Identifying Vintage Guitars, Banjos & Mandolins

Current Epiphone Serial Number Information


  • I = Saein
  • U = Unsung
  • S = Samick
  • P or R = Peerless
  • K = Korea


  • DW = DeaWon
  • EA = Gibson/QingDao
  • EE = Gibson/QingDao
  • MC = Muse
  • SJ = SaeJung
  • Z = Zaozhuang Saehan
  • BW = China


  • No letter or F = FujiGen
  • J or T = Terada

Czech Republic

  • B = Bohêmia Musico-Delicia


  • SI = Samick

Example: U8034853 U = Unsung, 8 = 1998, 03 = March, 4853 = manufacturing number. At least one model, the Epiphone Spirit, was manufactured in the USA during the early 1980s in the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, MI. USA produced Epiphones of this era bear standard Gibson serialization and include the “Made in USA” stamp on the back of the headstock. Headstocks of US models also use the Gibson headstock shape. Like everything else connected to instrument identification issues – there are many exceptions. For example: The custom series of Epiphone Texans built with cooperation from Paul McCartney: some were built in Bozeman Montana and some in Japan.

Epiphone Body Sizes Through 1957

Epiphone Body Sizes: pre-1936

  • Concert size 13 5/8″ wide
  • Grand Concert size 14″
  • Auditorium size 15″
  • Grand Auditorium size 16 3/8″
  • Advanced size 17 3/8″
  • Emperor 18″

Epiphone Body Sizes: 1936 – 1957

  • Concert size 14″ wide
  • Grand Concert size 15″
  • Auditorium size 16 3/8″
  • Grand Auditorium size 17 3/8″
  • Advanced size 18″
  • Emperor 18″

Gibson A Style Mandolins

Model Designations

In general, higher model numbers meant more binding and ornament. Higher numbers also meant more money.


No binding, no inlay and no decoration. It was available with a brown finish and came as a snakehead or paddle headstock.

A (also known as the A-0)

Brown or black finish, some binding only on the top and in the soundhole with one ring around the soundhole. Pearl dots on fretboard. Dark stained plain birch back and sides. “The Gibson” stamped on tailpiece cover.


Similar to A, but with double purfling on the soundhole. “The Gibson” stamped on tailpiece cover and inlaid in headstock.


This was available in brown, black or blonde finish. It had binding on front, back, soundhole and the fretboard; “The Gibson” inlaid into the headstock and a better grade of spruce top. It had a double ring of purfling around the soundhole, pearl dots on the fretboard, dark stained birch back and sides and “The Gibson” stamped on tailpiece cover. The headstock face was veneered in black. There was a line of black inlay (or ebony layer) along the centerline of the back of the neck.


Similar to A-2 but with snakehead headstock, blonde finish, b/w binding, and A2-Z on the label. Gibson discontinued the A-3 around 1922. A-3’s had refrigerator white tops with a black perfling line, adjustable truss rods and adjustable bridges. In 1923 it appears that Gibson began to assemble A-2s with left-over blonde tops from A-3s. There are a few examples of A-2Zs with black tops, though this was probably used to cover some imperfection in the selected tops. There are also examples of A-2Zs without the ‘Z’ on the lable but still sporting the black perfling line. A2-Zs were theoretically made during the Loar period of 1921-25, but only between 1923 and 1924.


Similar to an A2 except for the top color: an orange top in the teens, and a white top (refrigerator-top) in the late teens and early twenties. A flourish inlay under “The Gibson” in the headstock. It was bound on the top, back, sides and around the fretboard. The binding on the top is b/w. The grade of top wood was tighter grained. The birch sides and back were stained red. The fretboard was bound but without extension and “The Gibson” was stamped into the tailpiece cover. The headstock had a black wood face veneer. The centerline of the neck had the black inlay.


For a period of time, this was the top of the line. It was available in red, black or two-tone sunburst finish, fleur-de-lis under “The Gibson”; Handel inlaid tuner buttons prior to 1916 (WWI) with a dotted “+” in each button. The soundhole had an additional thick white purfling ring. It was available with a “Snakehead” and had a shaped fingerboard extension. It also had a black veneered headstock (front and back) and a black inlay in the back of the neck. The hardshell case had a green or red silk lining.

Historical Context:

At the turn of the century, Orville Gibson was refining his notion of the superior mandolin: carved in the tradition of violins for greater volume and tone as well as comfort. The tradition had been ‘Bug’ style mandolins: bowl-backs with flat or bent tops. The new design was thinner and much easier to handle and play. It became apparent early that the new design concept was good: they were, in fact, louder and more ‘cutting’ in tone. They were well suited for orchestral arrangements as well as individual play and accompaniment.


“A” Style mandolins were symmetrical and shaped like a teardrop. “F” Style mandolins have a carved nautilus shaped curl on the upper left-hand bout. It is important to note that there are exceptions to every rule and the following is only a general guide for identifying Gibson “A” Style mandolins. The Gibson Company was formed in late 1902 and the early mandolins evolved from the original Orville Gibson designs. They generally had birch or walnut back and sides – sometimes flat and later (1904+/-) carved. During the period of 1902 to approximately 1909 the mandolins sported tailpiece covers with a curly top and internal white labels with an image of Orville Gibson holding a lyre mandolin. Sometimes (rarely) the labels are easy to read: the model and serial numbers hand-printed in ink and sometimes the information was written in pencil and is now barely legible. Occasionally the labels have fallen out or been removed during repairs making it a bit trickier to date the instruments. The labels with an image of Orville Gibson are generally found on instruments with serial numbers below 10,000. If the serial number is legible the instrument can be relatively easy to date. Serial numbers are addressed elsewhere on the web site but can be found also on Gibson’s website and George Gruhn & Walter Carter’s book: Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars. Factory numbers (when the exist) appear in pencil inside on the block where the neck meets the body.

Bridge Height and Neck Angle

The early models had shallow neck sets and low bridges that increased in angle around 1908 with taller bridges. The current bridge height and neck angle was reached around 1910. These bridges had movable saddles up to about 1917 when they changed to a one-piece compensating bridge design through early 1921. Then Gibson developed the adjustable bridge. Though it has gone through a number of refinements over the years, the basic design has not changed since. 1921 early: 3/8″ adjustment wheels, short base and aluminum compensated bridge top. Mid 1921 through late 1930’s: larger base with 2 feet, 3/8″ adjustment wheels and wooden compensated bridge top. Late 1930’s through 1942: ?” adjustment wheels 2 feet and extensions on top of the base for the wheels. 1946 onward: No feet – the bottom of the bridge flush on the instrument top.

Bridges after 1921 show a patent date of Jan. 18, 1921.

It appears that many mandolin owners of earlier models chose to upgrade their bridges to the fancy new adjustable models after 1921. It is, therefore, not unusual to find older mandolins with replacement bridges.


1890’s into 1907: Inlaid into the top of the instrument. The examples we’ve seen vary from the Gibson catalogs quite a bit. In some cases there are no pickguards. 1908 into 1916: Elevated pickguards of plastic tortoise shell clamped to the body with a removable clamp and pinned to the bridge. 1916 into 1921: the pin to the bridge was dropped. 1921 onward: Metal 90-degree pickguard support screwed into the body and additional screw to the neck. Pickguards between 1909 and 1921 +/- show a stamped patent date of Mar. 30, 1909. The later pickguard clamps have a stamped patent date of July 4, 1911.


Some early necks were cherry before 1912. Though there appear to be exceptions, necks between 1912 and 1923 are 3-piece mahogany. 1923 into 1970: 1 piece mahogany necks. 1970 onward: 1 piece maple. Gibson developed the truss rod in 1921. This was adapted to the mandolin over the next few years. The introduction of a truss rod cover to the headstock caused the inlay patterns to adjust as well.

General Information

During the period of 1909 through 1920 Gibson produced large numbers of mandolins. These appear to be the easiest to find and quite reasonable to buy. The early models had shallow neck sets that increased in angle around 1908. The current bridge height and neck angle was reached around 1910. It was the innovations of the Loar period: 1921 through 1925 that saw the introduction of the truss rod, adjustable bridges, bracing adjustments, thinning and grading of the tops and numerous other refinements to create the standards that are still used today. The decade following saw a change in finish from varnish to shinier lacquer.

Other Features


This is a headstock that tapers from narrow at the top to slightly wider at the base (the reverse of the traditional Gibson headstock shape). The public seems to have favored this shape over time as it fetches better prices now. These can exist on any model numbers including the A-jr. It is most common after 1923 when most Gibson model A’s had this shape.

Neck Shape:

The standard early Gibson A models had a soft “V” shaped neck.


  • Information gathered from many sources but there are a few that need to be acknowledged:
  • – Dan Beimborn’s original Mandolin Pages web site and later contributions to the Mandolin Archive.
  • – George Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars by George Gruhn and Walter Carter.
  • – George Youngblood of Youngblood’s Music Workshop.
  • – Original Gibson catalogs.
  • – Numerous articles in Vintage Guitar Magazine over the years.
  • – Information gleamed from the Mandolin Café’s website over the years.

Information compiled by Leonard Wyeth – © 2008, L Wyeth

Gibson L Series

In 1926 Gibson introduced the L-series guitars with the L-0 at $35 and the L-1 at $50 (1928 prices). The L-series is very difficult to properly identify and date as they were inconsistent in their appointments and the catalog descriptions do not always agree with the actual instruments produced. That being said, and allowing for the large numbers of prototypes and other Gibson anomalies, the following can be used s a guide to help get close to a proper model identification and it’s year of production.

