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Vintage guitar of the week #19 - 1956 Gibson Les Paul Junior in TV Yellow

What is TV Yellow all about? I'll tell you.

Fun fact about me: My college degree is in Television and Radio Production, meaning I know a fair amount about TV tech. Older TV tech, that is.

Before we get into why "TV" is in the name of the finish color, let's talk about the rest of the guitar first.

The '56 Les Paul Junior is to Gibson what the MusicMaster model is to Fender. These are lower-end models that, while full instruments, are scaled down and have barely any features to them. All you get is one pickup, two knobs and that's it.

How does a Les Paul with a single P90 pickup sound? Pretty darned good, provided you know how to wield a P90 correctly. True, you don't get all the appointments that the Les Paul Standard has, but rest assured, it is still a Les Paul.

Personally, I could get along very well with a Junior as I like its minimalist approach. The Junior is the polar opposite of my complicated Jazzmaster, which is what makes the guitar attractive in the first place.

A modern - and really cheap - version of the Junior (somewhat) is the Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90. If you really like a minimalist Paul with the "wraparound" bridge but want one real cheap, well, there you go.

So anyway, TV Yellow. Let's talk about that.

TV Yellow came into existence because of black-and-white television.

In the early days of TV in the 1950s, everything was black-and-white. While true color TV has been around since 1953, the adoption of it in the marketplace was very slow. And I mean slow-as-molasses slow. Why? Price. Color televisions were prohibitively expensive.

Side note concerning color TV: Color really didn't become common until around the mid-1970s. Yes, it took that long before everyone finally got color TV.

A problem that presented itself with black-and-white broadcasts is that anything white washed itself right out. Whether it was a suit jacket, shirt, dress, shoes, chair, table, desk or whatever it was, it absolutely could not be white because of color washout.

Remember, we're talking about a tube-type 525 scan line small display and not a crisp, clear modern panel. Anything white on a tube-type like that simply washed right out.

The solution to this problem? Don't use white.

What Gibson decided to do in order to present a light-colored guitar on television was introduce a "TV" color, hence the creation of TV Yellow. On black-and-white television, TV Yellow looks white, even though it's not. In person, the guitar looks yellow because it literally is yellow.

Another interesting side note: Even on color televisions back in the early days, a TV Yellow guitar finish still looks white because of the way color is displayed on a tube-type television set. Color representation really didn't start getting "true" until modern panel televisions much, much later in the 2000s.

So there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about the TV Yellow guitar finish.

Why does TV Yellow still exist for Gibson and Epiphone guitars? Tradition. That, and it's still a really cool color on a guitar.

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