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.
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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).
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.
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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.