Gibson Serial Numbers
General Gibson serial number information
Gibson serial numbers are usually on the back of the guitars headstock; either stamped, inked or as a decal. Instruments with f-holes often have the serial number repeated on a label inside the guitar body. A lack of a serial number usually implies an instrument has been refinished.
The current Gibson serial number system
There is no Gibson serial number decoder that can automatically date your pre-1977 Gibson, although after this time, the currently used eight digit system ha been used. Not only can it tell the date, but also the place of production. These details are encoded unambiguosly into the serial number as follows.
where YY is the year, DDD is the day of the year, and it was the XXXth instrument stamped that day. Numbers below 500 signify a Kalamazoo productio, above signifies Nashville.
So for example, 80921089 tells us that this bass was stamped on the 2nd April 1981 (day 092), at the Gibson Kalamazoo plant, and was the 089th instrument stamped that day
Vintage Gibson serial numbers
Gibson used various systems of numbering their instruments, and some records exist that can give a clue to a shipping date. 50s and early 1960s details are fairly straightforward, but later serial numbers (particularly around 65-75) can cause more confusion than clarity. BEFORE you read the Gibson serial number charts, please read the rest of this page!
The serial numbers Gibson used, particularly from 1969-1979 are often very difficult to interpret. The reason being that Gibsons 6 digit serial number system reached 999999 several times; each time they continued from 000001.
So Gibson re-used serial numbers. If you read through the charts for a hypothetical number, say 123456 - we see that it was shipped in 1963, 1970-72, and again in 74-75. Not an ideal situation, but many of the Guitars we see listed for sale as 1960s instruments, are actually newer. It is often not the sellers fault, as they will have looked through the numbers, found it was 1963, and would see no reason to look further in the document.
Dating Gibson guitars without serial numbers
Seeing as the Gibson serial numbers can be ambiguous, and that guitar serial numbers are sometimes removed, how can you be sure of a Gibson guitars vintage?. There are subtle changes in most Gibson guitars over the course of their production runs, and, you can usually date a guitar by physical features. Also, with a little knowledge of potentiometer codes, another approximate date can be read. Most instruments can be dated to within 1-2 years without a serial number.
See the list of serial numbers on the Gibson website