One of the most important things you need to know before buying a vintage guitar is how to read pre-CBS era Fender Stratocaster serial numbers or serial numbers for any of these models: Fender Broadcaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Jazz Bass, Precision bass and other models. This articles wishes to address some of the misconceptions and confusions about how Fender went about numbering their guitars at that time.
The pre-CBS Fender did not have a consistent serial number system for their Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters and the rest of their line. All pre-CBS era Fender guitars had the numbers on the neck plate. Those days were extremely different than it is now because the builder randomly took neck plates that were pre-made and stamped from a pile and put it on the guitar. So there was no real order in the numbers. The best way is to unscrew the neck and body and look at their individual dates that were written on them.
1950 and 1954
The serial number system for Esquires, Broadcasters and Telecasters that were built between 1950 and 1952 are 0001 to 0999 and between 1952 and 1954 are 1000 to 5300.
1957 and 1958
The serial numbers in these two years were kept on a neck plate but had either a dash ‘-‘ before the numbers or a zero ‘0’ before the numbers; that is either -6561 or 06561.
1959 to 1963
It is good to note that during these years the position of the stamp on the neck plate was either on the top; which is the usual position; or at the bottom. The numbering system for these years continues with the odd inclusion of the zero and the dash.
1963 to 1965
Fender was sold to CBS in early 1965 but before that they introduced the ‘L’ pre-fix to their numbering system. This numbering system continued till late 1965 after Fender was sold to CBS. Serial numbers L00001 to L20000 were made in 1963, L20001 to L55000 were made in 1964 and L55001 to L99999 were made in 1965.
Buying a vintage Fender guitar is much more difficult that just going out and buying a Fender Relic. One must know how to differentiate the complicated Fender Stratocaster serial numbers devised during the pre-CBS years. Knowing how to identify when they were made is extremely important so that you can correctly match the neck plate serial numbers with the dates written on both the body and the neck.