How to date a Fender Stratocaster
Posted on July 22 2022
As a Fender guitar collector, knowing how to date a Stratocaster is among the most important parts of the pursuit of my favorite guitars. Finding the year of a Stratocaster by serial number is not a very refined approach since the serial number plates are easily swapped using only a screwdriver! Here's how to date a Fender Stratocaster: serial number lookup, neck and body dates, potentiometer date codes, and dating the general features.
The Fender Stratocaster is the most iconic solid electric guitar of all time. Fender made the Stratocaster in great numbers from its introduction in 1954 and throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Finding the year that a Stratocaster was made only starts with check the serial number. The next step is an expert inspection of each part to determine what parts are original to the guitar and what parts may not be.
I am a passionate guitar collector and am looking for Fender Stratocaster guitars from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. I perform expert inspections on vintage Fender Stratocasters. I am also looking to acquire the nicest examples of all colors of Stratocasters made in the 1950s and 1960s. You can contact me here to sell a Fender guitar.
Date a Stratocaster by serial number This is only the first place to start since serial numbers can easily be swapped.
Date a Stratocaster by neck and body stamp Disassembly for inspection should be done by experienced professionals only.
Date a Stratocaster by potentiometer codes The date code indicates in which year and week the part was made
Date a Stratocaster by features An experience collector can date a Stratocaster based on the features including fretboard style, finish style, logo, case, etc.
Stratocaster Timeline Read through how the Stratocaster was introduced and how the model changed from 1954 until 1965.
1. Date by serial number
Here is a comprehensive list if you're looking for how to date a Fender Stratocaster by serial number: Fender Serial Number Lookup. Fender Stratocaster serial numbers were applied to three different parts of the guitar from the introduction in 1954 until the 1980s: the tremolo cover plate on the back of the body (only for the first 200 Stratocasters in 1954!), the neck plate on the back (the most common location), and even the headstock at the top of the neck starting in the late 1970s.
The problem with dating a Fender Stratocaster using serial numbers alone is that they are often found on an easily replaceable part. Not only that, but these plates were not applied to guitars in a consecutive order. A lower serial number does not necessarily indicate an earlier guitar. Dating a Stratocaster by serial number is only the first step in getting a comprehensive view of what year your Fender guitar was made.
This guitar is an excellent example of why Fender serial numbers can be misleading. This Fender Stratocaster exhibited a lot features that indicated it was made in 1964. The serial number "1062", however, is from a range that indicates that it was made in 1954. The logo, style of finish, and veneer Rosewood fretboard indicated 1964, but the tuners, potentiometer codes, and tremolo cavity indicated 1954 and 1960. So what is this guitar?? Find out here: 1954, 1960, 1954 Fender Stratocaster.
2. Date with neck and body dates (expert technicians only)
Fender utilized various signatures and stamps on the bodies and necks of Stratocaster guitars to indicate what year and month they were made and by which employee. Stratocasters have two main date indicators: one signed in pencil or stamped on the heel of the neck and one pencil signed in the tremolo cavity on the back of the body (until about 1966 or so). Click the red "Contact Me" button below for expert help.
For expert technicians only: To check the stamp on the heel of the neck, detune the strings first so that there is no tension. Then, use a properly fitting screw driver to carefully unscrew the four bolts folding the neck plate to the body while supporting both the neck and the body. Most of the neck heels were signed with a month and year in pencil until 1962. After 1962, an ink stamp was used to stamp the model code, month, year, and neck width code. Here's what a neck heel stamp looks like:
This neck heel date stamp reads "2SEP65B" which should read accordingly: "2" = Stratocaster model (not the day!), "SEP" = September, "65" = 1965, "B" = standard nut width or 1 5/8". It's tempting to think that the first number may represent the day, but it actually is a model code that indicates what model the neck is intended for.
Here's an example of a tremolo cavity pencil signature date indicating it was made during July of 1960:
3. Date with potentiometer codes:
The next step I take during an expert inspection of a Stratocaster to find the year it was made is to remove the pickguard and inspect the electronics (for expert technicians only). The potentiometers are the variable resistors that allow the player to adjust the volume and tone of the guitar through the amplifier. Potentiometers are made with manufacturer codes that indicate the manufacturer and what week of what year it was made. Here's an example that reads "137_6510" which would indicate Chicago Telephone Supply (137), 1963 (63), and the 46th week (46). This Stratocaster was made in 1963.
4. Date by features:
It takes a skilled guitar collector's eye to date a Fender Stratocaster by its exterior features, but many of us can do it only a few seconds. The important things that I look for are the logo style, fretboard style, finish style and color, and even the case color and style. Many of these aspects changed as production continued through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s which makes dating them a bit easier and quicker than taking them apart.
