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?
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.