  • L-0
  • L-00
  • L-1
  • L-2
  • HG-00
  • L-Century
  • Nick Lucas – Gibson Special

Gibson L-0

Introduced 1926 – General

  • Round lower bout @ 13 ?”
  • Scale length 25″+
  • Bottom belly ebony bridge with pyramids on the wings
  • Amber brown color all around


  • Lowest price Gibson flat-top @ $35
  • Maple back and sides
  • Top & back bound in white
  • Double soundhole purfling
  • Inside edge of soundhole bound
  • Yellow-brown finish
  • 19 fret fingerboard – ebonized
  • 12 fret neck-body joint
  • Pearl dots at 5, 7 & 9
  • Silk-screened script @ 15 degrees +/-: The Gibson
  • Black lacquered tapered headstock
  • 3 on a plate open gear tuners – white or black buttons


  • Top and body becomes all mahogany – amber finish
  • Rosewood fretboard and bridge
  • Extra bridge pin – centered below 6 in a line
  • Ebony nut


  • L-0 remains 13″


  • L-0 Flattened lower bout increased to 14″
  • Rectangular Brazilian rosewood bridge
  • Brazilian rosewood fretboard


  • 14 fret neck-body joints
  • Scale length 24″


  • L-0 disappeared only to reappear in 1937


  • Reintroduced as the least expensive Gibson flat-top @ $25
  • Ebonized finish all around
  • Some striped tortoise plastic pickguards
  • Some bright white plastic pickguards


  • L-0 discontinued

Gibson L-00

Introduced 1932 – General

  • 14 fret neck-body joints
  • Scale length 24 ?”
  • Lower bout 14 ?”
  • Body depth 3 ?” at the neck and 4 3/8″ at the heel
  • Spruce top
  • Mahogany back & sides
  • Ebonized finish all around
  • Top binding only
  • V shaped neck
  • Rectangular Brazilian rosewood bridge
  • Black pins
  • Brazilian rosewood fretboard
  • Pearl dot makers and double dots on the 12th fret
  • 3 on a plate open gear tuners
  • Old script silk-screened diagonal logo: ‘The Gibson’ or just ‘Gibson’
  • Some striped tortoise plastic pickguards after 1933
  • Some bright white plastic pickguards after 1933


  • L-00 introduced as Gibsons lowest price flat-top @ $37.50
  • No back binding
  • Ebonized finish all around


  • Small round amber area of sunburst just below the soundhole
  • Striped tortoise plastic pickguards added


  • Now a higher grade than the L-0
  • Price lowered to $30
  • Some different sizes produced
  • Bound back
  • Dot position markers on the fretboard edge


  • Available as natural top or sunburst


  • White silk-screened logo on headstock
  • A few with banner logos decals on the headstocks


  • No truss rod


  • L-00 discontinued

Gibson L-1

Introduced 1926 – General

  • 12 fret neck-body joints
  • Scale length 25 +”
  • Lower bout 13 ?”
  • Spruce top
  • Mahogany back & sides
  • Light amber top – Sheraton brown back & sides
  • Top binding w/b/w
  • Bound fretboard
  • V shaped neck
  • Bottom belly ebony bridge with pyramids on the wings
  • Brazilian rosewood fretboard
  • Pearl dot makers @ 5, 7 & 9 only
  • 3 on a plate open gear tuners
  • Old script silk-screened diagonal logo: ‘The Gibson’
  • Some striped tortoise plastic pickguards
  • Some bright white plastic pickguards


  • Flattened lower bout increased to 14″ (possibly


  • Rosewood rectangular through bridge
  • Bound soundhole ring discontinued
  • Unbound fretboard
  • Fret markers extended to 15th fret
  • Brown mahogany sunburst


  • Single white binding top and back


  • 20 fret total
  • White pins


  • 14 fret neck to body joint
  • Soundhole, bridge and bracing moved to compensate


  • Striped tortoise plastic pickguards added


  • Size of sunburst increased


  • L-1 discontinued

Gibson HG-00 (Hawaiian)

G-00 – Introduced 1937 – General

  • 12 fret neck to body joint
  • Similar to the L-00 but with heavier braces
  • Straight bridge saddle
  • Black finish
  • Black pins
  • Bound back


  • HG-00 discontinued

Gibson L-2

2 General – Introduced 1929 @ $75

  • Lower bout 14″
  • Body length of 19″
  • Brazilian rosewood back & sides
  • Northern spruce top
  • Triple bound front and back w/b/w
  • Ebony fretboard
  • Double bound fretboards
  • Grover 98 tuners
  • 13 fret neck to body joint
  • Scale length: 24″
  • Pearl inlay ‘The Gibson’
  • Pearl dot fretboard markers – double on 12
  • X braced
  • Sunburst or natural finish options


  • Tailpiece and adjustable bridge
  • (Many converted to pin bridges)


  • Mahogany back & sides
  • 6 point headstock inlay
  • 12 fret neck to body joint
  • Gold sparkle inlayed around top & soundhole
  • Argentine gray finish


  • Brazilian rosewood back & sides again
  • Sparkle trim discontinued
  • Natural finish top
  • Pin bridge standard
  • Tailpiece – adjustable bridge option
  • Rosewood fretboards
  • 13 fret neck to body joint again


  • 14 fret neck to body joint
  • Headstock logo shortened to ‘Gibson’
  • Tailpiece – adjustable bridge option discontinued
  • Speckled celluloid pickguard added as an option
  • Elevated pickguards an option
  • Some had 2 top braces under the fingerboard extension vs. one


  • L-2 discontinued

Gibson L-Century

Century – General – Introduced 1933 for the Century of Progress Exhibition @ $55

  • Lower bout 14″
  • Body length of 19″
  • Curly maple sides & back
  • Adirondack red spruce tops
  • Honduran mahogany necks
  • Brazilian rosewood bridge and fretboard
  • Pearloid fretboard and headstock veneer
  • Rosewood fretboard rectangle inlays at 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 & 15
  • Pearl diamond inlays in the rosewood rectangles
  • ‘Gibson’ pearl diagonal headstock inlay in rosewood, in Pearloid


  • Sunburst slowly expanded outward


  • Pearloid headstock veneer replace with rosewood
  • 2 versions:
  • Bound headstock, pearl ‘Gibson’, pearl truss rod cover and notched diamond inlay
  • No headstock binding, black truss rod cover and elongated diamond inlay


  • One version was built


  • Only 3 shipped this year


  • L-Century discontinued

Gibson Nick Lucas – Gibson Special

Nick Lucas – General – Introduced 1928 @ $125

  • Body depth 4″ at the neck and 4 5/8″ at the heel
  • Curly maple sides & back
  • Adirondack red spruce tops
  • Honduran mahogany necks
  • Honduran mahogany back & sides
  • Brazilian rosewood pyramid bottom belly bridge
  • White pins
  • 7th pin below 6 in-line
  • Brazilian rosewood fretboard
  • Top and back triple bound w/b/w
  • Triple bound fretboard w/b/w
  • Intricate pearl fretboard inlays
  • ‘The Gibson’ pearl angled logo inlayed on headstock
  • Grover G-98 tuners with metal buttons
  • 2 rows of multi-ply soundhole purflings
  • 12 fret neck to body joint
  • French heel
  • ‘Nick Lucas Special’ white label with picture of Nick Lucas


  • Round lower bout 13 1/2″


  • Body increased to 14″
  • 13 fret neck to body joint
  • Rosewood back & sides
  • Rectangular rosewood through bridge
  • Bolder fretboard inlays


  • 14 fret neck to body joints (phased in by this time)
  • Trapeze tailpiece with adjustable bridge option
  • Elevated pickguards
  • Glued pickguard option


  • 14 fret neck to body joint
  • Curly maple back & sides
  • (Some instruments made in mahogany)
  • Glued on pickguards standard
  • Sunburst top, back & sides


  • Sunburst begins to grow


  • Sunburst full sized
  • Nick Lucas discontinued


  • Last Nick Lucas models shipped

Information compiled by Leonard Wyeth – © 2008, L Wyeth

Gibson LG-Series

The Gibson LG series of flat-top guitars were developed as the natural evolution of the earlier L-Series. World War II changed many aspects of the guitar world. Gibson had helped in the war effort and seen many employees enlist. During the war years women played a greater role in manufacturing while young men were fighting overseas. Materials and methods of production were reviewed and revised. The flood of returning soldiers with a broader world-view brought new musical tastes and new hopes for the future. Several other forces were at work for change:

  • Good size logs of spruce were government controlled during the war and were not easily available shortly after. The narrower guitar sizes allowed for available materials. The LG-Series is 2” narrower than the J-Series.
  • Gibson had changed its neck profiles and headstock shape on the successful J-Series. The necks and heels were rounder.

Gibson needed to revitalize its lineup of flat-top guitars – the LG-Series was born.

