Swiden’s Stunning Sparkles: Fender’s Sparkle Finishes

Some of the guitars we’re very fortunate to have in our collection are an array of extremely rare, original 50s and 60s Sparkle Fenders! These finishes feature large metallic “flecks” that give each guitar a glitzy effect. This style of painting was and is extremely popular in the automotive industry, from its invention to this very day. To understand the popularity and creation of the Sparkle guitar, one must look at the cultural landscape of California in the late 50s and early 60s. “Hot Rod” Car Culture and Surf music was all the rage at this time in Southern California, and musicians were keen to incorporate this culture into their instruments.

Our very own David Davidson spoke about Sparkle Guitars in Guitarist Magazine: “[Fender was] in Fullerton, California, and all that stuff was happening around them. So naturally, the idea of painting your guitar to look like a hot rod was a cool thing.”

The metallic fleck used in custom sparkle finishes differs from standard colors like Candy Apple Red or Lake Placid Blue, as the metallic particles in the former are much larger. With the chunkier fleck, you can see the texture underneath the clear, and almost feel it on some instruments. While these sparkles were still factory original guitars, Fender’s paint guns were not equipped to spray these rare finishes in-house until 1966. As a result, Fender built the bodies and then outsourced the finishes to the one place they knew could perfect them: auto body shops. Once the bodies were finished, Fender took them back into the factory to complete the electronics. Various shops were tasked with this important job and one artist, Dennis Swiden, is known to have painted a number of Sparkle finishes for Surf players, including Dick Dale and Eddie Bertrand. Dennis worked out of his parent’s furniture store and was close with many of the artists. Many one-off examples of Sparkle guitars were made for these popular artists, and we’re very lucky to have a few in our collection. One example we have even features crushed glass rather than glitter as the “fleck” to really add another dimension to the sparkle and texture.

Authenticating a sparkle finish as an original is no easy task, as no two are alike. We’re lucky enough as a store to possess multiple confirmed originals, allowing us to compare. However, each requires research, history, and even senses to authenticate. It can be anything from texture, smell, what we can see under the paint, and what we don’t. Because of this, and the amount of non-original pieces, authenticating Sparkles is one of the hardest tasks. Even so, here at Well Strung Guitars, we’ve done our homework so you can take one home with peace of mind! Give us a call today to add one of these jewels to your collection! 516-221-0563

Photos Courtesy of Facebook Group, “Dennis Swiden in Memory Of” and OriginalFuzz.com

Welcome to Our New Website!

Welcome to the newly redesigned Well Strung Guitars website! We implemented a slew of design changes to make browsing and enjoying our selection easier than ever before! We wanted to take this opportunity to walk you through some of those changes. 

Firstly, we’ve listed an additional 50 or so guitars we’ve never had on our website, and we plan on keeping the new listings coming, so check back every week! Be sure to let us know if you have any questions using our contact form, and at the bottom of that page add your email to our newsletter to get alerts when new guitars are uploaded. Each guitar now features a comprehensive Specifications summary, which makes finding important details such as weight, nut width, and pickup readings as easy as possible. 

What to Expect on Each Listing

Diving into the “Spec” summary a little further, you can see we have added a categorical “Condition” rating to the finish and hardware sections, and a numerical “Overall Condition” rating at the end of each listing. Some might be very familiar with the Mint, Excellent, Very Good, etc. metric that many selling platforms use, and some might be used to a simple 1-10 scale. We have adapted both styles to fit our inventory of 30+ year old vintage guitars, and provide easy references for both new and old school. Of course, condition is always subjective, but we use our years of experience dealing with hundreds of instruments to describe each piece to the best of our ability.

Let’s look at the “Finish Details” section of our listings. Some elements of age are hard to avoid, such as finish checking or yellowing of the clear, and this is taken into account when assigning a condition to an instrument. In that same vein, we also have a new “Hardware” section. One word we throw out quite a bit is “patina”. This is a thin layer of oxidation that can occur on metal components due to hand oils or even the air. We’ll note the presence of patina in this section, and if there’s any patina bordering on corrosion. Below we have provided a quick cheat sheet about the way we interpret our condition ratings for the utmost clarity.

MintEssentially new, like it just came out of the factory!
Near MintAlmost brand new, Could have very light swirling, very light weather checking, or a couple of small marks
ExcellentVery clean, Could have a few areas of light wear, light weather checking, or a few marks
GreatThe standard amount we expect a our vintage inventory to age, Could have some finish wear, some weather checking, a handful of marks, some patina, or just general play wear
GoodPlayed in look and feel, Could have fading/yellowing throughout, wear spots throughout finish (such as very visible buckle rash), weather checking throughout, marks throughout, or patina throughout
FairHeavily played in look and feel, Could have wear across the entire instrument, heavy fading/yellowing, areas of finish worn to bare wood, heavy weather checking, heavy marks, or heavy patina

Another area we’d like to expand on is the neck profile section. We got our hands on each guitar and assigned a neck profile that we felt matched. We can measure any neck in the store more thoroughly, so if you’d like more information please don’t hesitate to give us a shout! 

