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How To Date Your US Made Fender Guitar

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For the majority 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. There were periods of time when this was not consistently done, (between 1973 and 1981), and there are certainly other examples of short periods of time, and individual pieces, where the dating was simply omitted.

While this neck dating is useful in roughly determining the age of a guitar, it is certainly not definitive. The neck date simply refers to the date that the individual component was produced. Given the modular nature of Fender's production techniques, an individual neck may have been produced in a given year, placed in the manufacturing warehouse and remained in stock for a period of time, and then subsequently paired with a body to create a complete guitar in the following year.

So, obviously a neck date, while being helpful in providing a date range of production, it cannot be a definitive reference. Unlike the auto industry which has specific model years for their products, most specifications for a given Fender instrument model, change little if any, through the lifetime of the model. While there have been periods where dramatic changes have occurred, for example: the transition periods between Leo's Fender and the CBS years, as well as the transition between CBS' Fender and the current ownership, generally speaking, most models are feature specific and do not change from year to year.

Serial numbers are also helpful in determining the year of production of a given instrument. Serial numbers have been used in various locations on Fender instruments through the years. They have been placed at the top of the neck plate, on the front of the headstock, on the back of the headstock, and on the back of the neck near where the neck bolts onto the body. They were stamped on the back vibrato cover plate (early '50s Strats), and on the bridge plate between the pickup and the saddles on some Telecasters. But once again, due to the modular nature of Fender's production methods, and the fact that most serial numbers schemes are not sequential and usually overlap from between 2 to 4 years, (from the early days of Fender, through to the mid 1980s), dating by the serial number is not an exact science.

DATING YOUR INSTRUMENT

The following chart details the Fender serial number schemes used from 1950 to 1964. You will notice that there is quite a bit of overlap of numbers and years. The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument would be to remove the neck and check the butt end of the heel of the neck for a production date, which may be stamped or written there. (If you are not comfortable performing this operation, please use an experienced professional guitar tech in your area).

SERIAL NUMBERS 	        PRODUCTION DATES
Up to 6000 	          1950 to 1954
Up to 10,000 	          1954 to 1956
10,000s 	          1955 to 1956
10,000s to 20,000s 	  1957
20,000s to 30,000s 	  1958
30,000s to 40,000s 	  1959
40,000s to 50,000s 	  1960
50,000s to 70,000s 	  1961
60,000s to 90,000s 	  1962
80,000s to 90,000s 	  1963
90,000s up to L10,000s 	  1963
L10,000s up to L20,000s   1963
L20,000s up to L50,000s   1964

In January of 1965, Fender was sold to the CBS Corporation.
The serial numbers do not immediately reflect the change, as CBS continued to make instruments using existing, tooling, parts, and serial number schemes. The following chart details the Fender serial number schemes used from 1965 to 1976. You will notice that there is quite a bit of overlap of both numbers and years.

L50,000s up to L90,000s   1965
100,000s 	          1965
100,000s to 200,000s      1966 to 1967
200,000s 	          1968
200,000s to 300,000s 	  1969 to 1970
300,000s 	          1971 to 1972
300,000s to 500,000s 	  1973
400,000s to 500,000s 	  1974 to 1975
500,000s to 700,000s 	  1976

The following charts detail the most common Fender serial number schemes used from 1976 to the present. You will notice that there is quite a bit of overlap of both numbers and years. The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument would be to remove the neck and check the butt end of the heel of the neck for a production date, which may be stamped or written there. (If you are not comfortable performing this operation, please use an experienced professional guitar tech in your area). Please note the introduction of the "S" prefix serial numbers. The "S", stood for decade of the 1970s, and began CBS' attempt to use serial numbers to identify the year of production for the piece. The "E", stood for the decade of the 1980s and was, as shown below, introduced in 1979. As you can see by the overlaps of numbers and years, the reference to the actual production date is rather loose.

SERIAL NUMBERS 	PRODUCTION DATES

76 + 5 DIGITS      1976

S6 + 5 DIGITS      1976
                       

S7 + 5 DIGITS      1977

S8 + 5 DIGITS      1977
	

S7 + 5 DIGITS      1978

S8 + 5 DIGITS      1978

S9 + 5 DIGITS      1978
	

S9 + 5 DIGITS      1979

E0 + 5 DIGITS      1979
	

S9 + 5 DIGITS      1980

E0 + 5 DIGITS      1980

E1 + 5 DIGITS      1980
	

S9 + 5 DIGITS      1981

E0 + 5 DIGITS      1981

E1 + 5 DIGITS      1981

1982 marked the introduction of the U.S. Vintage Series instruments and the use of the "V" prefix serial numbers. The only way to definitively date the U.S. "V" prefix serial numbered instruments, is to remove the neck, and check the butt end of the heel of the neck for a production date, which may be stamped or written there.

