Dating Your Fender
Fender Serial Numbers, 1950 to Present
Dating a Fender guitar with the serial number is a hit or miss propisition. It helps narrow things down, but in most cases is an inexact science. Leo Fender never intended for his guitars to become collectors items. He never invisioned a need to pinpoint the manufacturing date of any of his guitars. At least not while he was at Fender Musical Instrument Corporation.
With that said, and with great help from numerous sources including FMIC, George Gruhn’s publications, and A. R. Duchossoir the following information should help you but it is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.
Before 1977 Fender guitars hd a serial number on the bridgeplate or neckplate. Serial numbers are basically chronological, but there is some overlap in some years. Before the later 1970’s Fender never expected the guitars to be collectable or for serial numbers to be important. The bridge plate or neckplate were applied to a guitar with no thought to keeping any kind of number sequence. Fender serial numbers were assigned like this:
As you can see from this over-simplified example, serial number assignment was fairly random. Just keep this in mind. The only truly definitive way to date a pre-CBS fender is to look at all the dates on the instrument (body date, neck date, pot dates). The serial number can only generalized the age of the instrument within a few years.
Fender Esquire, Broadcaster, and Telecaster Serial Numbers 1950 to 1954
This system of serial numbers is unique to these three models until about the early summer of 1954 (when Fender switched to a universal neck plate serial number system for all models):
Esquire, Broadcaster and Telecaster, Numbers On Bridge Plate
0001 to 0999 = 1950 to 1952 1000 to 5300 = 1952 to 1954
Serial Numbers for all Fender Guitar Models, from summer 1954 to mid 1976
0001 to 6000 = 1954 6000 to 9000 = 1955 9000 to 16000 = 1956 16000 to 25000 = 1957 (some numbers with a "0" or "-" prefix) 25000 to 30000 = 1958 (some numbers with a "0" or "-" prefix) 30000 to 40000 = 1959 40000 to 58000 = 1960 55000 to 72000 = 1961 72000 to 93000 = 1962 93000 to 99999 = 1963
L-Series (1963 to late 1965)
Neckplates with an “L Plate” are considered a Pre-CBS Fender (even though the CBS corporation bought Fender in January 1965). Sometimes an “L” serial number can be seen as early as late 1962.
L00001 to L20000 = 1963 L20000 to L55000 = 1964 L55000 to L99999 = 1965
F-Series (late 1965 to mid-1976)
100000 to 110000 = late 1965 110000 to 200000 = 1966 180000 to 210000 = 1967 210000 to 250000 = 1968 250000 to 280000 = 1969 280000 to 300000 = 1970 300000 to 330000 = 1971 330000 to 370000 = 1972 370000 to 520000 = 1973 500000 to 580000 = 1974 580000 to 690000 = 1975 690000 to 750000 = 1976
Serial Number on Peghead Decal.
So starting in mid-1976 the serial number was moved to a decal on the peghead. Even with the new system, Fender didn’t like to throw away a perfectly good serialized decal just because the year code would be incorrect. So, the information on the peghead could be off as much as two years. Generally speaking, a “S” prefix equals the 1970’s (Seventies), “E” prefix equals the 1980’s (Eighties), and “N” prefix equals the 1990’s (Nineties). Also note: “E” and “N” prefix serial numbers were also sometimes also Japanese-made.
In March 1985, CBS sold Fender to a group of private investors made up of the management of the corporation at the time. The serial numbers do not reflect this change – Fender continued to make instruments using existing serial number schemes. The new Fender (FMIC) did not acquire any physical assets of the old company, just the name “Fender” and the rights to all products and trademarks . So, without any factories FMIC moved all guitar production during 1985 and early 1986 to Japan, while FMIC built a new factory in Corona, California. The Japanese-made Fenders do have some slight serial number differences (typically a “J” serial number prefix).
