Dating a japanese fender stratocaster
The following chart details the Fender serial number schemes used from 1950 to 1964.
There is quite a bit of overlap of numbers and years.
They were stamped on the back vibrato cover plate (early '50s Strats), and on the bridge plate between the pickup and the saddles on some Telecasters.
But due to the modular nature of Fender's production methods, and the fact that most serial numbers schemes are not sequential and usually overlap from between 2 to 4 years, (from the early days of Fender, through to the mid 1980s), dating by the serial number is not an exact science.
As you can see by the overlaps of numbers and years, the reference to the actual production date is rather loose. The numbers and decals are produced far in advance, and apparently, some N9 decals, (which were supposed to be used in 1999), were affixed to some instruments in 1990.
The only way to try to narrow the date range of your specific instrument would be to remove the neck and check the butt end of the heel of the neck for a production date, which may be stamped or written there.
(If you are not comfortable performing this operation, please use an experienced professional guitar tech in your area or bring it to Superior Music).
The neck date simply refers to the date that the neck was produced.
Given the modular nature of Fender's production techniques, a neck may have been produced in one year, placed in a warehouse and remained in stock for a period of time, and then subsequently paired with a body to create a complete guitar in the following year.
There were periods of time when this was not consistently done, (between 19), and there are certainly other examples of short periods of time, and individual pieces, where the dating was simply omitted.