile  

Here's a topic that has interested me for a long time.

We all know about the period from 59-60 when Fender had a lot of trouble with unstable reds in its three-tone sunbursts. Today, many of these finishes look two-tone, like the burst finishes before 1958. I rather like these. Many of us do.

Then there's a section in Tom Wheeler's book on the history of the Stratocaster in which he has Fender employees from early 1958 talking about how much difficulty they were having at that time getting the reds in the newly introduced three-tone sunbursts to stabilize. Some of the reds, but not all, kept "ghosting," Wheeler says.

Now, there's evidence Fender CBS also had trouble with reds, this time in the late 60s. The link here shows an example. Compare the front body finish of this bass to the back.

I used to know a bass player in my area with a late 60s bass just like this one.


Where's the red?


Aug 20th, 2016 11:58 AM   Edit   Profile  

Happens with 70's poly finishes too. My '75 P had the reds fade from the front. The back still has the red and is much nicer. I regret having it on a wall hanger, exposed to direct UV light, that's when the red has faded. Now the bass is inside its case when I'm not playing it.

Here it is (R) when it still had the red...

(This message was last edited by ilan at 02:03 PM, Aug 20th, 2016)

uncle stack-knob
Contributing Member

united kingdom

Aug 21st, 2016 01:50 AM   Edit   Profile  

The "early red" was achieved by the addition of a red tinter (which is very strong and concentrated in its' undiluted form). This red tint would be added to clear cellulose in a percentage,and sprayed.As George states,they had issues with this red.You have to get the mix right.Too much and the tinter coagulates,too little,and there isn't enough red effect and it looks weak and its' appearance moves toward the pinker end of the spectrum and is too transparent.
Initially,the red was o.k.as is witnessed by the very first three tones,which seem to retain a good amount of red.But by late 1959 and maybe a touch earlier,the red was going walkabout,or fugitive as it is described.The nature or appearance of this early red was from the outset different,as would be expected due to the mix.It had quite a transparent look to it,at least enough to allow the underlying woodgrain lines to be seen on inspection.
However,as happened to Gibson with their red 'bursts,the red faded,and quite quickly.
Some batches of instruments clearly had the issue addressed in some way,most likely as George says,as they endeavoured through experimentation to overcome the issue,so from time to time we see a bass or guitar that defies the "fading timescale".
By the end of 1960 and into 1961,Fender seemed to resolve the issue,and they changed to adding what was all but straight red paint to a lower quantity of clear lacquer and going with that.
This worked and the three tone red sunbursts of 1961/2 are some of the most attractive they produced in my opinion,and were definitive.
Likewise,the Gibson company resolved their red issues by the onset of 1960,and those Les Pauls produced in that year seem to retain their red in the cherry sunburst unlike the preceding 1959 and 1958 models,which garner the nicknames of "teaburst" and "unburst" as only the yellowish ground remains.
In terms of Fenders' red going walkabout in other colours that were offerred. We know about Fiesta Red,which can fade a huge amount it seems.
Also Shell pink,which can almost fade to a pinkish white.
Another fugitive colour is blue,and Sonic Blue can fade a lot toward the white.
As CBS took hold of the production,certainly by 1967 they were beginning to try polyesters,or at least the early renditions of it,on the grounds of ease of use and faster drying times,also the ability of the Fullerplast clear basecoat to fill a multitude of sanding sins and irregularities.
A point here is that the Fullerplast clear basecoat was starting to be used in 1964,and the deal then was that bodies were mainly bleached initially to match up the wood appearance of two and three piece bodies;they were then dipped in yellow stain as a standard,regardless of final finish colour etc.they then had a coat of clear Fullerplast sprayed followed by an almost opaque coat of yellow paint.This was followed by red,and finally brownish black,being mostly black.Clear coats were then sprayed over and the finish would be buffed out.This "1964 sunburst" is easily identified by the appearance of the yellow and its' opaqueness,a feature which continued at least in looks,despite ongoing changes in material.It was all about trying to avoid the issue of the looks of mismatched wood in the body blanks,so they obscured it.Compare this behaviour to the earlier pre-CBS days when far more care was taken,and bleaching occurred but was hardly required really as compared to the CBS scenario.
