Common Misconceptions and some crazy factoids
Additions to be made over time
I am going to use this page to address some very common misconceptions that tend to never go away. Some even involve fairly recent history.
Serial number Prefix for dating
Serial number decals used for dating: It is all too common that someone attempts to use serial numbers applied to the headstocks to date Fender guitars. While in most cases it is useable to get you in a ballpark, there are several exceptions where they are totally unreliable. Two examples to note are:
S9 serial numbers. Commonly referred to as being "1979" only, this decal actually is used well in 1981. Most would like to believe it was a case of using up excessive decals, but this theory is false. Here is the proof.
When Meyercord manufactured decals, the logos were batch and date stamped. This was so if there was a recall due to a manufacturing issue, all of the bad logos could identified and discarded. Here we see a S9 Fender serial number decal batch 108 manufactured March 1981 (I am not going to put the decal photo online due to the bogus decal makers using my pictures for their templates).
So this decal demonstrates that the prefix deal was not a case of leftovers, but something never changed until Fender told the manufacturer to change.
Another prefix that lasts a long time is the 80's E4 prefix logos. These serials last well into the summer of 1988. Most often these are seen on the 1986-8 American Standard Strat and Strat Plus guitars. E9 serials are used for a while too. To get a zeroed in date, check your neck stamp.
1980's "Fullerton era"
There has been growing interest in the last years of the CBS era. However, there is a ton of misinformation about this era that has been growing due to increasing interest by buyers, and sellers wanting more money.
MYTH: Fullerton era Reissues are hand built in small numbers
This misconception is rooted in the writings in a popular Strat themed book. The writings refer to post CBS FMIC starting up in their Corona facility. The first year of operations (l986) the factory was working with a skeleton crew and between 5 and 6 guitars were being built a day, mostly reissues. This is POST Fullerton. 1982-4 reissue production was going full tilt. Remember, they were making the standard series, reissues, and Elites. There was absolutely nothing small about the 1982-4 production era. 1986 however is a different story. Look for a real 1986 reissue and you will see what I mean. You can find 5 1982's to 1 1986.
Interesting factoids pertaining to Fender outsourcing items:
Fender outsourced their reissue Strat bridges from Gotoh until FMIC bought the company and fired up the old machinery to make them. These in-house made bridges appear in 1987.
All brass hardware was outsourced to APM, which is also known as Kahler. They made all of the Brassmaster series hardware and all of the parts for the "The Strat". This has been the root for a huge misconception. It is believed that APM made the import fine tuner tremolos. They did not as those were actually made by Gotoh.
Also of note, because Fender stopped making 2 piece tremolos in 1971, to keep blocks available in their replacement parts list, they used steel blocks made by APM that are extremely close in appearance to vintage blocks. APM blocks look nearly identical to the original Fender blocks with the gray paint and shallow string wells. The quick identifier is how the block is shaped. APM knocked the 4 corners off the block and Fender ground each end rounded. It is common to see late 70's APM blocks sold through Fender with a Fender white serial number sticker like seen on the bottoms of pickguards and on bodies attached to the block with an old Stratocaster tremolo block part number handwritten on it.
Click to enlarge
Old APM block shown above on a 1955 bridge assembly. Back then when an arm broke, most shops simply changed the whole block.
Schaller made bridges
In the early 80's, Fender turned to Schaller for their Freeflyte series of tremolos on Elite models and Standard Strats. Schaller also made the hardtail versions.
MYTH: Fender used up old Kluson tuner stock on the Bullet guitars
This is totally false. The fact is Fender started buying tuners from Kluson direct for these guitars. Shortly after this Kluson went out of business. Kluson supplied a few other parts to Fender and when they closed you see a change in a few items, like Strat knobs.
MYTH: 3 bolt necks were designed to save money by deleting 1 screw
This one totally baffles me. It is a myth that is old as the hills, but makes absolutely NO sense. Lets take a look at a 3 bolt assembly.
You have two (2) plates. One for the body, one for the neck:
There are four (4) mounting screws for these plates
One (1) tilt adjuster screw
A special Machine screw for the tilt plate
So the total parts for each of the neck styles you have
4 bolt "More Expensive" setup
4- Oval head wood screws
"Cheaper" 3 bolt setup
2- Oval head woodscrews
4 tilt plate mounting screws
1 machine screw
1 tilt screw
Plus you had added labor to machine each the body and neck for the tilt plates. So as you can see, the 3 bolt system done for economy is a big old myth that makes absolutely no sense.
