Student of Guitar

Olympic White Vs Arctic White: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

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If you’re weighing the pros and cons of Olympic White vs Arctic White as a finish on your guitar, you’ve come to the right post!

So which finish is better?

As you can see in the image below, the Olympic white has a hint of yellow in it resulting in more of a cream color while the arctic white has more blue in it resulting in an icy white.

In short, you should choose whichever finish you like more keeping mind that all models won’t necessarily have the finish you want!

I’ll unpack this more in the sections below.

Understanding Guitar Finishes

Almost all guitars these days are made out of wood. But even those few exceptions that use other materials share a common trait with wooden ones. They almost always need a finish.

Primarily, the finish serves as a protective layer. It preserves the wood from external factors. Secondly, the finish serves an aesthetic purpose. But what’s important to note is that it’s not all about the color.

Here are some of the finish options according to materials:

  • Nitrocellulose lacquer (or just nitro)
  • Polyurethane (or just poly)
  • Polyester
  • Shellac
  • Oils and waxes (pretty much outdated)

Another aspect of the finish is its texture. For instance, there are matte and glossy finishes. Other names like satin or semi-gloss apply to the same category as matte.

Then there are also so-called relic guitars that deliberately look like they’re old. This is usually the case with Fender guitars. Gibson has the same principles with their Murphy Lab guitars.

These instruments have some unique finishing touches. One such relic is the BFG (barely finished guitar) Les Paul model.

But as far as colors go, anything is a fair game. Whatever color or combinations of colors you want, it’s all doable.

Different Shades of White Finishes

Of course, colors can be as simply titled as their primary color names, like white, or something fancy like “Olympic white.” In this way, guitar finish colors are similar to car or home decor paints.

In other words, whether you’re shopping for car colors, home decor colors, or guitar colors, you won’t just find a plain color finish, you’ll find several subtly different variations of this color.

For instance, Fender has 8 different white finish options. Aside from these Olympic and arctic white, they have:

  • White Blonde
  • Flat White
  • Olympic Pearl
  • Pearl White
  • Vintage White
  • Antigua

Pretty wild, right? Well, it’s not much of a surprise. After all, guitar players do care about aesthetics. And, to some, a different shade of white with a different shine to it makes a world of difference.

So let’s explore the differences between Olympic White and Arctic White finishes.

Olympic White

Check out this video to see an Olympic White Fender in action.

The so-called Olympic White is a slightly creamier variant of the color. The finish has this slight shade of yellow that adds a different twist to it. It’s somewhat subtle.

However, if you compared the instrument’s color to a standard white, you’d notice the difference.

So it’s a creamy and yellowish shade of white. Additionally, the Olympic White finish brings a completely solid color. This means it’s homogenous all over its surface. It’s the same no matter where you look on the guitar’s body.

Another thing to note is that the Olympic White finish has no transparency. What this means is that you can’t see any of the wood grain. But either way, not many white finishes have this trait.

This finish is common with some high-end Fender guitars. In particular, you can find models like the Professional II Stratocaster. And generally speaking, you can find it on some 1960s-style Strats.

There might be a few other companies that copied this finish. But it’s usually smaller ones that replicate the looks of the 1960s Fender Strats.

Arctic White

Check out this video for a demo of an Arctic White Fender

The Arctic White finish, on the other hand, is a bluer shade of white. In fact, this is the second whitest white finish in Fender’s line.

The only other finish that surpasses it here is the Flat White one. However, you can only find the Flat White finish on one model, the Jim Root Telecaster. So the Arctic White is the cleanest white finish for pretty much the rest of their guitar arsenal.

Once again, we have another solid finish. Additionally, Arctic White has no transparency either. It’s just a regular fully colored finish.

As far as its shade goes, it’s more blue than yellow. That said, it’s not easy to notice most of the time. But if you were to put a Flat White and an Arctic White guitar next to each other, you’d probably see the difference.

It’s also not uncommon to have a white pickguard along with this finish. Such a subtle contrast brings a serious accent to the finish. 

Once again, we have a finish that’s typical of the 1960s-style Stratocaster. You can occasionally see it on other guitars as well.

Olympic White vs Arctic White: Which One Should You Choose?

First off, finishes are personal preferences. So you’re free to pick whatever you want.

However, I always like for the finish to match what I’m aiming for with this guitar. Both of these are vintage-oriented finishes. Thus, they’re something you’d expect to see on a blues or a blues-rock guitar.

Regardless, I recommend making sure the instrument has the specs you want and then finding the finish you want that’s available for that instrument.

In other words, don’t sacrifice the specs you want for the aesthetics!

Olympic White vs Arctic White: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you make up your mind about this finish comparison!

And as usual, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have a question about this or another guitar-related subject!

2 Responses

  1. Ian Theobald says:

    Hi .interesting reading as I have an old 1973 Fender Music Master Bass that appears original but all pictures I have seen appear a creamy white so perhaps mine is Artic white.
    Also must of been when they changed the style of pick guard and machine heads tuning things.
    My guitar also has a white pick guard but the thing called a tug bar is on the bottom and screw holes differ from the later.
    It has the early type machine heads
    All numbers indicate was made on a wednesday ,20th week of 1973 from the bottom of the neck and chrome plate serial number is for 1973 as well.
    The guitar was purchased many yrs ago for one of our sons and has been gathering dust so will probably sell as I do not play guitars.
    Hope this is of interest
    Ian Theobald.

    1. Hi Ian,

      Thanks for writing! That’s really interesting. Old guitars don’t always fall into the distinct categories of new guitars likely because manufacturing practices have changed a bit over the years. Still, it’s fun to find these guitars that don’t quite fit what we see today.

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