Gibson Vintage Guitar General Info, Specs, and Serial Numbers.
Dès février 1996
Gibson vintage guitars history and collecting. Private vintage guitar
collector. Pictures, history for gibson vintage guitars.
Contact the vintage
guitar info guy.
Introduction, General Specs, Serial Number/Year
Gibson Vintage Model Info Pages:
Specific Model Info:
Gibson Shipping Totals
Introduction and "What type of
Gibson guitar do I have?"
Before much can be determined about a Gibson guitar, several things
must be identified:
- The type of guitar (flattop, archtop, solidbody, lapsteel, etc).
- The exact model.
- The year it was made (or approximate year/era).
- Oringinality (have any of the parts been changed or modified?).
First Determine the Type of Guitar and the Model.
there is a tag inside the guitar stating the "style" or model. Once this
is known, go directly to the section about that model (listed in the
blue table of contents text above). Short of that, these are the
different types of Gibson guitars made, and their key identifiable
Once the type of guitar is determined, figuring
out the exact model is MUCH easier! (just go to one of the above six
linked webpages that describes your guitar, and compare each model specs
to your guitar, until you find the one that matches).
Archtop Gibsons: two "f" hole style sound holes, body 3" to 4.5"
thick, slightly arched top, acoustic with no pickups (but sometimes
these models have bolt-on pickups added later by players).
Archtop Gibsons: two "f" hole style sound holes, pickups and knobs
routed into the slightly arched top, body 3" to 4.5" thick.
Thinline Archtop Gibsons: two "f" hole style sound holes, pickups
and knobs routed into the slightly arched top, body 1.5" to 2.5" thick
(the norm is about 1.75" thick, though a few models are slightly
- Electric Solid
body Gibsons: body is a solid piece of wood (no soundhole cutouts)
1.5" to 2" thick, pickups and knobs routed into the top of the guitar.
Gibsons: single round sound hole under the strings, body 3.5" to
4.5" thick with a flat top, usually not electric.
Lapsteel Gibson: a small solidbody guitar that is played in the
lap, Hawaiian style, with a metal slide bar, pickup and knob routed
into the top.
Next Determine the Year or Approximate Year.
usually have a FON (Factory Order Number), a serial number, or both (but
sometimes neither!). Various serial number systems were used by Gibson,
and often the same serial number could be used in the 1950s, 1960s, and
1970s. See the serial number/FON
section for details. Duplicate or no serial/FON number doesn't make
things easy, but there are other traits that allow the serial number to
make sense (see the General Specs
section for more details). Also mid to top end instruments usually
have a label inside the guitar with the serial number. Guitars with no
label are usually lower end instruments (or are a solidbody guitar!)
Probably the first thing when trying to determine the year on an old
Gibson is whether the guitar was made "pre-WW2", during WW2, or
"post-WW2". This is easy to do, as Gibson used different peghead logos
for pre-WW2, "wartime", and post-WW2 (see the General Specs
section for more details). Knowing the general era of the Gibson
guitar will make Gibson's rather complicated serial number/FON systems
Next Determine the Model.
There are several general
questions which can be asked in determining a guitar's model, once the
type of guitar (flat top, arch top, etc.) has been determined:
- What is the color of the top of the guitar? Common top colors
include black, natural, "sunburst" (a yellow center that fades to a
darker red or brown around the edges), and "cherry red" (a translucent
red which shows the wood grain).
- What is the color of the back of the guitar? Common back colors
include translucent dark brown, translucent light brown, sunburst,
cherry red, etc.
- What is the body size? (measure the guitar across the top at the
widest point, which is the guitar's "hips"). This is really important
for all model types except solidbody electrics.
- What is the style of fingerboard inlays? (dots, blocks,
trapezoids, double parallelagrams, etc.)
- What is the style of "Gibson" peghead logo? That is, is it white
silkscreen, gold silkscreen, or pearl inlay? Also if the logo is
pre-WW2, wartime, or post-WW2 (see above). Also fancier models can
even have some sort of pearl inlaid decoration (a "crown" or long
skinny "diamond") on the peghead just below the "Gibson" logo.
- What is the style of binding? Binding is the
whitish/yellowish/tortoise "band" that goes around the edges of the
body. Most Gibsons have some sort of body binding. Often binding is
multi-layers (white/black/white, etc). Some guitars also have binding
on the neck. The more binding a guitar has, the fancier the model.
Finally Determine the Originality.
Originality of an
instrument is very important. Modifications (any modifications), are a
bad thing in the eyes of a collector. This will greatly influence value.
Modifications can often be determined by looking at the model specs for
a particular year guitar in this web page (after the approximate year is
determined), and compare to your instrument.
Gibson invented the archtop guitar as we know it and has remained
one of the better makers. The most collectible Gibson archtops are the
larger models made from the early 1930's to 1959. The Advance (17" or
wider) models from late 1934 onward are of the same construction used
in today's archtops. The Lloyd Loar signed L-5's, the pre-war Super 400,
and Advanced L-5 archtops
are highly collectible. The pre-war cutaway L-5 and cutaway
Super 400 are also known as Premier models. Non-cutaway models
are not nearly as collectible as cutaway Premier models.
Cutaway archtop models made from 1946 to 1959 are also very
collectible, but are not as much as the pre-war Advance Premier
models. Non-cutaway post-war models are interesting but not very
collectible. Archtop cutaway models made from 1960 to 1969 are also
very good instruments, but are not nearly as collectible as the
pre-1960 models and are more utility instruments.
Gibson began to develop professional quality flat top instrument
in the 1930's. Many concepts were stolen from Martin, which was the
company that invented features such as X-braced tops and large
dreadnought body sizes. Gibson then modified Martin's designs and
developed its own improvements including adjustable truss rods,
adjustable saddle(s), and super jumbo body shapes. Although
workmanship on pre-war Gibsons is not as high as pre-war Martins,
Gibson flat tops are well designed and constructed so they have
excellent tone. Many player (including me) prefer Gibsons of this
period to all other flat tops.
Vintage Electric Arch
top Gibson Collectibility.
Flat tops of the 1940's and 1950's are also excellent instruments.
Since they are much more common, they are also easier and less
expensive to obtain.
Gibson flat tops of the 1960's and 1970's seem to be inferior in
tone and construction to the same models of the 1950's. This is
generally blamed on adjustable bridges that were standard on all
models in the 1960's. Also the end of "sloped" shoulder body styles
helped alienate players and collector alike.