  • LG-0 | Introduced 1958 | Discontinued 1973
  • LG-1 | Introduced 1947 | Discontinued 1968
  • LG-2 | Introduced 1942 | Discontinued 1962
  • LG-2- | Introduced 1949 | Discontinued 1962
  • LG-3 | Introduced 1946 | Discontinued 1963
  • B-25 | Introduced 1962 | Discontinued 1976
  • FJ-N | Introduced 1963 | Discontinued 1970
  • F-25 | Introduced 1963 | Discontinued 1970
  • B-15 | Introduced 1967 | Discontinued 1970

LG-Series – General

  • Body length 19 1/4”
  • Lower bout 14 1/8”
  • Body depth @ heel 4 ?”
  • Scale length 24 ?”
  • 14 fret neck to body joint
  • 19 fret total
  • Scalloped high profile X bracing
  • Brazilian rosewood rectangular through bridges
  • 2 screws in the bridge with MOP dot covers
  • Sunburst finish
  • Back, sides and neck finished in brown
  • Black headstock veneer

Gibson LG-0

Introduced 1958


  • Basically the same as LG-1 with a mahogany top
  • Mahogany top, back & sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • 24” scale
  • Laminate sides
  • Ladder bracing
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Rosewood bridge
  • Satin natural finish
  • Bottom belly bridges
  • Adjustable bridge saddle
  • Spruce bridge plates
  • Black rosette ring
  • Single plastic tortoise shell binding top and back
  • Thick pickguard attached with 3 screws


  • Larger crown frets



  • Top belly bridges
  • Adjustable bridge saddle


  • Top belly plastic “Special Bridge”
  • Longer pickguards


  • Narrow neck design with 14 degree headstock angle


  • Rosewood bridge with adjustable saddles


  • Mahogany tops discontinued
  • Spruce tops
  • Bottom belly rosewood bridges


  • Teardrop black pickguards
  • No headstock veneer


  • LG-0 discontinued


  • Final LG-0 instruments shipped

Gibson LG-1

Introduced 1947


  • Same basic guitar as LG-2 with average wood
  • Wood imperfections covered by a dark sunburst
  • Ladder bracing
  • Spruce top
  • Mahogany back & sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Single ivoroid binding front and back
  • Tortoise shell plastic pickguard
  • Unbound rosewood fretboard


  • Tall scalloped braces change to low-profile rough cut
  • Fretboard lengthened to 20 fret
  • Larger 3 point pickguard
  • 10” radius fingerboard
  • Laminated sides
  • Enlarged rectangular bridge with closed slot


  • Larger crown frets


  • Bottom belly bridges
  • Adjustable bridge saddle


  • Top belly bridges
  • Adjustable bridge saddle


  • Top belly plastic “Special Bridge”


  • LG-1 discontinued

Gibson LG-2

Introduced 1942


  • Mahogany back & sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • No truss rod – heavy round neck profile
  • Banner headstock decal
  • Some examples with maple backs
  • Some examples with mahogany tops
  • Fire striped plastic pickguard – teardrop shape
  • Multiple binding top & back
  • Black pins


  • Poplar neck and heel blocks


  • Maple necks
  • Less neck mass


  • Truss rods
  • Mahogany neck and heel blocks


  • Last use of the Banner decal on headstocks
  • Old style script ‘Gibson’ logo


  • Block style ‘Gibson’ script logo
  • 20 fret fretboard


  • Tall scalloped braces change to low-profile rough cut
  • Longer pickguard design – 3 point
  • Pickguard of ‘tortoise shell’ plastic


  • Cherry sunburst


    • LG-2 discontinued, see B-25

Gibson LG-2

Introduced 1949


      • Identical to the LG-2 but for size
      • Lower bout 12 11/16”
      • Overall length 17 ?”
      • Scale length 23”
      • Ladder bracing
      • Teardrop shape pickguard
      • Block style ‘Gibson’ script logo
      • All other features change with the LG-2

Gibson LG-3

Introduced 1946


        • Mahogany back & sides
        • Adirondack spruce top
        • Basically the same as an LG-2 with better materials
        • Natural finish top
        • Multiple top binding w/b/w
        • Banner headstock decal


        • ‘Gibson’ logo in gold silkscreen

1949 (?)

        • 20 fret fretboard


        • Tall scalloped braces change to low-profile rough cut
        • Longer pickguard design – 3 point
        • Pickguard of ‘tortoise shell’ plastic


        • Larger crown frets


        • Bottom belly bridges
        • Adjustable bridge saddle


Top belly bridges

        • Adjustable bridge saddle


        • Top belly plastic “Special Bridge”
        • LG-3 discontinued
        • LG-3 renamed B-25N (Natural)

Gibson B-25 and B-25N

Introduced 1962

      • See LG-2 and LG-3
      • Triple top binding w/b/w
      • Laminated maple bridge blocks
      • Plastic ‘Special Bridge’
      • Laminated sides
      • Thick plastic swirl pattern pickguards


      • Tuners change from nickel to chrome


      • Gibson logo on the pickguards


      • Narrow neck profile


      • Bottom belly rosewood bridges with adjustable saddles
      • 3 color sunburst
      • Back, sides and neck finished in walnut stain


      • Non-adjustable bridges
      • Black headstock veneer discontinued


      • The B-25N is renamed the B-25N Deluxe


      • B-25 discontinued


    • Last B-25s shipped

Gibson FJ-N and F-25 Folk Guitars

Introduced 1963, these were designed as dual-purpose instruments. They could be strung with steel or nylon strings. (Folk Jumbo Natural and Folk-25)


  • Peruvian mahogany necks
  • Black headstock veneers
  • ‘Gibson’ in gold block script
  • Kluson deluxe tuners
  • 24” +/- scale length
  • Sitka spruce tops
  • Honduras mahogany back & sides
  • X bracing


  • White pickguards like a Flamenco
  • 12 fret neck to body joint
  • 2” neck width at nut
  • Flat rosewood fretboard
  • Rosewood top belly bridge
  • White plastic pins
  • Natural finish top


  • 14 fret neck to body joint
  • 1969
  • F-25:
  • Slotted peghead
  • No headstock veneer
  • Classical tuners
  • Body shape changed
  • Bottom belly bridge


  • F-25 & FJ-N discontinued

Gibson B-15

See LG-0 for materials and dimensions. Introduced 1967, Basically an more economical LG-0.


  • Rectangular adjustable bridge
  • Satin finish
  • No binding
  • Laminated mahogany neck
  • Narrow headstock


  • B-15 discontinued

Information compiled by Leonard Wyeth – © 2008, L Wyeth

Gibson Jumbo

Introduced 1934 and modified late 1935.

Martin introduced the large body dreadnaught in 1932 – It was bigger, bolder, and louder than anything Gibson had to offer. At the time, the Nick Lucas model was the largest flat-top Gibson offered. It took Gibson 2 years to develop their response: The Jumbo of 1934. It was the heart of the depression and the instruments cost $60 without a case. They didn’t sell well but did live up to their design intent of a

heavier, booming tone with good overall balance. Dimensions: 16″ wide, 10 1/4″ long and 4 1/2″ deep.

The promotional material in the Gibson catalog of 1934 said: “This greater body size produces a heavy, booming tone so popular with many players who do vocal and small combination accompaniment for both personal and radio appearances. The bass of this model will amaze you, and of course the clear brilliant treble is in perfect balance.” For once, the hyperbole may have been closer to the truth.

1934 was in the depth of the depression, and at $60 without a case, most families put food ahead of guitars. Not many were sold and the production run was therefore limited to 2 years. Because there are few of these instruments around, little has been written about them, though some did find their way into the hands of influential artists of the day. They were popular with the Cowboy Singing Stars like Bob Baker (National Barn Dance – WLS). Wiley Morris of the Morris Brothers Hillbilly Band and Charlie Monroe (Bill Monroe’s brother) took to the instrument for it’s potential in the roots of Bluegrass music.

The 1934 version had a classic Gibson sunburst: the small amber center around the bridge – about 1/4 of the top area. This was expanded in 1935 to about 1/3 of the top area. The sides and back were tinted mahogany with a sunburst red spruce top. There was some amber color

expressed on the sides and back of the 1934 versions.

The 1934 was single bound, front and back with dot markers on the rosewood fretboard and a horizontal script logo inlay on the headstock. The rosettes were simple white-black-white. The bridge were early simple rectangular with through-saddles. The tuners were individual

Grover G-98’s.

The bracing for the new larger models was X braced: there were 3 transverse tone bars between the braces – 1 more than the Martin – as Gibson experimented with bracing design heavy enough to support the large tops and light enough to be resonant and responsive.

The Jumbos had a slight V shaped neck with the Gibson truss rod and a pointed ‘French’ heal – somewhat unusual for Gibson.

In 1935, binding was added to the fretboard.

Gibson J-35 & Advanced Jumbo

Introduced in 1936 and discontinued in 1942. Reintroduced in 1984.

Martin introduced the large body dreadnaught in 1932 – It was bigger, bolder, and louder than anything Gibson had to offer. At the time, the Nick Lucas model was the largest flat-top Gibson offered. It took Gibson 2 years to develop their response: The Jumbo of 1934. It was the heart of the depression and the instruments cost $60 without a case. They didn’t sell well but did live up to their design intent of a heavier, booming tone with good overall balance. Dimensions: 16″ wide, 10 1/4″ long and 4 1/2″ deep.

By 1936, with the depression still gripping the nation, Gibson moved to stay competitive and offer a more affordable option: The Advanced Jumbo (‘Advanced’ meaning that the size advanced: got bigger) with rosewood and fancier appointments that would compete with the Martin D-28 at $80 and the Jumbo 35 at $35 to compete with the Martin D-18.

It was a refinement of the slope-shoulder design of the original Jumbo but slightly deeper: 4 13/16″.

