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Documented 1954 Pre-Production Run Stratocasters

Discussion in 'Pre-CBS Strats (before 1966)' started by pjcarr, Aug 13, 2010.

  1. pjcarr

    pjcarr Strat-Talk Member

    Apr 19, 2010
    Is there any documentation of the pre-production run Stratocasters from early/mide 1954? How many were actually made before the first production run in October and roughly how many are still accounted for today? We all know about David Gilmour's famous serial # 0001 Strat. Are there any other well-documented low serial number Strats? How many other early Strats were "custom" models? In The Stratocaster Chronicles book there is this strange quote from Beach Boy Carl Wilson:

    "I feel really fortunate because I have a Stratocaster, which was the first one Fender made; not the prototype, but the first production model. It's a wonderful guitar."

    What could he be talking about?
  2. Fredrikgroth

    Fredrikgroth Strat-Talk Member

    May 9, 2010
    Here's a 1953 prototype: 1953 Stratocaster

    Not exactly what you were looking for, but very cool.
  3. capt_goodvibes

    capt_goodvibes Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 28, 2009
    Land Down Under
    1954 Fender Stratocaster Guitar

    1954 Fender Stratocaster guitar 54 Fender Strat guitar collector info vintage pre-CBS

    1954 Fender Stratocaster Guitar

    Description: 1954 Fender Stratocaster guitar
    Available: 1954 to present.
    Collectibility Rating: A+
    Production: no official (or unofficial) production numbers available.
    General Comments:
    The Fender Stratocaster guitar is probably the most popular solidbody electric guitar ever made. Early models (1954 to 1965, known as "pre-CBS" models, since CBS Broadcaster Company bought Fender in January 1965) are the most collectible. Originality and condition are the two most important features of a vintage Fender Stratocaster guitar, and Fender Strats do seem to have been easily modified (due to their "bolt together" nature).

    The 1954 Fender Stratocaster is of course the beginning of the breed. Full factory production of the Fender Stratocaster started October 1954. Stratocasters made from March 1954 to September 1954 were really hand-made prototypes, and the Strat's features did not "settle" until October 1954 (as you can see from the 1954 features listed below). The March to September 1954 models are the most interesting because of the unique prototypical features Fender was experimenting with (mostly related to plastic parts, which were different prior to October 1954), and the guitar's hand-crafted look and feel.

    Serial number range for the 54 Fender Stratocaster are generally 0001 to 6000 (on the neck plate, though the first 100 54 Strats had the serial number stamped into the rear plastic tremolo cover). If you need to figure out the exact year of your pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster, use the serial number and the general features of the guitar. The serial number is located on the back metal neck plate. See the Fender Serial Number Info web page for help determining the year. Though Fender production numbers are not available, research has concluded that 268 Fender Strats were made during late 1954 (there were more than this made, because the 268 only includes the fall 1954 "regular production" numbers).

    SOL Guitars

  4. Wayne D.

    Wayne D. Senior Stratmaster

    Nov 28, 2009
    Pittsburgh, Pa.
    I think Duane Allman owned a low serial number strat. It's at the London Hard Rock Cafe now.
  5. thaus

    thaus Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jul 6, 2007
    London Canada
    DG's has the 00001 serial # but I think it has been documented that it was not the first stratocaster.
    refin likes this.
  6. pjcarr

    pjcarr Strat-Talk Member

    Apr 19, 2010
    What guitar could Carl Wilson be talking about? Has anyone ever heard that story before?
  7. gcat

    gcat Senior Stratmaster

    Apr 10, 2010
    Cheyenne WY
    It's a sunburst maple neck, I've also heard it referred to as a prototype.
    JTblues likes this.
  8. StratGuy68

    StratGuy68 Strat-O-Master

    Nov 9, 2008
    I'm guessing Carl meant he had a 1954 Strat, which would be the first production model Fender built.
  9. RussV