Pre-war Gibson electric arch tops are excellent instruments. Since
pre-war models are early in the evolution of the electric guitar, they
are historically important. The ES-150 and
both used by Charlie Christian, are very collectible pre-war
Postwar full depth, non-cutaway models were generally designed as
student models and are not very valuable. Post-war Gison electric
archtops with cutaways from the 1950's are considered to be excellent
and collectible. The deluxe models, such as the L-5CES, Super
400CES from the 1950's are very collectible. The laminated body
models, such as the ES-5, ES-350, ES-175 and
are not worth as much as the solid wood model, but are valuable.
Electric Thinline Archtop Gibson Collectibility.
vintage guitar info guy.
There are two styles of Thinline Gibson models. First is the
"fully hollowbody" style. These thinline, fully hollow, models are
somewhat collectible. The single cutaway Byrdland (a
short scale, thin body L-5CES) is excellent in quality, but its short
scale length and narrow neck makes it less collectible. The single
cutaway ES-350T (a
plainer version of the Byrdland), having the same problems, also has
limited collectibility mostly due to its scale length. Fully hollow
thinlines such as the double cutaway ES-330 never had the appeal or
utility of the semi-hollow counterparts such as the ES-335.
Solid body Gibson Collectibility.
Thinline, semi-hollow electrics from 1958 to 1964 are very cool and
wanted by players and collectors. The ES-335, which had the lowest
list price of the ES-335/ ES-345/ ES-355
group, is considered to be the most collectible (even though it is the
plainest). The Varitone/Stereo system of the ES-345/ES-355 is less
desirable than the simple ES-335 design. Also, the stop tailpiece
setup of the ES-335 is more collectible than the vibrato or trapeze
The Les Paul models from the 1950's along with the Korina Flying V and
are some of the most collectible solidbody production guitars. Les Paul
models with Humbucking pickups from the 1950's are the most desired,
with the P-90 pickup models selling for significantly less money.
Original series Firebirds
with full reverse bodies are also very collectible. Other solidbody
gibson may have some appeal, but not to the extent of the previously
Vintage Double neck Gibson Collectibility.
Double neck models with carved spruce tops are different than any
other Gibson design. Because of this they are collectible. Solidbody
double neck SG style guitars are not nearly as desirable, though
popularized by bands such as Led Zeppelin in the 1970s.
Electric Bass Collectibility.
Generally speaking, Gibson doesn't have much of a reputation as an
electric bass maker. Though the first electric Gibson bass introduced
in 1953 (known as the EB-1) is interesting, it's not desirable to the
player. The late fifties EB-2 and EB-6 are also interesting, but don't
appeal widely to players. Likewise the Thunderbird II and IV basses
are nice companions to the Firebird guitars, but again don't appeal to
players. Because of this, the collectibility of Gibson basses is
somewhat limited, especially when compared to Fender electric basses.
Vintage Gibosn Ukulele Collectibility.
Gibson ukes, though not as collectible as Martin ukes, has a
certain charm. Although I do not list Gibson uke models here, please
email me if you have a Gibson uke you are interested in selling.
Although lapsteels are considered student model instruments,
pre-war models are interesting. This is because they are early
examples in the evolution of the electric guitar. Today, the pedal
steel has made the lapsteel obsolete.
Vintage Mandolins by
Gibson mandolins are the standard of the industry. The original
1902 series made by Orville Gibson generally don't sound that good,
but are interesting historically. Mandolins from 1904 to 1909 have a
better design, but still lack sound. The high end models from 1910 to
1922 are excellent utility mandolins. The F-5 design of the mid 1920's
is considered to be high point of mandolin design, and the
mandolin by which all others are judged. By the late 1920's, the
mandolin boom had pasted and demand feel. Because demand was low, so
was production. Hence mandolins from the 1930's are somewhat rare.
Until the mandolin became popular in country music after WWII, demand
and production for mandolins stayed low.
Back to the Table of
General Vintage Gibson
Left: Oval white label as used from spring 1947 to
- "Snakehead" peghead, narrows towards top: 1923-1934. Discontinued
all models except L-5 by 1927. Discontinued L-5 1934.
- Fiber peghead veneer replaces "Holly" wood veneer: 1970 to
present. Also "Make in U.S.A." impressed in back of peghead or on
- Peghead angle is 17 degrees: 1904-1966.
- Peghead angle is 14 degrees: 1966-1973.
- Peghead angle is 17 degrees: 1973-present.
- "Volute" on back of peghead (most models): 1969 to 1981.
- Thickness of peghead uniform: 1955-present. Prior to 1955 peghead
narrows in thickness towards top.
Fingerboards, bridges and other parts made from rosewood are all
the Brazilian variety till 1966. Starting in 1966, Gibson changed to
Left: Pre-WW2 pearl script logo. Note no letters drop below
the other letters.
Middle: Post-WW2 pearl 1948-1951 style logo
with connecting dot. The "G" and the "n" drop below the other letters,
and the open "b" and open "o" (open at the top of the letters) were used
in their pearl logos until 1969.
Right: "Pantograph" logo used
from 1969 to 1984. Note the closed "b" and "o".
Pre-war Gibson script logo used before 1948. No letters drops
below the other letters.
Pre-war Script Gibson logo, Pearl or White.
- "The Gibson" slanted or straight (depends on model): 1908-1929.
- "The Gibson" straight: 1933-1934.
- "Gibson" logo transition (without "The"), varies by model:
- Pearl inlaid, high-end models: 1933-1948
- White silkscreen, low-end models: 1928-1943.
- Thicker "Gibson" on Super 400 and other high-end models: mid
- Thicker "Gibson" all models: late 1930's.
Left: Gold post-war logo on a Les Paul Junior. The "i"
was always attached on all of these post-war gold
Middle: Pearl post-war logo with detached "i" dot on
1957 Les Paul. This style logo with detached "i" dot was
from 1951 to 1969, and again from 1985 to
Right: War-time gold script "only a Gibson is Good
logo on a Southern Jumbo, as used from 1943 to
Gold Script Gibson logo.
- All models made during WW2.
- Low-end models: 1943-1947
- "Only a Gibson is Good Enough" gold banner logo: 1943-1945
Post-war block Gibson logo, Pearl or Gold.
