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Gibson guitar serial numbers are, like a lot of serial number systems from guitar manufacturers, a complicated beast.
But with a little bit of research, you should be able to find out when your Gibson was built and, in some cases, where.
There are a number of distinct time periods for Gibson’s serial numbers, where the systems differed. There are also other ways of determining the age of your instrument, including FONs and things such as logo designs.
In addition to serial numbers, older Gibson guitars also had Factory Order Numbers (FONs) imprinted. In some cases, in fact, only FONs were used and there was no serial number (this was mainly for early low-end models).
FONs (and serial numbers) on Gibson guitars are usually found either on the inside of the back of the guitar (inside the sound hole) or on the back of the headstock.
FONs were used from 1902 to 1961.
But, there are some other ways you can get a glance of an Gibson acoustic guitar history, as well as the age of your Gibson:
Gibson’s logo has been largely unchanged since 1947. But, before that time, the logo changed a bit, so you can use that to help identify the era your guitar was built.
Made in USA
From 1970. onwards, a “Made in U.S.A” was engraved below the serial number. This can help determine if your guitar was from the 1960s or 1970s (some guitars during those 2 decades had the same serial number).
You can also use other features to help identify the time period of your instrument. Some of these include:
- Volutes: Extra bits of wood carved into the headstock where it meets the neck. These were starting to be added in 1969. so if your instrument didn’t have them, then it’s likely to be pre-1969.
- Things such as Gibson’s automatic tuning system, capstans and plates can also give you clues. Though, remember that an older instrument could have had these items replaced, so it’s not a definite clue.
OK. So, why discuss all these other aspects when this post is supposed to be about Gibson serial numbers?
Good question! And the answer is simple – serial number system, used up until 1977., wasn’t the easiest or most reliable system. So, you may not be able to accurately determine anything about your guitar using the serial number alone.
Let’s take a look at the different time periods of serial numbers from Gibson Guitars.
The following serial numbers apply just to Gibson acoustic guitars.
During this period, the system was actually relatively simple. Guitars were just given the next available number.
The chart below shows the year that relates to the serial number. The serial numbers shown represent the approximate last serial number for that year. The first serial number for acoustic guitars was 100.
|Year||Last Approx. Serial #|
1947 to 1961
Once the serial numbers hit 99999, Gibson decided to change to a new system, rather than go into 6 digits.
The new system used a letter to prefix the numbers. The first guitar in this new system was A 100 which was in April of 1947.
|Year||Last Approx. Serial #|
1961 to 1970
A new system, introduced in 1961., was made to cover all of the instruments in Gibson’s line (not just acoustic guitars). This was pretty poorly done though (IMO) and meant that some serial numbers were reused so a certain serial number could be from a guitar from different years.
|Year||Approx. Serial # Range|
1970 to 1975
It didn’t get any less confusing during this time, either. The biggest telling factors for guitars from this period, as opposed to the guitars from 1961 to 1969 is the “Made in U.S.A” that can be found on guitars from 1970 onwards.
6 Digit Serial numbers were still used so a lot of the same numbers were also used on 1960s models. To make matters even more confusing, there wasn’t really an order for these serial numbers, so you could have something from 1975. that started with a 1 and something from 1972. that started with a 9.
|6XXXXX||1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975|
|7XXXXX||1970, 1971, 1972|
|8XXXXX||1973, 1974, 1975|
|9XXXXX||1970, 1971, 1972|
Some serial numbers also used a letter (just because?)
|XXXXXX + A||1970|
|A + XXXXXX||1973, 1974, 1975|
|B + XXXXXX||1974, 1975|
|C + XXXXXX||1974, 1975|
|D + XXXXXX||1974, 1975|
|E + XXXXXX||1974, 1975|
|F + XXXXXX||1974, 1975|
1975 to 1977
The thing gets a little simpler. These serial numbers started with either 96, 00 or 06 with the 96 representing 1975., the 00 representing 1976. and 06 representing 1977. Not sure why these numbers were used, but at least it was uniform! Here’s Gibson serial number lookup from 1975.:
1977 to Present
Finally, in 1977 a much more logical serial number system was introduced.