Several cost-cutting measures existed between the Advanced Jumbo and the J-35 including scalloped braces on the advanced Jumbo and not on the J-35. Over time the J-35 braces began to appear scalloped. By 1939 the 3 tone bar system was reduced to 2 tone bars and the angle of the X braces change to approximately 95 degrees. This moved the X away from the soundhole a bit.

Between 1934 and 1938, Gibson only offered the sunburst finish. According to the Gibson catalog, natural finish was the only option in 1939 but we are told that at least 2 examples exist of a cherry sunburst from the same period. By 1941, either natural or sunburst were available. A total of 2,477 J-35s were made according to Gibson records.

The Advanced Jumbo has been described by some as the finest – no compromises – most powerful flat-top guitar Gibson ever designed and built. $80 in depression era dollars was beyond the means of most people of the time but 300+/- were built during its 3 year production run. Though it was discontinued in 1942, the last Advanced Jumbo left the Kalamazoo plant in 1940.

The first group in late 1936 had larger soundholes and long scales: 25 1/2″. The back and sides were Brazilian rosewood and the tops Adirondack red spruce. Due to the plain marks on the bracing, it is believed that every top was tuned by the same Gibson employee. There were 2 tone bars and a treble side X brace with a 102 degree angle – about 1″ below the 4″ soundhole.

The bridge was a small rectangular block type with a ‘through’ saddle. The necks were 1-piece mahogany ‘V’ shape with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard at 12′ radius.

The finish was sunburst.

Gibson Jumbo Deluxe and J-55

Worthy of mention is the Jumbo Deluxe, though it is believed that only 3 were ever made in 1938. They are essentially an Advanced Jumbo with minor compromises: they filled a gap between the J-35 and the J-55.

They were mahogany back & sides with single layer binding front and back. They had dot markers on the fretboard and a moustache bridge with individual adjusters on each string. The headstock carried an inlayed script “Gibson”.

The Jumbo 55 (J-55) was introduce in late 1939 and discontinued in 1942. It’s price tag was $55 as compared to the Martin D-18 at $65 and D-28 at $100.

Like the SJ-100 of the same year, the J-55 had a stair-step headstock that persisted for only 2 years. The pickguard was longer than earlier models and it had a moustache bridge (though slightly smaller and less ornate than that used on the SJ-200). The tuners were individual Kluson with amber buttons.

The neck was a broad round profile single piece mahogany with a bound coffewood fretboard and dot markers. In 1941 the fretboard became Brazilian rosewood. The bracing was revised to accommodate the moustache bridge and generally heavier than earlier models.

By the records, between 200 and 300 were built.

Gibson J-45 and J-50

Introduced August 1942 and J-45’s are still available today. Please read the section on J-35’s and J-55’s as the J-45’s and Southerner Jumbos replaced the earlier models – it was a natural evolution.

The first Gibson J45 guitars were only slightly different from the discontinued J-35. Internally, changes from the J-35 included strengthening the top bracing by moving the “X” brace 1 additional inch behind the soundhole. The back braces were tall and thin and Gibson scalloped the top braces. The original “V” shape of the necks of the J-35s was replaced by distinctly round necks (“baseball bats”) and a tear drop pickguard. Sunburst was the only finish available for the J-45 until much later as the sunburst finish can hide flaws in the wood; this was a significant advantage during WW2 when clear wood was being used for the war effort. In 1947 a natural finish J-45 was finally offered and given the designation: J-50.

Ironically the first blond J-45s were actually built in July of 1942 (Called the J-45N for ‘Natural’) and the actual number of these shipped is not known for sure. Also, the first batch of J-45s had more binding both on the body and soundhole. This was quickly reduced to avoid model confusion between the J-45’s and the more expensive Southerner Jumbos. The Southerner Jumbos were the most expensive flat-top guitars Gibson offered at the time.

The concept behind the J-45 was a high quality, affordable, big-sounding acoustic flat-top guitar. The original price in 1942 was $45. It was intended to be more affordable and more readily available than it’s main competition: the Martin D-18. It worked. It became the working man’s choice and one of the most enduring instrument designs in history.

Approximate Chronology (there are always exceptions…):


  • Body shape: 16″ wide, round shoulder dreadnought shape
  • Body material: mahogany
  • Top: Select spruce, 2-piece bookmatched with scalloped X-bracing
  • Neck: mahogany, single piece, unbound, 19 fret, dot markers
  • Bridges: Rosewood belly-down. Some rectangular examples, black bridge pins (2 pearl dots on rectangle bridge)
  • Headstock appointments: gold decal: “Only a Gibson is Good Enough” banner. Gold script Gibson logo
  • Pickguard: Tiger-striped & teardrop shape
  • Finish: brown sunburst top finish, dark brown mahogany back and sides and neck
  • Body Binding: 7-ply top binding and single ply back binding
  • Rosette: multi-ply rosette binding
  • Tuners: “Kluson Mfg Chicago” and “Pat.” stamped into the plate in a circle around the attachment screws, plastic button usually white but sometimes black)
  • Scale length: 24.75″

There were a few natural finished J-45N models made during 1942.

First factory order number (FON) on neck block of J45s in 1942 was 907 and 923.

Changes made late in 1942:

  • Tortoise-shell teardrop pickguard replaced the tiger stripe material, Single bound top and back, multi-bound rosette
  • Adirondack 2-piece spruce top
  • Mahogany neck but a few Maple necks with a single walnut stripe down the center (3 piece neck)
  • Three layer w/b/w tops and single layer back binding
  • Mahogany neck block with beveled sides, changed to a mahogany neck block with square sides
  • Tuners were 3-on-a-plate Klusons with exposed gears and “Kluson Mfg Chicago” and “Pat.” stamped into the plate in a circle around the attachment screws, plastic buttons (usually white but sometimes black) and 1/4″ diameter posts. Tstyle of tuner lasts into early 1943 (FON 2221 last documented series with this tuner style)
  • Late 1942 poplar neck blocks (Late 1942 FON 2119 with FON 2143 being the last documented series with mahogany neck block.)
  • Some FONs for 1942 include 7116-7119, 7434, 7705, 7721, 907, 910, 923, 928, 2004-2006, 2059, 2098, 2110, 2119.


  • Some laminated maple necks with two walnut stripes down the center (5 piece neck), most with no truss rod (war time meallocations)
  • Neck shape large and round (“Baseball Bat”) due to lack of truss rod, Poplar neck blocks
  • Some rectangular bridges
  • Simpler rosette binding
  • Kluson tuners no longer had circle stamp (exposed gears riveted instead of screwed in place) and shaft size of 7/32″ to save wartime metal. Thinner cog gears with no bevel on the edge of the cogs. Some J-45 models with non-bookmatched two piece Adirondack spruce tops and some examples with four piece tops. Some examples had the black (skunk) strip down the middle of the top similar to the Southerner Jumbos. Since Spruce was needed for the war-time effort, some J-45s in 1943 have a mahogany top. Other attempts by Gibson to make-do with the materials available to them include laminated maback and sides finished in a dark mahogany stain and a few were built with a laminate maple back and a mahogany top.
  • Factory Order Numbers (FON) include the 2100s to 2500s


  • The adjustable truss rod reappeared in 1944
  • Some J-45s made with mahogany top
  • Tuners cogs got slightly thicker and with beveled edges. The tuners cogs are peened on the shafts (the peening sometihas a “waffle” design)
  • CMI acquired Gibson around May 1944. They were now able to get better materials. In mid 1944 bookmatched two piece Sispruce tops reappear.
  • Factory Order Numbers (FON) in the 2600s to 2700s.
  • Mid to late 1944, the neck block revert back to mahogany, though poplar is occasionally used.


  • Mahogany neck block and Mahogany necks
  • Two piece bookmatched Sitka spruce top
  • Laminated maple back and sides is discontinued (FON batch 2828 used maple back and sides)
  • Factory Order Numbers (FON) in the 2800s to 2900s and 300s to 500s and some in the 600-800s and 1000s range. In late 1 the use of factory order numbers was discontinued.


  • Mahogany back and sides
  • Mahogany neck blocks
  • The banner “only a Gibson is good enough” logo is replaced with the old style “Gibson” script gold logo


  • Fretboard binding added
  • ‘Pearloid’ twin parallelogram inlays
  • The blond J-50 is introduced (limited until 1954)


  • Gold “Gibson” block logo.


  • Gold decal block script headstock logo
  • Belly-up rosewood bridges


  • Upper belly bridge with white pins
  • Fabric side supports discontinued
  • Triple bound top


  • Natural spruce top finish offered
  • Pickguard enlarged and re-shaped


  • 19 fret fingerboard changed to 20 fret
  • Bracing system changed: non-scalloped, low cut braces
  • Larger pickguard with point at upper bout


  • Headstock appointments: pearl logo inlay and crown added
  • Adjustable bridge saddle offered as an option called J-45ADJ


  • Larger frets
  • Sunburst finish changes slightly: a cremona brown fading from the center amber to a reddish brown perimeter.


  • Adjustable bridge saddle became standard
  • Larger 2.25″ wide by .140″ laminated maple bridge plates replace 1 7/16″ x .125″ solid maple bridge plates


  • Change the body shape to square shoulder dreadnaughts
  • Cherry sunburst became standard


  • Injection molded .075″ thick styrene pickguard replaces the older .025″ thick celluloid pickguard
  • Plastic bolt-on bridge replaces the rosewood bridge


  • Standard rosewood bridge restored


  • Gibson logo added to the pickguard


  • Tobacco sunburst available again


  • White pickguard with Gibson logo screwed down to the top
  • Larger top braces used, and bigger solid wood bridge plate and larger bottom-belly bridge.


