How to date a vintage Fender Stratocaster
Dating a vintage Fender Stratocaster can be tricky, as there were many changes made to the guitar over the years. However, there are a few things that you can look for to help you determine the approximate age of your vintage Stratocaster.
Serial Number - The first place to start is with the serial number. Fender has used a variety of serial number schemes over the years, so it is important to know what era your Stratocaster was made in. For example, the first made 1954 Strats have a serial number on the bridge plate, while later Strats have their serial number on the neck plate (in different kind of formats and places) and later build Strats have them on their headstocks. When trying to determine the age of a Fender Stratocaster using serial numbers, it is important to consider that the serial number plates were not consistently applied in chronological order, so a lower serial number does not necessarily mean the guitar is older. As a result, relying solely on the serial number to date a Stratocaster or any Fender guitar is insufficient and should only be considered as a starting point for determining the guitar's age.
Neck Date - The neck date can also give you a clue to the age of your Stratocaster. The date is usually stamped or written on the end of the neck where it meets the body. Until 1962, the majority of neck heels on Fender guitars were signed with a pencil, indicating the month and year of production. However, starting from 1962 and onwards, an ink stamp was employed to imprint the model code, month, year, and neck width code onto the neck heel. Between '59 and '60 you'll find Stratocasters without a neck date.
Body Date - Early Fender models prior to 1954 often displayed the body date in the neck pocket, but this later shifted to the pickup cavity or sometimes on the back of the body in the tremolo spring cavity. From the end of 1963, body dates were discontinued and no longer utilized
Potentiometer Codes - The potentiometers, or pots, are the knobs on the Stratocaster that control the volume and tone. From 1954 to the late 70ies, Fender used a code on the potentiometers that can help you determine the value, the type and the approximate year of manufacture. The source code consists a number for the year and the number representing the week of the year.
Pickups - The pickups on vintage Stratocasters can also provide a clue to the age of the guitar. From 1954 to 1965, Fender used black bottom pickups, which had black fiberboard bobbins. From 1964 to 1968 (and later), Fender used gray bottom pickups, which had gray fiberboard bobbins. The pickups may also have a date code stamped on them, which can be useful in determining the age of the guitar.
Body and Hardware - The body and hardware on vintage Stratocasters can also provide clues to the age of the guitar. For example, maple neck vs slab board or a veneer board, 2 tone vs 3 tone sunburst, the color of the sunburst,... The hardware, such as the bridge, tuners, and pickguard, can also help you determine the age of the guitar.
Conclusion: dating a vintage Fender Stratocaster requires some knowledge of the various changes made to the guitar over the years. By looking at the serial number, neck date, potentiometer codes, pickups, body, and hardware, you can get a good idea of the approximate age of your vintage Stratocaster. If you're unsure about the age of your guitar, it's always a good idea to consult an expert or to have the guitar appraised by a professional. We at Know Your Vintage guitars are happy to help you dating your guitar.
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