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Guide to guitar dating 9/12/2012

Guitar valuation | Web resources and tips for the hobby web publisher

Most people like to know when their guitar was made.  If you are interested in owning a pre CBS Fender Stratocaster then knowing whether the guitar was built before or after 4 January 1965 is a very important issue.  Similarly for those  seeking a pre CNC machine Paul Reed Smith you want to find one made before 1995

Finding the definitive date or year of manufacture is not always going to be possible but this guide will give you a few tips to help you narrow it down.

This article examines the following scenarios:

1 - The date is on/in the guitar

2 - The date is hidden inside a serial number on the guitar itself or on a component such as a potentiometer

3 - The date has to be inferred from other sources

 

Scenario 1 - The date is on/in the guitar

Seems a bit obvious, and in many cases it is. In the most straightforward of cases the luthier will write his/her name, the date of manufacture and even who the guitar was made for on a label smack in the middle of the sound hole like this:

Guitar handmade for Doug Heard by Mac McCormick

Other locations to find a date mark include:

Back of the headstock:

The neck block (you may need a mirror):

Nolan String Works Dec 2000 made guitar David B Bell

Under the soundboard - you will need a mirror (dentist mirrors are ideal)

Manufacturers that do this include:

Mike Doolin (photo)

Worland

Thomas J Wray

Jens Towet

J Triggs

Jack Spira

Runesson

Melo

Long

Mike Doolin guitar date of manufacture

In the pickup cavity like this Bergeron:

Bergeron guitar

The picks ups themselves may have dates on them like on this 1978 Gibson Les Paul Gibson pickup date of manufacture

The control cavity

Under the control cavity plate such as on this Wilkat guitar.:

Wilkat Guitars Control Plate model information

Now we start getting into more serious surgery.  On a number of brands such as Fender and Standel a date is written either on the base of the neck or on the guitar body where the neck joins. Removing the neck should not be undertaken lightly and if the neck is not a bolt on - then please don't try this at home.

 

The neck pocket like this Michael Kinal guitar body.

Michael Kinal guitar made in 2003

The neck heel such as on this Telecaster, Kubicki Factor &  Performance

3 Aug 67 B Telecaster neck date

Other manufacturers which write the date of manufacture on the neck heel include  Wal Basses and Standel

Philip Kubicki California Guitar Technology

Scenario 2 - the date is hidden inside a serial number

Assuming you cannot find a date on the guitar, the next step if to find a serial number.  This is usually easy.  It must be noted that not all serial numbers have meaning but in many cases the serial number includes date of manufacture and other information. Here are the common locations:

Back of headstock:

Gibson serial # 800195 . This guitar was made at the Kalamazoo Plant, USA approximately in: 1966 to 1969.

Gibson guitar serial number 1969

Paul Red Smith Serial # 377237 was made in 2003.

Note the 10 indicates the quality of the guitar top - it is not part of the serial number.

Paul Reed Smith 10 top Serial Number 2003

Side or top of head headstock:

The middle serial number is from a 1962 Gretsch

Top brace underneath the sound hole:

Unfortunately the serial number on this Lyle Guitar does not help with dating.  But we know Lyle guitars were imported from Japan by L. D. Heater Co. of Portland Oregon in the 1960s and 70s.

Neck heel:

Serial number 01040748 on my Takamine means it was made on Saturday, April 07th, 2001. It was the 48th guitar made that day.

Takamine Guitar Serial number 2001

Jack plate - 1967 Rickenbacker 4005 bass

Neck plate (My Ovation Breadwinner)

Serial number E 1411.  This Ovation number translates to a guitar made between 1973 (Jan)-1975 (Feb).

Ovation Breadwinner neck plate

Once you have found the serial number it is simply a matter of referring to a resource to decode the number/letters.  Not all serial numbers have published information about decoding them and unfortunately some manufacturers have not kept records or aren't around any more to ask.

 

jedistar will try to point you in the right direction for serial number decoding for many makes.  In some cases you may have to refer to the manufacturer.

