1970s Fender Guitars by Neck Code: An Update
By Greg Gagliano
Copyright 2003, 20th Century Guitar Magazine.
You may recall that I wrote an article in the March 1998 issue of TCG that described my research findings for dating Fender guitars and basses with those whacky green or red ink stamped codes. Here’s a brief recap: 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.
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. The new style, 8-digit code was used 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.
These codes can, in general, be deciphered as described in the March 1998 article. Since that article was written, however, a number of examples have been submitted to me that do not fit the aforementioned dating system. The good news is that the overall percentage of the codes that fall into this third system is very low (less than 10%). The bad news is that they cannot be fully deciphered using the system previously established. Hence, this update will explain how to interpret these other codes.
According to long time Fender employees, Dave Maddux and Abigail Ybarra, Fender often used a date code that included the week number, day of the week, and a single digit for the year. Dave says “we stamped a 4 digit number… 2735 would be week 27, 3 for Wednesday, and 5 for year 1975. I can't remember exactly if the day or week number or year number came first but the code was some combination of the above.” Dave said that the week numbers were an important accounting tool because they appeared on many types of production documents used on the floor. The inspection tags on the guitars also used this same type of code. This system may apply to some neck codes as well as pickups during the 1970s. In another example, 4242 could have been Thursday of week 24 in 1972 or Thursday of week 42 in 1972. This transposing of numbers is what makes things confusing.
Dave further advises “What you must remember is that there was very much a lack of consistency. The decisions on how these things were done were made on the floor rather that at a corporate or company level. During the late 1960s and 1970s many strange ideas were tried on the production floor.” So, this means that every time there was a change of floor supervisor or quality assurance supervisor, there could be a change in how the date code was stamped.
With regard to pickup dates, according to Abigail there was one additional “wild card” in the numbering scheme, namely, that each operator had a number. This operator number was used in the date code (Abby’s was 6 and later 7). As best as she can remember it was week number, operator number, and year number.
She also confirmed that the formula did change from time to time. There’s a good chance that what Dave and Abigail know about these “other” date code schemes could very well apply to guitars.
Here’s the bottom line when trying to date a late ‘60s or 1970s Fender instrument with the strange green and red ink codes: all indicators (features, pot dates, pickup dates, etc.) must be taken together and put into context. Let’s look at some examples:
Telecaster with serial number 291382 would appear to be from 1970 based on the serial number alone. The neck code is 318 204B. Using the system I described in my previous article, the neck would date to 1974, but in light of the new info provided by Dave and Abigail, we know that the numbers were sometimes transposed. So it would make sense that the “0” represents 1970.
Stratocaster with serial number 568851 would appear to be from 1974 based on the serial number. The pots date to very late 1974, but the neck code is 09033924 which would suggest 1972. In this case, the “4” probably represents 1974 and “2” is either the day of the week or perhaps the operator code.
Again, the percentage of these codes being reported to me is low, but still significant enough that you need to pay close attention and look at other clues. So, if you have a Fender guitar that doesn’t exactly fit into my previous dating system, don’t panic! Just put all the info into context, add a pinch luck, a dash of common sense and maybe some mojo just for good measure. Good luck in your adventures with dating 1970s Fender instruments!
About the author: Guitar and amp super sleuth, Greg Gagliano, can be contacted c/o TCG