Authenticating A Vintage Fender Guitar- Spotting a Refin (Part 1)

by Rik Mercaldi on August 7, 2012

1965 Musicmaster

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that their instrument was all original and I had to break the sad news to them that it wasn’t.

Refinishing a vintage Fender guitar can lower the value by as much as half, and when you’re talking about instruments that can sometimes sell in the tens of thousands and up, that can be a lot of dough. Spotting a refinished guitar can be difficult if it was done well.  Many were refinished a long time ago in an effort to make their beat up instrument look new again, not realizing it would ultimately affect its value. Until the vintage boom in the 1980s these guitars were still just considered “used”.

So what can we look for? Here are a few things to get the ball rolling.  One quick way to tell is to look at the headstock, or more importantly, feel the headstock. Lightly rub your finger over the logo and patent number. Does it feel really smooth and even? If it does, then it’s been at the very least over-sprayed (applying clear lacquer over the existing finish) or refinished.  Fender always applied their decals AFTER the neck was finished, so you should be able to actually feel it.

Next, unscrew the Pickguard and check out the finish underneath. Unless the guitar spent almost its entire life in its case (possible, of course, but the guitar would have to look mint and be almost unplayed which is rare) the finish underneath should be darker and more vibrant than on the top of the guitar. The nitrocellulose lacquer used back then was very unstable when it came in contact with sunlight, and even if the guitar was well taken care of, some fading of the finish is inevitable. I’ve seen many instruments that have had average to heavy playing wear and when I popped off the guard I saw a perfectly matching color scheme. This should alway raise an eyebrow.

While you have the Pickguard off (or other screwed in parts, such as the backplate, control cavity, etc.) take a look inside the screw holes. Does the paint go all the way down into the hole?  It shouldn’t if it has the original finish. The holes where the screws would be placed had pins inside when the guitar was originally being finished, so there should be only bare wood inside.

These are just a few things to look for, we’ll keep this going in Part 2…

So to our fellow Vintage detectives out there, what are some of the things that you look for when trying to authenticate a vintage Fender guitars finish?

  • Don

    Very interesting article, thanks! Think I’m going to grab my Strat and a screwdriver and start looking around : )

  • Thanks, Don! Let us know what you find!

  • Will4bass

    Hi Don, you’re statements are not entirely correct. De screwholes can contain paint, however the so called ‘needle holes’ don’t. During the process 3 or 4 needles were hammered into the body in order to allow for the paint to dry without getting in touch with anything.

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