Copyright 1998, 20th Century Guitar Magazine.
The strange and mysterious neck codes found on Fenders from 1969 – 80 have been all but ignored by the vintage and collectible guitar community. Perhaps this is due to the fact that 1970s Fenders have, until recently, been all but ignored by the vintage and collectible guitar community. Now that these instruments are hitting the "magical" 25-year mark, they have suddenly gained attention. I won’t get into the pros and cons of 1970s Fenders here, but instead, I hope to shed some new light on those weirdo neck codes.
In 1969, CBS-Fender began to implement a new type of neck stamp in place of the usual date stamp consisting of model code, month, year, neck width (e.g. 8 DEC 65 B for a Duo-Sonic II with a 1 5/8 inch neck width). The new code consisted of 6, 7 or 8 digits and was usually stamped in green ink. An example of this type of neck code found on a Precision Bass is 529129B.
CBS-Fender used this neck code system concurrently with the standard Month-Year date stamp that had been in use since 1962. Both type of stamps can be found on Fenders made from 1969 through 1971. To clarify, a neck would have one or the other type of stamp… not both. It is not known why Fender used two completely different systems at the same time.
Then in 1972, Fender changed to a new type of neck stamp which had 8-digits which was stamped in green or red ink. An example of this is 02033923 found on a Jazz Bass. From 1972 through about March 1973, this new system was used concurrently with the old Month-Year date stamp. Again, a neck was stamped with either the new type of code or the old date stamp, but not both.
After March 1973, Fender dropped the old style date stamp and continued to use the new style, 8-digit code until sometime in 1980 when small adhesive labels bearing Month-Day-Year date stamps appeared in the neck pocket, pickup cavity and/or back of the neck.
Andre Duchossoir briefly discussed his findings for the 1972-80 codes in his excellent Telecaster and Stratocaster books. He found that part of the codes denoted neck type. I used this information as the starting point for my research. I examined and/or received information regarding stamped codes for about 150 Fenders made between 1967 and 1980. Of these, less than half had useable information. In most cases, the stamp was smudged beyond legibility or the stamps were incomplete. Many guitars had no stamped codes at all. Some guitars simply had the model name, such as "MUSTANG" stamped on the butt end of the neck in green or red ink.
This means two things for the owner of a 1969-80 Fender. First, the chances of having an intact stamped code is about 50-50. Second, my data set for making conclusions is relatively small and therefore, subject to change as new information surfaces. However, the interpretation of the two date code systems appears to be relatively straight forward and the conclusions were confirmed by pickup dates and pot dates in most cases.
The date from 1969-71 stamped codes can be extracted by working from the outside inward. For example, let’s take Telecaster Thinline (s/n 272207) with the code: 3320119B. Starting a the right we have the letter B. This appears to be the same neck width code that Fender had been using since 1962. The next digit denotes the year, in this case 9 = 1969. The next one or two digits denote the month, in this case 11 = November. The first one or two digits of the code, in this case 3, denotes the model. For Telecasters, Telecaster Thinlines, and Esquires that code is 3. For Stratocasters it is 22 and for Precision Basses it is 5. The other three digits (320) are a mystery and perhaps are some kind of batch or lot number.
Let’s practice that again okay? Here’s our P-Bass again (s/n 277983) with the code 529129B. Breaking up the code we get:
5 = code for Precision Bass
291 = batch or lot code?
2 = February
9 = 1969
B = 1 5/8 inch neck width (correct for a ’69 P-Bass).
One more time, since you love this stuff… Strat (s/n 279515) with code 22384109B. Break it into pieces:
22 = code for Stratocaster
384 = batch or lot code?
10 = October
9 = 1969
B = 1 5/8 inch neck width
Exceptions do exist. A few Telecasters have shown up with neck codes that would indicate a 1967 date and one has been reported with a possible 1968 date, yet the rest of the guitar appears to be from 1969. If Fender used the coding system as early as 1967, then we should see more 1967 and 1968 guitars surfacing with the green stamped code. One plausible explanation is the use of leftover necks – Fender is known to have done this often. If you have a guitar or bass with this first style green code and you would like to submit it to the database I’m compiling, please send the model, serial number, code, and if you have them, the pot dates and pickup dates. Additional information is needed to test the decoding theory and your help will be greatly appreciated.
Now that you’re all expert cryptographers let’s dive right into the 1972 – 80 coding system. Example: Music Master (s/n 595121) with code 49002153. We need to break the code up into pieces. The first 6 digits are paired off and the last two digits are taken singly. So that gives us 49 00 21 5 3 where:
49 = model code (Musicmaster, Mustang, Bronco)
00 = neck code (rosewood fingerboard)
21 = week code (week 21)
5 = year code (1975)
3 = day of the week code (Wednesday)
Now, how the heck are you supposed to know the model codes and neck codes? Well, I’ll give you the ones that I know so far. For model codes (first pair of digits):
01 = Precision Bass
02 = Jazz Bass
04 = Mustang Bass
08 = Telecaster Deluxe
09 = Stratocaster
13 = Telecaster, Telecaster Custom, Telecaster Thinline
49 = Musicmaster, Mustang, Bronco
For neck codes (second pair of digits):
00 = rosewood fingerboard
01 = rosewood fingerboard
03 = fretted maple neck OR skunk stripe neck with rosewood board
10 = fretless maple neck
Set up your decoder rings with the info above and try your hand on P-Bass (s/n 647149) with code 01031051. You should get:
01 = P-Bass
03 = fretted maple neck
10 = Week 10
5 = 1975
1 = Monday
One more time and we’ll call it a day…. Telecaster (s/n S725092) with rosewood board and code 1303167?.
13 = Telecaster
03 = rosewood fingerboard on skunk stripe neck
16 = Week 16
7 = 1977
? = day unknown as digit was illegible
Again, the decoding hypothesis set forth here need to be tested further and any information that readers wish to submit will be greatly appreciated. The information needed is serial number, model, neck type, green or red stamped code, and any pot or pickup dates. The info can be sent to me c/o the 20th Century Guitar offices at 135 Oser Ave, Hauppauge, NY 11788.
Many, many thanks to the folks who contributed data for this research
including Jim Werner the Fender Collector Somewhere in Iowa, Hans Moust at
Guitarchives, Jim Strahm and Matt Kesler at Midwestern Musical, Jay Keim
at Harmonic Arts, and Tim Pershing the Fender Student Model Guru. Tim earned
extra credit for suggesting the explanation for the day of the week code.
Greg Gagliano, a researcher devoted to vintage and collectible guitars and amps, clearly has way too much time on his hands since all he seems to do is compile Fender green stamped neck codes and Fender tube amp information.