This is an 8 digit system and follows the format YDDDYPPP.
- The YY represents the year the guitar was made
- The DDD is the day of the year that the guitar was made
- The PPP represents the factory the guitar was made in and the number of production
So, for example, let’s take the serial number 80351045.
- This guitar was built in 1981. 80351045 – remember in the format that the year is the 1st and 5th
- This guitar was built on the 35th day of the year, so this would have been February 4th – 80351045
- This guitar was built in the Kalamazoo factory and it was the 45th instrument stamped that day.
So this serial number represents the 45th guitar built on February 4, 1981. in the Kalamazoo factory.
The Kalamazoo factory operated until 1984. and guitars made in that factory from 1977 to 1984 had the last 3 digits (the production number) that were between 001 and 499.
Guitars built in the Nashville factory from 1977. to 1989. used the production numbers 500-999.
For example, the serial number 81457556 would be May 25th, 1987. and the 56th guitar built in the Nashville factory. The first guitar built that day would have the production number 500.
Guitars built in the Nashville Factory from 1990. onwards have production numbers 300-999, so the first guitar produced that day would have the production number 300.
The Montana factory uses production numbers 001-299 and this was from 1989., when that factory was opened.
There are guitars that will be exceptions within all of these time periods.
If your guitar doesn’t seem to fit within any of these systems, check out the resources below to see if you can decipher your serial number.
Thanks for Reading
I hope this helped you to decipher your (often complicated) Gibson serial number.
FAQs Gibson Guitar Serial Numbers
The easiest way to check a Gibson serial number is to do so against the already established data that Gibson has so kindly included on their website. Once you have found the serial number on the back of the headstock, then you can use this to find out the history of your particular guitar, where it was produced, and in what year. The serial number themselves are preceded by two digits which attempt to delineate the individual year that the guitar was produced. For example, a guitar produced in 1975 would be preceded by the number 99, a guitar produced in 1976 would be preceded by the number 00, and a guitar produced in 1977 would be preceded by the number 06. If you are lucky enough to own an older Gibson, your guitar might not even have a serial number. It might have been constructed before this was even a common practice!
If you have one of the main Gibson body shapes like an SG or a Les Paul, then they should not be too difficult to identify. The main difficulty comes when trying to identify one of the many, many ES-335 type guitars that Gibson has manufactured. That being said, though, there are so many permutations of the SG and the Les Paul (the latter especially), so many artist editions and custom shop copies, that it is hard to know for sure which specific version of a guitar you have. In these instances, it can be particularly useful to do some investigating into the serial number of a particular instrument. This is typically found on the back of the headstock, the preceding digits of which can be useful in finding out the specific year that the guitar was produced.
Gibson has gone through a series of different ways of categorizing and serializing their manufacture of guitars. Between 1975 and 1977, for example, the serial numbers would have been preceded by two digits which were indicative of the year in which they were produced. Thus, the number 99 preceded the serial number of a guitar manufactured in 1975, just as the number 00 did for a guitar made in 1976, and the number 06 for a guitar made in 1977. In 1977, however, things changed and Gibson launched their so-called most sustainable numbering system. This was an eight-digit number whose first and fifth digits represent the year in which the instrument was manufactured. All of this will have to be taken with a pinch of salt, for they have since changed their serial system several times, using a five-digit system from 1989 to 1999, and then a six-digit system since 2000.
Gibson has always been using serial numbers to catalog the production of their guitars via a serial system, though this has been done by them far from consistently. Thus, there are plenty of guitars constructed between 1902 and 1976 that do not have either a serial number or a Factory Order Number with which to search for their specific history. It was in the 1960s that Gibson started to take this aspect of manufacture at least a little more seriously, establishing a new serial number system in 1961 that embossed a serial number into all of the instruments that they manufactured.