Fender Telecaster: How to Find the Year & Value
Posted on October 12 2021
The Fender Telecaster has been in continuous production since its introduction as the Broadcaster in 1950. Fender Telecaster values range wildly depending on what year they were made, so accurate dating and identification is a very important step in finding out how much they're worth. Fender guitar collectors can date a Telecaster with only a quick glance, but the most accurate way to date them is through a thorough inspection.
As a passionate Fender guitar collector, I want you to know how to find the year and value of your Fender Telecaster so you can feel confident to sell your guitar. If you're interested in selling to a qualified buyer for a fair price then contact me here: Sell a Fender. You can contact me here to have a Fender guitar expert Appraisal for your Telecaster. I'd be happy to help with how to find the year and value of your Telecaster.
If you're looking for more information on vintage Fender Telecaster guitars then I recommend this book: The Fender Telecaster by Andre Duchossoir. It's a great resource for all the small details of how the Fender Telecaster changed throughout the years.
How to date a Telecaster
Knowing how to date a Fender Telecaster is the first step in finding out how much it's worth. Many people go straight to a serial number lookup to date the guitar, but Fender serial numbers are not usually an accurate way to date Fender guitars since they're not necessarily consecutive, style dependent, and are easily swapped using only a screwdriver. The steps that I use to date Fender guitars start with the serial number, but include the neck heel date, potentiometer codes, and features.
Here's a resource for Fender serial number information for 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s: Fender Serial Number Lookup. Fender serial numbers from 1950-1954 are located on the bridge plate where the strings attach to the body (contact me if you have a 1950s Telecaster with 4 digit serial number on the bridge plate). The serial numbers then moved to the neck plate on the back of the guitar until 1977. The guitar below bears the serial number "-18xxx". Our Fender serial number information indicates that the 5 digit serials with the "-" symbol in front were made in 1957.
The next step to find the year of a Telecaster is to check to see if the neck heel date matches the time period of the serial number. I recommend leaving this part of the inspection to the Fender guitar experts since there's a chance of damaging the finish if you haven't done it before. Fender employees signed the neck heel of the guitars early in the manufacturing process. The Telecaster below bears the date "11 - 57" indicating that it was signed in November of 1957.
Since both the serial number and neck heel indicate the same year, we can then check to see if the potentiometers support the year as well. Potentiometers are variable resistors that allow a player to control the volume and tone of the guitar's signal going to the amplifier. They have codes on them which indicate the manufacturer, year, and week of the year. The potentiometer codes on this Telecaster read: "304704" where 304 = Stackpole (manufacturer), 7 = 1957, and 04 = the 4th week of the year.
How Much Is A Telecaster Worth?
Now that we know what year the Fender Telecaster was made, we can begin to compare our guitar with other guitars that are currently available for sale. When I'm comparing Telecasters, I look for guitars from the same year, condition, originality, and color. Since Fender generally increased production year over year, there are far fewer earlier guitars than there are later guitars. This is why we would compare Telecasters made during the same year or time period to find out how much they're worth. You can contact me here if you're curious about what a Fender guitar collector might pay for your vintage Fender Telecaster: Fender Guitar Buyer.
The condition is another very important factor in finding the value of a Fender Telecaster. Fender guitar collectors will usually prioritize a clean and unworn Telecaster over a similar guitar with loads of player wear and grime. We don't mind a little wear and tear, but I personally enjoy the feel of unworn original frets when I'm playing my Telecasters. I still enjoy a well worn vintage Tele, but I usually have to have them refretted or repaired in other ways to get them to play as they were intended. There are far fewer unworn 1950s Telecasters than there are Telecasters that have been played.
Original parts are another important factor impacting Telecaster values. The finish is likely the most important part of a vintage Telecaster. It was very common for people to refinish Fender guitars since they're easily disassembled using only a screw driver. It's also common to find replaced pickups, potentiometers, and wiring in vintage Telecasters. Fender guitar collectors will always prioritize guitars original parts over guitars with many replaced parts.
The Fender Telecaster was offered in the standard finish it called Blond which is also the most common finish. A Blond finish is a semi-translucent cream white color with wood grain visible through it. Any finish other than Blond is considered a custom color, and Fender guitar collectors will prioritize custom colors over the standard Blond finish. I am always looking for custom color Fender Telecaster guitars. Please contact me if you have a black, blue, red, or sunburst Telecaster from the 1950s or 1960s.
1950s Fender Telecaster Timeline
Leo Fender's Telecaster wasn't the first solid body electric guitar, but it was the first mass produced and widely adopted solid body electric for spanish style playing. Here is a basic timeline of how the model changed throughout the years. I am looking for the nicest examples of Esquire, Broadcaster, and Telecaster guitars. You can contact me here if you're looking to sell.
1949: Leo Fender experiments with the solid body guitar which would become known as the Esquire with either one pickup or dual pickup. Pre-production samples were made in black white pickguard, white, and Blond with black pickguard. The two pickup guitars include a blend knob to vary the amount of signal from each pickup.
1950: The first guitars go into production as the Esquire with no truss rod. It is soon updated to include a truss rod. The two pickup version is renamed Broadcaster. The Blond finish with black pickguard aesthetic becomes later known as the Blackguard.
1951: The Broadcaster name is dropped after a cease and desist letter from Fred Gretsch over his Broadkaster drum line. The remaining Broadcaster headstock labels have the model name clipped leading to the nickname "Nocaster" by collectors in later years. The new Telecaster model name logos were in use by the end of the year.
1952: The Telecaster production is in full swing. The original thremometer shaped case is updated to the flat side form fit case. The blend knob is replaced with a tone knob. The both pickups on switch position doesn't exist until 1967.
1953: The Telecaster is a commercial success; production increases. Leo is experimenting with a new model which would become the Stratocaster.
1954: The classic butterscotch blond finish with thick black pickguard aesthetic is updated to a whiter blond finish and the black guard replaced with a single ply white pickguard. The brass bridge saddles changed to smooth steel saddles. The tweed center pocket case replaces the brown form fit case.
1955: Staggered pole pieces are introduced on the Telecaster's bridge pickup. The large rounded neck profile transitions to a V shape with thinner shoulders. The tweed center pocket case was updated to a bass side pocket like later cases.
1956: On very rare occasions, custom color finishes could be ordered at a 5% upcharge. Real original custom color Fender guitars from the 1950s are extremely rare and valuable.
1958: The smooth steel saddles are updated to a threaded style. The bridge plate gains six holes on the back to thread the strings through instead of the ferules on the back of the body (called top loader bridge by collectors).
1959: A thick, unfinished Rosewood fretboard replaces the one piece Maple neck and lacquered board. Fender reverts back to the old style string through the body as a result of the unpopularity of the top loading bridge. A new version was offered with Sunburst finish and double white plastic bound body called the Telecaster Custom.