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Bass Gear Guide

How To Buy a Vintage Fender Bass with Ray Riendeau

In this issue, I am going to share some tips on buying a Vintage Fender Bass, including what to look for, how to authenticate and much more.

One of my dreams as a young musician was to own and play some of the amazing basses that my bass heroes played and recorded with. From James Jamerson to Jaco Pastorius the Fender Bass was always at the forefront. In 1951 Leo Fender set the standard with the Fender Precision bass followed by the Fender Jazz bass in 1960. Used by countless players and on countless recordings, Fender basses are a integral part of musical history.

Recently my dream became a reality by starting an online Vintage Bass store, “Vintage Bass Vault”. My mission statement being to offer vintage basses handpicked for authenticity, playability, aesthetics and their history. You can check out my store online and be sure to subscribe (at bottom of the Vintage Bass Vault home page) if you’d like to receive notices of special sales and offers. Also, make sure to follow on Facebook @vintagebassvault.

Buying a Vintage Fender Bass

Buying a Fender vintage bass is very exciting but can also be a bit stressful. Typically they are not cheap and wondering if you are getting the “real thing” is very common, especially considering so many things can devalue a vintage instrument such as refinishes, replaced parts, etc. Reissues and Relics also can add to the confusion.

In this article I will share some information and tips on buying a real vintage fender bass with more knowledge and confidence.

Here are a few ways I use to aid in dating a Fender Bass for its authenticity.

Buying from a reputable store

Buying from a store that deals with vintage instruments is usually a safe bet in that they normally have already done the work of dating the instrument for you and have knowledge of any changes made to the instrument. You might not get the kinda deal that you’d get from a private seller price-wise, but most of the well known vintage stores sell at a fair market price and stand behind what they sell.

Neck Plates & Serial Numbers

Prior to 1976 serial numbers gave just a general idea of manufacturing date. By 1976 the serial number was placed on the headstock that clearly defines the bass’s date.

The early Precision basses, 1951 to 1955, stamped the serial number on the bridge plate.

Around 1955 to 1963  it was moved to the neck plate. The “L” prefix was added to the serial number around 1963 to 1965. From 1965 to 1976 the “L” was discontinued and the large “F” logo was stamped on the center of the neck plate. The 3-bolt neck plate was introduced on the Telecaster bass in 1972 and then on the Jazz bass in 1974.

The chart below gives a general idea of dates.

Up to 6,0001950 to 1954
Up to 10,0001954 to 1956
10,000s1955 to 1956
10,000s to 20,000s1957
20,000s to 30,000s1958
30,000s to 40,000s1959
40,000s to 50,000s1960
50,000s to 70,000s1961
60,000s to 90,000s1962
80,000s to 90,000s1963
100,000s to 200,000s1966 to 1967
200,000s to 300,000s1969 to 1970
300,000s1971 to 1972
300,000s to 500,000s1973
400,000s to 500,000s1974 to 1975
500,000s to 700,000s1976

Neck Stamps

Dating at the end of the neck can be a reliable way to date a bass. Unfortunately I’ve seen many stamped dates so worn that they are impossible to read. From the early  1950s to mid 1960 dates were stamped on the actual neck pockets.

Potentiometer Manufacturers’ Codes

Another reliable way of dating is on the bottom of the bass pots. Manufacture codes, 137 for CTS pots or 304 for stackpole pots is combined with year and week pot was made.

The example pic below shows a pot date of 137 (CTS pot code), 1974, 29th week.

It’s in the details…

One of the first things I do when considering buying a vintage Fender bass is simply finding some pictures of the same bass from the same year that is all original, and simply comparing everything – tuners, the bridge, the logo, the neck, etc. 

A really great resource that I also use is the book “The Fender Bass” published by Hal Leonard. It is an amazing resource on the history of the Fender bass.

Ask questions!!!!

Do not hesitate to get all the info you can from the seller. Inquiring about the neck being straight, fret ware, playability and weight are all some of the questions I personally always ask.

I also tend to like seeing a fair amount of wear on a vintage bass. I like it aesthetically but it also shows that the bass was PLAYED a lot, usually meaning it’s a good one!

Of course when dealing with vintage instruments, changes and certain details about a particular bass may or may not be important to each individual. For instance, the differences between what a collector versus a player wants in a bass can be vastly different. 

Hopefully this will put you a little more at ease when buying a Vintage Fender Bass. They are such great basses full of history and mojo!

Ray Riendeau,

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