  • Body shape changed to square shoulder dreadnought
  • J-45 discontinued


  • Re-introduced with new specifications


  • Montana production

Gibson Southerner Jumbo and Country Westerns

The Gibson Southerner Jumbo was introduced in 1942 and discontinued in 1978. It was reintroduced in limited editions in 1991.

Mythology has it that the Southerner Jumbo was specifically targeted at the Southern market honoring rising Country music trends. When it came out in 1942 it was the most expensive Gibson flat-top in the line.

During 1942 two new models were introduced to the Gibson line-up to replace the J-35 and J-55. They were the J-45 and the Southerner Jumbo. The Southerner Jumbo (later shortened to: “Southern Jumbo” and then “SJ”) was a fancier J-45.

The appointments of the Southerner Jumbo included more top binding and an additional set of rosette rings. (The 1st year of the J-45 actually had similar appointments but they were reduced and simplified for model clarity in 1943).

The back and sides were still mahogany but the Southerner Jumbo had a dark wooden stripe separating the 2 back pieces. The neck heal had a white plastic cap.

The only available finish was sunburst until 1954.

Approximate Chronology (there are always exceptions…):


  • Back & Sides: Mahogany but some released as Brazilian rosewood.
  • Top: Select spruce
  • Neck: mahogany – single piece. Pearl twin parallelogram inlays
  • Bridges: Rosewood belly-down. Some rectangular examples
  • Headstock appointments: Decal – “Only a Gibson is Good Enough” banner. Script Gibson logo
  • Fretboard: Twin parallelograms inlays – unbound – 19 fret
  • Pickguard: Tiger-striped & teardrop shape


  • Poplar neck blocks
  • Skunk-stripe – only in 1943
  • Some laminated maple necks
  • Some rectangular bridges


  • Fretboard binding added
  • ‘Pearloid’ twin parallelogram inlays


  • Gold decal block script headstock logo
  • Belly-up rosewood bridges


  • Natural spruce top finish offered
  • Pickguard enlarged and re-shaped


  • 19 fret fingerboard changed to 20 fret
  • Bracing system changed: non-scalloped, low cut braces


  • Natural finish version called: “SJN”
  • Headstock appointments: pearl logo inlay and crown added


  • Cherry sunburst Country Westerns (rare)


  • SJN’s renamed: “SJN Country-Western”
  • Some SJN’s with plastic “Special Bridge”s.
  • Some SJN’s with spruce bridge plates
  • Some SJN’s with multi-ply bridgeplates
  • Rope edge to the SJN C&W oval labels
  • Change the body shape to square shoulder dreadnaughts


  • Reintroduction of slope shoulder shape

Gibson SJ-200

The Gibson Super Jumbo first appeared in 1937. It was built for Hollywood singing star Ray Whitley as the world’s biggest and fanciest acoustic guitar. Other singing cowboys who later owned Super Jumbos include Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Western movies were tremendously popular and the singing cowboy heroes needed instruments as big and bold as untamed West. As a consequence, the details were grand in scale and the bindings high in contrast to look good in black and white on the silver screen.

The first versions of the Super Jumbo guitar had a neck joint with 12 frets clear of the body placing the moustache bridge geometrically in the center of the distinctly round 16 7/8″ lower bout. The soundboard was so large and the body so deep that the sound was immense. The following versions evolved quickly to 14 frets clear of the body.

The neck was basically the neck stocks from the L-5 archtop: 3 ply maple with single wide bound scalloped fretboard ends and headstocks and the early models had the L-5 flowerpot inlay on the headstock.

The model started production in 1938 as Gibson’s top-of-the-line flat top guitar. It was initially called the De Luxe Jumbo for the few versions that were delivered before the model went into production. The original Factory Order Numbers (FON) appear to show the first De Luxe Jumbos were delivered bewteen March and June of 1938 to Joe Wolverton, Ray Whitley and Gene Autry. The one delivered first to Ray Whitley was not the model now seen as the beginning of the Super Jumbos, but a simpler 12 fret version. The 2nd delivery to Ray Whitley was the more refined 14 fret SJ that is so well photo-dicumented. The name evolved from De Luxe Jumbo to Super Jumbo in 1939, and then to the Super Jumbo 200 (reflecting the price at the time, the case would be $28 extra). The final production versions had a double-braced red spruce top and rosewood back and sides with a sunburst finish. In 1947 the name changed to the J-200 and the standard back and sides became highly figured maple. Gibson changed the name again in the 1950s to the SJ-200.

A simpler variation on the SJ-200 with fewer appointments and a lower price tag was the SJ-100.

In the early years, due to the depression and the following wartime austerity, demand for this expensive instrument was limited and production quantities were small.

Year Deluxe Jumbo SJ-200 SJ-100 Total
1937  1  1
1938  10  34  44
1939  27  27  54
1940  32  52  84
1941  39  67  106
1942  23  28  51
1943  3  1  4
1944  2  2
Totals  11  158  177  346

Gibson J-160E Flat-top Acoustic-Electric

Introduced 1954, discontinued in 1978, reintroduced in the 1980s and still produced today.

The J-160E was Gibson’s second design for an electric flat-top guitar following the CF-100. It was basically a slope shoulder dreadnaught like a J-45 or Southerner Jumbo and designed for the country and western market. The appointments roughly followed the Southerner Jumbo but the design was primarily electric: it had a 3-ply top with ladder bracing to reduce the low-end response for the single coil pickup placed at the base of the fretboard. To accommodate the pickup, the standard production neck was pushed up to a neck-body joint at the 15th fret. Gibson introduced their first adjustable belly bridge – 2 screws to raise and lower the bridge.

Changes over the years included:

  • Knob changes – usually following other Gibson electrics.
  • Mid 1960s: Cherry sunburst added.
  • 1955: larger 20 fret fingerboards
  • 1959: Larger crown frets and the adjustable bridge.
  • 1968: Changed to a bottom belly bridge and 1960 style pickguard
  • 1969: Changed to a square shoulder dreadnaught
  • 1978: Production ceased
  • 1980s: Reintroduced.

Martin Guitars seemed to take note of the successful sales of the Gibson acoustic-electrics J-160E and CF-100E’s. Martin introduced their versions of acoustic-electrics: the D-18E in 1958 and D-28E in 1959. They were too late – Gibson owned the market and the Martins were dropped 6 years later having only sold about 540 combined.

Standard production specifications:

  • 24 3/4″ standard scale length
  • 3-ply plywood Sitka top
  • Original version: solid mahogany back but laminated mahogany sides
  • Southerner Jumbo appointments
  • 1 piece mahogany neck & 17 degree headstock angle
  • Standard models were all sunburst
  • Bound Brazilian fretboard with trapezoid inlayed markers
  • Brazilian rosewood belly bridge
  • Pearl script and crown headstock inlays
  • Individual Kluson tuners with white buttons – later: keystone Pearloid buttons
  • P-90 single coil pickup with adjustable pole pieces
  • Jack in the side lower treble bout

Gibson CF-100

The Gibson CF-100 was introduced in 1950 (the CF-100E was introduced 1951) and discontinued in 1960. These were Gibson’s first flat-top cutaways. Notable endorsers of this model include Leon Redbone.

For photographic examples of the Gibson Cf-100 and CF-100E – Click Here

The body dimensions basically match the LG-series: 14 1/8″ wide by 19 1/2″ long by 4 1/2″ deep. It had a 24 3/4″ scale and was constructed of all solid woods.

The electric version included a P-90 pickup at the end of the soundboard like the later versions of the J-160E.

1952: The headstock gold decal logo was replaced by an inlayed pearl script and crown.

Mid 1950s: the pickguard changed from the teardrop to the larger undulating shape like the pre-war J-35s.

1955: Gibson stopped scalloping the bracing – it was faster to produce but not as strong.

See also: Gibson J-160E for more historical context.

Gibson MK – Mark Series

Between 1975 and 1979, Gibson worked with Dr. Michael Kasha’s acoustic theories for guitar and Luthier Richard Schneider’s design applications to create a unique instrument for the Gibson acoustic lineup. The Mark Series guitars had 16 3/16″ lower bouts with very narrow waists, and a headstock like no other in Gibson tradition. The instruments had modified fan bracing and asymmetrical bridges. Ironically, the script logo on the headstock was old-style.

The somewhat radical headstock shape was discontinued at Gibson with the Mark Series but appears to have been an influence on the young Paul Reed Smith who later used a similar shape for his electric instruments.

Dr. Michael Kasha was a chemical physicist and the director of the Institute of Molecular Biophysics at Florida State University. He was also a guitar enthusiast with a passion for physical and psycho-acoustics. In fact, he was part of a team of scientists paid as consultants by Gibson for their input on a project to create the finest sounding guitar based upon sound scientific logic, theory and research. Gibson hoped to score the same type of success that had occurred with Lloyd Loar in the 1920s: redefining the acoustic guitar for generations to come.

Richard Schneider and assistant Abe Wechter acted as the on-site, full-time luthiers to collaborate and develop Kasha’s theories and bring them to a manufacturing reality. Following many prototypes, shapes and bracing patterns, the Mark Series was launched in 1975.

