How to Date a Gibson Using Serial Numbers, FONs and Logos

As one of the oldest and most widely recognized brands in music, Gibson has crafted some of the most cherished and valuable instruments of all time.

Determining exactly when your Gibson specimen was made can have high stakes attached to it. A difference of only one year - sometimes even several months - can mean a four-figure difference in value.

Our hope is to make the dating process and, in turn, the valuation as easy, accurate and transparent as possible. You should be able to use this guide to determine the year of your instrument and then consult the Reverb Price Guide to find its value, all for free.

Methods For Dating a Gibson Instrument

For many vintage instruments, determining the date of manufacture involves little more than running the serial number through a reference guide.

Whereas Martin guitars have been using a single, consistent numbering system since the 19th century, Gibson has used several different serial number formats since its inception in 1902, meaning that some formats and numbers overlap across decades.

This makes it especially important to first identify the general era during which your instrument was made before pinning down the exact date of manufacture with a serial number.

If you know the backstory around when the instrument was purchased, this can provide some rough clues about its era. The most general physical piece of evidence on the instrument, however, is going to be the logo on the headstock.

Gibson Headstock Logos Through The Decades

Here's a look at the different logos Gibson used during each major era of manufacturing.

1902 to Late 1920s

1923 Style O Artist

The original logo featured the words "The Gibson" inlaid in pearl at a slant, with an almost hand-written cursive font. This is sometimes referred to as the slanted script logo.

Some earlier specimens from 1903 to 1907 did not slant the logo, or went without a logo entirely. Specimens built before 1902 had a star inlay or crescent in place of a logo.

Late 1920s to 1933

1932 L-2

The script logo continues without the slant. Some flattop guitars of this era started to omit the word "The" from the inlay.

1933 - 1947

By 1933 Gibson had dropped the "The" from all of their logos while retaining the script "Gibson." The original thin script was replaced with a thicker font on higher-end models in the mid-’30s, and across the entire lineup by the end of the decade.

From 1943 to 1947, the logo was a thick golden script, known as the banner logo. Some models (LG-2, J-45, SJ, select L-50s) included an actual banner reading "Only a Gibson Is Good Enough" in the middle of the headstock.

1934 L-5

1935 J-35

1943 J-45

1947 to Present

The block logo debuted after WWII and remains the face of the company. There were minute changes to which letters were connected in the font between 1961 to 1981, but the main logo had the same look.

1953 125

1958 Les Paul Custom

1968 to 1972

1969 SG Custom

Gibson stopped dotting the i in their logo on some of their instruments. Most models get a dotted i again in 1972, with the rest following suit from 1981 onward.

Other Date-Linked Features

Aside from the logos, each era of manufacturing included certain identifying traits such as the hardware (tuners, knobs, plates, etc.), the pickups, the type of finish, and the electronics inside that can give clues as to when an instrument was made. But not a final verdict.

Many older instruments may have reproduction or other non-original parts, including a non-original finish. This makes relying entirely on the physical features of a guitar potentially misleading.

The thickness of the headstock, however, is not as vulnerable to modification or replacement. Before mid-1950, most Gibson headstocks were thinner at the top when looked at from a side profile. After 1950, headstocks had uniform thickness.

Dating a Gibson by Factory Order Number (FON)

Gibson has historically used two different alpha-numerical formats to catalog its instruments: serial numbers and FONs (Factory Order Numbers). Instruments will generally have one or both of these numbers stamped or written either inside the body (generally the case on earlier models) or on the back of the headstock.

FONs were Gibson’s way of internally tracking batches of instruments throughout production. These will generally date an instrument earlier than the serial number, as they were typically applied in the early stages of assembly.

Some earlier lower-end models had no serial number at all, making the FON the sole numerical identifier in those cases. A FON usually consisted of a 3-, 4-, or 5-digit batch number followed by one or two other numbers in most cases.

1902 to 1945 FON Overview

Year FON Batch # Range
1902 - 1916 1 to 3650
1917 - 1923 11000 to 12000
1924 - 1925 11000A to 11250A (suffix included)
1925 - 1931 8000 to 9999
1931 - 1933 1 to 890
1934 1 to 1500
1935 1A to 1520A
1936 1B to 1100B
1937 1C to 1400C
1938 1D to 1000D
1939 1E to 980E
1940 - 1945 1 to 7900 (some with letter, some without)

From 1935 to 1942, the FON included a letter suffix. The consistency around this stopped during WWII and resumed in the early 1950s.