As the polyester began in use they still retained
the use of cellulose in the application of the last clear topcoats on the bodies,about two coats it seems.This explains why that cellulose can wear away in places in use,but the tougher poly does not,in the same way.Hence you sometimes see "witness lines" where the cellulose has worn off,especially on the forearm contour.
The red in those early poly finishes faded away just as much due to chemical reasons as well as the u.v. effect.
Chemical reaction can be noted with the poly in such areas as the neck heel where a date/index stamping has the stamping turning a faded green,when it started out a dark blue/black.On areas where hardware is fixed such as a bridge or control plate,then sometimes the metal seems to react with the poly and leave reddish impressions of the component,even a pickguard can cause this,or vice-versa.
When they went to an all poly finished neck,they then had to spray the headstock with cellulose on its' face as a last step before decal application
as those decals were chemically reacting with the poly,something which did not occur with cellulose.This explains the obvious darker looking headstock faces on instruments,as that cellulose aged.
An interesting last note about red and Fender is that it is known that candy apple red was a favourite colour of Leo Fender.It was not,as a metallic looking finish,like the other metallic offerrings.They came "straight out of the pot",and were acryllics known by the Du-Pont name of Lucite. Differently,candy apple red was a true custom offerring,and made its' way onto the official colour chart that Fender put out in the very early sixties.It was an invention of Fenders'.
In an interview Mr.Don Randall when asked about the colour, confirmed it as a favourite of Leos'and stipulated that they "had so much trouble" with it at the start,due mainly to the transparent red.When that red faded on a candy red instrument it would become even more transparent and the result was that you would see even more of the gold undercoat which was the next colour layer down from the red.Below the gold you have white.Too much red in the mix and the co-agulation/blotchiness would occur.Shadow lines would occur,and do if the spray pattern is wrongly overlapped causing darker lines in the red.
Now,from time to time you may just spot a candy red Fender,from the early days,and the face of the instrument has this fade,due to u.v whereas the back of the instrument is not so.This gold in the process gave for a warm look,and the look changed when by the mid sixties they changed the gold undercoat layer for a silver one,which,as you may imagine gives a somewhat colder look.
To confuse the aficianados here,that early gold undercoat was made up with a "gold bronzing powder" which was added to clear lacquer in strong quantity and sprayed. Bronzing powder does not "melt into lacquer or thinners"rather it is held in suspension,and as such if left to stand in the spraygun or mixing pot,will separate out.
This is the same stuff as used by Gibson on their goldtop Les Pauls and so on.Those Gibsons when old show the gold as turning a darker brownish grey almost,in fact like ageing bronze.
So,when inspecting an early candy apple red Fender,and you see exposed gold undercoat along with exposed white undercoat as well,don't be surprised if you think that what you see is a silver effect,when in fact it is just the gold that that has aged into that darkish brownish/grey bronze look;a factor that could have you thinking that it is in fact silver and thus a later model.Not so,the later silver,is silver.


(This message was last edited by uncle stack-knob at 05:00 AM, Aug 21st, 2016)

FDP Data Goon

When I sin

I sin real good
Aug 21st, 2016 03:06 AM   Edit   Profile  

Red still fades on some modern poly bursts too - my Jaguar has faded substantially in the red three-tone part in the six or seven years I've had it (and comparing photos with same camera today).

My sunburst beater Squier VI....is as red in the burst as the day I got it a few years later.

Neither is exposed to any direct sunlight.



Fender power to the people!
Aug 21st, 2016 05:50 AM   Edit   Profile  

Wow, yet another example of USK having a vast wealth of knowledge.
I knew some of the more basic stuff, but the deatails an timeline certainly add to that.


