How to date vintage Fender guitars

John Shults

Posted on October 27 2020

how to date vintage Fender guitars

 

Fender guitar dating is a skill that's developed over time. There is so much to learn about how to date vintage Fender guitars that it seems like there's always something new even for experts in the field. If you'd like help with "how old is my vintage Fender guitar?" from an expert with over a decade of experience then click the red Contact Me button. I'd love to check out your guitar. If you're looking for help with dating a vintage Fender amplifier then check out How To Date A Vintage Fender Guitar Amplifier.

I'm always a buyer for good vintage Fender electric guitars. You can reach out to me here to sell a vintage Fender guitar

If you're looking for model specific Fender guitar dating, check out these posts: 

How to date a vintage Fender Jazzmaster guitar

How to date a vintage Fender Jaguar guitar

Some of the finest electric guitars ever made came out of the Fender Electric Instrument Company's factory in Fullerton, California. Guitar players and collectors began noticing in the 1970s and 1980s that Fender guitars made in the 1950s and 1960s were far more finely crafted, better playing, and most importantly: sounded better. Demand for vintage Fender guitars exceed the supply and values increased for certain models and years. A vintage guitar's value is highly dependent on the year it was manufactured and its condition. For this post, let's focus solely on How To Date Vintage Fender Guitars. 

Fender Guitar Serial Numbers 1950-1977

It's tempting to rely too heavily on a Fender guitar's serial number to date it, but Fender guitar experts know that it's only one small data point. Fender guitar serial numbers were assigned to either a bridge plate or a neck plate, which then went into a box to be installed on a guitar. They weren't necessarily used sequentially and the parts with serial numbers are easily replaced. The serial number on a Fender guitar is more useful to help support the date of manufacture that the other parts indicate. 

The earliest Fender guitar serial numbers are located on the bridge plate in the middle of the body. Please call me if you have a guitar like this.

0001 – 0999 1950, 1951, 1952
1000 – 5300 1952, 1953, 1954

For Fender guitars with serial numbers with 6 digits or less on the neck plate:

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):

L00001 – L20000 1963
L20000 – L55000 1964
L55000 – L99999 1965

Six digit serial numbers with a large stylized F on the plate:

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

 

Neck Heel Dates

Many Fender guitars will have date signatures or even manufacturing stamps that will help determine when it was made. The neck heel is the butt end of the neck that's hidden inside the body when attached to the guitar. Since Fender guitars feature bolt on neck construction, a careful technician can remove the neck to look for a pencil date or date stamp. I do not recommend that anyone remove the neck on their vintage collectible Fender guitar without the help of a qualified technician!

Here are two examples of neck heel dates. The first shows the neck heel on a 1957 Fender Telecaster which bears the pencil date signature of "11/57" indicating November of 1957. Fender guitars from 1950 until 1962 will usually have a pencilled neck heel date and possibly a signature or initials from the employee who signed it. 

Fender guitar neck date

The second example is the neck heel from a 1962 Fender Jazzmaster. 1962 was the first year that Fender utilized an ink stamp with a model code, month prefix, year, and a neck width code. This code reads "4MAY62B" which, during this time period, would indicate Jazzmaster model (4), MAY month, 62 year (1962), and A neck width code which was the skinny nut measuring 1 1/2" wide.

Fender guitar neck date stamp

Body Cavity Dates

Many vintage Fender guitars will also have a pencilled date inside a certain cavity in the body of the guitar. This is mostly a feature of Fender guitars made in the 1950s up until about 1966 and will also be model specific. They can often be difficult to access so this is another one to leave for a qualified technician. Vintage Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar guitars will often have pencil dates inside their tremolo cavity or bridge pickup cavity. 

This is the pencilled body build date inside of a 1962 Fender Jazzmaster. The "7/62" signature indicates that this body was built in July of 1962.  

Fender guitar body date 

 

Potentiometer Codes

A potentiometer is a variable resistor that can vary the output of the signal in such a way as to control the volume or tone of an electric guitar. The part that's visible from the outside is the volume or tone knob, but the potentiometer inside is what's doing the work. Potentiometers or "pots" were made with EIA codes that indicate the manufacturer who made it, and the year and week in which it was manufactured. Check out my blog post on How To Date Fender and Gibson Guitars With Potentiometer Codes.

Since potentiometer codes were assigned when the pot was made, they don't indicate the year and week of the year that the guitar was made. They can indicate that the guitar is no older than the potentiometer code, as long as they are original to the guitar.  

Fender Guitar potentiometer date code

General Features

The general style of each model of Fender guitar changed slightly throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Vintage Fender guitar experts can look at a guitar and have a good idea of about when it was made without seeing a serial number, neck heel date, or potentiometer codes. For example, a Telecaster with a Maple fretboard is likely to have been made from 1952-1959; a slab Rosewood fretboard on a Telecaster neck would likely have been made between 1959 and 1962; and a thin veneered Rosewood fretboard would have to have been made in 1962 or later. There are so many of these small feature tells that help an expert date a vintage Fender guitar. There are too many to list here, so if you would like some help with Fender guitar dating, click the contact me button and send me some pictures. I'd love to check it out. 



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