How To Date A Gretsch Guitar

Alongside Fender, Gibson, Martin and Rickenbacker, Gretsch was one of the original American guitar manufacturers. As such, there are a lot of vintage specimens hidden under beds, lurking in closets or parading in plain sight on shop walls (and Reverb listings). Half the battle of finding a great deal or pre-empting conflict is accurately dating the guitar in question. The guide below is intended to help you identify the production year of any Gretsch guitar, given the serial number and its location on the guitar. This information has been compiled from multiple sources (cited at bottom). Their collective investigative legwork deserves the respect and gratitude of us all.

Like the other Giants of Original American Guitars (save Martin), Gretsch had its share of corporate hand-offs and resulting serial number inconsistencies over the years. While the situation isn't quite as bad as say, Gibson or Guild, this guide should be viewed as the best available consensus, not gospel. In some cases a serial number may leave you with a fuzzy span of several years, and in others you will know which number your guitar was within a batch during a specific month and year. And there's always the possibility of discovering a specimen that completely upends common knowledge about what was produced when. Just make sure it's not modified or a partscaster before screaming from the Gretsch-pert mountaintops.

The best approach is to cross-reference the serial number with known features for the model during different eras and the personal account of previous owners. Getting the correct year is one thing, but getting the story behind a guitar is the fun part. The guide for that is much simpler: be nice, ask questions, offer whiskey.

Overview of Gretsch Production Eras

If you have absolutely no idea whether your Gretsch is old or new, a good place to start is the model number. This will give you an approximate idea of the era during which your guitar was manufactured. It's also one more piece of evidence to pair with the serial number to corroborate the actual year.

1933 - 1948: Model numbers reflect retail price. The original Synchromatic models.
1948 - 1971: 6000 Series (example, the original 6120 Chet Atkins Hollowbody)
1971 - 1980: 7000 Series (though the 8000 Series started in 1979)
1979 - 1983: 8000 Series
1990 - present: G before the number. (i.e. G6120)

Does this also tell me where my Gretsch was manufactured, you ask? It depends. The bulk of vintage Gretsch specimens were manufactured in the original factory in New York, with a decade of Arkansas production during the '70s. From there, things get a bit more complicated. See the reference below.

Early 1900s - 1970: New York City
1970 - 1979: Booneville, Arkansas
1979 - 1981: Various locations including Mexico. Low production.
1989 - present: Japan (Terada factory)
1995 - present: US (Custom & Masterbuilt Series)
2000 - present: China and Korea (Electromatic & Synchromatic Series)

You will also hear people throw around terms with Gretsch guitar like pre-Baldwin or Fender-era. This refers to the corporate ownership changes the company experienced over time. Gretsch is unique in that it started as a family company, was bought out and later taken back by the family, only to be bought a second time. See the reference below.

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Pre-Baldwin Era: 1883 - 1967. Gretsch is family owned, growing to major distribution. This was the original Golden Age for Gretsch, particularly the late '50 and early '60s, when they enjoyed the endorsement of Chet Atkins and George Harrison.

Baldwin Era: 1967 - 1981. Gretsch is bought by Baldwin as a second choice after failing to buy Fender. Production moved to Baldwin/Burns factory in Arkansas. Quality and worker morale drop in the wake of new management and two factory fires. Chet Atkins withdraws his endorsement.

Revival Era: 1989 - 2002. Fred W. Gretsch (great grandson of the founder) buys back the company. Production begins in Japan's Terada plant, mostly re-creating classic models.

Fender Era: 2002 - present. Fender buys Gretsch with complete control. Model ranges expand and quality improves even further, with standard models produced in Japan and budget models produced in China, Korea or Indonesia.

In the eyes of collectors, late '50s and early '60s models are most desirable, particularly specimens with the same features as those played by Harrison or Atkins. Specimens from 1967 - 1981 are mostly considered player-grade, non-collectible guitars, though some models like the Atkins Axe and Super Axe have a strong following. In terms of raw playability, the made-in-Japan models of the last decade are regarded as high-quality instruments that avoid some of the flaws of the mid-20th century designs on which they're based.

Serial Numbers

To find the serial number on your Gretsch, start by looking at the headstock. On most modern (post-1989) Gretsch guitars, you'll find it on the back of the headstock. Some models from 1962 - late '60s also had serial numbers on the top of the headstock or on the model plate, but for most vintage specimens you'll be looking for a label, either visible through the F-hole on hollow bodies or in a control cavity for solid bodies (in which case you'll need some tools). Before 1949 there were no labels and serials were written in pencil inside the guitar.

Gretsch serial numbers were sequential (a la Martin) from 1939 - 1966. When Baldwin took over, serials became date-coded from 1967 - 1981.

Click on the links here to jump directly to the serial number style that matches your instrument:

Pre-War: 1939 - 1945

In the early years, Gretsch began with sequential serial numbers, written by hand usually in pencil directly on the inside of the guitar body. As such, many of these serials will be faded, nearly illegible or erased completely. At the very least, if you only see three hard-to-read numbers, you can be fairly confident that it's a pre-war instrument.

001 to 999 1939 - 1945

Four Digit Sequential: 1945 - 1954

This era saw the transition from hand-written penciled serial numbers to official labels in 1949, though the numbering system remained the same.

