Fender’s Forgotten Custom Colors: The Thinline Telecaster
In the mid-60s, Fender faced a predicament. Remedying it would result in the launch of a new model and color experimentation to the extent Fender had rarely reached before. This is the Thinline Telecaster and its slew of custom colors that are seldom seen.
While it is well-known that CBS implemented many changes to the brand following their acquisition of Fender, at least one was not planned: running out of lightweight ash. As their supply dwindled, Fender got creative. Their first attempt was a chambered body. For a short-lived period in 1967, Fender routed out the Telecaster body underneath the pickguard.
This was not advertised, as many players at the time were unaware these chambers existed until taking off the pickguard. These Teles were eventually dubbed “Smugglers” as many players used the cavities to hide illegal substances. By 1968, The Telecaster had returned to its unchambered body. This Smuggler design, while fleeting, acted as a catalyst for Fender’s exploration into chambered and semi-hollow bodies. Going forward, Fender weighed their options with something new.
Before finalizing the Thinline design, Fender tested a few prototypes. We are lucky to have these examples in our store, allowing us to study this history! We have already done a blog post on these prototypes and much more! Click the button below to read more about them.
In late 1968 Fender launched their new model, The Thinline Telecaster. A riff on their infamous Tele, but with new construction and a semi-hollow body. The body design had a solid center, with two hollowed-out wings and a glued-on back. This allowed Fender to use heavier, more readily available ash while maintaining a relatively light guitar. While the Thinline did not appear in the main catalog, Fender circulated a special advert for the model. This leaflet announced this model’s “Groovy Natural” finishes.
After the launch of this model, Fender created several display guitars, presenting them at NAMM or other trade shows. These Thinlines came in every color of the rainbow, and for years dealers and players alike were unaware of official names for these colors. That is, until a few years ago.
These photos were posted online and instantly cleared the confusion. Handwritten on the back of a 1970 Fender Price List by Freddie Tavares himself were the names of “New Colors For Telecaster Hollow Bodies.” When this list came out, we were fortunate enough to have an example of every color in our collection, allowing us to match each finish with each name listed.
1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Jet Black
1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Canary Yellow
1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Salmon
1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Lavender Lilac, with a Purple Pearloid Pickguard
1969 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Hot Pink
1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster in Kelly Green
By late 1971, the model was in its second design. These Series II Thinline Telecasters featured two Seth Lover-designed humbucking pickups and a “bullet” truss rod that adjusts at the headstock rather than the neck heel. These examples almost always came in Natural Ash, Mahogany, or Sunburst. However, we have seen some catalog custom colors outside the standard finishes.
1972 Fender Thinline Telecaster (Series II) in Candy Apple Red
1972 Fender Thinline Telecaster (Series II) in Lake Placid Blue
1972 Fender Thinline Telecaster (Series II) in Sonic Blue
We have even seen unique finish and spec combos like these Thinlines below. One is in Ocean Turquoise, and one is in Canary Yellow, both with a Purple Pearloid Pickguard.
Unfortunately, The Thinline Telecaster was not an immensely popular model. This was due to several reasons: the new design, the rapid change to Series II specs, the overall opinion on CBS-era quality, and the poor advertisement of the model. All of these played a part in lackluster sales. As a result, these Series I examples are scarce, exponentially more so in custom colors.
If we have one takeaway from this post, other than an immense appreciation of these rare custom colors, it’s a reminder that information in this industry is constantly changing — new stories, new examples, and in this case, new color names. If we ignore recent findings or research solely because of old industry practices or beliefs, we lose the ability to evolve and adapt to new information. We learn daily and encourage everyone who loves vintage guitars to do the same.