The remaining sections of the Specifications summary (such as nut width, weight, etc.) are pretty straightforward. The last “Includes” section lists any case candy and the type of case each guitar comes in.

We truly hope you all like our website’s new look and enjoy the changes. If there’s anything we haven’t answered for you here, please don’t hesitate to let us know! 

Fender Electric XII

Fender’s Electric XII

In the early 1960s, there was a clamor to capture the jangly, bright and unique sound produced by a relatively new invention; the electric twelve string guitar. Acoustic twelve string guitars were heard accompanying folk and blues music in the 1920s and 1930s, but were seen as little more than novelties until the early 1960s, when George Harrison put his brand new twelve string Rickenbacker 360/12 to good use. George was given one of the first two prototypes made by Rickenbacker, and was immediately taken with the new tones he was able to achieve. He was given the guitar in February of 1964 in New York City, a day before their legendary performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Harrison’s new guitar was immediately put to use in the studio, laying out the legendary opening of “A Hard Day’s Night,” and often following this smash hit.

This meteoric popularity caught Fender by surprise, and they quickly began planning their own design to compete with the likes of Rickenbacker and others. Using the offset designs of the Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Mustang as a baseline, a new headstock design was needed to accommodate six extra strings. The resulting headstock came to be referred to as the “hockey stick” headstock; a clunky departure from the sleek lines and curves the company was known for.

Fender Electric XII Head Stock

The Electric XII featured two split single coil pickups, a single volume and tone control, and a four-way rotary switch. This switch allowed the player to use either each pickup by itself, both pickups together, or both pickups together but out of phase. Where the Electric XII really stands out lies with it’s unique bridge design. While many other twelve string electric guitars had just six saddles for twelve strings, Fender had a slightly different approach. As one of Leo Fender’s last designs with the company he started, the bridge features twelve individual saddles to perfect the instrument’s intonation. The string through body design also helped enhance the overall sound and sustain, since many others were stringed through a top mounted tailpiece.

Fender Electric XII Print Ad
Fender Electric XII body detail

By the summer of 1965, The Byrds were dominating the charts with their hit, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and were scheduled to appear on several television variety shows to promote it, thanks to their record label CBS. Coincidentally, CBS had also just purchased Fender, and had Gene Clark play a Firemist Gold Electric XII opposite to Jim McGuinn’s Rickenbacker 360/12 on The Byrd’s second television appearance on Hullabaloo in May of 1965. When the Fender Electric XII was released in June of 1965, the standard sunburst finish with white pearloid pickguard was offered for $349.50. Soon after it’s initial release, a faux tortoise shell pickguard replaced the white pearloid guard, and later in the same year white binding was added to the fretboard. Many Electric XIIs featured pearl dot inlays, besides a small amount of them featuring block position markers. In an effort to boost sales, a fair percentage of guitars were finished in an array of custom colors in the first few years to have a guitar for anyone’s taste.

Fender Electric XII

The Electric XII quickly became a studio favorite, with the likes of the Beach Boys, Pete Townshend, and Bob Dylan relying on the Electric XII, and even Elvis Presley was seen sporting a 1966 Electric XII in Lake Placid Blue. Arguably the most famous recording of an Electric XII is featured on Led Zeppelin’s legendary epic, “Stairway to Heaven,” recorded in late 1970, and released in 1971. Jimmy Page opted to use his sunburst 1965 Fender Electric XII to capture the mystical, shimmering tone featured on the track.

Fender Electric XII

Despite the popularity in the studio, musicians were not seen playing Electric XIIs on stage, which starved the model of the star power needed to sell them. By the end of the decade, popularity of the twelve string and its unique sound was waning, and in 1969 into 1970 the Electric XII was scrapped from the Fender line up entirely. After the Electric XII, the Coronado XII was the only twelve-string Fender offered until the end of 1970. Twelve strings would be unavailable from Fender until nearly 20 years later; when the Japanese-made Strat XII was introduced.

Fender Electric XII

The Fender Electric XII was certainly one of the last remaining bastion of the Golden Age of Fender guitars, and endures as one of the most comfortable, ergonomic and well-pitched twelve strings ever available on the market.

Fender Electric XII

Works Cited

Babiuk, Andy, et al. Beatles Gear : All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio. Montclair, Nj, Backbeat Books, 2015.

