A Cherry Red Signature

Ever since I was younger, music has been one of things that I have enjoyed the most and is something that I’ve tried to make a big part of my life. My first introduction to music most likely occurred from a very young age with music played by my parents, however the first time it actually was of great interest to me occurred in 4th grade when it was time to choose an instrument to play in the elementary school band. While I was really interested in learning the alto saxophone or the trumpet, I was assigned the clarinet, which of course led to the obligatory jokes referencing Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. Being assigned the clarinet kickstarted my interest in learning instruments, and I went on to learn the alto saxophone, viola, piano, guitar, drums, and the ukulele. While I enjoy all of these instruments, one of my favorites is the cherry red Fender Telecaster (Image 1) that I received from my cousin after her father died. Even though my uncle was a psychiatrist, he managed to collect many electric guitars, amps, and records with the purpose of learning how to use them once he retired, which he unfortunately was never able to do before his death. His collection consisted of many different types of guitars, from electric to steel and from well known guitar brands like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, and other, as well as the associated amps.

While the cherry red Fender Telecaster was given to me by my cousin after she finished cataloging my late Uncle’s guitar collection, my uncle most likely purchased the guitar from a music/guitar store like Guitar Center or directly from Fender itself. When the guitar was purchased by him is most likely information that I will, unfortunately, never be able to find out since my uncle isn’t around to tell me, what I do know is that the guitar was made in Mexico (Image 2), which can allow me to learn more about its manufacturing process.

Image 1: My cherry red Fender Telecaster

One of the first steps to learning more about my Telecaster involves determining when it was manufactured, which should be a little easier since I already know the “where.” According to reverb.com, most Fenders can be dated by looking at the neck and body of the guitar. For most of Fender’s production history, the date that the guitar was manufactured is provided. However, finding this date requires the guitar to actually be physically taken apart, which is something that I am not comfortable doing, nor is it something that I currently have the time to do. In the future maybe I will “take the leap” regarding finding out this information, but right now doing so seems unnecessary. Neck and body dates are also somewhat unreliable when trying to determine when a guitar was made. The other, and much simpler and more appealing, option is to use the serial number on the guitar. My guitar’s serial number is located at the top of my guitar’s neck by where the tuning pegs are located, and it reads “MSN607475” (Image 2). 

On the same website where I learned where to locate the manufacturing date of a Fender guitar, I also found a series of different serial numbers and the dates associated with them. However, when I went through these my serial number was not found. I then decided to make up for this by making a quick google search of the first couple of letters of the serial number, “MSN”, which led me to a website that only provided the serial numbers of Fender guitars made in Mexico. This discovery led me to learn that my Fender Telecaster was likely a part of one of Fender’s signature series, which I then learned was indicated by the “S” in the serial number, where guitars were part of different collections “curated” by different well known guitarists, one of which being Jimmy Vaughn. I also learned that the “MSN6” in the serial number meant that my guitar was made between 1996 and 1997. 

Image 2: Serial Number and Made in Mexico label

Upon closer inspection of my guitar I noticed a signature on the top of its neck that I hadn’t noticed previously (Image 3), and my new knowledge that my guitar was part of a Fender Signature Series made me believe that this signature likely belonged to the guitarist that my guitar was associated with in its series. To determine who this signature belonged to, I decided to make another google search, but this time I decided to focus on the Fender Signature Series itself and decided to look up Fender’s Signature Series from 1996. One of the results from this search was a guitar listing on reverb.com for a guitar that looked exactly like mine from 1996 that belonged to the 1996 Fender James Burton Signature Collection. Immediately I was led to believe that I had discovered which signature collection my Fender Telecaster was a part of. To confirm that this theory was actually true, I decided to look at the look-a-like guitar’s serial number, and was glad to see that the first few characters of the serial number were the same as my guitar, “MSN6.” I also decided to take another look at the signature on my guitar’s neck, and the signature was a match to James Burton. 

Despite the fact that all of my questions regarding my guitar’s origins had been answered, I knew that it had been made in Mexico and was most likely manufactured in 1996, I decided to look into James Burton and find out more about him. So, I made another google search. This Google search was much easier than the other ones that I had made, and my questions were immediately answered rather than me having to search through multiple different webpages to find the information that I was looking for. This search allowed me to learn that James Burton was a guitarist who has been a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001. However, my search didn’t just end there, I also learned that James Burton was Elvis Presley’s guitarist until 1977, a member in Ricky Nelson’s band, and that he has also been featured in a number of different recordings from well known artists, like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash.

While my guitar definitely did not belong James Burton himself, it was a part of the Fender Signature Series that he had been associated to. Information located on the guitar itself, like the “Made In Mexico” and serial number written on the back of its neck, allowed me to make further searches to eventually learn the year that the guitar was made in. 

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757066866/elvis-guitarist-james-burton-i-went-professional-when-i-was-14

https://reverb.com/item/8231135-fender-telecaster-james-burton-signature-model-1996-candy-apple

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