How to date a Fender Stratocaster

John Shults

Posted on July 22 2022

How to date vintage Fender Stratocaster guitar

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.  

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. 

Fender Stratocaster serial numbers

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:

Fender Stratocaster dating neck heel date stamp

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:

 Fender Stratocaster guitar dating expert

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. 

How to find the year of a Fender Stratocaster with potentiometer codes

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. 

How to date a Fender Stratocaster with logo features

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. 

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4 comments

  • Dee Heskett : July 22, 2022

    Have a 1967 Fender Stratocaster. My dad played music for years and years. He passed away and all his old equipment was in his spare room. We are looking to sale the Fender in case. My phone number is 907.978.6383

  • scott : August 22, 2022

    Hi,
    was wondering if there’s a way to know just how many Fender guitars were made in a particular year. I have a 1959 Jazzmaster with the anodized pick guard and I am curious as to how many of those guitars,(in 1958-59 W/anodized pick guard) were actually made. I hear they’re fairly rare. Thanks in advance, for any info. you might have for me. :)
    Cheers,
    Scott

  • Michael : July 22, 2022

    Hi,

    I’m looking at purchasing a 1974 Strat however I am concerned about the neck which dates to 1972.

    Everything about the guitar checks out including the electronics and neck plate serial number.

    Have you ever come across a vintage strat with a different neck/body serial numbers?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks

    Michael

  • Ken: July 22, 2022

    I have a stratocastor with a case and book, it seems old ,the serial is 027950

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