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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.
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 numbering didn’t change immediately because instruments continued to be made using existing, tooling, parts and serial number schemes.
Therefore, while helpful in determining a of production dates, a neck date is obviously not a precisely definitive reference.
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.The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1965 to 1976.Neck-dating can be useful in determining the 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.
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.
The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1950 to 1964.