How to Date a Fender with Serial Numbers

So you need to figure out the year of production for your Fender guitar or bass. You're not alone. Fenders rank as the most frequently bought and sold instruments on Reverb, and finding a precise date of manufacture can be key to determining the value and specifics of an instrument.

The most important thing to keep in mind when dating a Fender is the highly modular nature of the designs. Like Henry Ford, part of Leo Fender's genius was in optimizing the company's production efficiency. His guitars were built en masse by an entire factory, not a single luthier toiling over one instrument at a time. Features like bolt-on necks and pickups wired into the pickguard all helped the Fender factory churn out guitar after guitar, day after day. This also means that various parts used on a particular guitar may have come from different points in time, so no single number can absolutely define when the instrument was built.

Instead, the best approach to dating a Fender is to combine indicators from the design of the instrument, the dates found on the neck and body, along with the serial number.

Design Changes and Features

Perhaps the best place to start when dating your Fender is to get an approximate idea of the era based on the instrument's design and components. This can be a tall order for someone less versed in guitar history, but we do have some resources here on Reverb to help you out.

For starters, there's the Reverb Price Guide which has thousands of entries with pictures and details on various guitars and other gear. Some browsing around the Fender section of the Price Guide can definitely help you find which model you have.

We also have some other blog posts related to Fender that can hopefully be of some help. There's A Brief History of the Stratocaster Part I and Part II that follows the evolution of the most popular Fender guitar of all. Similarly, take a look at Behold the Jazzmaster for general timeline of the history of everyone's favorite offset guitar. For Fender during the turning point era of the mid-'60s, check out Fender and the CBS Takeover.

Body and Neck Dates

Through much of Fender's production history, Fender workers would print or write a production date on both bodies and necks where the two pieces meet. These dates will tell when the original part was manufactured, but are not exact indicators of when the guitar was actually put together and finished.

Here is what the neck date and body date look like from a 1952 Telecaster:

If you're not comfortable removing the neck of a guitar to peek at the date marker, I encourage you to take it to a local tech or luthier.

I will also mention briefly pot-codes as a resource (numbers on the internal potentiometers of the guitar). These can definitely be useful in cases where no other numbers exist, but just tell when the pot itself was made. Who knows how long it was waiting in the Fender factory before finding its way into a Tele?

Serial Numbers

Like the body and neck dates, using serial numbers to date a Fender is not a sure bet. At many points in Fender's history, serial number usage overlapped again owing to the modular manner of production. Below we'll go into detail about the various serial number schemes employed by Fender as far back as 1950. There are certainly plenty of exceptions, so again, using serial numbers in conjunction with other dating methods is always the best bet.

Click on the links here to jump directly to the serial number style that matches your instrument:

The Early Years: 1950 - 1954

In the early years, Fender serial numbers schemes were specific to the model. Esquires, Broadcasters and Telecasters shared a serial number sequence, while the landmark Precision Bass had its own system. In this early period, the serial number can be found on the bridge of the instrument (see image).

Here are the rough serial number ranges for the early Esquires and Telecasters:

0001 to 0999 1950 - 1952
000 to 5300 1952 - 1954

And here are the ranges for the original Precision Basses:

161 to 357 1951
299 to 619 1952
0001 to 0160 1952
0161 to 0470 1951 - 1952
0475 to 0840 1952 - 1953
0848 to 1897 1953 - 1954

Also, for the first half or so of 1954, the inaugural run of Stratocasters had a distinct number sequence all under number 6000.

Classic Serial Numbers - 1954 - 1963

By mid-1954, Fender began using a universal serial number sequence for all its instruments. At this time, the location of the serial number also shifted from the bridge to the neckplate (the metal plate located on back of where the neck meets the body).

Here's how the serial numbers break down from 1954 to the beginning of 1963, though there are some areas of inconsistency in this era:

0001 to 7000 1954
7000 to 9000 1955
9000 to 17000 1956
17000 to 25000 1957
25000 to 34000 1958
34000 to 44000 1959
44000 to 59000 1960
59000 to 71000 1961
71000 to 93000 1962
93000 to 99999 1963

L Series - The Transition Period of 1963 to 1965

At the very end of 1962 and into 1963, Fender changed to a system where serial numbers began with an "L." According to some accounts, the L was supposed to just be a 1 to mark the cross over into the 100,000 range from the previous scheme, but an L was used by mistake.

