Antigua: The Most Divisive Finish of All Time?
When analyzing some of the most commonly-used guitar finishes – candy apple red, three-tone sunburst, Pelham blue, black – it is easy to see why these have stood the test of time, even if a particular one is not among your favorites. These finishes are pleasing to the eye and usually pair well with most any standard-color pickguard. While these colors have their fans and detractors, no finish perhaps in the history of big league guitar builders has drawn more intense criticism, and equally intense defense, than that of Fender’s ‘Antigua’ color.
Antigua was born an accident. While producing Coronado II guitars in the late 1960’s, Fender made lemonade from lemons when the body binding process burned the edges of their fully-hollow ES-335 competition model. Instead of chucking the bodies, Fender developed a color scheme that burst from black on the burned edges to a type of mustard yellow on the inside of the burst. The process was also replicated on the matching headstock for this model. The Coronado II was actually briefly renamed the Antigua in honor of its new color palette, with the name being printed on the also-matching pickguard. The matching pickguard lends a three-dimensional appearance to the guitar, as a burst within a burst is not a commonly-seen visual choice. Unfortunately, the pickguard is top-painted and most have wear spots that fade to white, then to black over years of playing.
It is unclear what prompted Fender to replicate this finish on other models, but throughout the 70’s, nearly every Fender guitar model had an Antigua finish at some point. The edges are more dark grey than the black edges seen on the Coronado II, but the mustard yellow remained. Depending on who you talk to, this finish was either beloved or panned by the market in the 70’s. I was once told that Antigua was unlovingly referred to as “baby poop brown” by gear heads at the time. Elsewhere on the internet, people can be found calling the finish “hideous” and “horrendous,” while other passionately defend the style as “gorgeous” and “beautiful.” It should be noted that on any Fender model where non-chrome/nickel pickups were used, Antigua models always paired with black pickups, knobs, and switch tips, which lent themselves well to the Antigua aesthetic.
In the first decade of the 2000’s, limited edition MIJ and MIM Fender Strats, Teles, Jags, and J and P basses were released in the Antigua style, this time with a burst that was more grey to cream, as opposed to black to yellow. These models are all out of production now, but a Squier baritone Jazzmaster that came out a couple years back is still in production. Given these reissues, I believe it is fair to say that either someone at Fender has a huge soft spot for Antigua, or that Antigua has a much bigger following than its detractors would like to admit. To this writer, Antigua is stunning and will always have a place in my collection. Although the baby poop comparison is apt…
-David Elliott, writing for Martel Music Store