You can contact me at the red button in the lower right of your screen if you'd like guitar expert's help with your guitar. I can help with a vintage guitar appraisal for insurance purpose if you like. I'm also looking to buy vintage Fender Stratocaster guitars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Frequently Asked Questions about dating Stratocasters
Q: What are the best years for the Fender Stratocaster?
A: I have found that the best Strats were made during the 1950s and 1960s. Your specific favorite year of the Strat likely depends on your preferences. If you like Maple fretboards, then your choices are 1954-1959, or a select few custom examples in the 1960s. If you like the slab Rosewood fretboard then you'll want to find one made from 1959-1962. If you prefer Brazilian Rosewood over Indian Rosewood then you'll want to find one made between 1959-1964.
Q: What year was the Stratocaster first released?
A: Fender debuted the Stratocaster model in the spring of 1954. The model was in development from Summer '53 unil the end of 1953.
Q: How old is my Stratocaster?
A: If all the parts are original to your guitar, then you can check Fender Serial Numbers or the different parts of this page.
Stratocaster timeline from 1953 until 1967
This timeline is meant to include simple anecdotes from each year since the beginning of the Stratocaster (although it truly began in Leo Fender's head many years before this timeline begins). I'm looking for nice examples of Stratocaster guitars from every year on this list. You can contact me here to Sell a Fender.
1953: Leo Fender continually collected feedback from great musicians about how to improve his popular Telecaster model. The general shape of the Stratocaster's elongated bass side upper bout was introduced in 1951 on the Precision Bass, but the body wasn't contoured. The feedback he received included the need for a contoured body to help fit the chest better and a smooth operating tremolo which returned to correct pitch. Surviving notes from the time indicate that early prototypes were made with a tremolo style which didn't perform to Leo's approval and were scrapped. None have surfaced.
1954: The first 200 Stratocasters left the factory in the Spring of 1954. Their serial numbers began with "0100" and were stamped into the plastic tremolo cover plate (I am looking for one like this: Sell a Fender). The early style short skirt knobs and rounded pickup covers were used until the transition to the modern style around August of '54. The brown and red form fit case was used until the transition to the rectangular center pocket tweed case around September and October of that year. Serial numbers range from 0001 – 8000.
1955: Many of the features for the Stratocaster guitars made in 1955 were unchanged from the ones made in late 1954 including the now standardized shaped plastic parts made of polystyrene. The headstock shape changed slightly in that the edges were squared off instead of gently rounded. The tremolo cavity cover plate now featured elongated holes instead of simple rounded holes. The 3rd string pickup pole height increased to about the same height as the 4th string. Serial numbers range from 6000 - 10000.
1956: The body of the Stratocaster now transitions to Alder for Sunburst finished guitars instead of the Ash body it was introduced with. The plastic knobs and pickup covers transition to the ABS plastic material used throughout the rest of the 1950s and 1960s. The string guide on the headstock is now a butterfly shape instead of the round button shape from before. The back cover of the Kluson tuning machines gained a "KLUSON" engraved single stripe down the back. The tweed center pocket case transitions to the side pocket shape used throughout the 1970s. Serial numbers range from 9000 - 16000.
1957: The Stratocaster neck shape gains a distinctive "V" profile in 1957. Tweed cases in '57 often have the large white "U. S. Koylon" tag on the upper lid. Serial numbers range from 16000 - 25000 but sometimes the "-" or "0" prefix is used. Example here: Stratocaster 1957.
1958: From mid 1958, the slope from the nut towards the tuning machines becomes more gradual. A dramatic red band is introduced on the Sunburst finish often referred as the three tone Sunburst. The "Fender" logos in '58 often oxidize and flake off more than other years. The neck shapes grow back from the v towards the C shape. The interior of the tweed case transitions to a thinner orange plush material replacing the bright red lining. Serial number range from 25000 to 30000 but often have the "-" or "0" prefix.
1959: Fender introduces the thick slab Rosewood fretboard in mid 1959. The three layer nitrate pickguard, often called the "mint green" guard, is introduced around the same time. The shielding plate expands to cover the entire bottom of the pickguard for the nitrate guards. The neck position markers change to an off white colored vulcanized fiberboard material many refer to as "clay dots". Serial numbers range from 40000 - 58000.
1960: The Stratocasters from late 1959 into 1960 and early '61 remain largely the same, except the the red band in 1960 often fades more significantly than '58s and '59s. The middle case latch moves from underneath the handle (called "knucklebuster" style) to just to the side of the handle.
1961: The polarity of the pickups on Stratocaster guitars is reversed during the middle of 1961.