The first step in dating your Gibson SG is buying it a nice bouquet of flowers...
Seriously though, the best way to date a vintage SG is not through the serial number, but rather by the potentiometer codes and the features it has. Only in 1977 did Gibson switch to a more reliable serial number system which can be trusted as a dating tool. Even then, you want to have a rough idea of when it was made based on the features first, because they have used several different serial number formats through the years.
Note to vintage buyers: The "Fretless Wonder" term referred only to SG Customs made from 1961-1975. It is not normal for any other vintage SG to have remarkably low frets. If this is the case, the guitar needs a re-fret. Beware sellers passing off worn out frets as a "Fretless Wonder"
Potentiometer Codes Edit
The code on the back of a potentiometer can normally be broken down into three main components: the manufacturer, the year and the week of manufacture. However, it is important to remember that this date is when the pot was made, which necessarily has to be before the guitar was made. Being produced in large batches, it can be a while before every pot in a batch is installed on a guitar. Generally assume 5-8 weeks between production and installation on a guitar. However, they can also sometimes take nearly a year to be used.
For example, the pot pictured below reads: "1377647" means the pots were made by CTS (137) in 1976 (76) in the third week of November (47). This means the guitar was most likely shipped out in early 1977.
Heel Joints Edit
One of the ways to date a 1960s SG in particular, is by the design of the heel. This is because the heel is an integral part of the body construction and bodies are used immediately and not set aside to wait, whereas parts like potentiometers are dated by the manufacturer before being shipped to Gibson and waiting to be installed, as the large batch is used up over time. Gibson was constantly redesigning the heel throughout this decade, although changes were not entirely consistent. For example, the 1960 style would intermittently re-appear throughout 1961. So treat this as a general guide taken in conjunction with other evidence, not absolute rules. By the 1970s, heel joints became more standardized.
Editorial Note on the SG's "Flimsy Heel": This is essentially a myth, the idea that it's harder to find a vintage SG without a broken neck than with one. Headstock breaks are more common, but that still doesn't necessarily mean the design is flawed. Simply put, fine instruments are often delicate and are to be treated with care. You wouldn't call a Stradivarius violin "flimsy". Generally speaking, SGs were not treated with care until they started gaining vintage status in the 1990s, much later than Les Pauls. Also, people seem to assume the early '60s design is weak because of how it looks from the outside, without knowing the design of the mortise and tenon. The design featured a substantial tenon equal to the entire width of the neck, which reached nearly to the back of the neck pickup cavity as well. By contrast, modern Custom/Historic SGs use a functionally identical design and have not gained this reputation for neck breaks. Also, it's not like there aren't late '60s SGs or even Les Pauls with broken necks.
The original design found on late 1960 through early 1961 builds:
From mid 1961 through early/mid 1962, the body overlapped the neck and the transition was smooth:
From early/mid 1962 through the end of 1962, the flat area returned and the hangover stepped down:
For 1963, the flat area became smaller again and it stayed like this through 1965, with some variation due to hand-shaping, and some with the hangover omitted.
Also in 1963, some can be found with completely smooth heels:
In late 1965, the hangover was removed:
And in early 1966, the design made a radical change to the style that would remain through 1968:In 1969, it changed to this style: Late in 1969, the step returned:
And in 1970, the flat area on the neck was reduced in size:
This heel design remained unchanged throughout the 1970s and even into 1980.
In 1981, the flat area on the neck increased in size slightly:
And in 1984, it became more rounded:
In 1986, with the introduction of the SG-62, came a divergence in heel design. The Standard and Special retained the previous design while the SG-62 got a new design, based on the early '60s style:
Pickup Routing Edit
Other Changes Edit
Note: most of these changes were slowly phased in as the old parts were used up, so these are just general guidelines.
- Sideways vibrola
- Longer pickguard (Standard/Custom)
- Reaches down to switch
- Sharper, longer points
- Variation in tenon cover design
- Blank truss rod cover
- Ink-stamped serial with '50s format
- Brown Lifton style case w/ pink lining
- Smaller tenon cover
- "Les Paul" engraved truss rod cover
- Shorter pickguard
- Impressed serial with new format
- Black case w/ gold lining
- Ebony block vibrola
- Nylon bridge saddles introduced
- Retaining wire introduced on ABR-1
- Renamed "SG"
- Maestro vibrola
- Blank truss rod cover
- 1 5/8" nut width
- Indian Rosewood fretboard
- Chrome hardware (Standard/Special/Junior)
- 14 degree headstock pitch
- This decreases downward pressure on the nut (compared to the previous 17 degrees), resulting in less sustain, but easier bends.
