Fender has used Korean Manufacture for both Fender and Squier branded guitars since the mid 80s. Some of the guitars made
are of pretty high quality and some are really quite poor for Fender.
The first Fender experience with Korea actually occurred in 1981. This was under the guidance of John Page who later went on to manage the Fender Custom Shop. The idea was to produce a budget strat to be known as the Bullet. The Samick factory who have made some decent guitars were asked to build some prototypes to a price point. According to Page the guitars they received were awful, he cites 1/2 inch high actions. So it was decided that they would assemble the bullets in the USA with Korean parts. These guitars were also not good enough so in the end all manufacturing was carried out in the USA.
This started in the mid 80s and Korean guitars were first seen around 1988 made by the Young Chang Akki factory in Seoul and went on to involve several Korean Factories mainly for Squier guitars but also a reasonable number of Fender branded models.
Fender did not keep any digital records of Korean Manufacture before 1993 so they say not to rely too heavily on serial number
dating before that date. Here's what we know.
|CN||Cort||90s 1st digit is the year but could be made as much as 2 years later in extreme cases|
|VN||Saehan (Sungham)||as CN|
|KC||Cort||1st 2 digits indicate the year from the 90s to at least 2012|
|E||Young Chang or Saehan see note below||1 digit is the year except E10 is 1987|
|KV||Saehan Sungham||System as KC|
|M||Early 90s system as CN|
|NK||90s system as CN|
|S||Samick||1st digit indicates the year from late 80s to mid 90s|
|Numbers only||from the 90s to the 2000s 1st digit is the year in 6 or 7 digit numbers (90s) 1st 2 digits are the year in 8 digit numbers|
*E0 made by Saehan in 1990 E1 plus 5 digits black serial number made by Saehan in 1990 E1 in Silver is Samick otherwise E9 is
Young Chang If a silver logo and if a black logo is probably Samick but maybe Cort no proof either way but my inclination
is Cort. See the Squier page for more on these E9s
It is worth noting that there are some J serial numbers about like the M serial numbers these are 1990 to 1992 for different geographical areas. These are mainly Squier II models and are the "Plywood" bodies. The M series were sent to Europe only and the J series Central and South America. The J series in particular are very rare (but not valuable).
Alice unchained from the Squier forum has strong opinions about the reference to ply bodies here is what he has to say in full, worth bearing in mind whenever you see reference to plywood here or elsewhere
I can’t stand how just about everyone refers to the late 80s/early 90s MIK bodies as plywood. They are NOT plywood!! They are hardwood laminate. There is a huge difference. I’ve said this before, plywood is such a turn off and buzz kill and should have never been used to make guitar bodies. Plywood is sheets of wood and filler material, (pressed sawdust and possibly other random material), that is glued together in layers. The filler material is what kills any tone that would be had when used for guitar bodies. It causes the guitar body to be mushy, sometimes to the point of being able to create a dent simply by pressing your fingernail in to it. The harder and denser the wood, the better the resonance and sustain, due to the energy not being absorbed by the wood, but being transferred right back into the vibrating string. So yes, any guitar with a plywood body = campfire wood. The MIK bodies are hardwood laminate. This means there are just sheets of wood, (real wood that’s not pieced together like plywood can also be like sometimes), glued together and pressed to become as dense or even denser than real wood. The denser kind of laminate that one would find is a heavy duty, structure reinforcing type of material used in constructing and remodeling houses. They’re called glue-lams and are easily twice as heavy as it’s identical wood sibling. Trust me, I know from personal experience from when I didn’t know any better and just wanted to get some money in my pocket about 20 years ago just after high school. Paying for it now . Anyway, a hardwood laminate body is in theory just as resonate or can possibly be even more resonant than an all wood body. Sure there’s the argument of tonewoods, but let’s be serious people, have there been any Squiers, (obviously excluding MIJ’s), that have the wood’s tonal quality in mind??So to sum this all up, everyone knock it off with bad mouthing a pretty decent cost-cutting method Korea went with to be able to put a little more money and effort in to those sweet freakin necks they put on the Squiers of the late 80s and early 90s. Because if they didn’t, they would have spent too much on their bodies or actually gone with plywood which would have done way more damage to the image of the Squier guitar, possibly ending it completely, and preventing this love affair we have all found ourselves uncontrollably captivated with. So seriously, stop it with the heinous plywood remarks everyone, ok?, lol