Dating Your U.S. Made Fender Stringed Instrument

For most of Fender’s U.S. instrument production history, production dates have been applied to various components.

Most notably, production dates have been penciled or stamped on the butt end of the heel of the neck of most guitars and basses, although there were periods when this was not consistently done (1973 to 1981, for example) or simply omitted. Neck-dating can be useful in determining the approximate age of a guitar, but it is certainly not definitive because the neck date simply refers to the date that the individual component was produced, rather than the complete instrument.Given the modular nature of Fender production techniques, an individual neck may have been produced in a given year, then stored for a period of time before being paired with a body to create a complete guitar, perhaps, for example, in the following year. Therefore, while helpful in determining a range of production dates, a neck date is obviously not a precisely definitive reference.

Most specifications for a given Fender instrument model change little (if at all) throughout the lifetime of the model. While there have been periods of dramatic change—such as the transition periods between the Leo Fender years and the CBS years or the transition between the CBS years and the current ownership—most models are generally feature-specific and do not change from year to year.

Serial numbers are also helpful in determining an instrument’s production year. For years, serial numbers have been used in various locations on Fender instruments, such as the top of the neck plate, the front or back of the headstock and the back of the neck near the junction with the body. Serial numbers were stamped on the back vibrato cover plate on early ’50s Stratocaster® guitars, and on the bridge plate between the pickup and the saddles on some Telecaster® guitars.But once again, due to Fender’s modular production methods and often non-sequential serial numbering (usually overlapping two to four years from the early days of Fender to the mid-1980s), dating by serial number is not always precisely definitive.

Dating Your Instrument

The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1950 to 1964. Notice that there is quite a bit of overlap in numbers and years. The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument is to remove the neck and check the butt end of the neck heel for a production date, which may be stamped or written there (if you’re uncomfortable doing this yourself, please refer to an experienced professional guitar tech in your area).

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
Up to 10,000 1954 to 1956
10,000s to 20,000s 1957
30,000s to 40,000s 1959
50,000s to 70,000s 1961
80,000s to 90,000s 1963
L10,000s up to L20,000s 1963


Fender was sold to CBS in January 1965. Serial numbering didn’t change immediately because instruments continued to be made using existing, tooling, parts and serial number schemes. The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1965 to 1976. Notice that there is quite a bit of overlap in numbers and years.

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
L50,000s up to L90,000s 1965
100,000s to 200,000s 1966 to 1967
200,000s to 300,000s 1969 to 1970
300,000s to 500,000s 1973
500,000s to 700,000s 1976


The charts below detail the most common Fender serial number schemes from 1976 to the present. Once again, there is quite a bit of overlap in numbers and years. The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument is to remove the neck and check the butt end of the neck heel for a production date, which may be stamped or written there (if you’re uncomfortable doing this yourself, please refer to an experienced professional guitar tech in your area). Serial numbers with an “S” prefix denote the 1970s (signifying a CBS attempt to use serial numbers to identify production years); an “E” prefix was introduced in 1979 to denote the 1980s. As seen in the overlap of numbers and years, even these references to actual production dates are rather loose.

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
S7 + 5 digits
S8 + 5 digits
1977
S9 + 5 digits
E0 + 5 digits
1979
S9 + 5 digits
E0 + 5 digits
E1 + 5 digits
1981


1982 saw the introduction of the U.S. Vintage Series instruments and “V”-prefix serial numbers. The only way to definitively date U.S. instruments with “V”-prefix serial numbers is to remove the neck and check the butt end of the neck heel for a production date, which may be stamped or written there.

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
EI + 5 digits
E2 + 5 digits
E3 + 5 digits
V + 4, 5 or 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1982
(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)
E3 + 5 digits
E4 + 5 digits
V + 4, 5 or 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1984
(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)


CBS sold Fender in March 1985. Serial numbering didn’t change because instruments continued to be made using existing tooling, parts and serial number schemes.

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
E3 + 5 5 digits
E4 + 5 5 digits
V + 4, 5 or 6 5 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1985
(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)
E4 + 5 5 digits
V + 4, 5 or 6 5 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1987
(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)
E8 + 5 5 digits
E9 + 5 5 digits
V + 5 or 6 5 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1989
(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)


“N”-prefix serial numbers denoting the 1990s were introduced in 1990. The numbers and decals were produced far in advance, and some N9 decals (denoting 1999), were inadvertantly affixed to some instruments in 1990. Consequently, some 1990 guitars bear 1999 “N9” serial numbers.