Gibson block logo used 1948-present. The post-war logo has the "G" and
the "N" with a tail that drops below the other letters.
- Gold logo: silkscreened 1947-1954
- Gold logo: decal 1954-present
- Pearl logo: open "b" and "o": 1948-1969
- Pearl logo: "pantograph" style, closed "b" and "o": 1969-1984
- Pearl logo: open "b" and "o": 1984-present
- Pearl logo: Dot on "i" connected to "G": 1948-1951
- Pearl logo: Dot on "i" free from "G": 1951-present
Gibson always used nitrocellulose lacquer for all
instruments from the 1910's to present. The standard colors for most
instruments was Sunburst, Natural, black, white, cherry red, (Les
Paul) TV yellow, or (Les Paul) gold. Some other special order
custom colors were available.
A faded sunburst on a 1959 Les Paul Standard.
the pickguard removed we can see how much
brighter the original red
was in the sunburst
under the pickguard. This is particularly
by the neck pickup pickguard attachment point.
During the late 1950's, the red ainline used in their sunburst
finishes often faded. This problem was fixed by mid-1960, though
sometimes you see it on later 1960's models.
Right: Orange label as used from January 1955 to
1964. The 1964 to 1969 orange labels are identical, except for the added
text "union made". Note the faint ink stamp along the bottom of the label
denoting "STEREO VARITONE".
Left: Orange "union made" label as used from 1964 to 1969.
Note the "union made" designation to the left of the "Gibson" insignia.
When Gibson was bought by Norlin in 1969, thousands of these labels were
discarded (and replaced with white and purple "Norlin" labels). These
blank unused labels were snatched up by many guitar dealers, and are still
Rigth: White label used from 1908 to 1932. This
particular label is from a 1929 L-4 model.
Seen through this f-hole is
the "Norlin" white rectangle
(with purple and black
triangles), used from 1970
Labels (hollowbody models only).
- Rectangular label, no serial number or model name on label, photo
of Orville Gibson and lyre-mandolin on label, date sometimes penciled
under top: 1902 to 1904.
- Oval label with serial number, no model name, photo of Orville
Gibson and lyre-mandolin: 1904 to 1909.
- White label with number and model name, number range 0100 to
99999. Hand ink or penciled (some overlap with previous style): 1908
- White label with number and model name Ink stamped: 1932 to 1947.
- White oval label with number preceded by "A-": spring 1947 to
January 1955. The first number, A-100, was assigned to an L-7 on
4/28/47. The last white label number was A-18750, used 1/12/55. Note
white label numbers A-18751 to A-20000 were not used.
- Orange oval label with number preceded by an "A": Jan 1955 to
1961. The first orange label number, A20001, was used on a F-5
mandolin 01/13/55. The last orange label "A" number was A36147, used
2/21/61. Note the "-" after the "A" was dropped for the orange labels.
- Orange oval label with number matching number on back of headstock
(number range 100 to 999999): 1961 to 1969.
- "Union Made" added to orange label: 1964 to 1969 (intermixed).
- White rectangle "Norlin" label with black and purple triangles:
1970 to 1984.
Electric Archtop Bodies.
- Tops: Before WW2, tops on electric archtops are solid spruce.
After WW2, all models except the L-5CES, Byrdland, Super 400CES and
floating pickup models (like the Johnny Smith) are laminated maple
tops to prevent feedback.
- Back and Sides: Before WW2, back and sides are solid maple. After
WW2, all models except the L-5CES, Byrdland, Super 400CES use
laminated maple. From 1960 to 1969, all models including the above use
laminated maple back and sides.
1970's style neck with a volute.
Also note the "made in USA"
Neck Shape (Spanish models).
- Pre-WW2: Prior to WW2, many models have a distinctive "V" shape.
- WW2-1959: Known as "baseball bats" due to the large back size. The
1959 necks are considered the best of this era; large and comfortable
without being huge.
- 1960-1962: Thin neck back shape, even compared to today's
standards these necks don't have much wood behind the fingerboard and
feel very thin.
- 1963-1964: Larger neck shape, but still smaller than the 1950's
"baseball bat" style.
- 1965-1967: Most models have nut width dramatically reduced making
the neck feel very small. Back shape is about the same as the
1963-1964 era, but the narrow nut width makes these necks feel like
- 1968-present: Nut width increased and back shape changed to
- 1970: Volute added to back of neck behind the nut.
Left: wrap-around "uncompensated" smooth stud
bridge/tailpiece unit on a 1960 Les Paul TV Special (note the black
covered P-90 "soapbar" pickup). This style bridge/tailpiece was used from
1953 to 1961. In 1961, it changed to a "compensated" style unit with
"stairsteps" for each string.
Right: tunematic bridge ("no
wire") and stop tailpiece on a 1957 goldtop Les Paul (note the partial
shown white covered P-90 "soapbar" pickup at the bottom of the picture).
Tunematic bridges started showing up on many Gibson models in
Bridge/tailpiece, Solidbody and Electric Archtop models.
Two early "P.A.F." humbucking pickups (with
- 1952: "Les Paul" stamped trapeze tailpiece. Used on some models
(ES-225 and ES-295) until 1958.
- 1953: Wrap around stud bridge/tailpiece combination unit used on
only solidbody models. Used until the 1970's on some models including
the SG Junior.
- 1955: nickel plated Tunematic bridge ("no wire", stamped
underneath "ABR-1", metal saddles) and nickel plated stop tailpiece.
All mid to upper line solidbody models are converted to this set up.
Many electric archtop models also converted to the tunematic bridge.
Only the Les Paul Junior and Special (and later Melody Maker) continue
to use the previous wraparound stud tailpiece.
- 1961: Stud wraparound tailpiece unit (as used only on the
lower-end models like the SG Junior at this point) now have
compensated "stair steps" cast into the unit.
- 1962: Tunematic bridge "with wire" (still stamped "ABR-1" on
bottom). The wire goes over the six saddle screw heads to prevent the
saddles from popping out during string changes.
- 1964: Tunematic bridge uses white nylon saddles
- 1965: Tunematic bridge now chrome plated, no longer stamped
"ABR-1" on bottom (replaced by casted patent number). Stop tailpiece
now chrome plated too, and replaced on many models (like the ES-335)
with a trapeze tailpiece.
