Fender 2004 50th Anniversary Stratocaster Buying Guide

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Since 2004 there have been increasing numbers of standard Fender American Deluxe and American Series Stratocasters being passed of as premium '50th Anniversary Limited Edition' models. The year 2004 was the 50th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster (not to be confused with the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Fender Company in 1996 and 2006, which also saw the issue of limited edition commemorative models). To celebrate this anniversary, Fender produced four limited edition commemorative 50th Anniversary Stratocaster models distinct from the standard production line models. These were the Custom Shop 1954 replica, the 50th Anniversary American Deluxe, the 50th Anniversary American Series, and the 50th Anniversary Golden Stratocaster (the last from their Mexican factory). This guide is essentially concerned with the 50th American Deluxe and 50th American Series Stratocasters.

The 50th Anniversary American Deluxe commemorative Stratocaster has a number of features that distinguish it from the standard production line model. It was only produced in two-colour sunburst (as opposed to three-colour sunburst and other colours for the standard production line models) with maple neck/fretboard and single-ply parchment pickguard. It was fitted with gold-plated hardware, and came in a special oblong deluxe tweed case with a '50th Anniversary' logo embossed in the lining (instead of the black moulded cases that the standard production line models came with).

The 50th Anniversary American Series commemorative Stratocaster has even more features that distinguish it from the standard production line American Series Stratocaster. These have ash bodies (usually characterised by distinctive grain patterns which make them particularly attractive), as opposed to alder used in the standard production line models, single-ply parchment pickguards (unlike the 3-ply ones on the standard production models) and only came in two-colour sunburst with maple neck/fretboard. These also came in the special oblong deluxe tweed case. Less obvious are the special Custom Shop '54 pickups they were fitted with (these pickups are not the same as the after-market Custom Shop 54 pickups available in shops).

Fender regrettably made it easy for scammers, as all standard prodcution line Stratocasters produced in the anniversary year of 2004 were fitted with commemorative neck plates. However, these alone do not make the guitars '50th Anniversary' models. Apart from the neck plate, these standard production line guitars are no different from those produced in 2003 or 2005. Many sellers now try to pass off standard production line American Deluxe and American Series Stratocasters as 'limited edition 50th Anniversary models' merely on the strength of the commemorative neck plates.

What to look for when buying a 50th Anniversary American Deluxe Stratocaster:-
  1. Colour - MUST be two-colour sunburst, no other colour is genuine.
  2. Neck/fretboard - MUST be maple, NOT rosewood.
  3. Hardware - MUST be gold-plated.
  4. Neck plate - 50th Anniversary etched plate.
  5. Pickguard - Single-ply parchment with laser-etched logo, NOT 3-ply white/black/white or any other colour.
  6. Pickups - SCNs with S1 switch system, in 3 single coils configuration only, NOT HSS.
  7. Case - oblong tweed case with crushed gold lining, NOT black moulded case.
  8. Fender inspection card - this should state the 'part' or model number 0112004803 together with the guitar's serial number (standard production line models will show different 'part numbers')

What to look for when buying a 50th Anniversary American Series Stratocaster:-
  1. Colour - MUST be two-colour sunburst, no other colour is genuine.
  2. Body - MUST be ash, usually identifiable by prominant grain patterns.
  3. Neck/fretboard - MUST be maple, NOT rosewood.
  4. Neck plate - 50th Anniversary etched plate.
  5. Pickguard - Single-ply 11-hole parchment, NOT 3-ply white/black/white or any other colour (the 50th American Series is quite possibly the only Fender Stratocaster model with an 11-hole single-ply parchment pickguard. All other parchment pickguards are either 11-hole 3-ply or 8-hole single-ply).
  6. Pickups - Custom Shop '54s in 3 single coils configuration only, NOT HSS. Apart from the unbeveled pole pieces these are difficult to distinguish by sight alone, as there are no distinguishing marks or labels on the pickups. However, contrary to expectation, these have plastic-coated wires rather than waxed cloth.
  7. Case - oblong tweed case with crushed gold lining, NOT black moulded case.
  8. Fender inspection card - this should state the part number 0102004803 (010 denotes American Series, 2004 denotes 50th Anniversary model, 8 denotes tweed case, and 03 denotes 2-colour sunburst) together with the guitar's serial number.

Those wishing to acquire one of these as a collector's item should be aware that these were in production for a whole year, and are not therefore particularly rare. As playing instruments, apart from the gold plating and purely cosmetic features, the 50th American Deluxe is no different from, or better than, the production model American Deluxe. The 50th American Series, on the other hand, has unique pickups which many like, but are not necessarily to everyone's taste. Those who like them describe the tone as 'vintage woody,' while others consider the 'vintage woody' tone to be just dull and muffled. Anyone wishing to buy one of these would therefore be best advised to try them first, as they may not be to their taste.

Some readers of this guide may notice that this is a re-vamp of an earlier guide I wrote. I deleted that earlier guide as I was receiving a number of abusive messages from indignant owners of non-genuine 50th Strats who clearly believed that they had the real thing. Deleting that guide was clearly the wrong thing to do, as honest sellers and buyers deserve good advice and guidance in spite of a few belligerents. Therefore, if any '50th' owners wish to confirm the legitimacy of their instrument, they can easily achieve this by contacting Fender at consumerrelations@fender.com , providing their guitar's serial number, and requesting a definitive confirmation as to whether their guitar is a genuine limited edition commemorative 50th Anniversary American Deluxe or American Series. Fender is usually very responsive to such inquiries.

Anyone wishing to copy this guide is welcome to do so, but please do not claim this as your own work.

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