    RussV Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 8, 2008
    Many years ago I saw a white protoype Strat for sale in a London guitar shop
    It was white and came with documentation to verify the authenticity. It had a slightly smaller body than normal. Wasn't too expensive either, I should have bought it!
  10. pjcarr

    pjcarr Strat-Talk Member

    Apr 19, 2010
    But the quote seems pretty specific about it being the first production Stratocaster ever made.
  11. RussV

    RussV Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 8, 2008
    Maybe he was just told it was the first, doesn't mean it was. I don't think it matters much. The first was probably very similar to the second, the tenth, the hundreth etc etc.
  12. GEISHA

    GEISHA Strat-Talker

    Jun 18, 2011
    I feel inclined to add my personal findings to this thread.
    I have studied countless sources as well as loads of books (and I mean practically all books on Stratocasters, including the very rare ones)

    Based upon that, I have come to the following conclusion.
    Three stages of the earliest Stratocaster (uptil 1st January 1955) can be determined.
    1. Prototype/Sample/Development guitars.
    2. Pre production/Guinea pig/Demonstrator guitars.
    3. Regular production quantity guitars.

    Note: semantics play a role, therefore I have used different terminology between slashes.

    Re. 1:
    With the exception of the guitar shown here:
    1953 Stratocaster
    it is safe to say that probably nothing is left from those prototypes.
    Cut up, destroyed, or taken apart with little saved (apart from necks).
    The 1953 shown can be seen as the only authentic proof/existence of one of the earliest Strats under development.
    The guitar itself (according to the story) is an assembled partscaster
    consisting of 1953/1954 items.
    My personal big question mark is the obscurity of how this guitar has been sneeked out of the Fender plant by a Fender employee.
    I do not think that it was meant to leave the factory and come into the hands of somebody else.

    Re. 2:
    To me the term pre production relates to the Stratocasters with the serial numbers stamped on the tremelo cover plate, numbers running between 0100 upto 0207.
    As far as I have been able to find, body and necks of these guitars show
    March/April/May dates.
    Amongst these guitars I count the red colored (with matching headstock)
    Stratocasters of Pee Wee Crayton and Bill Carson as well as guitars owned by George Fullerton, Rex Gallion and other ones.
    Some obscure "custom" colored items but mostly sunburst models.
    It seemed some guitars from this serie were handed out to certain players
    by L. Fender himself.

    Re. 3:
    Regular production started around June/July and entered the market around
    September - October 1954. Under pressure from Fender sales.
    These are the Strats with the serial number stamped on the neckplate, starting with 0001 and so forth. Body's and neck's from June/July dates
    Some "custom" colored items are known to exist.
    Lefties available from December 1954.

    What I have written here is by no means meant to be the definite answer.
    Things that interfere are a.o. the random sequence of serial numbers applied by Fender and the fact that key members of Fender, when asked about the earliest days have produced contradictory stories.
    The latter amazes me the most, as some stories recollect the tiniest detail of the size of the staggered pick up pole pieces, but when it comes to who, what and when regarding production, no one can really be spot on.

    I am still searching and looking to find further information and answers.
  13. scotzoid

    scotzoid Senior Stratmaster

    Oct 16, 2009
    Music City
    I realize this is an old thread, but I think the OP's confusion is based on the idea that if Gilmour has serial # 0001, how could Carl Wilson claim to have the first production Strat; I'm fairly certain I read somewhere that #0001 did not mean that it was the first one off the line, parts stamped with serial #'s were picked out of a parts bin at random from the beginning. There was no sense at the Fullerton plant of "Hey, we're making history here, be sure we use parts in the right order!"
  14. GEISHA

    GEISHA Strat-Talker

    Jun 18, 2011
    I really would like to know how Carl Wilson can be sure about this.
    There is no factory log proving that guitar number xxxx was made on that specific date at that specific hour. So I fear he cannot sustain that.
    Moreover as key people at Fender are more or less oblivious on what happened when, I cannot imagine that someone at Fender said: "hey listen folks it is the 15th of June 1954, 10.43 hours, I just finished the first production Strat number xxxx, let us not forget that because you never know who will be the lucky owner in the future".
    That did not happen.
    Mayby the first owner of the Carl Wilson guitar bought the guitar in some music shop in Tulsa in January 1955, who knows???