To complicate matters further, there was sometimes a second letter from 1938 to 1941 indicating the brand (G for Gibson, K for Kalamazoo, W for Recording King) and sometimes even a third letter indicating "Electric" (the letter E). The year is indicated by the first letter in any series of letters for these years.

1935 to 1942 FON Letter Suffixes

Year FON Letter Suffix
1935 A
1936 B
1937 C
1938 D, DA
1939 Ex (x being any other letter)
1940 F, FA
1941 E (with no other letters)
1941 G
1942 H

Throughout the war and even for some time after, each year had its own quirks around FON batch numbers and letters

1942 to 1951 FON Info

Year FON or Letter Code
1942 907, 910, 923, 2004, 2005, 7000s (all with banner logo)
1943 9xx to 22xx
1944 22xx to 29xx (some without FONs)
1945 1xx to 10xx (many without FONS)
1947 700s to 1000s
1948 1100s to 3700s (move from script to block logo)
1949 2000s
1950 3000s to 5000s
1951 6000s to 9000s

From 1952 to 1961, a consistent letter code resumed, with the letter appearing before the batch number.

1952 to 1961 FON Letter Prefixes

Year FON Letter Prefix
1952 Z
1953 Y
1954 X
1955 W
1956 V
Year FON Letter Prefix
1957 U
1958 T
1959 S
1960 R
1961 Q

Dating a Gibson by Serial Number

Acoustics and Electric Archtops 1902-1961

1902-1947

Gibson’s earliest serialization system was more or less sequential, where each new instrument was assigned the next highest available number. Below is a table of the the highest known number for each production year.

Year Last Numbers
1903 1150
1904 1850
1905 2550
1906 3350
1907 4250
1908 5450
1909 6950
1910 8750
1911 10850
1912 13350
1913 16100
1914 20150
1915 25150
1916 32000
1917 39500
1918 47900
1919 53800
1920 62200
1921 69300
1922 71400
1923 74900
1924 80300
1925 82700
Year Last Numbers
1926 83600
1927 85400
1928 87300
1929 89750
1930 90200
1931 90450
1932 90700
1933 91400
1934 92300
1935 92800
1936 94100
1937 95200
1938 95750
1939 96050
1940 96600
1941 97400
1942 97700
1943 97850
1944 98250
1945 98650
1946 99300
1947 999999

1947-1961

When the original serial system reached 999,999 in 1947, Gibson started over with an ‘A’ prefix

Year Last Numbers
1947 A 1305
1948 A 2665
1949 A 4410
1950 A 6596
1951 A 9420
1952 A 12460
1953 A 17435
Year Last Numbers
1954 A 18665
1955 A 21910
1956 A 24755
1957 A 26820
1958 A 28880
1959 A 32285
1960 A 34645

Solid Body Electrics 1952-1961

Early Gibson solidbody electrics received a serial stamp on the back of the headstock, with the first number indicating the year of production.

The serial number on this Les Paul Junior indicates it was made in 1956.

1961-1969

Starting in 1961, Gibson implemented a new serialization system designed to cover its entire lineup. However, while the intent was to maintain a more organized catalog, this system in practice achieved the exact opposite. Numbers from this era were flipped, reused, and in many cases can date an instrument to several non-sequential years. The general system was as follows, though with instruments from this era it’s important to consult key features to get a more accurate age approximation.

Fortunately, Gibson was making more changes to its instruments during the ‘60s and ‘70s than any other period, so dating these instruments by features alone is relatively clear-cut in most cases.