The Mark Series guitars were particularly interesting among the Gibson flat tops made in the 1970s due to their unique bracing. Considering that Gibson was using a double X bracing for most of its other flat top guitars during that period, these instruments, with their modified fan bracing, stand out as some of the better sounding Gibsons of the time. The 1970s are viewed by many collectors and players as the low point of Gibson manufacturing. These instruments live a bit outside that critique.

Each model of the Mark Series was available in natural or sunburst finish. The sunburst finish was generally $30 less than natural finish. The selected tuners varied randomly by model and year. New guitars were supplied with user applied pick guards, and extra saddles of different heights that could be easily inserted to adjust the string action to accommodate the swelling of the instrument with seasonal humidity changes. The saddles were wider than usual. This technique of supplying interchangeable saddles/bridges was not new, it had been used by Selmer in France for their Maccaferri style instruments since the 1930s.


  • 11 3/4″ – Upper Bout
  • 10 3/16″ – Waist
  • 16 3/16″ – Lower Bout
  • 20 5/32″ – Body Lenth
  • 5 3/64″ – Body Depth
  • 1 5/8″ – Nut width

Like everything else, we have seen exceptions to the listed dimensions; especially the nut widths. There were some 1 3/4″ nuts available. It is not clear how Gibson decided to set their nut widths and neck thicknesses. It appears that they experimented right up to the point of discontinuing the line.

The choice to discontinue the Mark Series had to do with the general turmoil of the Gibson company in the last years of ownership by Norlin. The Mark Series, though not a wild success in terms of overall sales, did sell reasonably well. Towards the end, the line actually continued to increase in sales. Timing is everything – In 1969 the Gibson parent company: Chicago Musical Instruments (CMI) was acquired by the South American brewing conglomerate: E.C.L. ECL changed its name shortly afterwards to: Norlin Inc. for ECL president Norton Stevens and CMI president Maurice Berlin. Between 1974 and 1984 production of Gibson guitars was slowly being shifted from Kalamazoo MI to Nashville TN. The early instruments built in Nashville suffered from inexperienced workers and climate-control problems in the humid South. The Kalamazoo plant kept going for a few years as a custom-instrument shop, including the Mark Series instruments, and was ultimately closed in 1984. Mismanagement was so severe during the final Norlin years that the Gibson Guitar Corp. was within 3 months of going out of business when it was bought by young Harvard Business grads: Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman and Gary A. Zebrowski in January of 1986. Even the group of inexperienced entreprenuers could see and understand the value of the Gibson name. It marked the beginning of a new era for Gibson.

It was during the years of 1977 through 1986 that most of the high-end lines at Gibson were discontinued: The ES-350T, L-5S and the Mark Series among them. Gibson believed that these choices would allow them to focus on their more profitable lines. The guitar designs, however, were not the problem. The last of the Mark Series was built in 1979. By the end in 1985-86, Gibson was basically down to the Les Paul model alone.

Model Designations:

  • MK-99 models were handcrafted and signed by Richard Schneider. They were available in steel string or classical. It is not clear how many were made, but it is likely that there are less than 12. The 1975 price was $1,999.
  • MK-81 models were rosewood back & sides, ebony fingerboard with figured abalone block inlays & gold plated hardware. They had owner applied pick guards and multi-bound backs and tops (including red line highlights). There were 431 made. The 1975 price was $879.
  • MK-72 models were rosewood back & sides, 3 piece ebony/rosewood fingerboards with dot inlays & nickel hardware. The top and back bindings were black plastic with red line highlights. There were 1229 made. The 1975 price was $659.
  • MK-53 models were maple back & sides, rosewood fingerboards with dot inlays & nickel hardware. The top and back bindings were black plastic with red line highlights. There were 1424 made. The 1975 price was $549.
  • MK-35 models were mahogany back & sides, rosewood fingerboards with dot inlays & nickel hardware. The top and back bindings were black plastic. There were 5226 made. The 1975 price was $439.
  • MK-35-12 models were only made in 1977. The appointments matched the MK-35 but the bracing was modified to accommodate the additional string tension of 12 strings. Only about a dozen were made.

Gibson L-5S – Solid Body Electric Guitars

The L-5S was the first high end jazz solid body guitar. It shared many features with the L-5 archtop electric acoustic: The neck was basically an L-5 neck in scale, section and detail. Other similar details include: single-cutaway body, ebony fingerboard with block inlays, flowerpot headstock inlay, L-5 tailpiece with contrasting silver on gold with “L-5″ engraving (changed to TP-6 in 1978) and multilayer body binding throughout.

Features: Carved curly maple body, with ornate multilayer binding, laminated maple neck, ebony fingerboard with abalone block inlays, gold-plated hardware throughout, two gold plated pickups with separate volume and tone, three-way selector switch. Width at nut 1 11/16″, scale 24 3/4”.

Most were 3-piece solid maple bodies. There are some examples of two piece bodies used with the transparent or natural finishes. The electronics cover on the back was matching solid figured maple.

It was Gibson’s most prestigious solid body (and therefore expensive, with a couple of exceptions). Prices were typically 30-40% more than other Gibson solid bodies; the Les Paul Recording, LP Custom and SG Custom. The exceptions were in 1979/1980 when the very fine Flying VII and active Les Paul Artist models were available; both were between $50 and $100 more, and were deleted almost as quickly as they débuted.

L-5S chronology:

  • 1972 – L-5S launched, but shipping totals list no instruments being shipped until 1973.
  • 1973 – $895 – L-5S a few instruments shipped and cherry sunburst is the only available finish.
  • 1974 – $895 – This was the best sales year for the L-5S shipping 555 instruments. Late 1974 – gold covered recording pickups are replaced with humbuckers.
  • 1975 – $899 – The first catalog appearance of the L-5S was in the 1975 Gibson Solid Body catalog. The fingerboard of the L-5S is in with select abalone.
  • 1976 – $929 – In June of 1976 the price rose to $999, and two new finishes were added: tobacco sunburst and natural maple.
  • 1977 – $1079
  • 1978 – $1079 – Tobacco sunburst is dropped for Fireburst; Maple is now described as Natural. Cherry Sunburst is still available. Gibson TP-6 tailpiece became standard.
  • 1979 – $1149 – Antique Sunburst added to Fireburst, Cherry Sunburst and Natural.
  • 1980 – $1249 – By late 1980, the Gibson deluxe tuners with “Crank” button, and “Posi-Lok” strap button were added.
  • 1981 – $1349
  • 1983 – $1600

Martin Guitar Body Shapes and Models

Body designations and style designations of Martin guitars are letter-number combinations separated by a hyphen. After October 1930 the body and style designations and the serial number appears stamped on the neck blocks:

Body designation – Style designation, Serial number

See Martin Serial Numbers for a dating information.

Body Designations:

Martin Flat Top Guitar Body Sizes and Designations:

The body size designation is stamped on the neck block starting in October 1930.

All measurements are in inches.

“Frets” refers to the number of frets that are clear of the body.

“Introduced” is the year of introduction.

Size Frets Width Depth Body Length Total Length Year Introduced Scale
 1/4  12  6 3/16  2 7/8  12  earliest
 1/4  12  8 15/16  3 9/16  12 1/16  later version
 1/2  12  10 1/8  3 3/8  15 1/16  pre 1852
 7  12  13 11/16  4 3/8  17
 5  12  11  3 7/8  16  1854
 4  12  11  3  16  1857
 3?  12  10 11/16  3 7/8  16 7/8  pre 1852
 3  12  11  3 13/16  17 3/8  pre 1852
 2?  12  11 5/8  3 7/8  17 7/8  pre 1852
 2  12  12  4  18  pre 1852
 1  12  12  4 3/16  18 7/8  pre 1852
 O  12  13  4 3/16  19 1/8  1854  24.9
 O  14  13  4  18 3/8  38 3/8  1932  24.9
 OO  12  14 1/8  4 1/16  19 5/8  1877  24.9
 OO  14  14 5/16  4 1/8  18 7/8  38 5/8  1934  24.9
 OOO  12  15  4 1/16  20 7/16  1902  25.4 (1924-34)
 OOO  14  15  4 1/8  19 3/8  39 3/8  1934  24.9
 OM  14  15  4 1/8  19 3/8  1929  25.4
 D  12  15 5/8  4  20 15/16  40 +/-  1916  25.4 Ditson
 D  12  15 5/8  4  20 15/16  1931  25.4
 D  14  15 5/8  4 7/8  20  40  1934  25.4
 M  14  16  4 7/8  20 1/8  25.4

Style Designations (There are many exceptions to the following)

  • 15 Mahogany top, back & sides – no binding
  • 17 Mahogany top, back & sides – bound top. Martin’s 1st steel string: 1922
  • 18 Mahogany body after 1917, no volute on headstock
  • 21 Rosewood body, no volute on headstock
  • 28 Rosewood body, volute on headstock
  • 35 Rosewood body, 3-piece back
  • 40 Rosewood body, MOP top & soundhole but not neck base
  • 41 Rosewood body, MOP top & soundhole but not neck base, 1969+ D-only
  • 42 Rosewood body, MOP top, soundhole & neck base but not sides
  • 45 Rosewood body, MOP top, soundhole, neck base & sides

Style Exceptions

  • 2 – means Koa top
  • 60 – means maple body
  • ####-32 – means Shenandoah models

Letter Suffixes that add information:

  • A Ash wood
  • B Brazilian Rosewood
  • C Classical
  • E Electric
  • G Gut stringed classical
  • H Hawaiian
  • H Herringbone
  • K Koa wood
  • K2 Koa top, back & sides
  • LE Limited Edition
  • M Mahogany wood
  • JM Jumbo M body size
  • P (Pre-WWII) Plectrum
  • P (1985 on) Low profile neck
  • S (Pre-WWII) Special (custom order)
  • S (1967 on) 12 fret neck, slotted headstock
  • SE Signature Edition
  • T Tenor
  • V Vintage specifications
  • W Walnut

Identifying a Larson Brothers Guitar

Since the Larson brothers built guitars for many brand names, identification can be difficult, but there are a number of stylistic and structural building techniques that help narrow the exercise. Carl and August Larson built instruments between 1900 and 1944. They did not imprint the instruments with any particular brand. They did provide paper labels for the instrument that they represented but did not provide labels for custom instruments or other shops or manufacturers.