    Lets suppose the production at Fender in quantities, which, looking at the total number produced, was very low at maybe an average of 2 or 3 guitars a day in that period of time, started in July 1954.
    From that production one guitar which finally rolled of the line has a body date of 6/54 a neck date of 7/54 and the piece of tape in the control cavity says Gloria 11/8/54.
    Was the body made on the first of June and the neck on the 31st of July?
    That is a 2 months spread, and when the guitar was in final assembly Gloria marked the guitar November 8, 1954.
    Well tell me, when was this guitar produced? I would say November.

    As to the serial numbers taken at random.
    My first question, who made the plates, were the raw plates stamped at Race and Olmsted (the tooling and diecast firm used by Fender), nickle plated at Fender and next stamped with a number.
    Or did the finished product come from R & A?
    I cannot image another way of producing numbered plates by doing that in sequence, for instance the first batch started with 0001 and ended 0500.
    A random way of numbering them would be unworkable and makes no sense.
    Did they skip the numbers 0100 uptil 0207 because they were
    already used on the back of the tremelo cover Strats??? I know 0209 exists on a plate.
    The next question would be how were the plates kept after they were number stamped. Were they really thrown in a bin, like everybody who was not there at the time says??
    If that was the case the lowest number could end up on the floor of the bin and being the last taken out, while number 0489 being somewhere at the top of the bin could be first taken out.
    Any way in that case a certain count down sequence could exist like 0489 followed by 0492 then 0499 and so on. Or would somebody say: "hey that is not fair, let's shake the bin first and give all the numbers an equal chance to be the first".
    But in whatever way they did it, it says nothing about the final assembly date.

    It keeps me wondering, why didn't anybody just ask the question.
    Or why did not any of the people involved at Fender just say it.
    Simple as ABC.
    The people who should have known this must have been either Forrest White being responsable for stock and the production line or George Fullerton being the man at the end of the line testing a.o. the finished product.

    I think the myth surrounding the allocation of serial numbers will keep us busy for a long time to come.
  15. Jimi G

    Jimi G Strat-Talker

    Mar 9, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI
    Geisha, I'm only a few years younger than you. I remember how simple all things were back then. I imagine Fender production techniques were geared to acommodate skilled/semi-skilled laborers who were given X number of components and told they must produce X number of products per day. Nothing more, nothing less. To those folks, it was just a job, just like the one their cousin had down the street assembling toasters.

    As has been well documented, Leo Fender operated on the KISS principle. How many guitars did we make this week? How many has Fender Sales ordered? Did we meet the order? I think if you went back in time to late 1954 and asked Leo Fender "Hey Leo, who has the 1st Stratocaster that you built?" I think his reply might have been "Go down the street to General Electric and ask the man in charge who has their 1st toaster"!

    They just were'nt wired that way. If they (Fender) had only known.

  16. wobble

    wobble Strat-Talker

    Dec 19, 2009
    Auckland, NZ
    This begs the question of course: is DG's strat really 0001? just çause it says so on the neck plate? so what. the first production one may have had 0100 on the neck plate for all we know.
  17. Jack FFR1846

    Jack FFR1846 Senior Stratmaster

    May 4, 2011
    Hopkinton, MA
    I have a tough time believing that prototype guitars would have been cut up, although I have no research to support this....just a feeling. Early Fender behavior was more in line with doing everything as cheaply as possible and destroying guitars that could bring in revenue was not consistant with this. I know that Guild would build guitars that had some "mistake" and would sell it as a "feature". They did this all the time. Just look at the entire philosophy of Fender from the start. The whole reason for the bolt on neck was to make repair or replacement easy and cheap compared to the typical set neck of the time.
  18. GEISHA

    GEISHA Strat-Talker

    Jun 18, 2011
    Great compilation!!! Had a big laugh, thanks.