- 1966: Metal saddles replace the nylon saddles on the tunematic
mounting screws), and the bottom side of a
Left: Top to bottom: P-90 pickup, Alino pickup,
pickup, "double white" humbucking
pickup (with metal cover
Right: P-90 pickup (top) and a P.A.F.
pickup with a nickel plated cover (bottom).
- "Charlie Christian" pickup. Single coil black pickup with a blade,
V-ends, white binding around the blade and/or outside, large magnets
(not visible), 3 mounting screws thru the top of the guitar: 1935-1940
- Diagonal mounted single coil pickup. Two variations, one almost 6"
long extending diagonally from the bridge to almost the neck, the
other shorter and more conventional looking and mounted at less of an
angle. Both seen on ES-300 model: 1940-1942
- Finger rest pickup system: First cataloged as a "conversion"
pickup. Volume and tone controls and pickup integrated into the
pickguard. Available with 1 or 2 pickups. Also known as the "McCarty"
pickup system. Available for acoustic archtops such as the L-7, L-5
and Super 400: 1948-1971
- Fixed pole P-90 pickup. Non-adjustable pole P-90 pickup, single
coil, 6 magnet slugs down center, black "dog ear" pickup cover:
- P-90 pickup. Same as fixed pole P-90, except now has adjustable
slot-head poles: 1950-present
- "Soapbar" P-90 pickup, same as above, but pickup cover has no
- Alnico V pickup. Looks like a P-90 soapbar pickup, except has
"staple" poles with adjusting screws next to the poles. Used on upper
line models: 1954-1957.
Top: A late 1959 "P.A.F." humbucking pickup
showing its "Patent Applied For" decal
and its steel mounting
Bottom: A mid-1960's "Patent No." pickup
showing its patent number decal.
- Humbucking pickup. 2 internal coils below a 1.5" x 2.75" metal
cover. One row of 6 adjustable slot-head poles off-center:
1957-present. Cover was gold, nickel or (after 1965) chrome plated.
Prior to about mid-1962, have small decal on bottom stating "Patent
Applied For". These are known as "P.A.F." pickups. Starting in about
mid-1962 to early 1963, a "Patent No." decal replaces the P.A.F.
decal. Most 1957 humbucking pickups (first year) have no decal, and a
more squarish stainless steel cover. Also 1957 to early 1959 P.A.F.
pickups have brass screws holding the plastic bobbins to the metal
frame. The internal plastic coil bobbins are usually black plastic,
but sometimes they are white (this happened mostly in 1959 or early
1960). You can see the color of the wire bobbins by removing the small
underside mounting screw (instead of removing the pickup cover).
The pointed pickguard used on
most Gibson flattops from
to the 1970's. Note this 1955
Southern Jumbo's "double
parallelagram" fingerboard inlays
and the "belly up" style bridge
(opposed to Martin's bridges which
had a belly down towards the
Most Gibson pickguards prior to the mid-1970's
were made from celluloid. This material can deteriote with time (the
tortoise colored pickguards especially exhibit this trait).
Flattop pickguards: from the 1930's to 1955, Gibson flattop
pickguards were usually "teardrop" in shaped. But in early 1955, most
models changed to a "pointed" pickguard that followed the shape of the
guitar (except for the point). The J-200 was an exception to this rule;
it's pickguard stayed the same shape, but the material and the designed
changed. Prior to 1955, the J-200 has an engraved celluloid pickguard.
Starting in 1955, this changed to an injection molded styrene pickguard
that was cheaper to make.
Pickguard Bevels: on Gibsons that used a solid black pickguard, the
material was a layered black/white/black/white/black design. The edges
were cut beveled to make them look like they had binding. In 1966, the
bevel changed from being very wide and flat, to a narrow and steeper
Top row: on the left is the first Gibson
electric knob as used on ES model guitars from 1947 to early 1950 (no
numbers). Next to it is the ugliest pre-1970 Gibson knob, known as the
"amp" knob, used from late 1966 to the mid-1970's (but not on all
Middle row, left to right: Tall numbered gold knob,
used from 1950 to 1952, "speed" knob as used from 1953 to 1955, "bonnet"
knob as used from 1955 to 1960, "metal top bonnet" knob as used from 1960
to mid-1970's (on many, but not all models).
Bottom row, left to
right: switch tips used. The left switch tip was used on multiple
pickup models from after WW2 to about 1960. This knob is bakelite and very
amber in color. Next to it is the 1960 version where the switch tip
changed to a plastic material that stayed white, and had a visible
Bottom row black knobs, left to right: depending on the
color of the guitar, some models starting in the early 1950's used black
versions of the above gold knobs. These correspond to the same years as
the above gold versions.
vintage guitar info guy.
- Smooth rounded top, bumps around top edge, some with arrow across
top, 1 black and 1 brown: 1935-1939
- Smooth top, 8 sided, arrow across top, 1 black and 1 brown:
- Radio knob. 3 sets of ridges on sides: 1936-1942
- Barrel knob. 5/8" tall, straight sides, barrel shaped, clear with
no numbers: 1946-1949
- Barrel knob. 5/8" tall, straight sides, barrel shaped, back
painted gold, clear with numbers 1 to 10 visible thru knob: 1949-1952
- Speed knob. 1/2" tall, straight sides, barrel shaped, back painted
gold or black, clear with numbers 1 to 10 visible thru knob: 1953-1955
- Bonnet knob. looks like a hat box, flared base, back painted gold
or black, clear with numbers 1 to 10 visible thru knob: 1955-1960
- Bonnet knob with metal cap. Same as above but now has metal cap
with "Volume" or "Tone" printed on cap: 1961 - mid 1970's.
- Barrel knob. similar to bonnet knobs, but now shaped like a barrel
with no metal cap. Back painted gold or black, clear with numbers 1 to
10 visible thru knob: 1968 to present. Note this knob was used
primarily on 1968 Les Paul Custom models till the mid 1970's, when
most other models got these knobs.
- Amp knobs. Black knobs with white numbers 1 to 10. Looks like
"blackface" Fender amp knobs: late 1966 - mid 1970's. Some models
never got these knobs (such as the 1968 and later Les Pauls). Used
mostly on the hollowbody and semi-hollow models, such as the ES
- Switch Tips: on guitars with two pickups and a 3-way selector
switch, Gibson used an amber-colored bakelite switch tip during the
1950's. Starting in mid-1960, they switched to a much whiter and
slightly rounder tip plastic switch tip.