First – The label:

Brands that were always built by the Larson Brothers:

  • Maurer after 1900
  • Prairie State
  • Euphonon

Brands that were sometimes built by the Larson brothers:

  • WM. Stahl (1904 – 1938?)
  • Dyer (1906 – 1923?) Generally harp guitars
  • Stetson
  • Knutsen
  • Wack (1932 – 1944)
  • Regal (1901 – 1904)
  • Champion

Brands that were occasionally (but very rarely) built by the Larson brothers:

  • C. Bruno
  • L.H. Leland “Brilliantone” (1910 – 1918?)
  • Southern California Music Company
  • H.F. Meyers (1909-1912?)
  • Mayflower Music (1904-1905?)
  • Bradbury
  • Kaai Ukuleles

Sizes of Maurer Guitars (from the 1932 Maurer / Prairie State Catalog):

All listed sizes are for 12 fret to body models:

Model Body Length Width at Bridge Scale Length
Standard 18″ 12 3/4″ 24 5/8″
Concert 18 7/8″ 13 1/2″ 25″
Grand 19 1/8″ 14″ 25 3/8″
Auditorium 20″ 15″ 25 5/8″

Larson Sound Hole Dimensions:

These dimensions were similar for all Larson made instruments. The soundhole size coincided with the overall size of the instrument.

Brand Lower Bout Sound Hole
Parlor 12 5/8″ 3 3/16″
Stetson 12 3/4″ 3 11/16″
Maurer 13 1/2″ 3 5/8″ – 3 11/16″
Stetson 14 1/2″ 3 15/16″
Euphonon 15″ 3 3/4″ – 3 7/8″
Dreadnaught 15 11/16″ 3 7/8″

Tuners and Hardware:

Tuners, hardware and tailpieces were probably purchased from Lyon and Healy who had a factory just down the street from the Larson shop. In general, the Larsons used fancier hardware on the more expensive instruments – so the date of the hardware should coincide with similar instruments of the period.

Materials used in Construction:

  • Bodies: Rosewood, oak, mahogany, koa and maple,
  • Tops: Spruce
  • Fretboards: Ebony
  • Bridges: Ebony – Sometimes with a flattened pyramid rectangular bridge shape.

Top Bracing:

The more economical Student Grade instruments were often ladder braced. The braces were generally thin and numerous compared with other manufacturers. Intermediate Grade and Best Grade were generally X braced with laminated braces for added strength.

General Notes on Larson Construction Technique:

Prairie State instruments have the patented rod and/or tube reinforcing, occasionally found on other Larson built guitars.

The Larson bridge, if not otherwise specified by another company, is a rectangular flattened pyramid ebony style similar to those used by Lyon and Healy.

On 12 fret to the body guitars, in a break with tradition, the Larson brothers frequently inlayed the 10th fret instead of the ninth.

Ebony Fretboards were generally thicker than other builders. If the fretboard was bound, they generally added a stripe of black under the side binding.

The top and back are lightly arched, producing the deepest measurement in the center of the guitars body.

Inlays and bindings are remarkably consistent through the years.

The soundhole binding does not extend the full depth of the soundhole.

Maurer & Prairie State Model Numbers:

Most information about Larson Brothers instruments comes from their catalog published around 1930. Unfortunately, the information is confusing and inconsistent. Sometimes a higher model number means a bigger and fancier instrument but there does not appear to be a thoughtful of consistent method for ascribing model numbers. The following are a rough guide.

Maurer Styles:

  • 541 Concert: rosewood back & sides with colored wood appointments.
  • 551 Auditorium
  • 562 Standard size with rosewood back & sides, MOP and colored wood appointments.
  • 562 1/2 Concert
  • 564 Auditorium
  • 585 Grand Concert: rosewood back & sides, MOP, colored wood appointments and a Tree-of-Life fretboard inlay.
  • 587 Similar to 585 but with pearl (vs ivoroid) tuner buttons.
  • 590 Auditorium
  • 593 Similar to 590 but with pearl (vs ivoroid) tuner buttons

Prairie State Styles:

  • 200s are Concert size
  • 300s are Grand Concert size
  • 400s are Auditorium size
  • 225 Rosewood back & sides
  • 235 MOP & colored wood appointments
  • 335
  • 340 Rosewood back & sides, MOP, colored wood appointments & a Tree-of-Life fretboard inlay.
  • 350 Pearl (vs ivoroid) tuner buttons
  • 425
  • 426 Nut set high for Hawaiian players
  • 427 Geared pegs & reinforced neck
  • 428 Geared pegs, reinforced neck & high nut
  • 435
  • 440
  • 450 Pearl (vs ivoroid) tuner buttons

Larson Serial Numbers

The Maurer Company records have been lost. It would have helped if the Larson brothers had sequential serial numbers but there is just enough contradictory evidence to prevent one from trusting numbers that appear to be sequential. To complicate matters, the Larson brothers appear to have used different numbering techniques for different brands that they supplied. The following are believed to be accurate known numbers:

The following serial numbers are approximate at best.

The intent is to provide a rough dating guide

For more detailed information, get the following book:

The Larsons’ Creations – Guitars & Mandolins by Robert Carl Hartman

Maurer Instruments

Date Earliest Known Serial Number
1900 xx1 August Larson buys Maurer
1904 282
1905 2121
1906 2143
1908 2188
1909 2239
1910 2333
1911 3194
1912 3490
1914 World War I
1915 3843
1916 4320
1917 21576
1919 25844
1920 26918
1925 29892
1926 30846
1927 33967
1928 34536
1929 38324 Stock market crash
1932 41020
1933 41530 Transition from 12 to 14 fret necks

Prairie State

Date Earliest Known Serial Number
1927 103 12 fret necks
1928 258
1929 454 Stock market crash
1930 485
1931 622
1932 864
1933 881 Transition from 12 to 14 fret necks
1934 913
1935 1002 14 fret necks
1936 1100?
1937 1373
1938 1408
1939 1520
1940 1600?
1941 1727 World War II
1942 ?
1943 ?
1944 ?


Date Earliest Known Serial Number
1934 425 12 fret necks
1935 663 14 fret necks
1936 730
1937 794
1938 1052
1939 1552
1940 1879
1941 ? World War II
1942 ?
1943 ?
1944 ?

Bacon and Day (B&D) Banjos

The following numbers are the earliest known serial number for the year listed. There can easily be more numbers within each year listed. This should be considered a guide to get you within a year of the correct date. Where no serial numbers are shown – they simply are not known. See the notes below.

Year Earliest Known Serial Number That Year
1906 1 Banjos from various contracted builders
1907 212
1908 376
1909 510
1910 800
1911 1129
1912 1700
1913 2028 Earliest reference to Forrest Dale VT
1920 5077 Groton CT facility opened
1921 6350
1922 7269
1923 8369 The Silver Bell introduced
1924 11053
1925 13506
1926 16512
1927 20001
1928 23623
1929 27315
1930 29808 Ads for the Sultana model
1931 30620 Symphonie, Sultana, and Senorita introduced
1932 31350
1933 32177
1934 33008
1935 33456
1936 34096
1937 34617
1938 35110 September 1938 hurricane hit
1939 35341 Gretsch purchases Fred Bacon Banjo Company
1960 3482 Sequence #3
1961 4455
1966 4826

Depending on the selected source, there is disagreement about these numbers. We’ve seen some serial number lists that are as much as 8 years out-of-sync with this list. Where possible, these numbers are in agreement with existing sales receipts. In any event, these should be used only as a guide and not assumed to be absolutely correct.

1941 – 1965

Gretsch started a new serial number system. It’s not clear how it works during this period. 1940: #1 or #001 to 1965: approximately #84xxx.

1950s – 1960s

During the Folk Boom of the 1960s, Gretsch produced a line of 5 string open back banjos with regular and long necks. These had black plastic laminate headstock overlays with “Bacon” engraved in blockletters and a small, metal plate engraved “Bacon Folk Model”. These appear to have a unique serial number scheme.

1964 – 1970

Gretsch used a new serial format showing: Month/Year/Production Number (3-4 digits), stamped as follows:

  • MYNNN or MYNNNN – Month = 1-9 – with 3 or 4-digit production number
  • MMYNNN or MMYNNNN – Month =10,11,12 – with 3 or 4-digit production number

It’s not clear whether the 3-4 digit production number is the total production for the month or for the year. For example:

  • # 41122 would have been made April 1971, #122
  • #121131 could be made in either December 1971, #131 or January 1972, #1131


Gretsch stopped production of Bacon and B&D banjos.

