serial number systems

Deciphering Gibson Guitar Dates: A Detailed Guide

In this dynamic world of music, Gibson guitars remain true stalwarts, embodying rich history and tradition. These venerable instruments have considerably impacted over the years for their sound and distinct and often fascinating design and craftsmanship. The skill to accurately date a Gibson guitar involves understanding the intricate serial number systems, a keen eye to verify the model and ascertain physical features, and an appetite to learn from Gibson experts. This journey will not only open the doors to a captivating world of knowledge about these prolific musical instruments. Still, it will hone your discerning collector or musician skills.

Understanding Serial Number Systems

Dating a Gibson Guitar: 1902 to 1947

Gibson used a Factory Order Number (FON) system during this period. These are not serial numbers but can be used to date the instrument within a few years. The FON generally consists of a 3 or 4-digit batch number and a 1 or 2-digit order number. From 1935 to 1942, these were usually 4-digit numbers followed by a 1 or 2-digit order number.

Gibson Guitar Dating: 1947 to 1961

From 1947 to 1955, a new serial system was adopted, including the year and a 4-digit number. The year was changed on a year-to-year basis to the first digit. From 1955 to 1961, the numbers were used in the format – Y NNNN, where Y signifies the year and N signifies the production number.

1961 to 1970 Gibson Guitar Dating Method

In this period, Gibson started using a new serial number system that covered all instrument models. The first digit indicates the year of production. The remaining digits indicated the sequential number of acoustics built to date. Also, in 1965, Gibson started using a ‘Made in USA’ stamp at the back of the headstock.

Gibson Guitar Dating: 1970 to 1975

Between 1970 and 1975, Gibson used the same serialization system – YDDDYPPP. Here, ‘Y’ represented the production year, ‘DDD’ was the day of the year, and ‘PPP’ was the place of production.

Dating a Gibson Guitar from 1977 Onwards

From 1977 to now, Gibson implemented a serialization method that identifies the exact day the guitar was manufactured and the production location. The serial number format is YDDDYRRR, where ‘Y’ is the production year, ‘DDD’ symbolizes the day of the year, and ‘RRR’ indicates the Gibson ranking.

In all cases, understanding the specific serial numbering system is crucial to date your Gibson guitar accurately. This helps ascertain the production period in Gibson reference books or online databases.

How to Check Gibson Guitar Serial Numbers
Deciphering Gibson Guitar Dates: A Detailed Guide 6

Photo by nicklaz21 on Unsplash

How to Check Gibson Guitars Serial Numbers

Verifying the Model

Know Your Gibson Models

Understanding different Gibson guitar models is crucial to accurately dating these instruments. Over the years, Gibson has produced many guitar models, from the classic Les Paul to the newer SG models. Each model has distinct features and variations that can provide valuable clues about its age. For instance, in the 1950s, Gibson Les Paul Standards typically had gold tops, while in the 1960s, they transitioned to sunburst finishes.

Gibson Guitar Timelines

Time frames are another invaluable tool for dating a Gibson guitar. Each model has its production timeline, during which certain features were introduced or removed. For example, Gibson’s Les Paul Junior model was first introduced in 1954 and underwent several changes in its design across its production years. In the early years, this model had a single-cutaway body, but by 1958, it was redesigned with a double-cutaway body.

Further, some Gibson models were discontinued and reintroduced in later years, like the ES-335, which was introduced in 1958, finished in 1981, and reintroduced in 1982.

Specific Features of Gibson Guitars

Different Gibson guitars have specific features that tie them to certain eras. This can be anything from the type of pickups used, the headstock’s design, the body’s shape and size, or the type of finish.

Take Gibson’s SG guitar, for instance. Early models from the 1960s had small pickguards, while a larger “batwing” pickguard became standard in 1966.

Serial Numbers and Factory Order Numbers

Serial and Factory Order Numbers (FON) are vital in dating Gibson guitars. These numbers can typically be found on the headstock, the body’s inside, or the neck’s back. Gibson’s system of serial numbers has changed several times over the years, which can complicate the dating process. But once you know what to look for, these numbers can provide valuable information about the production year of your guitar.

The Dating Process

Remember that matching a Gibson guitar with its age can be quite a process. It involves the analysis of multiple factors, such as the model, the specific features, the timeline, and the serial number. With a bit of patience and careful research, you can unlock the history of your instrument and gain a deeper appreciation for its craftsmanship.

gibson les paul studio plus MBP

Inspecting Physical Features

The Gibson Logo Style Through Ages

The Gibson label has altered throughout the company’s history, making it a key component in determining the age of a guitar. Until the late 1920s, Gibson used a script, “The Gibson” logo, on their headstocks for branding. They then transitioned to a block-style “Gibson” logo with a capital “G” and “B.” This style was employed up until the mid-1950s. After 1969, a slimmer script was introduced; the “dot” on the “i” was removed and connected with ‘G,’ known as the “open b” and “open o”. If the logo on your Gibson guitar is a “pantograph” or etched style, where it looks as if it’s been carved into the wood, that could indicate it was made in the late 1980s or after.