Here the range of the L-series serial used each year. Some of the earliest ones actually popped up in late 1962 as well:

0L00001 to L20000 1963
L20000 to L59000 1964
L59000 to L99999 1965

F Series - CBS Era 1965 - 1976

After the CBS purchase of Fender in 1965, the factory switched to a new serial sequence with numbers that continued the same general format used prior to the takeover. These are generally referred to as F series due the large Fender branded F on the neckplates of the era. This period also saw a switch from the orginal four-bolt neckplate of the '60s to a three-bolt neckplate in just one example of cost-saving costs introduced under CBS.

100000 to 110000 late 1965
110000 to 200000 1966
200000 to 210000 1967
210000 to 250000 1968
250000 to 280000 1969
280000 to 300000 1970
300000 to 340000 1971
340000 to 370000 1972
370000 to 520000 1973
500000 to 580000 1974
580000 to 690000 1975
690000 to 750000 1976

Post 1976

Starting in 1976, Fender transitioned to a new serial number scheme and moved the placement of most serial numbers to the headstock of the instrument. Depending on the era and model, the number can be found on either the front or back of the headstock.

After a short period of overlap with the old system, the post-76 numbers will start with a letter that indicates the decade, followed by a number that indicates the year of that decade. The decade letter codes break down like this: S = 1970s, E = 1980s, N = 1990s, Z = 2000s. In the 2000s, you'll also see serials starting with a DZ which indicates the Deluxe series, but the format is otherwise the same.

For example, a serial number with N4 would be from 1994. One starting with Z5 would be from 2005.

This scheme is not 100% consistent due to a number of production factors, such as Fender producing more serialized decals than needed in a given year. This is particularly pronounced in the transitional period of the mid-'80s, though the system has been pretty much on point since about 1990.

After 2009, the letter changed to a format starting with US then two digits that tell the year of the current decade.

Here's the breakdown of Post-1976 American-made Fender serials:

76 + 5 digits 1976
S6 + 5 digits 1976
S7 + 5 digits 1977 - 1978
S8 + 5 digits 1978
S9 + 5 digits 1978 - 1979
E0 + 5 digits 1979 - 1981
E1 + 5 digits 1980 - 1982
E2 + 5 digits 1982 - 1983
E3 + 5 digits 1982 - 1985
E4 + 5 digits 1984 - 1988
E8 + 5 digits 1988 - 1989
E9 + 5 digits 1989 - 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
Z0 + 5 or 6 digits 2000 - 2001
Z2 + 5 or 6 digits 2001 - 2002
Z3 + 5 or 6 digits 2003 - 2004
Z4 + 5 or 6 digits 2004 - 2005
Z5 + 5 or 6 digits 2005 - 2006
Z6 + 5 or 6 digits 2006 - 2007
Z7 + 5 or 6 digits 2007 - 2008
Z8 + 5 or 6 digits 2008 - 2009
Z9 + 5 or 6 digits 2009 - 2010
US10 + 6 digits 2010
US11 + 6 digits 2011
US12 + 6 digits 2012
US13 + 6 digits 2013
US14 + 6 digits 2014

Signature Series

American-made signature series instruments follow a very similar scheme to the above, but use a prefix S before the decade letter. For example, a Signature Series guitar from 1998 would have a serial starting with SN8 followed by five digits.

American Vintage Reissue models

The major exception to all of this is the American Vintage Reissue (AVRI) series. These have serial numbers starting with V and do not strictly correlate to years. The neck dates on these guitars, however, are usually reliable.

Made in Japan Fender Serials

Fender Japan serial numbers can usually be found on the back of the neck near the neck joint. Though examples also exist with the number on the headstock or the neck-plate in the case of certain early reissue models. Up until 1997, the serial was paired with the words "Made in Japan."

In 1982, Fender expanded operations with a series of instruments produced in Japan by the Fuji Gen Gakki company. Like the US serial numbers, MIJ (made in Japan) serials start with a letter or pair of letters that indicate the rough year of production. This system, however, is notoriously inconsistent and incomplete, which makes dating by serial number even less reliable for MIJ Fenders.