Prior to 1965, all metal hardware is either nickel or gold plated.
Starting in 1965, all hardware is either chrome or gold plated.
Left: "3 on a plate" style Kluson tuners, as used on the
lower-line Gibson models.
Right: Kluson Deluxe "tulip" tuners
on a 1957 Les Paul. Note this is the "single ring, single line" variety
used from 1955 to 1961. The "single ring" refers to the single ring
around the plastic button. The "single line" refers to the single line
of vertical text saying "Kluson Deluxe". Note the "inked on" serial
PegHead Markings other than Serial Numbers ("seconds")
Gibson often marked inferior quality guitars as "seconds", and
sold them at a discount to dealers or employees. These markings were
stamped into the wood on the back of the peghead. A "2" stamp is
sometimes seen, designating a "second", which had some cosmetic flaw.
If there is a serial number on the back of the peghead, the "2" is
usually seen centered above or below it. Also sometimes stamped was
"CULL", which is another designation of a second. Again, this stamp is
seen on the back of the peghead. The worse Gibson reject is the "BGN"
stamp, designating that instrument as a "bargin" guitar. These were
only sold to employees at substantial discounts. This stamp is also
seen on the back of the peghead. Sometimes the "BGN" is stamped
vertically with the "N" below the "G" which is below the "B". BGN
instruments weren't acceptable to Gibson as sellable to the public.
A war-time Southern Jumbo that was
All second instruments are usually worth less than the same guitar
that is not a second (given condition as the same). BGN instruments
are worth less than a second instrument because these tend to have
some fairly serious cosmetic flaw.
exported to Canada.
Note the faint
"MADE IN THE U.S.A." stamp.
Exported instruments to Canada or overseas prior to 1970 where
often marked "MADE IN THE U.S.A." in very small lettering and
all on one line. Note this is a different stamp than the one used from
1970 and later that said "MADE IN U.S.A." on two lines, with no
"the" and in same size type as the stamp-on serial number. This is
sometimes stamped on the back of the peghead (where a serial number
would be on 1961 and later Gibsons). Also it's sometimes seen on the
top edge of the peghead.
An ES-125tc from the 1960's,
as seen through the bass side
Model Body Markings (non-Artist models).
After WW2, lower-line Gibson vintage instruments did not have a
label to designate the model. Instead, Gibson just ink stamped the
model number inside (on hollow body instruments). If the instrument
had "f" holes, this number was ink stamped in the bass side "f" hole
on the inside back of the instrument. If the instrument was a flat top
guitar, this number was ink stamped inside the round soundhole on the
inside back of the guitar.
Guitars during the 1930's and early 1940's used a black case with
a red line around the top edge of the case. The inside is a deep
maroon color. Also used (mostly in the late 1930's) is a tweed case
with a 3 inch wide "racing stripe" on the tweed. The inside of these
cases are also usually a deep maroon.
Post-WW2 (1947-1960), Gibson offered 3 different cases. The "low
grade" case was an "alligator" softshell case, essentially made of
rigid cardboard with a sparse brown lining. This case also had a hard,
thin, brown plastic handle that cracked very easily. The "medium
grade" case was a wooden case with a smooth brown outside and a sparse
green lining. The "best grade" case was the "California Girl" case, as
it is known. This wooden case has a rich brown outside (like a tanned
California girl), and a very plush and rich pink inside. The handle on
the medium and high grade cases was leather covered metal. Note some
models (such as the Les Paul) did not have a medium grade case
available (you either got the 'gator case or the Cal Girl case). Most
1950's Gibson cases had a small (1.5" by 1") brass plaque on the
outside with "Gibson" and a star stamped in it. This was located on
the side of the case by the handle. Note during this period there
where three different manufacturers making cases for Gibson, all with
the same color specs, but slightly different shapes (Lifton, Geib,
Stone). Geib cases are seen mostly in the early 1950's, and Lifton
cases in the mid to late 1950's. Stone cases are seen throughout the
1950's, but not to the extent of the other two manufacturers.
During the 1960's, the Alligator case was still available for
low-end models (SG Juniors, Melody Makers, ES-125, etc.) until 1965.
The new low-end case was a black softshell with a plush deep red
lining. The medium grade case was dropped entirely and the new high
grade case was black on the outside, and yellow on the inside. The
black outside changed from smooth to rough during different periods of
the 1960's. Also the handle changed from a leather covered metal to a
hard molded plastic type about 1963. The small brass Gibson plaque was
still used till the later 1960's.
In the 1970's, the new high-end case was still a wooden case with a
black outside, but a deep red inside. Most 1970's cases had "Gibson"
silkscreened on the outside of the case in white. Also made during the
1970's is the "protector" case; a huge thing made completely out of
molded plastic. This case was very popular for Les Pauls.
A picture of a mid-1950's Les Paul brown case is here.
Late 1980's and 1990's reissue cases are copies of the 1950's
brown/pink Cal Girl case. These newer cases have a tag on the inside
pick pocket that says "Made in Canada". Also, these cases have a pink
interior satin cover that goes over the top of the guitar before
closing the case. And they also have a combination lock on the main
exterior latch and a leather handle. There were also some early 1980's
brown reissue cases (mostly for Les Pauls and Korina reissues) that
are starker versions of the Canadian reissue case. Most recently
Gibson has copied the original 1950's Cal Girl case more exactly on
their "historic" series reissues.
Back to the Table of
Serial Numbers and Factory Order Numbers (How to Find the
The easiest way to find the year of a particular Gibson instrument
is usually by referencing the instrument's serial number of factory
This following information applies to all Gibson instruments
including guitars, mandolins, lapsteels, basses and others. This
information was compiled from these sources: A.R. Duchossior, W. Carter,
G. Gruhn, E. Whitford, D. Vinopal, D. Erlewine.
From 1902 to 1976, Gibson instruments may have a serial number, a FON
(Factory Order Number or code letter), both, or neither. To make things
even more interesting, they sometimes wrote the serial number or factory
order number with a near-invisible pencil, sometimes ink-stamped it (in
disappearing ink it seems), and sometimes pressed it into the wood. And
the placement of these serial numbers and FON's (factory order numbers)
can be different, depending on the era. Gibson serial number consistency
was never given much thought, as Gibson changed serial number system
many times. Hence, some serial numbers may be duplicated in different
years. This is especially noticable during the 1960's.
