DATING YOUR U.S. MADE FENDER
For most of Fender`s U.S. instrument production history, production dates have been applied to various components.
Most notably, production dates have been penciled or stamped on the butt end of the heel of the neck of most guitars and basses, although there were periods when this was not consistently done (1973 to 1981, for example) or simply omitted. Neck-dating can be useful in determining the approximate age of a guitar, but it is certainly not definitive because the neck date simply refers to the date that the individual component was produced, rather than the complete instrument.
Given the modular nature of Fender production techniques, an individual neck may have been produced in a given year, then stored for a period of time before being paired with a body to create a complete guitar, perhaps, for example, in the following year. Therefore, while helpful in determining a range of production dates, a neck date is obviously not a precisely definitive reference.
Most specifications for a given Fender instrument model change little (if at all) throughout the lifetime of the model. While there have been periods of dramatic change—such as the transition periods between the Leo Fender years and the CBS years or the transition between the CBS years and the current ownership—most models are generally feature-specific and do not change from year to year.
Serial numbers are also helpful in determining an instrument`s production year. For years, serial numbers have been used in various locations on Fender instruments, such as the top of the neck plate, the front or back of the headstock and the back of the neck near the junction with the body. Serial numbers were stamped on the back vibrato cover plate on early `50s Stratocaster® guitars, and on the bridge plate between the pickup and the saddles on some Telecaster® guitars.
But once again, due to Fender`s modular production methods and often non-sequential serial numbering (usually overlapping two to four years from the early days of Fender to the mid-1980s), dating by serial number is not always precisely definitive.
DATING YOUR INSTRUMENT
The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1950 to 1964. Notice that there is quite a bit of overlap in numbers and years. The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument is to remove the neck and check the butt end of the neck heel for a production date, which may be stamped or written there (if you`re uncomfortable doing this yourself, please refer to an experienced professional guitar tech in your area).
Fender was sold to CBS in January 1965. Serial numbering didn`t change immediately because instruments continued to be made using existing, tooling, parts and serial number schemes. The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1965 to 1976. Notice that there is quite a bit of overlap in numbers and years.
The charts below detail the most common Fender serial number schemes from 1976 to the present. Once again, there is quite a bit of overlap in numbers and years. The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument is to remove the neck and check the butt end of the neck heel for a production date, which may be stamped or written there (if you`re uncomfortable doing this yourself, please refer to an experienced professional guitar tech in your area). Serial numbers with an "S" prefix denote the 1970s (signifying a CBS attempt to use serial numbers to identify production years); an "E" prefix was introduced in 1979 to denote the 1980s. As seen in the overlap of numbers and years, even these references to actual production dates are rather loose.
1982 saw the introduction of the U.S. Vintage Series instruments and "V"-prefix serial numbers. The only way to definitively date U.S. instruments with "V"-prefix serial numbers is to remove the neck and check the butt end of the neck heel for a production date, which may be stamped or written there.
"N"-prefix serial numbers denoting the 1990s were introduced in 1990. The numbers and decals were produced far in advance, and some N9 decals (denoting 1999), were inadvertantly affixed to some instruments in 1990. Consequently, some 1990 guitars bear 1999 "N9" serial numbers.
"Z"-prefix serial numbers denoting the new millennium appeared on U.S.-made instruments in 2000. Z0 denotes 2000; Z1 denotes 2001, etc. American Deluxe Series instruments use the same dating convention, but with the addition of a "D" in front of the "Z", i.e., DZ1, DZ2, etc. As always, there is typically some number prefix overlap and carryover from year to year.
The "odd" serial numbers on the chart below exist somewhat outside the more well-known Fender serial number schemes. If you have what you consider an odd serial number, it might appear here.
DATING JAPANESE-MADE FENDER INSTRUMENTS
DATING MEXICAN-MADE FENDER INSTRUMENTS
ODD SERIAL NUMBERS