Keep in mind that the ranges below are best consensus approximations. A healthy +/- one year disclaimer is as good as it's going to get, based on the historical examples available. In general, a higher number means the guitar was produced later in the year or transitioned into the range for the overlapping year. Notice the uptick in production in 1954.

1000 to 20xx 1945 - 1947
20xx to 30xx 1948 - 1949
30xx to 40xx 1950
40xx to 50xx 1951
50xx to 70xx 1952
70xx to 90xx 1953
90xx to 130xx 1954

Five Digit Sequential: 1954 - 1965

This era continued the same sequential numbering scheme. The only difference is that the number of guitars produced (and thus serial numbers) got higher. A funny thing happened, however, in 1957. A batch of nearly a thousand serial number labels were misplaced, only to be rediscovered - and used - in 1965. A confusing but known anomaly. Thankfully, guitars made in 1965 had different features. See the end of our article if you're unsure whether your guitar is a '57 or a '65.

130xx to 180xx 1955
180xx to 210xx 1956
210xx to 260xx 1957 (Or 1965. Check features.)
260xx to 300xx 1958
300xx to 340xx 1959
340xx to 390xx 1960
390xx to 450xx 1961
451xx to 530xx 1962
530xx to 630xx 1963
630xx to 770xx 1964
770xx to 840xx 1965

Baldwin Era, No Hyphen: 1966 - 1972

With the imminent Baldwin buyout and yearly production topping 150,000 guitars, Gretsch switched to a date-coded system in August of '66. Some specimens oddly have these serials stamped into the thin top of the headstock, while others have it on the back. Starting in June of '67, the words "Made in the USA" were stamped next to the serial number. Here is the date-code breakdown:

The first digit(s) represent the month of manufacture (1 - 12 for Jan - Dec).
The next digit is the last digit of the year (6, 7, 8, 9, 0, 1, 2 for 1966 - 1972).
The last three digits most likely represent production number (188 for the 188th guitar made that month).

Example: A serial number showing 118145 would indicate a guitar made in November (11) of 1968 (8) that was the 145th down the assembly line that month.

Baldwin Era, Hyphenated: 1972 - 1981

These guitars are a bit easier to identify, since they are the only Gretsch specimens with a hyphen (or a space) after the first one or two digits. The meaning of the numbers remained the same.

The digits before the hyphen represent the month (1 - 12).
The first digit after the hyphen (or space) represents the last digit of the year (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, 1).
The final three numbers represent the production number for that month.

Example: A serial number of 4-3001 would indicate the 1st guitar made in April of 1973.

Modern Pre-Fender: 1989 - 2002

When Gretsch the great-grandson regained control of the company, there was a solid decade of Japan production with a xxxxxx-xxx type serial number. These serial numbers include year, month, model number and production order info.

The first two digits are the year (i.e. 97 = 1997).
The next digit(s) is the month (1 - 12).
The next three digits are the model number, all within the resurrected G6000 Series (i.e. 120 = G6120).
The numbers after the hyphen represent the production number during the run of the model, not for that month or year.

Example: A serial number of 998120-345 tells us this guitar was made in 1999 during the month of August (8) and is a G6120 model (120), the 345th to be produced during the Revival Era.

Starting in 1999, Gretsch began producing budget-level Electromatic, Synchromatic and Historic Series guitars in Korea. Unfortunately, these guitars followed no clear numbering system. Worse yet, the serial numbers were put on a simple sticker on the back of the headstock, ensuring that they would be lost immediately. Fender eventually corrected this when they took over in 2002, but there remains a batch of made-in-Korea Gretsch guitars from 1999 - 2002 that have no serial number.

Fender Era: 2002 - Present

Brand new Gretsch guitars seen hanging in shops today are the result of Fender's respect for the company's loyal fan base, an understanding of the Gretsch aesthetic and tight quality control. Thankfully, regardless of the series or point of manufacture, Fender decided to use a single serial number system for all post-2002 guitars.

Contemporary Gretsch serial numbers have a two letter prefix indicating the location of manufacture, followed by a two-digit year, a two-digit month and a four-digit production number relating to that specific factory for the given year.

Example: A serial number of JT04021010 tells us the guitar was made at the Japan Terada factory (JT) in 2004 (04) during the month of February (02) as the 1,010th Gretsch guitar made at the factory that year.

The key below shows which prefixes correspond to which factories.

CS United States - Custom Shop
CY China - Yako
KP Korea - Peerless
KS Korea - Samick
JD Japan - Dyna Gakki
JF Japan - FujiGen Gakki
JT Japan - Terada
IS Indonesia - Samick

Caveats, Exceptions, Gratitude

The serial number should serve as one piece of evidence in dating a guitar, even though it is usually the most powerful piece. Examine the checking on the finish, the age of the wiring, the tuners, the bridge and the knobs to corroborate the age of the guitar you're looking at. If you're about to put down a hefty sum on a vintage Gretsch, we strongly encourage you to consult multiple sources such as Gruhn's Guide To Vintage Guitars and The Gretsch Pages to understand what features and hardware were original for a given year. This will help avoid buying a guitar with non-original parts.

We can hardly express enough how grateful we are for the hard work that the good folks at The Gretsch Pages website, Mike Lewis at Fender, Jay Scott and George Gruhn have put in to help refine the available public information on Gretsch serial numbers.

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