Sometimes getting clear dates on vintage guitars and basses is a mess. It’s an easy enough question; “what year was this made?” It’s not unreasonable to think doing a little research for about 20 minutes on the internet will answer it for you, but in a lot of cases (especially this one) the ride towards the truth is damn bumpy.
I came across this on craigslist, which was advertised as a 1976 Fender Precision Bass with Jazz Bass neck. Lot’s of parts had been replaced years ago, but with the first look I knew I could sell it. Sometimes mojo and sheer coolness make up for a ton of non-original parts. I’ll pocket that one for a future blog perhaps.
I was told that the original owner ordered this bass from Fender with an ash P-Bass body and a Jazz Bass neck. The previous owner took the bass to a reputable, Fender-licensed shop to have a new identical label placed on the headstock. Before Fender would release the label, the guitar had to be verified to be original, which it was, based on the details and serial numbers present.
I come across intriguing stories like this all the time. I know that back in the day you could call up the factory and order guitars however you wanted them. The major Detroit car makers did the same thing at the same time.
My thing is (I guess it’s a thing? What’s a thing, really?) I can’t really believe these things until I investigate myself. In a lot of cases these dudes don’t want you popping the neck and pickguard off to look at dating codes, so when negotiating a price you have to take that into consideration. I got a great deal on this one so I sprung for it.
Here’s where I turn into Professor Propeller-Head and you’ll have to pay attention to the details.
Around 1976, Fender started what we consider today to be the modern serial number system. It’s pasted on the headstock and the first two characters tell you the year (S7 = 1977, E1 = 1981). This is generally accepted to be the year the guitar was made, and you have little to worry about unless the neck doesn’t match up with the body or other shit like that.
So the guy whom I bought it from claimed it was a 1976. Great. That means the serial number is on the headstock….but wait…he didn’t like how “old” it looked so he did a pro refin job on the headstock, and had the label replaced with one identical. Nothing against this guy- he was nice…but why oh why do people to this?
So here is a pic of the “identical label” that was replaced. Notice anything? The label is actually a label from the early 70’s era (up through 1975).
Early 70’s Era Label
This led me to think that what I had here was not in fact a 76, but likely a 75 or earlier. Time to pop the neck off, and look at the date code on the heel:
The code on the neck heel reads (from what I can tell) 02011713
Generally this means:
02 – Jazz Bass
01 – Rosewood Fingerboard
17 – Week code
1 – 1971
3 – Wednesday
1971. What the hell?
Here’s where you start banging your head against the wall.
It’s known that sometimes with these Fender neck heel date codes the last two numbers were transposed, so there’s a good possibility that the “3” actually represents 1973. It’s also possible that the numbers are faded enough that I’m reading them wrong. Take a look at the picture.
The neck plate serial number reads 508162, placing the date around 1973, 1974. I’m not a huge fan on relying on a removable part to determine the date of the guitar body, but in this case the date matches up to the era of the neck.
Going a little further, the neck pocket, while not having any date codes to read, does have period-correct quality assurance markings. The name “FRANK” is the name of a dude that worked in the Fender factory and shows up on other period-matching guitars and basses.
This is a huge hassle, and you might wonder, as I have, why Fender didn’t take better care in providing trackable dates?
Look- the answer is that these guitars were made in a mass-production factory environment. The folks putting them together grabbed parts from boxes, and it wasn’t uncommon to have a year-old neck slapped onto a new body. They worked with what was around. They also didn’t know that there would be nerds like you and me desperately working to curate and determine specific years of manufacture. They simply weren’t in the business of making that clear and traceable.
The bottom line is I could determine with some certainty that this was a body and neck from the same era. For Reverb posting purposes I called it a 1975, but the the fact is I don’t have a clue exactly what year it was assembled and sold.
Why go through all of this? Well for one I can’t assess the value and place an accurate and fair price until I play this “who-the-hell-are-you” game. The biggest reason though is this is EXACTLY what sellers like me are responsible for. You have to commit to due diligence and make sure people know the full story. The folks I sell to aren’t collectors or high rollers- they’re dudes and ladies like me who don’t make a ton of money, but want and frankly deserve to play cool vintage guitars.
Just call me Ray Zalinsky: I sell guitars to the American working man because that’s who I am and that’s who I care about.
I sold this via my Reverb store to a fellow in Georgia, seemed to really like it. He asked for a copy of the research, and I was happy to comply.