Newberg, Oregon

Fender...never say never.
Aug 21st, 2016 09:10 AM   Edit   Profile  

USK post this thread worth printing out and saving.


Contributing Member


Searching for L40278.
Aug 21st, 2016 06:30 PM   Edit   Profile  

Great stuff from USK.

Incidentally, there's a 1965 CAR Precision at Olivia's Vintage at the moment. Looking at the pics, I'm wondering what undercoat was used here. There's the outline from what could be a removed sticker in the neck pocket and also the pickup cavity, and what's underneath looks like a white undercoat perhaps, or is that silver?

Curiously, there's hardly any paint in the control cavity, a bit of red over what - bare wood?

1965 CAR Precision

Contributing Member

United States

Aug 22nd, 2016 11:07 AM   Edit   Profile  

I'm no expert, but that looks like silver to me! Fender used both (and I think I like the silver ones better for some reason). I've got no explanation for the lack of silver paint in the control cavity except that maybe the silver was applied differently.

Contributing Member

United States

Aug 22nd, 2016 11:10 AM   Edit   Profile  

Also, I have a follow-up question for USK and his amazing wealth of info: you mention CBS experimenting with polyesters by 1967. I understand that now polyester is the typical paint on a Mexican Standard or Deluxe instrument, but that polyurethane is the typical paint on an American one. Did CBS use polyester first and polyurethane later, or did something else happen?

uncle stack-knob
Contributing Member

united kingdom

Aug 22nd, 2016 03:59 PM   Edit   Profile  

What's in a name?
Certainly by 1967 as you say;And I think the experimenting was down to getting the material to do what they needed it to in the colours required.
But.... polyester in 1967,say,was likely different in some aspects of its' makeup to that used much later on.Consider the offerings of 1972 and on through the seventies which the 1972 Fender catalogue describes proudly as being finished in "The new thick skin high gloss finish" with "up to fourteen coats" being applied.
This was the heavy thick virtually indestructible
plastic like finish we all know of those times.

The first poly like application to the instruments was "Fullerplast". Not having anything to do with Fullerton,but being a product of the Fuller O'Brien Company.Although owned by another company today,Fullerplast is still available.Using the material today would give little insight as to the nature of the stuff bearing the same brand name back in 1964 or so.This is because they "developed and improved" the product as time went by.An enquiry to the Fuller O-Brien people when they were still just that,asking as to the actual nature of "original Fullerplast" as used for instance by the Fender Company,illicited an answer with good humour informing me that the original stuff was basically a high build pre-cat cellulose lacquer,but that shortly it became the chemically curing heavy build stuff that is so familiar.
Likewise it was was being used on necks as a sealer as well (remember that Fullerplast is clear,and not yellow as many always argue). Once when having to repair and strip and respray the back of a 1966 dot/binding Jazz Bass neck,I recall and can confirm that having removed the cellulose coats,there remained a whitish sealer in the the grain that behaved like polyester,or the Fullerplast as it was known.No amount of further sanding dare be used at that point as it becomes fruitless,the sealer being so permanent.The solution is to accept the fact and re-finish with cellulose.The sealer remaining actually helping achieve the result.
So I guess I am trying to say that the presence of polyester in the early days,being 1964 on or thereabouts,was in the form of Fullerplast,as a sealer on bodies and then a little later necks.
That material was initially a glorified pre-cat lacquer,but under the same brand name Fullerplast it became the tougher chemically curing material,still used for sealer work,but as the seventies set in total finishing in chemically curing thick skin polyester was the norm;albeit with a couple of cellulose clearcoats across the top of the finish to give the very high gloss look,which it does,but it also feels a bit "sticky" to handle.
The early poly years of the '67/8/9 saw a material that was thinner and less durable for a while.I do not have the names of the paint/finish suppliers used at that point.