Many people ask, "How can I tell the difference between a serial
number and a factory order number?". Sometimes this is difficult, but
you have to look at the format of the number, and the general era of the
instrument. Does it have a pre-WW2 script "Gibson" logo? If so, then
just look at the pre-WW2 serial number and factory order number info.
This would be the single biggest question to ask, as pre-WW2 and
post-WW2 instruments are numbered quite differently. Also, examine the
placement and style of the numbers and make sure it follows the schemes
Another question asked is, "The FON number says the instrument is
1958, yet the serial number says 1959; why are they different?". There
is a very logical reason for this. The FON number is stamped on the
instrument very early in the manufacturing process. Most times, the
serial number is applied as one of the last steps (especially on
pre-1961 hollow body instruments) when the instrument is nearly
finished. Depending on the demand for the instrument, it could take
Gibson up to 6 months to finish the instrument. Hence the FON number
could be one year, and the serial number the next year.
It wasn't till 1977 that Gibson came up with a good serial number
system that will last them indefinately. This new serial number system
allows determination of the exact date the instrument was stamped with
the serial number, and the factory of manufacturer.
Quick Overview: Serial Number/FON Identification by Era.
- 1902-1908: Often no serial number or model name on label, picture
of Orville Gibson and lyre mandolin, date sometimes penciled under the
top (must be seen with a mirror). Or serial number and model name on
white paper label, number range from 0100 to 99999, hand inked or
penciled 1908 to 1932, ink stamped serial number 1932 to 1947.
- 1908-1930: Factory Order Numbers stamped on neck block inside
- 1927-mid 1930s: Some low end models with no numbers. Some models
with an ink stamped 3 digit number on neck block.
- 1935-1941: Factory Order Numbers and Letter Codes, containing the
letters A to G, ink stamped on the inside back or on the neck block
(flattops), or on the label.
- 1938-1941: Factory Order Numbers beginning with the letter D to H
pressed into the back of the peghead.
- 1942-1947: Factory Order Numbers with 3 or 4 digits, followed by a
hyphen, followed by 1 or 2 more digits, ink stamped on neck block
(flattops) or on the inside back,
- 1947-1952: Factory Order Numbers of 3 or 4 digits, followed by a
hyphen, followed by by 1 or 2 more digits, ink stamped on the inside
- 1952-1961: Factory Order Numbers beginning with the letter Q to Z,
ink stamped on inside back, all hollowbody models.
- 1947-early 1955: "A" series serial numbers on a white label, on
- early 1955-1961: "A" series serial numbers on a orange label, on
- 1953-1961: Unique solidbody electric guitar "inked" serial
- 1961-1969: 4,5 or 6 digit peghead stamped serial number for all
models, no MADE IN USA stamped below.
- 1969-1975: 6 digit peghead stamped serial number, MADE IN USA
- 1975-1977: tagged (decal) serial number, MADE IN USA below.
- 1977-present: 8 digit stamped serial number, MADE IN USA stamped
- 1982-present: Reissue and custom shop serial numbers in various
Factory Order Numbers
Year Batch Number
1910 545, 927
1911 1260, 1295
1912 1408, 1593
1913 1811, 1902
1914 1936, 2152
1915 2209, 3207
1916 2667, 3508
1917 3246, 11010
1918 9839, 11159
1919 11146, 11212
1920 11329, 11367
1921 11375, 11527
1922 11565, 11729
Order Numbers with a Letter, 1935 to 1941.
Many instruments from 1935 to 1941 have a letter designating the
year within the Factory Order Number (FON).
- The FON consists of a batch number, usually 4 digits. Then
there is a letter (and sometimes a space), followed by a 1 or 2
digit sequence (ranking) number.
- 1935-1937: Letter is between the batch number and the sequence
number. Code is ink stamped on the inside back.
- 1938-1941: two or three letters before sequence number. Code
is either ink stamped onto the label or impressed into the back of
the peghead (for lap steels, impressed into the back of the body).
First letter, indicates the year. Second letter, if
there is one, indicates the brand of the instrument: G=Gibson,
K=Kalamazoo, W=Recording King (Montgomery Wards). Third
letter, if there is one, is "E" for Electric.
- Exceptions: Some high-end models and lapsteels from 1939 to
1940 have the letter A added to the prefixes D, E, or F. This
includes the letters DA, EA, FA, followed by 4 digits. Examples
include L-5's and Super 400's which have an EA prefix (suggestiong
1939), in addition to a separate paper label indicating 1940 or
1941. In this case the later serial number is the one to believe,
as the instrument was probably started and completed in different
Year 1st Letter
1938 D, DA
1939 Ex (where 'x' is any other letter)
1940 F, FA
1941 E (with NO other following letter)
Factory Order Number with NO Letters, 1936 to 1943.
Pre-WW2 hyphen Factory Order Numbers are used mostly on lap
steels. The format consists of a three or four digit number, a
hyphen, then a one or two digit batch number. Only the first number
(before the hyphen) determines the year.
1st Number range Year
200-xx to 399-xx 1937
400-xx to 599-xx 1936, 1937
500-xx to 599-xx 1936 to 1938
600-xx to 799-xx 1936, 1938
800-xx to 999-xx 1936
1000-xx to 1599-xx 1937
1600-xx to 2999-xx 1938 to 1940
3000-xx to 5999-xx 1941
6000-xx to 6999-xx 1942
7000-xx to 7999-xx 1943
ink stamped on the neck block of a banner
logo 1944 J-45. Note the
red pencil mark after the FON
is missing or has faded.
Factory Order Numbers, 1942 to 1951.
Serial numbers are seldon found on instruments made during WW2.
But most (not all) have Factory Order Numbers (FON). These contain a
four digit batch number stamped in ink, followed by a two digit
sequence number written in red pencil (during WW2 only). After the
war, the red pencil wasn't used (and on instruments made during the
war, sometimes it's really hard to see the red penciled sequence
number). Usually there is no more than 46 instruments (sequence
numbers) per batch. Also no batch number with a "1" as the first
digit was used during WW2. The FON is usually located on the neck
block. The war-time list that follows are examples only, as I
don't have a definative range of FON's during this period.
Year Factory Order Number
1947 700s to 1000s
1948 1100s to 3700s
1950 3000s to 5000s
1951 6000s to 9000s
order number on a
1959 EB-2 Bass, in the treble
side "f" hole.