    You know in them days one could compare the manufacturing methods at Fender's with those of a car manufacturer. Forrest White was a ex Ford man wasn't he?
    They already had a simple 2 door, 4 cil. 2 ltr. engine, leaf sprung, no frills no thrills model running (Esquire/Broadcaster) and a heavier stationcar/van version with the same technical qualities (early P Bass).
    Now they were looking to upgrade the line with a bigger engined, more comfort, independent suspended, 4 door family car, available in more than 1 color. In comes the Stratocaster.

    But coming back on serial numbers, one way or another they did matter.
    The earlier lap steel guitar (K&F and so on) had no serial number afaik, but come the Tele and the P Bass serial numbers became "important"??
    Somebody must have brought that up, saying to Mr. Fender, are we gonna number that stuff. And Leo could have said: what is that gonna cost and what are we gonna need that for? Just do what you like but keep it simple son.

    But the numbering and dating came and changed and stayed and changed again. There must have been some kind of in house consultation.
    Only we don't know how, we cannot be certain about number allocation versus the exact date of birth of any early Fender and so on....

    Why start with 0100 on a cover plate and proceed with numbers starting at 0001 on a neck plate???? This is too specific than say: serial numbers did not matter at all, as long as the production volume was met.
    It has been given some kind of thought I guess.

    The early Tele and P Bass numbers were on the bridge plate, so where are we gonna put the number of a Strat, there is no room on the bridge plate, decisions had to be made.
    Be it an early Esquire, Broad-, No-, or Telecaster, or the first P Basses the number sequence did not go hand in hand with dating and assembly of the instrument. That was carried over to the Strat so it must have been common practise at Fender's but still we lack the confirmation.

    Richard R. Smith, Tom Wheeler, Tony Bacon or any other guitar historian apparently never asked the boiling question to f.i. George Fullerton.
    It amazes me that after the vintage craze got on and George and some of his colleagues were still alive and all kinds of fantasy on serial numbers was about, no one took the initiative and said let's bury this subject once and for all by simply asking the people who were involved in them days.

    To me the 0001 story is one of the least important, it carries a beard as long as a rattlesnake, but it brings us exactly nowhere,

    The myth goes on and so does my investigation.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2011
  19. Jimi G

    Jimi G Strat-Talker

    Mar 9, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI
    GEISHA, I admire your dedication. I'll pose a question on serial #s. What would Fender have gained by serializing the Strat? Or, more simply put, what type of uses would serial #s provide beyond the obvious?

  20. GEISHA

    GEISHA Strat-Talker

    Jun 18, 2011
    Hi Jimi G
    By putting it more simply and mentioning the obvious you made the answering so much more complicated.:)

    But let me make a start by trying to answer the first part of your question;
    what would Fender have gained by serializing the Strat?.

    1. a footprint of each instrument they manufactured, was it really one of ours and/or has it been tampered with, can we stand up for what we made.
    2. a log of who made which guitar when, for quality control sake and/or payrolling.
    3. a trace of possible misfits/faulty batches of components in production.
    4. validity of guarantee on an instrument in case of complaints and repairs.
    5. available capacity versus needed capacity in ways of numbers produced.
    Are we making the numbers or are we lagging behind.

    My question to you is what would Fender have lost by not serializing the Strat?

    Perhaps the non sequential numbering served an under cover commercial goal. A secret no one really wanted to give away.
    In other words by not applying exact sequential numbers no one really knew how many Fender produced over a certain period of time.
    And competition could only guess at how many guitars those rebels at Fender
    really sold.
    It might have made some real impression on others when Stratocaster serial# 1095 popped up in Sept. 1954.
    Holy smoke Batman they are making large numbers of that git...................
    The age old "we don't show our numbers trick".