How to date a vintage Fender Stratocaster
Posted on January 13 2021
The Fender Stratocaster model electric guitar is an iconic design that debuted in 1954. They're constructed from parts meant to be easily disassembled in the field for service or repairs. It's an amazing design that's just as relevant today as it was back in the 1950s!
Dating vintage Fender guitars requires more than just a simple serial number lookup. Fender serial numbers in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were applied to the metal neck plate on the back of the body that's easily swapped for a new one. Not only that, but the numbers weren't necessarily applied consecutively.
Here are the four most important parts to check to help date a vintage Fender Stratocaster guitar:
1. Neck and body
2. Electronics and pickups
3. Serial numbers on neck plates
4. General features
Neck and body dates
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).
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:
Electronics and Pickups
The next step to accurately date a vintage Fender Stratocaster guitar is to check the date codes on the electronics and the pickups. 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), 1965 (65), and the 10th week (10):
Serial numbers on neck plates:
The problem with vintage Fender guitar serial numbers 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 no necessarily indicate an earlier guitar. There is a general pattern to the serial numbers so that's why I've included them here:
1000 – 5300 1952, 1953, 1954
For Fender guitars with serial numbers with 6 digits or less on the neck plate. I'm looking to purchase guitars from this time period.
0001 – 8000 1954
6000 – 10000 1955
9000 – 16000 1956
16000 – 25000 1957 0 or – prefix possible
25000 – 30000 1958 0 or – prefix possible
30000 – 40000 1959
40000 – 58000 1960
55000 – 72000 1961
72000 – 93000 1962
93000 – 99999 1963
Serial numbers preceded by an “L” 1963-1965. I'm looking to purchase guitars from this time period.
L00001 – L20000 1963
L20000 – L55000 1964
L55000 – L99999 1965
Six digit serial numbers with a large stylized F on the plate. I'm looking to purchase guitars from this time period:
100000 – 110000 1965
110000 – 200000 1966
180000 – 210000 1967
210000 – 250000 1968
250000 – 280000 1969
280000 – 300000 1970
300000 – 330000 1971
330000 – 370000 1972
370000 – 520000 1973
500000 – 580000 1974
580000 – 690000 1975
690000 – 750000 1976
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.
It takes a skilled guitar collector's eye to date a vintage Fender guitar 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.