Kelly, Martin, et al. Fender : The Golden Age. London, Cassell Illustrated, 2011.

Owens, Jeff. “Ring True: A History of Fender 12-String Electric Guitars.” www.fender.com, www.fender.com/articles/gear/ring-true-a-history-of-fender-12-string-electric-guitars.

Gibson’s Rare Birds

In the Early 1960s, Gibson was in need of a new solid body electric guitar in their lineup of instruments to keep up with other large companies like Fender. Fender had been successfully targeting and reaching a younger generation of musicians, and doing so with interesting body shapes, bold and bright custom colors and an extremely broad array of marketing techniques. At this time, the only other solid body electric that Gibson produced was the SG line of guitars, which was not performing well enough to keep up with the demand being met by Gibson’s competitors. In the 1960s, the automobile industry was booming, so many major manufacturers were pulling inspiration from modern cars. This was not only limited to the bold colors, but was also mirrored in the shapes and curves of automobiles.

Gibson’s Ted McCarty hoped to create an entirely new line of guitars whose curves and custom colors would rival Fender and emulate the aesthetics of the auto industry. This led Gibson to hire a man named Ray Dietrich, an automobile designer, in 1962. Ray was best known for his contemporary automobile designs as the head of design at Chrysler. He was asked to aid in the creation of a guitar that would not be limited by the traditional ways of design and engineering on an electric guitar. The result would be four “Reverse” style Gibson Firebirds, as well as two Gibson Thunderbird models in their bass line. The Firebird line consisted of the Firebird I, III, V, and VII. Each model showing more intricate appointments than the previous. The Thunderbird Bass was offered as the Thunderbird II and IV, where the II featured one pickup and the IV featured two.

1964 Gibson Thunderbird II and 1964 Thunderbird IV in Sunburst
Above: A 1964 Thunderbird II and 1964 Thunderbird IV in Sunburst

The series debuted in 1963 and was the manufacturer’s first neck-through-body design. It featured an asymmetrical shape and a mahogany neck that ran all the way through the body, with two “wings” on either side. Firebirds and Thunderbirds were offered standard in a Sunburst finish, however, Ted McCarty decided to also added the option of 10 custom color finishes. A lot of the custom colors that Gibson used had closely mirrored those offered by Fender, some even having been made by the same paint company.

The 1963 Gibson Firebird and Thunderbird brochure featuring the 10 custom color options
The 1963 Gibson Firebird and Thunderbird brochure featuring the 10 custom color options

Finding an all original Gibson “Reverse” Firebird in a custom color is an extremely challenging feat. So much so that we’ve only seen some of these colors in person at Songbirds Guitar Museum in Chattanooga, TN!

Sadly, the original Firebird’s sales were not particularly successful. It was a radical change from Gibson’s typical guitar appearance. It was punchy, young and above all, uniquely different. Gibson debuted the series with a starting price on the Firebird I of $189.50, all the way to $445 for the Firebird VII. This pricing was for the standard finish. If you wanted to add a custom finish, you automatically added a $15 increase to your total.

A 1963 Gibson Firebird I in Sunburst. This was the least expensive model in the series.
A 1964 Gibson Firebird VII in custom color Cardinal Red. This was the most expensive option available
A 1964 Gibson Firebird VII in custom color Cardinal Red. This was the most expensive option available

Unfortunately, sales on this guitar were poor and only about 3,000 variations of the original Firebird were produced from 1963 to early 1965. In early 1965, the original Firebird design began to transition. These transitional models are rare but several different types exist. One of these models features the original banjo style tuners like the original “Reverse” style Firebirds but the headstock is not reversed like the original models. The most well known of these transitional models is known as the “Platypus”. The name was coined due to the headstock. Unlike the original reverse headstock design, which featured a two-layered headstock with a holy veneer, the new headstock was flat, like the bill of a Platypus. The Platypus-style firebird also featured 2 P-90 pickups instead of mini humbuckers.

The flat "Platypus" style headstock of a transitional model 1965 Gibson Firebird I
The flat “Platypus” style headstock of a transitional model 1965 Gibson Firebird I
A 1965 Firebird I in custom color Ember Red. This model is known as the "Platypus". Notice the 2 P-90 pickups and the reverse style body design
A 1965 Firebird I in custom color Ember Red. This model is known as the “Platypus”. Notice the 2 P-90 pickups and the reverse style body design

There are a very limited number of these unique pieces floating around in the vintage guitar world, making them not only hard to find, but also highly valuable pieces for collectors and players alike. This short run of “Platypus” Firebirds eventually transitioned fully into the redesigned “Non-Reverse” Firebird by 1965/66. It was essentially unrecognizable as it adapted to the demand by most players to be less awkward and imbalanced. It no longer featured the neck-through body design, rather, it had a solid body and a set neck, much like the Gibson SG. It also lost its banjo style tuners, replacing them with the standard tuner seen on most electric guitars at the time. While most appointments on the guitars remained the same from the old models to the new, they did make some adjustments to better suit the instrument. These appointments included adding an additional P-90 to the Firebird I, the III had three black P-90’s, the V had two mini hum buckers and the VII featured three mini hum buckers as well as suite of gold hardware. This guitar remained in production through 1969 until it took its final (not so final) bow from the Gibson line.

