Properly Dating a Fender Bass Guitar

Figuring out when a Fender bass guitar was made is not as easy as it sounds. This is especially true with a vintage bass. Ever since Fender started making basses in 1951, they dated certain parts and components to give a general idea of when the instrument was produced. The problem is that a neck might be made and dated and then sit in the factory for a while until finally being bolted to a body dated months later. It’s because of situations like these that properly dating a fender bass guitar isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

There are even pickup and potentiometer date codes, and of course Fender bass serial numbers. There are even bridge stamps and pickguard codes in some cases. So how do you properly determine the year of production?

Fender dating

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, no one at Fender had any clue that one day these instruments would be highly sought after collector’s items or coveted vintage tone machines and that people would be highly concerned about when any particular bass was made. They just grabbed whatever part or component was ready and put the instrument together to fill an order as fast as possible.

The general rule of thumb is that a bass guitar is as old as its newest part, or at least its most recently dated part. So, if you have a Fender with a neck date of 1964 and the pots are dated 1965, then you have a 1965 Fender bass guitar. Some years in particular can get really tricky.

Some 1959 Precision Basses have no Fender neck dating stamp at all. Several Fender basses from 1969 to 1980 have neck stamp codes that are difficult to decipher and sometimes impossible to read. After 1981, most Fender neck dates are easy to read and understand; however, I’ve still seen a few Fender basses from the 1990s with no neck stamp at all.

What does Fender date?

Fender used body stamp dates from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. After that, they stopped until the 1980s when they started again sporadically to this day. Sometimes you see them and sometimes you don’t.

Potentiometer codes are pretty reliable for dating, usually indicating the year and week it was made. One exception is that most Fender pots from 1966 to 1969 are dated to 1966.

Pickups were only date stamped from 1964 to about 1979. However, they can be really useful in helping pin down the year of a Fender bass guitar.

Fender bass serial numbers

Serial numbers can also be tricky when trying to get an accurate build date. I once had a Japanese Fender ’75 reissue Jazz Bass that I bought used, and according to the Fender serial number I looked up, was made around 1985. I was suspicious because I didn’t think they made the ’75 reissue that early on, so I popped the neck off, and it had a date stamp of 1998. It turned out that this was a case of overlapping serial numbers used by Fender Japan on different models. The lesson here is that until you see the date stamp on either the neck or body, the Fender bass serial number is only a guess.

The earliest Fender serial numbers were stamped on the bridge, moving to the neck plate in 1954. From 1951 to 1963, the Fender bass serial numbers were pretty straightforward, using sequential numbers, although there are exceptions. Sometime in 1963, Fender added an “L” prefix with 5 digits to all the serial numbers that lasted to mid-1965. Fender then dropped the “L” and started using a large stamped “F” with 6 digits on the plate, which they used until 1976.

Later in 1976, Fender moved the serial number to the headstock just below the logo. After that, all serial numbers began with an “S” for “seventies.” Then later they used an “E” for eighties, “N” for nineties, and a “Z” for 2000 and on.

In 1995, Fender moved the serial number to the back of the headstock for all U.S. models. The vintage reissue line which began in 1982 and continues to this day uses a separate serial number system, as do the Fender Custom Shop models. You can usually find those numbers on the neck plate.

Ask Fender what they think

You can also send your serial number to Fender, and they’ll give you a pretty accurate date for when your bass was made. But again, it won’t be exact. You can also start with Fender’s product dating page to see if that will help.

If you’re still committed to properly dating a Fender bass guitar, you’ll have to take all these factors into consideration and do your best with the info at hand. Then, just keep in mind that it’s still mostly an approximation.

12 thoughts on “Properly Dating a Fender Bass Guitar”

  1. Hi

    I don’t have a serial number on my Fender Precision bass, just 4 sets of patent numbers under Fender Precision Bass on the headstock

    I know it was purchased in the 70’s sometime. Is it American or Japanese?

    Kind Regards

    Reply
  2. Can you please tell me what year my Fender Precision is? The serial number is; 47861
    I believe that puts in 1960. That said, it has no neck stamp, and I understand that occurred in 1959. Is it possible to provide not only the year, but month as well? Thanks! Thank

    Reply
  3. I own what I was told is a 1959 Fender Precision Bass. Based on the above info, it should have a serial number on the neck plate but there are no marks on either side of the neckplate. There is no “stamp” on the neck, only a handwritten ’10-58′ near the truss rod head. I’m at a loss and from what I read above, “Some 1959 Precision Basses have no neck date stamp at all…” Will this always be a question?

    Reply
  4. I have a USA made Fender Jazz longhorn bass with the serial Number E 95848

    I cannot find that on any web site can you let me know what year it was made

    Reply
  5. I have a Fender precision Bass which I purchased around 1970. Number 518562 is on a plate on the back of the instrument. Can you tell me the date of manufacture please.

    Reply
    • Hey Melvin,

      Based on that number alone (assuming it’s the correct serial number), it looks like it might be from about 1973.

      If you really want to drill down into the specific time and place, you might need to check the potentiometer number as well. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint a year and location based off of just that one number. Good luck!

      Reply

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