With the introduction of the solid bodied Les Paul guitar to the Gibson line in 1952, a new serial number system was implemented by Gibson. The very first Les Paul electric guitars built that year had either 3 digit serial numbers on the headstock top, or they had no serial numbers at all.
In 1953, Gibson increased the stamped number to 5 or 6 digits on every Les Paul guitar. These numbers were located on the headstock as well. The first digit on these early models indicated the last number of the date of the model year. For example, if the model year was 1957, then the first digit would be “7″. The second digit in the serial number indicates the last number on the date of the production year for an individual guitar. For example, if the production year was 2002, then the second digit would be “2″. The remaining digits represent the guitar as it stands in order of production for that year. This number is representative of all models from that production year. This means that all Les Paul electrics had different numbers for the remaining digits of the serial numbers. A guitar that is the 50th 1955 re-issue model produced in 2002 would have serial number 5 250. This system lasted for around 8 years, and the fact that production numbers were in consecutive order makes it fairly easy to identify Les Paul guitars from this era.
In 1961 the serial numbers were changed to a new format for all Gibson instruments. This new system, which was implemented until 1969, complicated the serialization process and has made it more difficult for us to identify guitars from that era. Duplicate numbers and a non-consecutive order of production codes were the biggest culprits in the confusion of serial numbers during this era. Despite the confusion and errors within the system, Gibson was trying to follow a new format that was quite similar to the numbers of the 1950′s. The first two digits of the code represented the last two numbers on the date of the production year. The next three digits were meant to represent the guitar’s place in production for that year, but for whatever reason the numbers didnt seem to come out in consecutive order. On top of that, there are even cases of duplicate serial numbers being assigned to different instruments during this time period. The last digit of the serial number represents the model being re-issued. Re-issues from this era include the Les Paul Custom, which was designated the code number “8″. For example, a 1968 Les Paul Custom that was the 100th re-issue of 2005 would have the serial number 051008.
In 1970 Gibson confused the serialization process once again, often stamping numbers on guitars in no consecutive order and even occasionally adding a letter prefix. In addition to serial numbers, Gibson place purple, black, and white labels on electric models at the time. All headstocks were now adorned with the words “Made in the USA”, a characteristic that was only found in a couple of guitars back in the 1950′s. Serial numbers between 1970 and 1975 ranged from 100000-900000. In 1973 the prefix “A” was added as a prefix to the serial numbers of a few guitars, and in 1974 Gibson even began to add the prefixes “B”, “C”, “D”, “E”, and “F”. It is not entirely understood what these letters stood for, making the identification of instruments fro this time period qite difficult.
From 1975-1977 Gibson began using 8 digit serial numbers. The first two digits indicate the last two numbers of the year in which the guitar was produced. The remaining digits are either in the 100000 or 200000 range. In addition to the “Made in USA” stamp, the words “Limited Edition” were also imprinted on certain guitar models.
In 1977 Gibson began using a different method of serialization that clarified identification of all Les Paul models. They continued to use 8 digits in the new system, but each number is now meant to represent explicit details about production. The first and fifth digits represent the two last numbers of the year a guitar was produced. For example, if a guitar was produced in 1998, “9″ would be the first digit and “8″ would be the fifth digit. The second, third, and fourth digits represent the day of the year. For example, if the guitar was produced on the 100th day of the year, the 2nd digit would be “1″ and the 3rd and 4th digits would be “0″. The 6th, 7th, and 8th digits represent the order in which it was stamped during production. These final numbers indicate that the guitar was produced in Kalamazoo if they are between 001-499, and they indicate it was produced in Nashville if they are between 500-999. As an example, “80252567″ would mean that a guitar was produced on January 25, 1982, in Nashville and was the 567th instrument stamped that day.
In 2005 Gibson added a 9th digit to it’s serial numbers on Les Paul guitars.This number represents the batch that the guitar was produced with. Each batch includes up to 699 guitars, and “0″ is used to represent the first batch of the day. The next batch is designated as batch “1″, then “2″, and so forth. This is the only change to the 8 digit serial number that was introduced in 1977.
The only Les Paul model that does not follow these modern guidelines of serialization is the Classic. This model omits the “Made In USA” stamp and reduces the amount of digits to between 4 and 6. For all 4 and 5 digit serial numbers in this series, there is a space after the first digit. In the 6 digit serial numbers, there is no space.
It should also be noted that limited edition and signature series Les Paul Models may have their own unique serial number. The signature models usually include 2-3 letters, a space, and then 3 numbers signifying the guitar’s order of production. For example, the 125th Slash signature model Les Paul put in production would have the serial number- “SL 125″.