You can tell the year that a Fender bass guitar was made by looking at the serial number. There is a lettering system in the serial number that corresponds with each decade that these bass guitars have been produced. To determine the specific year, you have to look at the letter at the beginning of the serial number and, in some cases, the serial number itself. A Fender bass guitar also has a production stamp on the butt end of the instrument's neck that shows the year it was produced. We'll look at instruments made since the early 1960s.
Look for the production stamp on the Fender bass guitar. Before you begin deciphering the serial number, consider removing the strings and the neck and looking for this stamp. If you aren't comfortable removing the neck yourself, you can take the instrument to a music store and have a guitar technician do it. Many stores will do this free of charge.
Decipher the Fender bass guitar's serial number. When Fender was sold to CBS in 1965, its production cataloging system changed, and the serial number system has changed many other times over the years. Serial numbers have appeared in various locations on Fender bass guitars, but they are usually on the back of the neck or on the metal neck plate on the back of the instrument. Here are letters in the serial numbers that correspond with each decade. For the 1960s and '70s, numbers and years overlap.
L = 1960s
L10,000s to L20,000s = 1963 L20,000s to L50,000s = 1964 L50,000s to L90,000s = 1965 L100,000s = 1965 L100,000s to L200,000s = 1966 to 1967 L200,000s = 1968 L200,000s to L300,000s = 1969 to 1970
S = 1970s
S300,000s = 1971 to 1972 S300,000s to S500,000s = 1973 S400,000s to S500,000s = 1974 to 1975 S500,000s to S700,000s = 1976
E = 1980s
N = 1990s
Z, DZ = 2000s
V = Vintage Series, which are basically remakes of old Fender models. The Vintage Series began in the early 1980s.
Consult the book "50 Years of Fender" by guitar historian Tony Bacon if you still aren't able to tell the year of the Fender bass guitar. It is a comprehensive Fender instrument dating book.
Ezekiel James began as a music writer in 2003. Since then, James has served as a writer for several music, technology and design publications. His work has been published on eHow, TechAxcess.com and in print for the "The Potrero View" and "Punk Planet." James is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Portland State University.