5 Bursts That Changed the Guitar Market Forever

It’s not a color, shade, hue, or tone. The burst is a color combo all its own yet one that is surprisingly diverse over the years. Burst finishes span across decades and designs, yet individual guitar makers routinely revisit the brilliant pallet smudge to make something traditional become forward thinking. But what were some of the game changing or forgotten burst creations?

This week on the Sunday Papers, we rounded up our top five burst picks with an eye for color options that signaled something new, different, or unexpected in their day.

Fender’s Three Tone Sunburst

This three point burst is foundational. Yet it’s arguably the first major evolution in Fender’s burst iterations. Originally, Fender’s burst was a two-tone. It wasn’t until 1958 that they introduced the middle orange in between the warm wood stain and deep black on the Stratocaster.

Gibson’s Ice Tea Burst

The burst epidemic wasn’t just impacting the west coast in the late 1950s, out in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Gibson’s luthiers too caught the bug. Les Pauls began as goldtops before evolving into the famous cherry burst in 1958. Since then, Gibson hasn’t shied away from a variety of burst combinations over the years. In my books, none of these is as subtle and stylish as the ice tea burst. Starting in the early 1960s, Gibson used the blend of light brown to warm lemon yellow to give a refreshing face to the Les Paul and ES-335 models. 

Rickenbacker’s Autumn Glow

The Rickenbacker hollow bodies in the Capri series saw their fair share of slight shifts and changes early on. For example, the mono to stereo “Rick-O-Tone” outputs introduced in 1959 are a landmark. In the late 1950s, Rickenbacker was also mixing up its proprietary blend of bursts based off the look of leaves turning in the fall. By the early 1960s, they moved toward the more common finish known as Fire Glow, which is a deeper blend of orange and red.

Paul Reed Smith’s McCarty Sunburst

Now a staple in American and internationally made guitars, in 1994 when a young Paul Reed Smith showed up with the McCarty model it turned some heads. Okay, understatement of all time: it exploded heads. The guitar was the perfect blend of heritage and contemporary design. Yet part of its ability to land in that sweet spot was the brilliant sunburst finish that almost was almost an amber-like take on the classic honey burst. Fresh, familiar, yet PRS through and through.

Ibanez’s Azure Blue Burst

Of course, not all bursts are on the spectrum of browns, oranges, and yellows. Many brands, including some of the above, have ventured into a variety of multi-colored bursts. One finish that stands out to my eye is the Ibanez Azure Blue Burst. These days you’ll find variations of this tone that blends shades of blue horizontally across the guitar body, such as on the Artcore line. However, this finish began as a traditional blended burst in the mid-1990s with Ibanez’s flagship alt-rock instrument, the Talman. In its original iteration on the Talman, this finish began on the outer reaches of the guitar in a warm blue before rushing to an artic white around the pickguard.

Though the term “burst” brings to mind a classic color pairing, when you stand back and think about it, bursts make up the most diverse and versatile categories of finish options throughout electric and acoustic guitar history. They’re not just one thing. In fact, they’re about endless options and one of the best ways to bridge classic and contemporary.

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