The non-reverse Firebird I in custom color Ember Red
The non-reverse Firebird I in custom color Ember Red 

Fender’s Summer of Love

As many of you know, the history of the Fender Telecaster dates back to 1951 when Leo Fender revolutionized guitar building and music with the introduction of the first-ever mass produced solid-body electric. Over the years, these guitars sold so well that they exist in essentially the same form to date. Flash back to the summer of 1967: The Summer of Love, where the colors were bright and the styles were simply psychedelic. CBS era Fender guitars were bold to begin with, but in 1968 they did the unimaginable…

The Borden Company, founded in the 1857, introduced their brand mascot, Elsie the Cow, in 1936. Elsie was an American icon who’s recognition through advertising campaigns stole the hearts of the nation. The Borden Company was predominantly known for the production of their consumer products such as processed snacks and dairy. Later in the company’s life, they expanded to include some industrial products such as plastics, resins, and wallpapers. Most famously, they introduced Elmer’s & Crazy Glue to the market during these years. All the while, the company was going to be written into Fender’s musical instrument history without even knowing it.

You might think that there is no correlation between the Borden Chemical Company and Fender, but in this case you thought wrong. During the 1960s, the world was going through a major cultural change. The Summer of Love and the “flower power” trend was taking over the pop culture scene. During this time, the political climate was dark and the music scene was rebelling, albeit peacefully. People ached for something bright and Fender was looking to put something new and exciting out on the market. It was then, in July of 1968, that Fender officially announced their newly available “Blue Flower” and “Paisley Red” Telecasters & Telecaster Basses in their price list.

Fender Blue Flower ad scan
The original 1968 flyer introducing the “Blue Flower” finish options on the Telecaster and Telecaster Bass
Fender "Red Paisley" ad scan
The 1968 flyer introducing the “Red Paisley” finish options for the Telecaster and Telecaster Bass

The unexpected tie between the Borden Chemical Company and Fender came in the form of a sparkling self-stick decorative foil that was applied to the front and back of Telecasters and Telecaster Basses before they were finished with a coordinating “sunburst” color and sprayed with a clear finishing polyester lacquer. The name of this mystery product was Cling-Foil and it was advertised as being able to be used on furniture, appliances, and more.

We were lucky enough to come across a new-old stock roll of the Paisley finish Cling-Foil from an old shop in California. Seeing this material in its natural state with a true silver background just goes to show the age on these guitars where the silver has turned to gold under the yellowing of the clear coat. 

Fender Red Paisley Telecaster Bass detail with Cling Foil
Above: The 1968 Telecaster Bass in Red Paisley next to the NOS roll of Cling Foil. Notice the yellowing of the clear coat.

These extraordinary prints were nothing short of unique, especially on a guitar that was so traditionally simple. They were only available on the Telecaster & Telecaster Bass as they were solid planks of wood and took to the contact paper well due to their lack of contours. 

While some players of the time, including James Burton, played them, the overall success of this finish was less than Fender had hoped. The texture and thickness of the Cling-Foil unfortunately did not maintain the clear finish easily as the material didn’t have a stable hold on the paint. Due to these issues, the production of these pieces only lasted about a year. These instruments have become increasingly difficult to come across today in pristine condition as there was only an estimated 75 of each color Telecaster made and only 25 of each Telecaster Bass made. 

We have been lucky enough to have procured an original Paisley and Floral Telecaster along with a mint Paisley Telecaster Bass for the Songbirds Guitar Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since then, Fender has reissued the Telecaster in both the Paisley & Floral finishes. With ambassadors like Brad Paisley playing these instruments regularly on tour, there was no doubt they would become a hit in the modern day.

Enjoy a few photos of this stunning bass!

Fender Red Paisley Telecaster bass detail
Fender Red Paisley Telecaster Bass detail
Fender Red Paisley Telecaster Bass
Fender Red Paisley Telecaster Bass head stock with original Cling Foil in background
Fender Red Paisley cling foil pattern detail
Borden Chemical Red Paisley Cling Foil detail