The "S" prefix
Factory Order Numbers with a Letter, 1952 to
This letter preceeds the batch number within the
Factory Order Number (FON), and denotes the year of manufacturer.
Remember, the batch number is the first 4 digits of the FON,
followed by a 1 or 2 digit sequence number (within the batch). This
letter should be before the FON batch number. This was used on
archtop models (ink stamped inside treble F-hole) and on flat top
models (ink stamped on the neck block), from 1952 to 1961:
Serial Number Configuration and Placement:
White label as used from 1908 to 1932.
- 1902 to 1908: Rectangular label, no serial number or model name
on label, photo of Orville Gibson and lyre-mandolin on label, date
sometimes penciled under top.
- 1904 to 1909: Oval label with serial number, no model name,
photo of Orville Gibson and lyre-mandolin: 1904 to 1909.
- 1902 to April 1947: Number and model name on white paper label,
number range 1000 to 99999:
- 1908 to 1932: Hand ink or penciled (some overlap with previous
- 1932 to 1947: Ink stamped, not penciled.
- 1927 and later: Low end models with no serial number.
Hollowbody instruments 1947 to 1961:
- "Artist" serial numbers used on mid to upper line guitars. No
serial number used on lower line instruments (date by Factory
Order Number). Instruments with an "Artist" serial number should
also have a Factory Order Number by which a date can be
- Number preceded by an "A-" on white oval label: 4/28/47 to
1/12/55. The first number, A-100, was assigned to an L-7 on
4/28/47. The last white label number was A-18750, used 1/12/55.
Note white label numbers A-18751 to A-20000 were not used.
- Number preceded by an "A" on orange oval label: 1/13/55 to
2/21/61. The first orange label number, A20001, was used on a F-5
mandolin 01/13/55. The last orange label "A" number was A36147,
used 2/21/61. Note the "-" after the "A" was dropped for the
Solidbody instruments 1952 to 1960:
- No number: 1952 to early 1953
- ink stamped numbers in back top of peghead. First number
denotes last digit of year, followed by a space and 4 digits, or
no space and 5 digits. No space and 5 digits following the year
only occured in 1955, 1956, 1959 and 1960. In 1955 Gibson forgot
to reset their serial number back to #5 0001. Instead they
continued the 1954 series, just changing the first digit to a "5"
for 1955. For this reason the serial numbers exceeded "5 9999",
hence 5 digits and no space following the year had to be used.
Apparently production was high enough in 1956 to exceed "6 9999".
1959 & 1960 production was also very high, exceeding "9 9999"
and going to "932000" or higher.
All models, NO "made in U.S.A." stamped on peghead, 1961 to
- 4 or 5 digits impressed in back top of peghead: 1961 to 1964.
- 6 digits impressed in back top of peghead: 1963 to 1969.
All models, "made in U.S.A." stamped-on the peghead, 1970 to
Stamped on the back of the peghead. The "U.S.A." is
below the "Made in", which is below the stamped-on serial number.
All stamps in the same size type. Used from 1970 to present:
- 6 digits impressed in back top of peghead: 1970 to 1975.
- Letter followed by 3 digits, custom shop or limited edition
models only: 1971 to present.
- Number on decal: 1975 to 1977.
- 8 digits impressed in back top of peghead: 1977 to present.
This label is
from a 1929 L-4 model.
Non-Hyphen Serial Numbers, 1902 to 1947.
Series starts with 1000. Note the format of these serial numbers
has NO HYPHEN and NO LETTERS. For a number list with a hyphen and/or
a letter, see the previous section under Factory Order Numbers.
Year Last Number
1947 99999 (April 28, 1947)
"A" style serial numbers as used from 1947 to
Left: Oval white label as used from spring 1947 to January
Right: Orange label as used from January 1955 to 1964. The
1964 to 1969 orange labels are identical, except for the added text "union
Serial Numbers for Hollow bodies, 1947 to 1961.
"A" series, number on interior label, 1947 to 1961 hollow body
models. This "Artist" series serial numbers were only used on mid to
upper end instruments.
1947 A-100 (Apr 28)
A-411 (Jul 2)
A-1146 (Dec 1)
1948 A-1305 (Jan 8)
A-1849 (Jul 2)
A-2613 (Dec 8)
1949 A-2666 (Jan 5)
A-3353 (Jul 1)
A-4209 (Dec 1)
1950 A-4414 (Jan 3)
A-5456 (Jul 3)
A-6312 (Dec 4)
1951 A-6598 (Jan 4)
A-8030 (Jul 2)
A-9194 (Dec 3)
1952 A-9420 (Jan 2)
A-11057 (Jul 1)
A-12202 (Dec 1)
1953 A-12463 (Jan 8)
A-14332 (Jul 1)
A-15883 (Dec 2)
1954 A-16102 (Jan 5)
A-17435 (Jul 1)
A-18496 (Dec 1)
1955 A-18668 (Jan 6)
A-18750 (Jan 12, last white label.
Note A-18751 to A-19999 not used)
A 20001 (Jan 13, First orange label)
A 20991 (Jul 1)
A 21745 (Dec 1)
1956 A 21910 (Jan 6)
A 23387 (Jul 3)
A 24567 (Dec 1)
1957 A 24756 (Jan 3)
A 25899 (Jul 3)
A 26695 (Dec 3)
1958 A 26820 (Jan 6)
A 27816 (Jul 1)
A 28576 (Dec 1)
1959 A 28881 (Jan 9)
A 30569 (Jul 13)
A 31844 (Dec 2)
1960 A 32285 (Jan 4)
A 34068 (Jul 1)
A 35252 (Dec 1)
1961 A 35646 (Jan 3)
A 35943 (Feb 1)
A 36147 (Feb 21, Last "A" number)
Left: The "inked on" serial number on a 1955
Les Paul standard solidbody guitar. This style serial number was used
on all 1953 to 1960 solidbody Gibson guitars.
"inked on" serial number on this 1959 Les Paul Junior has no space
between the "9" digit (year) and the rest of the numbers. This
happened only in 1955, 1956, 1959 and 1960 when production required a
number above "9999", thus occupying the space.
Serial Numbers, 1952 to 1960, solid body models.
