In most cases, it is possible to tell the year of a Fender guitar by examining its serial number, though some models use a numbering system that does not guarantee an exact year. Also, certain anniversary, limited run and artist model guitars use unique serial number conventions that make dating more difficult.
Websites such as Fender.com, GuitarRepairBench.com and Reverb.com offer lists and tables of Fender serial numbers and their corresponding manufacturing years. Most dating charts begin in 1950, when Fender released its first line of guitars with a consistant serial number system. However, within each decade, certain serial number systems were used during multiple years, such as continually counting up to 6,000 from 1950 to 1954 or using both the L50,000 and the 100,000 format in 1965. In such cases, it may require additional research or consultation from a professional to determine the exact date of a guitar.
It is important to note that the majority of the serial number dating charts only refer to Fender guitars made in the United States. Fender.com does have a page that includes serial number dating charts for guitars made in Mexico, though it does not offer charts for guitars made in countries such as China. Most guitars feature a label or etching on the headstock that displays its country of origin.