Here's a breakdown of serials for the "Made in Japan" era:

JV + 5 digits 1982 - 1984
SQ + 5 digits 1983 - 1984
E + 6 digits 1984 - 1987
A + 6 digits 1985 - 1986
B + 6 digits 1985 - 1986
C + 6 digits 1985 - 1986
F + 6 digits 1986 - 1987
G + 6 digits 1987 - 1988
H + 6 digits 1988 - 1989
I + 6 digits 1989 - 1990
J + 6 digits 1989 - 1990
K + 6 digits 1990 - 1991
J + 6 digits 1990 - 1991
K + 6 digits 1990 - 1991
L + 6 digits 1991 - 1992
M + 6 digits 1992 - 1993
N + 6 digits 1993 - 1994
O + 6 digits 1993 - 1994
P + 6 digits 1993 - 1994
Q + 6 digits 1993 - 1994
S + 6 digits 1994 - 1995
T + 6 digits 1994 - 1995
U + 6 digits 1995 - 1996
N + 5 digits 1995 - 1996
V + 6 digits 1996 - 1997

Crafted in Japan Serial Numbers

In 1997, Fender changed the "Made in Japan" decal to say "Crafted in Japan." There is some overlap with the earlier "MIJ" serials, so it's important to note if your instrument carries the "Made in Japan" or "Crafted in Japan" decal.

Here are the serial numbers for the "Crafted in Japan" or "CIJ" era:

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
S + 6 digits 2006 - 2008
T + 6 digits 2007 - 2008

After 2007, Fender Japan switched back to marking Fenders as "Made in Japan" though for a few years instruments with both decals were made. Serial numbers since this transition have continued the same sequence as the "CIJ" era.

Made in Mexico Fender Serials

Fender opened a factory in Ensenada, Mexico in the late '80s and instruments started coming off the line in 1990. Mexican-made (MIM) Fenders carry a serial number on the headstock starting with an M. Some exceptions include a handful of special editions and signature models as well as the split US/Mexican-made California series which all have a "AMXN" at the beginning of their serials.

The MIM serial number scheme is actually very straight-forward. For Mexican Fenders made in the 1990s, the serial will start with an MN followed by a number that indicates the year of the decade. Instruments made in the 2000s follow the same form but start with MZ. For the 2010s, the prefix is MX1. For example, a serial number starting with MN2 would be 1992.

Here's the serial number breakdown for a majority of MIM Fenders:

MN0 + 5 or 6 digits 1990
MN1 + 5 or 6 digits 1991
MN2 + 5 or 6 digits 1992
MN3 + 5 or 6 digits 1993
MN4 + 5 or 6 digits 1994
MN5 + 5 or 6 digits 1995
MN6 + 5 or 6 digits 1996
MN7 + 5 or 6 digits 1997
MN8 + 5 or 6 digits 1998
MN9 + 5 or 6 digits 1999
MZ0 + 5 or 6 digits 2000
MZ1 + 5 or 6 digits 2001
MZ2 + 5 or 6 digits 2002
MZ3 + 5 or 6 digits 2003
MZ4 + 5 or 6 digits 2004
MZ5 + 5 or 6 digits 2005
MZ6 + 5 or 6 digits 2006
MZ7 + 5 or 6 digits 2007
MZ8 + 5 or 6 digits 2008
MZ9 + 5 or 6 digits 2009
MX10 + 6 digits 2010
MX11 + 6 digits 2011
MX12 + 6 digits 2012
MX13 + 6 digits 2013
MX14 + 6 digits 2014

Exceptions

There are a number of exceptions to all these serial number schemes. As mentioned above, many reissue models use serial numbers that don't really correlate to their age. Additionally, there have been plenty of artist models, limited editions and other rare models that use a unique serial number. Examples include the 35th anniversary series, many of the uniquely finished Strats from the early '80s, as well as various export-specific models which carry a serial number starting with FN.

Again, the serial number alone in any of these cases is not definitive and the best approach is to combine that with other methods like the neck and body dates, as well as just the features of the specific instrument. If you have any questions as to what Fender you're dealing with, I encourage you to seek out a local guitar shop or luthier to help figure it out.

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