Reference books

The guitar serial number book: For Martin, Guild, Fender, Gibson, Ovation

Guitar Identification - A Reference Guide to Serial Numbers for Dating Guitars Made By Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Martin

       

Scenario 3 - Determining date of manufacture from other sources

If you cannot find helpful information on the instrument itself do not despair. There are other ways:

 

Manufacturing date range

Some instruments are easy to date simply because historical records indicate that the manufacturer or brand was only made for a limited period.  For example if you have a Bond branded guitar it was made either in 1984 or 1985 as that was the life of that brand.  If you find a Travis Bean - it was made between 1974 and 1979. Murph guitars were made 1965-1967. Murphy Shaw 1973-1977 , Ritz guitars were made for 2 years (1988-1989), La Baye guitars and basses 1967 only - Simple.

Jedistar attempts to publish manufacturing start and finish dates.  These dates also appear in a number of other resource books which I list below.  Please note I have found a number of errors in published works that conflict with information I have received direct from luthiers.  On my web site I quote direct and assume that the luthier's version is the correct one. 

Of course this source of dating information is not reliable for brands that have been around for a long time such as Martin, Fender and so on...

For American made guitars pre World War II Mugwumps provides an extraordinary resource:

Model date range

Some manufacturers offer specific models for a limited period only.  Sometimes knowing the model number/name will narrow down the year range for your guitar.  Referencing guitar catalogs can be very useful useful in this context.  Jedistar contains links to free on-line catalog scans.  Paid scans are also available at Vintaxe.

If you have any old catalogs of guitars, amps, effects, drums - please scan them (pdf is best) and email to jedistar.  I will publish them so they will be available free to all.

 

Other documents and circumstantial information

Some guitars may have receipts in the case. While there can be no guarantee that the documents that come with a guitar are actually related to that item they "may" me useful.  This example of a receipt that came with a 1939 Aloha guitar shows that even though the receipt was not completed the hard printed 193? date gave an indicatin of decade.

Guitar receipt 1939 Aloha guitar

More obvious examples are of course the hang tags that come with many guitars such as this example from a 2002 Paul Reed Smith Singlecut.  Beware, however.  My most recent acquisition is a 2002 Les Paul Classic.  The Gibson hang tag in the case has a different serial number to the guitar so is obviously not a reliable source.

 

Strings

While a circumstantial long shot the strings in the case can also provide some useful evidence.  I was contacted by a US owner who had an unmarked guitar that came with this set of strings. Black Diamond is still in business and responded to my query with a suggestion that although Black Diamnd strings have been made since 1890 the packaging suggested 1930s or 40s.

Black Diamond strings 1930s-40s

 

Component dating.

Many electrical components especially potentiometers (tone and volume controls) inside electric guitars have a date included in the serial number code. These codes are often used to date amplifiers.

Check out these resources:

TRY THIS FIRST http://www.guitardaterproject.org/potcodereader.aspx

http://www.provide.net/~cfh/pots.html

More source code resources

http://www.triodeel.com/eiacode.htm

http://www.schematicheaven.com/mods/datecodes.htm

http://www.webervst.com/codes.html (note there are 4 pages of codes here) and more again at http://www.webervst.com/morecode.html

It is worth noting that determining the date of manufacture of the component does not necessarily mean that the instrument date is the same.  The component could be younger or older than the instrument depending on whether it is original or a replacement.  Component codes are often used in conjunction with other information to determined the authenticity of an old guitar.

 

Example:

220-17

304-6503

 

 

March 1965

Tone pot serial code

Logos

For some manufacturers logos change over time.

Example:

RL Giffin guitars, founded in 1976 has changed logo over time as follows:

1976-1988

R L Giffin badge

1988 - 2001

2001 to present

 

There are a number of excellent dating resources for major brands (see my other resources page) and I have linked to most of them including some very cool automated services

 

                     

copyright p carroll 2006-9