1982 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

EI + 5 DIGITS
E2 + 5 DIGITS
E3 + 5 DIGITS
V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1983 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E2 + 5 DIGITS
E3 + 5 DIGITS
V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1984 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E3 + 5 DIGITS
E4 + 5 DIGITS
V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

In March of 1985, the CBS Corporation sold Fender to a group of private investors. The serial numbers do not reflect the change, as Fender continued to make instruments using existing tooling, parts, and serial number schemes.

1985 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E3 + 5 DIGITS
E4 + 5 DIGITS
V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1986 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1987 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E4 + 5 DIGITS
V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1988 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E4 + 5 DIGITS
E8 + 5 DIGITS
V + 4, 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1989(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E8 + 5 DIGITS
E9 + 5 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

With 1990 came the introduction of the "N" prefix serial numbers, which stood for the 1990s. The numbers and decals are produced far in advance, and apparently, some N9 decals, (which were supposed to be used in 1999), were affixed to some instruments in 1990. As a result, you will see some 1990 guitars bearing N9 serial numbers.

1990 (For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)

E9 + 5 DIGITS
N9 + 5 DIGITS
N0 + 5 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1991

N0 + 5 DIGITS
N1 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1992

N1 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N2 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1993

N2 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N3 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1994

N3 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N4 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1995

N4 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N5 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1996

N5 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N6 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1997

N6 + 6 or 6 DIGITS
N7 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1998

N7 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N8 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

1999

N8 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
N9 + 5 or 6 DIGITS
V + 5 or 6 DIGITS (U.S. Vintage Series)

The following serial numbers are somewhat outside the more, well known Fender serial number schemes. If you have what you consider to be a somewhat "odd" serial number, please check the following chart to see if you find your serial number configuration here. This chart contains

ODD SERIAL NUMBERS

NUMBER 	                DESCRIPTION

AMXN + 6 DIGITS 	California Series electric guitars and basses, '97 and '98

DN + 6 DIGITS 	        American Deluxe series instruments, '98 and '99

NC(XXXXXX) 	        Squier Strat Bullets (dating unclear)

FN(XXXXXX) 	        US made guitars and basses destined for the export market. 
Some may have stayed in the U.S or found their 
way back (Made to Standard Strat specs, dating unclear)

I(XXXXXXX) 	        A limited number of these "I" series guitars were made in '89 and '90. 
They were made for the export market and have Made in USA stamped on the heel of the neck.

LE(XXXXXX) 	        Blonde Jazzmasters and Jaguars with Gold hardware made in 1994. 
Sold as a promotional 3 piece set with a Blonde Deluxe Reverb Amp

CN(XXXXXX)
                        Korean made Fender/Squier guitars (dating unclear)
VN(XXXXXX) 

CA(XXXXX) 	        Gold Strat 1981, 82 and 83
CB(XXXXX) 	        Precision Bass Special from 1981, CB(XXXXX) Gold Jazz Bass from 1982
CC(XXXXX) 	        Walnut Strat 1981-82-83
CE(XXXXX) 	        Precision Bass Special from 1981, Black and Gold Tele from 1981-82

CD(XXXXX)
                        Precision Bass Special (Walnut) from 1982
CO(XXXXX)
	
GO(XXXXX) 	        Precision Bass Special (Walnut) from 1982, Gold Strat 1982-83
D(XXXXXX) 	        Jazz Bass from 1982


SE(XXXXXX)              Signature Edition Strats
                        SE8(XXXXX)-'88, SE9(XXXXX)-'89
SN(XXXXXX)              SN0(XXXXX)-'90, SN1(XXXXX)-'90, SN2(XXXXX)-'92, SN3(XXXXX)-'93

                
3 DIGITS OF 500         35TH Anniversary Strat from 1989-1990
G(XXXXXX) 	        "STRAT" from about 1980, (Gold hardware, 2 position rotary tone switch)
4 DIGITS STAMPED 
ON BRIDGE PLATE 	U.S. '52 Vintage Telecaster 1982-1988 (Check neck date for specific year)
5 DIGITS STAMPED 
ON BRIDGE PLATE 	U.S. '52 Vintage Telecaster 1988-present (Check neck date for specific year)

REFERENCE MATERIALS FOR DATING FENDER INSTRUMENTS

If you are unable to place the approximate year of manufacture of your instrument using the above charts, there are a few great books available, which have invaluable information on the history of Fender instruments. If you have serious interest in learning about the history of Fender instruments, or if you just want to try to establish the year of production of your own axe, we would highly recommend that you pick up one or more of the following books.

They are detailed reference resources with a wealth of information for helping to either establish the vintage of your guitar or bass or for just learning more about Fender history in general. These books are the same resources we refer to here at Fender, when trying to research answers to these same history and dating questions.