7600000 ("76" in bold) = 1976-1977 800000s = 1979-1981 1000000 to 8000000 = 1976-1981 (7 digits) S1 to S5 + 5 Digits = 1979-1982 S6 + 5 digits = 1976 S7 + 5 digits = 1977-1978 S8 + 5 digits = 1977-1978 S9 + 5 digits = 1978-1981 E0 + 5 digits = 1979-1981 E1 + 5 digits = 1980-1981 E1 + 5 digits = 1982 E2 + 5 digits = 1982-1983 E3 + 5 digits = 1982-1984 E4 + 5 digits = 1984-1985, 1987-1988 E8 + 5 digits = 1988-1989 E9 + 5 digits = 1988-1990
N9 + 5 digits = 1990 N0 + 5 digits = 1990-1991 N1 + 5 or 6 digits = 1991-1992 N2 + 5 or 6 digits = 1992-1993 N3 + 5 or 6 digits = 1993-1994 N4 + 5 or 6 digits = 1994-1995 N5 + 5 or 6 digits = 1995-1996 N6 + 5 or 6 digits = 1996-1997 N7 + 5 or 6 digits = 1997-1998 N8 + 5 or 6 digits = 1998-1999 N9 + 5 or 6 digits = 1999-2000 DZ0 or Z0 + 5/6 digits = 2000 DZ1 or Z1 + 5/6 digits = 2001 DZ2 or Z2 + 5/6 digits = 2002 DZ3 or Z3 + 5/6 digits = 2003 DZ4 or Z4 + 5/6 digits = 2004 DZ5 or Z5 + 5/6 digits = 2005
Japanese Serial Numbers on Peghead Decal
Note that the “E” and “N” series does sometimes appear on “made in Japan” models. Most likely a mistake on Fender’s part using the same prefix for both U.S. and Japanese-made guitars (know as MIJ). However, if the back of the guitar neck bears a “made in Japan” or even “crafted in Japan” decal, then it is made in Japan.
JV + 5 Digits = 1982 to 1984 SQ + 5 Digits = 1983 to 1984 E + 6 Digits = 1984 to 1987 A + 6 Digits = 1985 to 1986 B + 6 Digits = 1985 to 1986 C + 6 Digits = 1985 to 1986 F + 6 Digits = 1986 to 1987 G + 6 Digits = 1987 to 1988 H + 6 Digits = 1988 to 1989 I + 6 Digits = 1989 to 1990 J + 6 Digits = 1989 to 1990 K + 6 Digits = 1990 to 1991 L + 6 Digits = 1991 to 1992 M + 6 Digits = 1992 to 1993 N + 6 Digits = 1993 to 1994 O + 6 Digits = 1994 to 1995 P + 6 Digits = 1995 to 1996
Guitars labeled “Crafted in Japan” Serials.
A + 6 DIGITS = 1997-1998 O + 6 DIGITS = 1997-2000 P + 6 DIGITS = 1999-2002 Q + 6 DIGITS = 2002-2004 R + 6 DIGITS = 2004-2005
Dating Mexican Made Fender Guitars
MN0+ 5 DIGITS = 1990-1991 MN1+ 5 DIGITS = 1991-1992 MN2+ 5 DIGITS = 1992-1993 MN3+ 5 DIGITS = 1993-1994 MN4+ 5 DIGITS = 1994-1995 MN5+ 5 DIGITS = 1995-1996 MN6+ 5 DIGITS = 1996-1997 MN7+ 5 DIGITS = 1997-1998 MN8+ 5 DIGITS = 1998-1999 MN9+ 5 DIGITS = 1999-2000 MZ0+ 5 DIGITS = 2000-2001 MZ1+ 5 DIGITS = 2001-2002 MZ2+ 5 DIGITS = 2002-2003 MZ3+ 5 DIGITS = 2003-2004 MZ4+ 5 DIGITS = 2004-2005 MZ5+ 5 DIGITS = 2005-2006
Other Fender Serial Number Schemes.