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
E9 + 5 digits
N9 + 5 digits
N0 + 5 digits
V + 5 or 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1990
(For U.S. Vintage Series, check neck date for specific year)
N1 + 5 or 6 digits
N2 + 5 or 6 digits
V + 5 or 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1992
N3 + 5 or 6 digits
N4 + 5 or 6 digits
V + 5 or 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1994
N5 + 5 or 6 digits
N6 + 5 or 6 digits
V + 5 or 6 digits (U.S. Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
1996
N7 + 5 or 6 digits
N8 + 5 or 6 digits
V + 5 or 6 digits (American Vintage Series)
1998


“Z”-prefix serial numbers denoting the new millennium appeared on U.S.-made instruments in 2000. Z0 denotes 2000; Z1 denotes 2001, etc. American Deluxe Series instruments use the same dating convention, but with the addition of a “D” in front of the “Z”, i.e., DZ1, DZ2, etc. As always, there is typically some number prefix overlap and carryover from year to year.

SERIAL NUMBERS PRODUCTION DATES
N9 + 5 or 6 digits
Z0 + 5 or 6 digits
DZ0 + 5 or 6 digits (Am. Deluxe)
V + 5 or 6 digits (American Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
2000
Z1 + 5 or 6 digits
Z2 + 5 or 6 digits
DZ2 + 5 or 6 digits (Am. Deluxe)
V + 5 or 6 digits (American Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
2002
Z3 + 5 or 6 digits
Z4 + 5 or 6 digits
DZ4 + 5 or 6 digits (Am. Deluxe)
V + 5 or 6 digits (American Vintage Series except ’52 Telecaster)
XN4 + 4 digits
2004


The “odd” serial numbers on the chart below exist somewhat outside the more well-known Fender serial number schemes. If you have what you consider an odd serial number, it might appear here.

NUMBER DESCRIPTION
DN + 6 digits American Deluxe series instruments; 1998 and 1999
FN(XXXXXX) U.S.-made guitars and basses destined for export market. Some may have stayed in the U.S. or found their way back (made to Standard Stratocaster specs; dating unclear)
LE(XXXXXX) Blonde Jazzmaster® and Jaguar® guitars with gold hardware made in 1994. Sold as a promotional three-piece set with a Blonde Deluxe Reverb® Amp
CA(XXXXX) Gold Stratocaster; 1981, 1982 and 1983
CC(XXXXX) Walnut Stratocaster; 1981, 1982 and 1983
CD(XXXXX)
CO(XXXXX)
Precision Bass Special (Walnut) from 1982
D(XXXXXX) Jazz Bass from 1982
3 digits of 500 35TH Anniversary Strat from 1989-1990
4 digits stamped on bridge plate U.S. ’52 Vintage Telecaster 1982-1988 (Check neck date for specific year)
T(XXXXXX) Tribute series instruments
XN(XXXXX) FSRs and ’52 Teles
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~ by dolphinblog on July 16, 2007.

7 Responses to “Dating Your U.S. Made Fender Stringed Instrument”

  1. […] Dating Your US Made Fender Stringed InstrumentNeck-dating can be useful in determining the approximate age of a guitar, but it is certainly not definitive because the neck date simply refers to the date that the individual component was produced, rather than the complete instrument … […]

  2. Hi I’ve just purchased a 1996 50th anniversary telecaster serial number is U026446.
    Is this a genuine U.S.A. made tele. please send reply to Eileen.Fountain@staloysius.nsw.edu.au

  3. Someone is trying to sell me a Fender Stratocastor “Series 013 4100” with serial number 2302 8508 on the head stock.(no prefex letter) It has “Made in USA” on the head stock also. Any idea of its origin?

  4. I really can’t tell! Sometimes some guitars have weird serials that don’t fit with the usual…best thing to do is email consumerrelations@fender.com

  5. My JazzBass number N3 100993

  6. Hi I’ve purchased a stratocaster serial number is S904356.
    Is this a U.S.A. made strato 1978 or 1979? please send reply to marcogrilli@studiogrilli.it

  7. I came upon a Fender neckthe butt of the neck has the following scheme – N 101 RN the heal has the following – 25/6/96-C. The peghead has Fender on it and out near the tip the Countoured Body decal. I am thinking the N and no letter is Japan and the 25 is some identifier code with June of 1996 being the year of manufacture with a C neck. Any other guesses?

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