November 08, 2003
Determining the Production Year of a Vintage Stratocaster, Part Two
by DAN YABLONKA
In Part One, I discussed the changes in Fender Stratocaster necks and fingerboards from 1954 to 1965, and how those changes can help determine the production year of a Strat. I left off at the end of the "Leo" era transition into CBS Musical Instruments.
The ability to determine the production year of a Strat becomes a little more difficult by fingerboard alone after the buyout of Fender by CBS because at that time, based on the growing popularity of the earlier models, the new "regime" reintroduced the maple fingerboard. Buyers of new Strats now had a choice as opposed to past eras where it was either a maple or rosewood fretboard. Not long after the CBS era began in 1965, the Strat received a new large headstock seen all the way through the beginning of the 80's, at which time Smith Strats and vintage reissues were marketed with the traditional old style smaller headstock. Having said that, logos and date stamps become more important.
The decal logos started with the well known "spaghetti logo" in gold at the introduction in 1954 and remained until the "transitional logo" which started in late 1964 and went through early 1968. Some will say 1967 but I have definitely seen many 1968 Strats with the transition logo, which is also gold script but with larger bolder letters and a black border. By late 1968 -- early 1969, the logo's colors reversed and featured bold black letters with gold trim.
Following this era you'll find a slight change in the mid 1970's when the "Synchronized Tremolo" wording was dropped until the beginning of the 80's. At that point so many reissues and special models were introduced that the decal stops being a way of identifying the guitar accurately.
Lets take a brief look at the topic of serial numbers. Again, back to the beginning in 1954, we have a number structure starting with 0001 and going through late 1962 to the upper 5 digit numbers. For example, 0214 would be a 1954, and 73444 would be a mid to late 1962. At this time, 1963, the "L series" kicks in. These are also under 6 digits but prefaced with the capital letter "L" (e.g., L48767). By the CBS change in 1965, you'll see a third system which drops the "L" and marks the back plate with a large reversed Fender "F" in the middle. This serialization system extended through late 1975 -- early 1976 (yes even on 3 bolt Strats) with the serial numbers now being found on a decal on the front of the headstock. For the most part at this point, Fender made dating an easier concept by using a system that started with a letter identifying the decade, followed by the first number signifying the actual year. An example would be S 84763, being 1970 (S) and more precisely 1978 when read in full. S 8.....! There was a little waffling with this system in the early decal serial numbers, but this is the rule of thumb.
In the next article I'll talk about the penciling and stamping of dates on the body end of the neck; stock and standard colors; changes in the sunburst; and, laminated necks.