TV Yellow

Now all those great custom colors of the '50s and '60s are available in Aerosol Sprays in nitrocellulose lacquer!


TV Yellow was developed in the 1950s to solve the problem of the color white, under the glare of bright television lights, overpowering the black and white television cameras....

One contributor to the story of TV Yellow relates a visit he made to the filming of a medical show in the fifties. He recalled being surprised to see all the "Doctors" wearing yellow medical smocks. "TV Yellow" smocks I suppose? Gibson developed the color  for Les Paul's frequent television appearances although it is believed he never played a TV Yellow guitar (at least not on television).

The color appears slightly lime green but the unique feature of the finish is that while the finish appears to be opaque the grain of the wood grain shows through. The TV Yellow finish is limed but still very yellow. Do not confuse it with Limed Mahogany which is more lime green than yellow.  In researching how the finish was applied I heard from two reliable sources that the finish was applied as follows. After the guitar was carved and sanded the wood was then misted with water to raise the grain. After drying and without sanding the guitar was sprayed with an opaque lime green lacquer. After drying the finish was lightly sanded and then clear coated.

Using this method after about five or six tries I was able to create a fairly close replica of TV Yellow. The problem is that to achieve the finish the paint has to be applied in dry mist coats. If a wet coat is sprayed then the grain is opaqued. Also, when clear coating, a wet clear coat would cause the grain to show too strongly. The TV Yellow guitars have a slight yellow tint to the grain. I do not think Gibson could afford to take the time needed to finesse the application for a production finish.

I now believe that the finish was originally intended to appear as a solid yellow color with no grain showing and have seen two original finish guitars that do not show grain. The ones that do show grain may have been originally solid yellow but over the years the drying lacquer has allowed the darker grain color to show through.

Unless you are a purist (and can also wait 30 years for the opaque yellow paint to age and  perhaps reveal the grain) here is an alternative to achieve a correct appearing TV Yellow finish in a repeatable manner. I do not know if this is the method that Gibson uses to finish the new TV Yellows but I think I may be on the correct trail.

First, the wood must be stripped and sanded. The grain must be completely open and the wood without any trace of finish. Clean wood with open grain is the key. Sand with #220 and finish with #320 dry. Be sure you do not have any scratches in the wood as they will show once the grain is enhanced. Once you have clean and open grained wood blow out any sawdust in the grain with compressed air. Use 80psi to 120psi. I use The Guitar ReRanch TV Yellow in the aerosol spray cans but if you want to mix your own color (be sure to use an acrylic lacquer or better yet, nitrocellulose lacquer) this method will still work for you.

Tape the neck and peghead for protection from the spray and spray a light misting coat of opaque yellow color onto the body and neck. After drying shoot another coat and then repeat. Be sure that the coats are misting coats and not wet coats. Just one  too wet of a coat will bridge the grain and destroy the effect. The guitar when color coated should appear as opaque yellow in the field with open uncolored grain pits. After approximately four coats let the instrument dry over night.

You will notice that the Guitar ReRanch TV Yellow appears very yellow without much of the lime color tint seen on the original TV Yellows. Much of the lime color will come from the mahogany itself  and will appear as the color coat dries. There doesn't seem to be much one can do to stop the lime color from appearing. It seems to bleed through the yellow and if you think you have applied too much yellow, let the lacquer dry for a day or two. This bleed through effect (coupled with the deep grain of mahogany) limits the achieving of a true TV Yellow to only mahogany.

Your job now is to fill the grain with a tinted filler and then remove  the excess filler. You must do this of course without disturbing the yellow lacquer coat.  How? To accomplish the task fill the grain with a mahogany tinted filler with a reducing agent that is incompatible with the reducing agent of lacquer. That is; use a water based  (I use "Famo Wood" brand Cherry/Dark Mahogany water based filler) or an oil based filler.  Going across the grain wipe the filler into the grain. When slightly dry wipe the filler from the field of the wood with the reducer of the filler. For water based fillers use water. For oil based fillers use mineral spirits. You may need to repeat the process a number of time (two or three) to fill  the grain to the level of the field of the wood.

When dry spray a light coat of the TV yellow color coat to "soften" the color of the grain filler and blend it into the field. The clear coating and finishing is then applied as described in ReRanch 101.

Fender Custom Colors Gibson Specialty Colors Wood Dye Colors Clear Coats & Tints
Sunbursting Products Finishing Supplies ReRanch Custom Colors Privacy Policy