V + 4 to 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series) = 1982-1988 V + 5 to 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series) = 1989-present AMXN + 6 DIGITS = California Series , '97 and '98 DN + 6 DIGITS = Am Deluxe series, '98 and '99 NC(XXXXXX) = Squier Strat Bullets (dating unclear) FN(XXXXXX) = US made for the export market. Some may have stayed or found their way back (dating unclear) I(XXXXXXX) = Limited no. of these were made in '89/'90. They were made for the export market and have Made in USA stamped on neck heel. LE(XXXXXX) = Blonde Jazzmasters / Jaguars w/ Gold hardware made in 1994. Sold as a promotional 3 piece set with a Blonde Deluxe Reverb Amp CN(XXXXXX) = Korean Fender/Squier guitars (dating unclear) VN(XXXXXX) = Korean Fender/Squier guitars (dating unclear) CA(XXXXX) = Gold Strat 1981, 82 and 83 CB(XXXXX) = P Bass Special, 1981, Gold Jazz Bass, 1982 CC(XXXXX) = Walnut Strat 1981-82-83 CE(XXXXX) = P Bass Special, 1981, Black/Gold Tele, 1981-82 CD(XXXXX) = P Bass Special (Walnut) from 1982 CO(XXXXX) = P Bass Special (Walnut) from 1982 GO(XXXXX) = P Bass Special (Walnut), 1982, Gold Strat 1982-83 D(XXXXXX) = Jazz Bass from 1982 SE8(XXXXX) = Signature Ed Strats (check neck date) SE9(XXXXX) = Signature Ed Strats (check neck date) SN0(XXXXX) = Signature Ed Strats 1990 SN1(XXXXX) = Signature Ed Strats 1990 SN2(XXXXX) = Signature Ed Strats 1992 SN3(XXXXX) = Signature Ed Strats 1993 3 digits of 500 = 35th Anniversary Strat from 1989-1990 G(XXXXXX) = "STRAT" about 1980, (Gold hardware, 2 pos. rotary tone switch) 4 digits stamped on bridge plate = 1952 reissue Telecaster 1982-1988 (Check neck date for exact year) 5 digits stamped on bridge plate = 1952 reissue Telecaster 1988-present (Check neck date for exact year)
Reference Materials to Help Date Your Guitar
You may want to consider ordering one or more of the following reference books:
DATING YOUR U.S. MADE FENDER STRINGED INSTRUMENT
While this neck dating is useful in roughly determining the age of a guitar, it is certainly not definitive. The neck date simply refers to the date that the individual component was produced. Given the modular nature of Fender’s production techniques, an individual neck may have been produced in a given year, placed in the manufacturing warehouse and remained in stock for a period of time, and then subsequently paired with a body to create a complete guitar in the following year. So, obviously a neck date, while being helpful in providing a date range of production, it cannot be a definitive reference.
Unlike the auto industry which has specific model years for their products, most specifications for a given Fender instrument model, change little if any, through the lifetime of the model. While there have been periods where dramatic changes have occurred, for example: the transition periods between Leo’s Fender and the CBS years, as well as the transition between CBS’ Fender and the current ownership, generally speaking, most models are feature specific and do not change from year to year.
Serial numbers are also helpful in determining the year of production of a given instrument.
Establishing the Value of Your Vintage Guitar
If you have interest in establishing a relative value for your instrument,it might be helpful to contact any of the used or vintage instrument dealers in your area. If you have an older “vintage” instrument, you may want to pick up a copy of Vintage Guitar magazine, or visit their website at http://www.vguitar.com. Vintage Guitar magazine is a great resource for people who buy, sell and trade vintage instruments and should be quite helpful.
You might also want to check with one of the many instrument dealers who offer appraisals of vintage instruments such as: Elderly Instruments, at: http://www.elderly.com, Gruhn Guitars at: http://www.gruhn.com, or Norman’s Rare Guitars, at: http://www.normansrareguitars.com.
Other resources would be to check with your local library for a copy of the “Orion Blue Book” or the “Blue Book of Guitar Values”. You can also check with your local pawnshops, as most refer to this book, or one like it, to establish the values or used instruments. Lastly, one of the best measures of value may be completed Ebay Auctions for similar guitars. All of these are excellent resources for researching the fair market value of your instrument.