Known Problems with Gretsch’s Serial Number System:

Due to the various renumbering schemes, there are Gretsch-built Bacons and B&D’s with 3 digit, 4 digit and 5 digit serial numbers, which confuses identification of instruments made between 1910 and 1940. For example:

  • #221 could have been made around 1907 or in the early 1940’s
  • #2121 could have been made around 1913 or 1914, the late 1940’s or February 1971, #21
  • #31121 could have been made in the early 1931 or 1932, 1960 or March 1971, #121

In general: Bacon serial numbers begin in 1906 (1 and 2 digit) and run consecutively until the sale of the company to Gretsch in 1940 (5 digit). Like all other companies, there are exceptions. For example: B&D had several un-numbered models between 1913 and 1920.

The hurricane of September 1938 destroyed the company’s ability to manufacture anything. Gretsch was contracted to make banjos for them. The financial strain became too much and the company sold in 1940 to Gretsch. David L. Day was in his 70’s.

Gretsch appears to have started a new numbering system at about that time. The system is not known for certain but might have restarted as consecutive numbers beginning at 1000.

B&D models stopped around 1968 following Baldwin’s (Gretsch’s parent company) 1967 purchase of the ODE company. In 1987, after the Gretsch family had re-acquired their name, re-introduced the B&D Silver Bell but the market didn’t seem to care.

There were many name variations for The Bacon Banjo Company, Inc. but it remained in Fred Bacon’s name from 1920 until the company closed in 1938. The original partners were Fred and Cassie Bacon and Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Winship. The name variations included ‘Bacon and Day’ and ‘B&D’ for all the instruments co-developed by Fred Bacon and David Day. Starting in 1923, models included: the Silver Bell, the Super Banjo and the Blue Bell. To confuse matters, they also manufactured ‘Bacon’ banjos that had been developed by Fred Bacon: the Professional, the Orchestra and the Blue Ribbon.

The passage of time confuses matters even further: They made some non-SilverBell models that had been developed in the 1930’s that bore the B&D label like the Seniorita, and some later Gretsch SilverBells that carried only the Bacon label.

Ironically, after almost 40 years of making some of the world’s finest banjos, the “Bacon and Day” banjos were the first to carry David L. Day’s name.

Paramount Banjos

Starting Serial Number Year
x0000 1921
x1500 1922
x2000 1923
x3000 1924
x4000 1925
x6000 1926
x8100 1927
11500 1928
13000 1929
13500 1930
14000 1931
14500 1932
15000 1933
15500 1934

Super Paramonts

xx0 1929
100 1930
160 1931
180 1932
230 1933
260 1934
280 1935

A.C. Fairbanks Banjos

A.C. Fairbanks Banjos

Earliest Latest Year
xx243 1875
x1741 x1988 1891
x2246 x2857 1892
x3707 x8662 1893
x9366 x9920 1894
14000 14909 1895
15021 15843 1896
16029 16995 1897

Fairbanks and Cole Banjos

Earliest Latest Year
xx77 691 1880 Cole partnership
x983 1868 1881
1920 2666 1882
2854 3647 1883
4022 4698 1884
4753 5503 1885
5735 6468 1886
6760 7317 1887
7849 8460 1888
9041 9221 1889 Cole partnership ends

A.C. Fairbanks / Vega Banjos

Earliest Latest Year
67 992 1890 “Electric” banjo introduced
1464 1638 1891
Not Known 1894
1896 Metal nameplates
16971 1897
17021 17963 1898
18026 18939 1899
19124 19993 1900
20107 20957 1901 “Whyte Ladye” introduced
21237 21961 1902
22002 22897 1903
23071 23203 1904 Factory burned – Sold to Vega
23255 23548 1905
23560 23969 1906
24092 24195 1907
24337 24973 1908
25083 25986 1909 “Tube-a-Phone” introduced
26023 26999 1910 Metal nameplate discontinued
27027 27991 1911
28062 28930 1912
29029 29993 1913
30492 30891 1914
31462 31711 1915
32290 32850 1916
33282 33822 1917
34273 24759 1918
35017 37162 1919
37829 39942 1920
40071 45235 1921
45608 50773 1922
51279 56313 1923 Name changed to “Vega”
56656 62248 1924
62419 67436 1925
67518 72204 1926
73075 78614 1927
79025 83827 1928
84124 87896 1929
89729 94716 1930
95374 97962 1931
98314 98149 1932
98150 1933 Recorded number sequence
98185 1934
98220 1935
98225 1936
98290 1937
98325 1938
98360 1939
98395 1940
98430 1941
98465 1942
98500 1943
98535 1944
98570 1945
98605 1946
98640 1947
98675 1948
98710 1949
98745 1950
98780 1951
98820 1952
98896 1953
98990 1954
99067 1955
99213 1956
99428 1957
99582 1958
99717 1959
100022 1960
100560 1961
101999 1962
10300 1962 Printer error yellow labels
10522 1963 October 1962 to February 1964
12130 1964
124001 1964 New series: February 1964
125641 1965
126772 1966
127682 1967
128565 1968
129120 1969
129683 1970 Vega sold to Martin
130049 1971

S.S. Stewart Banjos

Starting Serial Number Year (Very Approximate)
001 1878
300 1879
600 1880
900 1881
1200 1882
1500 1883
2000 1884
2500 1885
3000 1886
3500 1887
4000 1888
5000 1889
6000 1890
8000 1891
10000 1892
12000 1893
14000 1894
15000 1895
17000 1896
23000 1897
35000 1898
50000 1899
72000 1900
Serial Number with a “4S” 1901

Weyman Banjos

Starting Serial Number Year (Very Approximate)
35000 1924
37000 1925
39000 1926
41000 1927
43000 1928
45000 1929
45500 1930
46000 1931
46800 1932
47500 1933
48200 1934

Ludwig Banjos

Starting Serial Number Year (Very Approximate)
3000 1925
4000 1926
5000 1927
6000 1928
7000 1929
8000 1930
9000 1931
10000 1932

History and Identification of Jean Larrivée Guitars

The best way to date Larrivée instruments is by the instrument labels. The following site helps identify the labels with the date and location of production:

About Larrivée Guitar Labels
Larrivee Serial Numbers (approximate)

Michael Gurian Guitars

All Gurian Guitars have serial numbers stamped on the neck block in characters visible through the soundhole. The numbers are preceded by letters: A, B, C, or D which indicate the series.

  • A-series – Factory location: New York City from start to 1971.
  • B-series – Factory location: Grand Street, New York City from 1972 to 1973.
  • C-series – Factory location: Hinsdale, New Hampshire from 1973 to 1979
  • D-series – Factory location: West Sansei, New Hampshire from 1980 to 1981
  • The designation “S” refers to the body size: 2 & 3 (increasing with number value)
  • The designation “M” is mahogany
  • The designation “R” is rosewood
  • The designation “H” is herringbone

Size 2

  • S2M, size 2 guitar with mahogany back & sides. This is the smallest model, chrome tuners.
  • S2R, size 2 guitar with East Indian rosewood back & sides, chrome tuners.
  • S2R3H, identical to S2R, but with 3-piece back, full herringbone purflings, gold tuners.

Size 3

  • S3M, Size 3 guitar with mahogany back & sides. middle-sized, chrome tuners.
  • S3R, Size 3 guitar with East Indian rosewood back & sides, chrome tuners.
  • S3R3H, Like S3R, with 3-piece back, full herringbone binding, gold tuners.


  • JM, jumbo size guitar with mahogany back & sides, chrome tuners.
  • JR, jumbo size guitar with East Indian rosewood back & sides, chrome tuners.
  • JR3H, like JR, but with 3-piece back, herringbone binding & gold tuners.

The Cutaway

  • Size 3 Gurian, either acoustic or amplified.

Classic and Flamenco Guitars

  • CLM, Classical guitar with mahogany back and sides.
  • CLR, Classic guitar with Indian rosewood back and sides, decorated binding, gold tuners.
  • CLB, Classic guitar of Brazilian rosewood, gold tuners.
  • FLC, Flamenco guitar with Canadian cypress back and sides, friction pegs (machine heads on some examples).

LoPrinzi Guitars

This information is approximate and has not been verified by the LoPrinzi family. If you have additional information or corrections, please contact us.

Augustino & Thomas LoPrinzi Guitars usually have the date of manufacture on the label.

1958 to 1973+/-

LoPrinzi Guitars – most from Plainsboro New Jersey. Headstocks say ‘LoPrinzi’.

1973 to 1980:

LoPrinzi Guitars – Plainsboro, New Jersey – AMF years (serial numbers: high 3,000 – 4,000s) Tom LoPrinzi was still with the company. Headstocks say ‘LoPrinzi’.


AMF ceased production of ‘LoPrinzi’ guitars.

1975 to 1990:

Labels say: ‘A. LoPrinzi – Rosemont, New Jersey’ – built by Augustino LoPrinzi (and apprentices) with “Augustino” on the headstocks.

1990 to Present:

Augustino LoPrinzi Guitar Maker – Clearwater Florida (LoPrinzi name bought back from AMF) – Instruments designed and built by Augustino and Donna LoPrinzi (daughter).

Augustino LoPrinzi has developed a fine reputation for classical guitars, ukuleles, steel string and 12-string guitars. Serial number records exist for instruments built before 1975 and after 1980.

They are maintained by Donna LoPrinzi in Clearwater Florida.

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