Anyway,enough rambling.
Poly came along first,and became overtaken much later by the urethanes.
Fullerplast was a clear pre-cat cellulose which quickly changed to chemically curing poly,and was
used as a sealer;later on into the seventies it was used on its' own totally for a clear finish.
Poly came first then urethanes.

Do note: that the practice of spraying a couple of clear cellulose coats over the polyester finishes on the early ones might,I suppose,mislead some into feeling that what they are looking at is a cellulose finish.Not so.To help,look for any "witness lines" in places where the cellulose has worn off leaving the much tougher,relatively unworn polyester beneath,and consider if the finish has a "sticky" feel to it,and also dull spots where oxidation has led to that characteristic.


(This message was last edited by uncle stack-knob at 02:43 AM, Aug 23rd, 2016)

uncle stack-knob
Contributing Member

united kingdom

Aug 22nd, 2016 04:32 PM   Edit   Profile  

BrentD...... Sorry there,in response to "or did something else happen?"

The only something else would maybe surround the production of the first Vintage Re-issues in the eighties. These Fullerton Re-Issues as they are called by many,offered a cellulose finish.
Indeed they did,but the basecoats were apparently
poly (Fullerplast sealer) which assisted in achieving a level surface for the subsequent cellulose coats,and of course prevented "sinking" into the woodgrain.
Go figure.


(This message was last edited by uncle stack-knob at 06:32 PM, Aug 22nd, 2016)



Aug 23rd, 2016 06:59 AM   Edit   Profile  

Great post as allways USK! Thanks.
Looks like FDP bass forum is back in the saddle, or even better than ever.

I feel like all this important information and knowledge needs to be saved.

Please Write the book.


Contributing Member

United States

Aug 23rd, 2016 02:59 PM   Edit   Profile  

USK, thank you for the informative posts! I have heard some people say polyurethane when talking about the early transition, and I wanted to make sure that I understood you correctly as you're about as reliable a resource as there is. :)

It would make sense to me; I'd guess that the urethanes are more sophisticated finishes.



Fender power to the people!
Aug 24th, 2016 10:11 AM   Edit   Profile  

Let me just second that 'plese write a book' request.

Contributing Member


Jan 10th, 2017 06:04 AM   Edit   Profile  

Don't hit me guys but back in the day I hated the 2 tone sunburst and didn't love sunburst until it came out with 3 tone red. But the 2 tone sunburst seemed more yellowish brown am I missing something here.

This is an example of what I disliked

(This message was last edited by Bubbalou at 08:06 AM, Jan 10th, 2017)



Fender power to the people!
Jan 10th, 2017 08:20 AM   Edit   Profile  

Hey, I kinda like the brownish two tone with the brownish tort.
That is different from the fading red quetion, however.

Relative to red finishes, in general, they all tend to fade.
If you look around you on the highway, at cars that you know were very red when they left the factory, most of them are more dull or pink after a number of years.
The once rich and shiney looking wine colored 1989 Dodge in my driveway is now a flat finished dark pink.



Bass is the place . . .
Jan 10th, 2017 08:42 PM   Edit   Profile  

USK . . . just wanted to say "Thanks!"

Your willingness to share such detailed information so thoroughly is incredible.

After reading one of your posts, I often feel as though I've audited a great college lecture.

(And that means a lot to me as a retired prof!)


Contributing Member

Chico CA

If you rest, you rust.
Jan 10th, 2017 08:53 PM   Edit   Profile  



Lower Slobovia

Pass me the onions..Yeah, the green ones
Jan 11th, 2017 01:58 PM   Edit   Profile  

^another +100 here

Danny Nader


You should have been there!
Jan 14th, 2017 04:49 PM   Edit   Profile  

Haven't dropped in for a few weeks. But both these topics w/ posts by Uncle Stack are fantastic!


(This message was last edited by Danny Nader at 06:49 PM, Jan 14th, 2017)

FDP Forum / Fender Bass Guitars and Bass Amps / The continuing saga of Fender's "Ghost Reds."

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