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While there have been periods of dramatic change—such as the transition periods between the Leo Fender years and the CBS years or the transition between the CBS years and the current ownership—most models are generally feature-specific and do not change from year to year.
For years, serial numbers have been used in various locations on Fender instruments, such as the top of the neck plate, the front or back of the headstock and the back of the neck near the junction with the body.
Serial numbers were stamped on the back vibrato cover plate on early ’50s Stratocaster® guitars, and on the bridge plate between the pickup and the saddles on some Telecaster® guitars.
The chart below details Fender serial number schemes used from 1965 to 1976.
The charts below detail the most common Fender serial number schemes from 1976 to the present.
Consequently, some 1990 guitars bear 1999 “N9” serial numbers. American Deluxe Series instruments use the same dating convention, but with the addition of a “D” in front of the “Z”, i.e., DZ1, DZ2, etc.
“Z”-prefix serial numbers denoting the new millennium appeared on U. As always, there is typically some number prefix overlap and carryover from year to year.
Therefore, while helpful in determining a of production dates, a neck date is obviously not a precisely definitive reference.
Most specifications for a given Fender instrument model change little (if at all) throughout the lifetime of the model.
But once again, due to Fender’s modular production methods and often non-sequential serial numbering (usually overlapping two to four years from the early days of Fender to the mid-1980s), dating by serial number is not always precisely definitive.