- 1 9/16" nut width
- Larger control cavity route
- Small bevel truss rod cover
- Metal bridge saddles return
- "Batwing" pickguard
- "Swimming Pool" pickup route (Custom/Standard)
- "Witch Hat" knobs
- Walnut finish option
- 3-pc laminated neck
- This feature strengthens the neck
- No dot over "i" in "Gibson" logo
- Note: Not uncommon sporadically throughout '70s, but consistent in this year
- Small bevel pickguard
- Un-angled heel
- 24 9/16" scale length
- While a very slight change of 1/16", this reduction in scale length would result in lower string tension.
- New crown inlay w/ shorter top half (Standard)
- Late in year: Small volute begins to appear
- This is a feature used on violins to strengthen the naturally weak spot where the neck meets the headstock. It was introduced gradually, "growing" throughout the year to its full size.
- "Made in U.S.A." stamp (Mid/Late year)
- New "Gibson" logo w/ closed "b" & "o", dot over "i" returns, more squared font
- Natural finish option
- Individual pickup routes (Custom/Standard)
Late 1971 Redesign:
- Control cavity moved to front of body
- Les Paul pickguard
- Headstock increased in size
- Neck meets body at 20th fret
- Steel bridge saddles
- Neck angle removed
- "Gibson" embossed pickup covers
- No cutaway beveling
- Standard Bigsby tremolo
- Fiberboard headstock veneer
- Control cavity moved back to rear
- Bill Lawrence Super Humbuckers introduced
- Uses leftover embossed covers at first
- "Angel Wing" pickguard
- Harmonica Tune-O-Matic
- Speed knobs
- Cutaway beveling returns
- Pickguard re-shaped to accommodate beveling
- Unmarked pickup covers
- 3 degree neck angle returns
- 17 degree headstock pitch returns
- Switch to 300k pots (sometimes 100k tone)
- This change results in a darker, more bass-y tone, compared to 500k pots
- Stopbar becomes standard, Bigsby optional
Mid / Late 1973:
- Ebony fretboard, un-bound (Standard)
Early / Mid 1974:
- Pickups spaced farther apart, closer to bridge (Standard/Special)
- Pickups moved closer to bridge, same spacing (Custom)
- Pickups spaced farther apart, closer to neck (Custom)
- Rosewood fretboard w/ binding returns (Standard)
- Switch moves above knobs (Standard)
- Output jack moves to side of body (Standard)
- 1 11/16" nut width returns (Standard)
- Volute removed
- Posi-Lock strap buttons
- One-piece neck returns
- Tim Shaw humbuckers introduced (Standard)
- Green Key tuning machines return
- Bill Lawrence "The Original" humbuckers introduced
Serial Numbers (1975-1977) Edit
In the few years approaching the change in serial system of 1977, the numbers became more reliable for dating.
Serial Numbers (1977-2013) Edit
Gibson's most sustainable numbering system was launched in August 1977, with a stamped-in 8-digit number. The 1st and 5th digit represent the year of manufacture. The 3 digits in-between denote the day of that year, while digits 6 to 8 give the production number.
Y = Year, D = Day, P = Production NumberFor example:
03262834 = 2002 model, 326th day, # 834After the opening of the new factory in Nashville in 1983, the production numbers began to denote the production site. 001 to 499 appeared on the instruments built in Kalamazoo, and 500 to 999 on those built in Nashville. Even after the closing of the Kalamazoo factory in 1984, this practice continued until 1989 in Nashville.
In 2006, the system was changed to nine-digits, with a digit added at the beginning of the production number. The production numbers went from 500 to 699, after which the batch number 1 was included, and the production number returned to 500.
Starting in 2008, the model year was printed right under "Made in U.S.A." on the back of the headstock.
Serial Numbers (2014-Present) Edit
Gibson's most simplified system was introduced in 2014. It remained a stamped 9-digit number, but the first 2 digits indicate the year, while the last 7 digits are a production number for all guitars produced that year. It also includes the year stamped under "Made in USA", making decoding mostly redundant anyway.
170604639 = 2017 model, # 604,639
Custom Shop Serial Numbers Edit
The Custom Shop uses a different formula for SGs than it does for most other models, although it's shared with the Firebird:
M = Model: 1 = Special, 2 = Standard, 3 = CustomFor example:
075292 = 2007 SG Standard, # 529In 2010, it changed so that only the second digit denotes the model year.
(?)YPPPMHowever, some special edition SGs use the standard Custom Shop format:
(CS)YPPPPGary Rossington SG: Limited edition of 250. Numbered in sequence as "13XXX"
Tony Iommi SG: Numbered in sequence as "TI XXX"
Earliest Known SGs Edit
This is the model pictured in the 1962 catalog, showing a rectangular tenon cover, longer pickguard and blank TRC. One feature that differentiates this prototype from any production 1960 SG is the "Les Paul" script silk-screened on the headstock. Another is the pickguard actually touching the switch, which has no ring.
0 8765: Edit
All original. Notice large tenon cover.