Ink stamped number on back top of peghead. The first year of
Gibson solidbodies was 1952, and Gibson didn't use any serial number
in 1952. Starting in 1953, the first number is the last number of
the year. If the ink stamped number consists of 5 digits, there will
be a space between the first and second numbers (separating the last
digit of the year from the actual serial number). If there is a 6
digit ink stamped number, there is no embedded space as the serial
number has exceeded 9999 and now occupies the place where the space
existed in numbers 9999 and lower. No space and 5 digits following
the year only occured in 1955, 1956, 1959 and 1960. In 1955 Gibson
forgot to reset their serial number back to #5 0001. Instead they
continued the 1954 series, just changing the first digit to a "5"
for 1955. For this reason the serial numbers exceeded "5 9999",
hence 5 digits and no space following the year had to be used.
Apparently production was high enough in 1956 to exceed "6 9999".
Production in 1959 and 1960 was also very high, exceeding "9 9999"
and going to "932000" or higher:
Year First Number
Stamped in serial numbers, used from 1961 to
1969. The 1964 number on the left is still a "pressed in" number, though
gibson has inked the impression to make it more readable (they started
doing this about 1963 or 1964, when serial numbers went to six digits).
The number in the middle is from 1964 (on an ES-335), and the number in
the right is from 1961 (on an Les Paul TV Special). Note the lack of "Made
in USA", thus denoting these are pre-1970 guitars.
0100 to 42440 1961
42441 to 61180 1962
61450 to 64222 1963
64240 to 71040 1964
71041 to 96600 1962, a few from 1963/1964
96601 to 99999 1963
000001 to 099999 1967 (all 6 digit numbers
starting with "0" are 1967)
100000 to 106099 1963 or 1967
106100 to 106899 1963
109000 to 109999 1963 or 1967
110000 to 111549 1963
111550 to 115799 1963 or 1967
115800 to 118299 1963
118300 to 120999 1963 or 1967
121000 to 139999 1963
140000 to 140100 1963 or 1967
140101 to 144304 1963
144305 to 144380 1964
144381 to 149864 1963
149865 to 149891 1964
149892 to 152989 1963
152990 to 174222 1964
174223 to 176643 1964 or 1965
176644 to 250335 1964
250336 to 305983 1965
306000 to 310999 1965 or 1967
311000 to 320149 1965
320150 to 320699 1967
320700 to 329179 1965
329180 to 330199 1965 or 1967
330200 to 332240 1965, 1967 or 1968
332241 to 348092 1965
348093 to 349100 1966
349121 to 368638 1965
368640 to 369890 1966
370000 to 370999 1967
380000 to 385309 1966
390000 to 390998 1967
400001 to 406666 1966
406667 to 409670 1966 to 1968
409671 to 410900 1966
410901 to 419999 unknown
420000 to 429193 1966
500000 to 500999 1965, 1966, 1968, or 1969
501009 to 501600 1965
501601 to 501702 1968
501703 to 502706 1965 or 1968
503010 to 503109 1968
503405 to 520955 1965 or 1968
520956 to 530056 1968
530061 to 530850 1966, 1968, or 1969
530851 to 530993 1968 or 1969
530994 to 539999 1969
540000 to 540795 1966 or 1969
540796 to 545009 1969
555000 to 556909 1966
558012 to 567400 1969
570087 to 570643 1966
570645 to 570755 1966 or 1967
570857 to 570964 1966
580000 to 580080 1969
580086 to 580999 1966, 1967 or 1969
600000 to 600998 low end models, 1966, 1967, or 1968
600000 to 606090 high end models, 1969
700000 to 700799 1966, 1967 or 1969
750000 to 750999 1968 or 1969
800000 to 800999 1966, 1967, 1968 or 1969
801000 to 812838 1966 or 1969
812900 to 819999 1969
820000 to 820087 1966 or 1969
820088 to 823830 1966
824000 to 824999 1969
828002 to 847488 1966 or 1969
847499 to 858999 1966 or 1969
859001 to 895038 1967
895039 to 896999 1968
897000 to 898999 1967 or 1969
899000 to 899999 1968
900000 to 901999 1970
910000 to 999999 1968
style stamped serial
number with a "MADE IN U.S.A."
Notice the volute.
Serial Numbers, early to mid 1970's.
All models, stamped in back top of headstock. "MADE IN
U.S.A." stamped below the serial number in back top of peghead,
in the same size type, and on two lines with "U.S.A." below the
6 digits + A 1970
600000's 1970-1972, 1974-1975
A + 6 digits 1973-1975
B + 6 digits 1974-1975
C + 6 digits 1974-1975
D + 6 digits 1974-1975
E + 6 digits 1974-1975
F + 6 digits 1974-1975
Left: 1977 Gibson decal serial number for an
that was never applied.
Right: 1977 Gibson decal
serial number applied on a
Les Paul Artisan.
Serial Numbers, 1975-1977.
All models, decal, 2 digit prefix followed by 6 digits. The
decal can also states the model name/number.
Numbers, 1977 to present.
All models, 8 digit number impressed in back top of peghead in
the following format:
YY (1st and 5th digit) = year
DDD (digits 2-4) = day of the year,
001=Jan 1st, 365=Dec 31st.
NNN (digits 6-8) = rank of instrument for that day.
Example: 80012005 = 5th instrument made in Kalamazoo
on the first day of 1982.
Kalamazoo made instruments (1977-1984) and Bozeman (1989-present)
are numbered beginning with 001 each day. Instruments made at
Nashville are numbered beginning with 500 each day.
Exceptions to the 1977 and later 8 digit serial
Vintage reissue and custom shop models use a
different serial number format.
1970s Les Paul Spotlight Special
Numbered YY nnnn
(with YY being the year, nnnn is the ranking).
1994 Electric Gibsons.
In 1994 only, the Nashville
Gibson factory numbered all instruments with a 94xxxxxx style
number. The final 6 digits ranked the instruments over the whole
1994 Centennial Electric Models.
Inked on serial
number in a YYYY-MM format. This funky formatting keys the YYYY
number to a ranking of the model according to the years of
centenial (1894 corresponds to #1, 1994 corresponds to #101, etc).
The MM was the month of the model within the series, ranging from
1 to 14 (but only 12 models were actually produced, plus 2
Les Paul Classic, 1990-present.
The LP Classic have a
1950s style inked serial number with the first digit decoding to
the last digit of the year.
Vintage Reissues and Custom Shop Models, 1982 to
These models have their own serial number system,
and are not covered in this document.
vintage guitar info guy.
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