Tremolo arms and tips
I have seen in recent times fraudulent arms from the 90's being sold as vintage pieces. There are several giveaways that denote Pre-CBS, 1964-1975, 80's and 90's to current bars. The first thing to look at is the tip. The originals NEVER had a sharp lip on the bar side of the tip. It had a smooth, graceful transition. In the 90's they changed manufacturers and now they have a sharp lip on the transition from the bar to the tip. Everything from Custom Shop down to Mexican has the same tip.
Another item of note is the metal bars construction. The originals were made of stock cut to length on a lathe. This created little nipples (end pieces had 1 nipple, the others had them on each end). Modern bars are die cast. .
"USA" Made HM Strats
True USA made 1988-early 90s HM Strats are a fairytale. They do not exist. Period. Fender was importing the bodies and necks in and assembling them here. They used "Fender USA" embossed neckplates (the same neckplates are found on some Japanese Hot Rodded Reissue Strats), but do not feature the actual country of origin label. Some later guitars feature a temporary sticker stuck to the neck that was peeled off. A quick look at the bodies and necks disassembled reveals Fuji Gen Gakki in house part number stamps. Fender did not tool up to make any of these parts in the USA. There are instances where custom runs were built using bodies and necks brought in unfinished, but these were not the norm.
Compare this 1988 Contemporary Stratocaster made by Fuji Gen Gakki
With this "USA" made HM Strat of the same year
They not only feature identical tooling, but both share a similar rubber stamp part number. Both feature red inspection stamps and marks. These stamps are unique to Fuji Gen Gakki made Fenders.
Some stuff about finishes
Fender Pickguards were made of "Nitrocellulose"
A popular book has really perpetuated this myth. Fender pickguards were actually made of Nitrate Celluloid. While there are similarities between the two, they are indeed different. The largest difference is Nitrate contains camphor as a platicizer. This is what gives nitrate celluloid that "Vicks Vaporub" smell when you sand or cut it. This material lasted longer than many realize. It existed in white material on Fenders until 1969. The company continued to use it for some tortoise and pearloid to this day. The reasons why changes occurred in its appearance over the years was the manufacturers trying to stabilize the material. They were having huge problems transporting it before it warped. Fender began buying it laminated with vinyl based plastic so they could store it longer.
Nitrocellulose Lacquer is "Organic" and molecularly similar to wood
This is total garbage. Nitrocellulose is plastic. While it may be created with organic materials (even modern polymers come with organic compounds somewhere along the line), the result of the chemical reactions used to manufacture the material leave an end result of plastic. Old ping pong balls are made from the same material.
A root for the misconceptions goes back to Nitrate Celluloid. Old items constructed of early formulations of Nitrate Celluloid were unstable and would eventually decompose. Often releasing a gas that ate anything in its path. This is seen on very old guitar pickguards and bindings. People assumed that the finish was the same material, so old finishes must be reacting the same way. This is untrue.
If one were to remove the pickguard of a 50's Fender, the finish film is no thinner than when it left the factory. If there was any reduction in thickness at all over the years, it would have been in the months just after it was made releasing the residual amounts of solvents used to liquefy and thin the finish. Any thinning on the exterior areas are from handling. Simply playing a guitars with any finish on it is like subjecting it to a buffing wheel. Eventually the finish buffs away. Modern finishes are stronger, but still will wear. It will just take far longer.
Some wear has little to do with the finish, but lots to do with the manufacture. Often people wonder why their modern nitrocellulose finished necks do not get the wear marks on the face like the old ones did so quickly. The answer to this was the fact that Fenders back in the 50's had significantly shorter frets and larger strings than found today. Every time the player fretted a note the string would hit the fretboard. This caused wear on the finish, and eventually the wood. Old rosewood boards have wear divits in them from the strings. Often extending past the 21st fret where the players hands never touch from the vibrating string wearing into the end of the neck.
Today with modern wires, better fret dressing, and lighter gauge strings, the strings usually float between the frets and rarely ever touch the fretboard.