Year Approx Serial Range
1961 100-42440
1962 42441-61180
1963 61450-64220
1964 64240-70500
1962 71180-96600
1963 96601-99999
1967 000001-008010
1967 010000-042900
1967 044000-044100
1967 050000-054400
1967 055000-063999
1967 064000-066010
1967 0670000-070910
1967 090000-099999
1963, 1967 100000-106099
1963 106100-108900
1963, 1967 1090000-109999
1963 110000-111549
1963, 1967 111550-115799
1963 115800-118299
1963, 1967 118300-120999
1963 121000-139999
1963, 1967 140000-140100
1963 140101-144304
1964 144305-144380
1963 144381-145000
1963 147009-149864
1964 149865-149891
1963 149892-152989
1964 152990-174222
1964, 1965 174223-176643
1964 176644-199999
1964 200000-250335
1965 250336-291000
1965 301755-302100
1965 302754-305983
1965, 1967 306000-306100
1965, 1967 307000-307985
1965, 1967 309848-310999
1965 311000-320149
1967 320150-320699
Year Approx Serial Range
1965 320700-321100
1965 322000-326600
1965 328000-328500
1965 328700-329179
1965, 1967 329180-330199
1965, 1967-68 330200-332240
1965 332241-327090
1965 348000-348092
1966 348093-349100
1965 349121-368638
1966 368640-369890
1967 370000-370999
1966 380000-385309
1967 390000-390998
1965-68 400001-400999
1966 401000-407985
1966 408000-408690
1966 408800-409250
1966 420000-426090
1966 427000-429180
1966 430005-438530
1966 438800-438925
1965-66, 1968-69 500000-500999
1965 501010-501600
1968 501601-501702
1965, 1968 501703-502706
1968 503010-503110
1965, 1968 503405-520955
1968 520956-530056
1966, 1968-69 530061-530850
1968-69 530851-530993
1969 530994-539999
1966, 1969 540000-540795
1969 540796-545009
1966 550000-556910
1969 558012-567400
1966 570099-570755
1969 580000-580999
1966-69 600000-600999
1969 601000-601090
1969 605901-606090
Year Approximate Serial Range
1966-67 700000-700799
1968-69 750000-750999
1966-69 800000-800999
1966, 1969 801000-812838
1969 812900-814999
1969 817000-819999
1966, 1969 820000-820087
1966 820088-823830
1969 824000-824999
1966, 1969 828002-847488
1966 847499-858999
1967 859001-880089
Year Approximate Serial Range
1967 893401-895038
1968 895039-896999
1967 897000-898999
1968 899000-899999
1968 900000-902250
1968 903000-920899
1968 940000-941009
1968 942001-943000
1968 945000-945450
1968 947415-956000
1968 959000-960909
1968 970000-972864

1970-1975

Despite being purchased by the Norlin corporation in 1970, Gibson maintained the same confusing 6-digit serial system through 1975, meaning instruments with the same serial number could be from either the ‘60s or the ‘70s.

Fortunately, there were two notable changes to the entire lineup that occurred during the transition that make differentiating ‘60s and ‘70s Gibsons straightforward.

The Volute: c.1969-c.1981

1970 SG Standard

In 1969 Gibson began carving volutes-- small bumps of additional wood where the neck transitions to the headstock-- to cut down on warranty repair work.

‘Made in USA’ Stamp: 1970-current

1973 Les Paul Custom

Starting in 1970, ‘Made in USA’ was stamped on the headstock below the serial number.

The serial numbers from this period are generally as follows:

Number Year
000000S 1973
100000S 1970-1975
200000S 1973-1975
300000S 1974-1975
400000S 1974-1975
500000S 1974-1975
600000S 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975
700000S 1970, 1971, 1972
800000S 1973, 1974, 1975
900000S 1970, 1971, 1972

1975-1977

Number Year
99XXXXXX 1975
00XXXXXX 1976
06XXXXXX 1977

1977-Current

Starting in 1977, Gibson adopted the current date-based serial system which codes for the year and day of production. The first number of the sequence indicates the decade of production, followed by the three digit day of the year, and finally the year. For example, the serial number 90237XXX corresponds to a production date of 1/23/97. The last three (or four as of 2005) digits signify the location of production and batch number, respectively, but this information isn’t necessary to accurately dating your instrument.

DIY Dating vs. Outside Appraisals

Working with a potentially very valuable old Gibson can be intimidating, particularly for someone who doesn’t have experience with vintage instruments.

If at any point you feel confused or just want a second set of eyes on your instrument, you can always chat live with a Reverb employee during normal business hours.


comments powered by Disqus