Identifying Hardware Attributes

The hardware on the guitar can also provide clues to its age. Kluson Deluxe tuners with the two-line style were standard on many 1950s models and continued into the early 1960s. Gibson then switched to the “single ring, single line” Kluson tuners in the mid-1960s. Nickel hardware was predominant until 1965, after which chrome became more common. Gold hardware, however, has been used intermittently throughout Gibson’s history. Also, pay attention to the locations of the volume and tone knobs, the style and shape of the pickguard, and the type of bridges and tailpieces.

Inspecting the Finish and Wood

Gibson’s choice of wood and finishes over time may further inform you about the guitar’s age. Sunburst was the only finish option until 1954, when the Les Paul Custom was introduced with a black finish. The natural finish and Cherry Red became available in the late 1950s. Entirely solid bodies were prevalent in the 1950s and early 1960s before layering methods were introduced. If you notice heavy lacquer checking on the guitar, this could suggest the guitar is from the 1960s or before since Gibson lessened using rich lacquer finishes afterward.

Checking Serial Numbers and Factory Order Numbers

Lastly, consider Gibson’s serial numbers and factory order numbers. Gibson started serializing their guitars in the 1940s, and each decade has its unique system. In the early years, Factory Order Numbers were placed on the neck block, visible through the sound hole on acoustic models. Gibson moved the serial number to the back of the headstock in 1977. However, Gibson has been known to use up old components before switching to new ones, so overlaps and exceptions may occur. Always cross-check the serial number and other features for the most accurate dating.


Remember, accurately dating a Gibson guitar requires a combination of these techniques. Differences in logotype, hardware, finishes, and type of wood used are often subtle and require careful inspection. A guitar’s age is determined more accurately when its distinct features align with each other and Gibson’s history.

gibson hummingbird history

Consulting Gibson Experts and Resources

Identifying the Serial Number

The first step to date your Gibson guitar is to locate the serial number. This is usually found on the back of the headstock. Gibson guitars made before 1977 will have the serial number engraved in the wood. From 1977 to today, the serial number is stamped. It’s important to note that vintage Gibson guitars may have inconsistent or missing numbers. Some even have factory order numbers (FONs) or numbers inside the body. So, if you cannot find a consistent serial number, consider checking for these alternatives.

Interpreting the Serial Number

Now that you’ve found the serial number, it’s time to decode it. Gibson has changed their numbering systems various times over the years, so the way you interpret the serial number can vary depending on the year of manufacture. For example, guitars made between 1954 and 1961 will likely have a six-digit serial number, with the first digit denoting the year of manufacture. However, between 1961 and 1970, some guitars might switch to a 9-digit serial number where the first, fifth, and sixth digits signify the year. You can consult the Gibson website or numerous other online resources to understand different serial number systems over the years.

Cross-Verify your Findings

While the serial number provides a good starting point, it is not 100% foolproof due to irregular practices. To cross-verify your findings, check for physical characteristics specific to certain periods, such as the style of the logo, the type of tuning keys, the hardware on the guitar, the shape of the headstock, and changes in the body. Meticulously compare these characteristics with resources like books, online databases, or images of confirmed guitars from the same period.

Seek Help from Gibson Experts

It might be best to consult Gibson experts or historians when identifying vintage Gibson guitars or any other complicated cases. They are often members of collector’s forums, or they may be professionals who deal specifically with identifying and appraising vintage instruments. They have specialized knowledge and acute attention to detail that helps them decipher the inconsistencies of Gibson’s serial number system and manufacturing history. You will gain further insights into your Gibson guitar’s age and history by seeking their advice.

Image of a Gibson guitar with a serial number on the headstock

Photo by nicklaz21 on Unsplash

Mastering the art of dating a Gibson guitar can be a fascinating and enriching journey. It involves developing a deep understanding of its serial number systems over varying periods, learning to match models with their timelines accurately, and finessing the ability to spot the telling physical features. And while one navigates through these aspects, using the knowledge of Gibson experts and available resources can be invaluable. This layered exploration will undoubtedly enhance your appreciation for these fine instruments, not merely as musical tools but as testaments to craftsmanship, innovation, and historical richness woven into each Gibson guitar.