The “original” series is actually divided into two periods as the instruments introduced before 1955 were not registered into a common serialization scheme, but each model (or “family”) had a series of its own. Consequently, the same number can be found on different models made at different times between 1950 and 1954. Beginning in late 1954, a common numbering system gradually began to be applied to all Fender models.
1950 to 1954
Three “families” of solid body electrics were introduced during this period. For each of them, Fender began a distinct 4-digit series.
The Esquire, Broadcaster, “No-Caster” (a segway model between the Broadcaster and the Telecaster, marketed in early 1951 with no name but Fender on the peghead) and Telecaster have 4-digit numbers stamped on the bridge baseplate. These numbers run from 0001 through to the 5000s between early and late 1954.
The Precision Bass
First made in late 1951, also has a 4-digit number stamped on the bridge baseplate and its series runs from 0001 through to the high 1000s between 1951 and early 1955.
Introduced in the Spring of 1954, has a 4-digit number initially stamped on the vibrato back cover plate and beginning in the 0100s. Around June 1954 it was moved to the upper edge of the neck plate and numbers lower than 0100 were then also used. Overall, the short-lived original Stratocaster series runs from 0001 through the low 1000s mostly in 1954.
In other words, a number like 0043 can be found on three different models of different vintage, i.e. a ’50 Esquire, a ’51 P.Bass, and a ’54 Stratocaster. Besides, even within a given family, numbers do not necessarily progress in chronological order. For example:
- 1106 belongs to a Telecaster featuring a January ’54 neck date
- 1292 belongs to an Esquire featuring a June ’51 neck date
From a manufacturer’s standpoint, a serial number is primarily intended for registration purposes and not for assessing the age of an instrument. This holds true for the early 4-digit Fender, which alone are fairly unhelpful to pinpoint the age of pre-1955 models (except the Stratocaster released in Spring 1954). Therefore, it is advised to check out the date pencilled on the neck, under the truss-rod bold: For example:
- 10-30-50 (i.e. October 30, 1950) on a Broadcaster with serial number 0115
- 11-19-51 (i.e. November 19, 1951 on a Precision bass with s/n 0212
- 4-23-53 (i.e. April 23, 1953) on an Esquire with s/n 4551
In early 1954 the day was dropped from the date pencilled on the neck and only the month and year of production were then indicated in writing. For instance:
- 3-54 (i.e. March 1954) on a Telecaster with s/n 4198
- 8-54 (i.e. August 1954) on a Stratocaster with s/n 0971
On pre-1955 Fender guitars, neck dates are generally pencilled in black, but sometimes also in red or green.
1955 to 1963
In the course of 1954 it was decided both to move all serial numbers onto the upper edge of the neck plate and to discontinue the use of three distinct series for each model family. Fender then began to incorporate its serial numbers into one common scheme, i.e. the one used for the Telecaster family, which at that time ha produced numbers in the 5000s. The transition was completed over ’54 and early ’55 and by 1955 all guitars and basses shared a common serialization scheme.
The second part of the original series runs from 1955 until about 1963, with 4 and 5-digit serial numbers, roughly progressing in consecutive order from the 6000s through 99999. As Fender’s production grew, large quantities of pre-stamped neck plates were ordered and stored at the end of the assembly line. Some batches, however, were delivered to the factory with peculiar features.
- Some number (in the 10000s and 20000s) are preceded by a dash or minus sign, i.e. -16720 or -21633. They are usually found on late ’56 and ’58 guitars
- Some neck plates are actually “double stamped” and feature a different number on each side, i.e. 024863 and -24037. Such neck plates are usually found on guitars manufactured between late ’57 and early ’59. Generally, the visible number is of the 6-digit type beginning with a zero (i.e. 024863), while the “concealed” number stamped on the underside of the plate has 5 digits preceded by a dash (i.e. -24037)
- Some numbers (mostly in the 40000s and the 50000s) are stamped on the lower edge of the neck plate. They are usually found on 1959 and 1960 instruments.
In spite of these peculiar features, all the numbers used between 1955 and 1963 belong to the same basic serialization scheme.
However, since the neck plate featuring the serial number was affixed without proper attention to any sequential order, it should be noted that:
- Most numbers do not necessarily progress in perfect chronological order, i.e. 59086 is found on a November -61 Precision Bass, but higher number 59798 is found on a March ’61 Stratocaster.
- It is possible to do the groupings within a year or two, i.e. most of the numbers in the 30000s are found on instruments dated between mid-’58 and late ’59.
- A few numbers may not match the overall trend as the relevant neck plates may have been temporarily left over at the factory prior to being affixed to an instrument, i.e. a number off by two or three years with regard to the neck date may be plausible.
Now, in case a more precise date matching is required, it is again suggested to check out the neck date, which up to March 1962 is pencilled in black and shows the month and year in figures. It should be noted, though, that necks produced between mid-’59 and early ’60 do not usually feature any date. In such cases, it is best to refer to the body date (if any) to corroborate the serial number. In March 1962 Fender changed to a rubber ink-stamped neck marking which read as follows:
- 1 Dec 62B on a Jaguar with serial number 94454
- 2 May 62B on a Stratocaster with serial number 80745
- 3 Jun 62B on a Telecaster with serial number 95618
Such a marking seems to suggest the day of production of the neck was reinstated in 1962, but this just isn’t the case. In fact, the number before the month is a code for the model, i.e. “1” for Jaguar, “2” for the (pre-1966) Stratocaster, “3” for the Telecaster, etc. By 1962 the Fender range numbered quite a few different models and the codes were probably devised to help the factory run its inventory. At any rate, they should not be mistaken for a “day date.”
The new neck marking simply shows:
- the model code, i.e. “1” for the Jaguar
- the first three letters of the month, i.e. “DEC”
- the production year, i.e. “62” for 1962
- the neck width, i.e. “B” equals standard width (= 1 5/8″)
For letters were then used by Fender to include the neck width:
- “A” for narrow (= 1 1/2″)
- “B” for standard (=1 5/8″)
- “C” for large (= 1 3/4″)
- “D” for extra large (=1 7/8″)
Regarding the model codes, the main numbers the company used on this neck markings between 1962 and 1973 are listed here:
- 1 = Jaguar (1962 through mid-’66)
- 2 = Stratocaster (1962 through 1965)
- 3 = Telecaster
- 4 = Jazzmaster (1962 through mid-’66)
- 5 = Precision Bass
- 6 = Bass VI
- 7 = Jazz Bass
- 8 = Mustang
- 9 = Duo Sonic, Musicmaster, Mustang (short scale neck) and Swinger
- 10 = Coronado I
- 11 = Bass V
- 12 = Electric XII + Custom
- 13 = Stratocaster (Dec 1965 through mid-1968)
- 14 = Coronado XII
- 15 = Jaguar (after mid-’66)
- 16 = Bronco, Mustang, Musicmaster (after 1967)
- 17 = Mustang Bass, Musicmaster Bass
- 18 = Coronado Bass
- 19 = Jazzmaster (after mid-’66), Coronado II
- 22 = Stratocaster (after mid-1968)
- 23 = Telecaster Bass
It should be noted that some instruments, such as the Telecaster, have kept the same code throughout the period. Others, such as the Stratocaster, did change in connection with a modification in the neck specs (i.e. a larger peghead).