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Thread: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

  1. #1

    Default Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Hi everyone. I'm new the forum and have only been playing the mandolin for a few years. I'm entirely new to string instruments, and am struggling to identify the year of my Gibson A-style mandolin, which I inherited from my dad who passed away many years ago.

    I recently had it cleaned and repaired (it had been in storage for about 20 years at a relative's house but that's another story), but I don't really know anything about it other than my Dad bought it in or around Oakland, California sometime in the 1960s. I've attached a few pictures (I'm sorry they are sideways) and I'm hoping to get an idea of the year it was built.

    Inside the body is a blue stamp with the number 24-305. On the back of the headstock there is another number 513831. I also have the original chipboard case but it's empty and has no discernible markings that I can find.

    Thank you so much in advance.
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    We all struggle with Gibson serial numbers from the 1960's, since Gibson re-used serial numbers during that period.

    The number 513831 on the back of the head indeed is the serial number, and indicates a date of either 1965 or 1968. But it is not possible to tell which, at least not with any information that is currently available.

    The number 24-305 is what's called a factory order number. It would indicate the year of construction, if we had surviving records from that period of time. Unfortunately, no such records are available at this time. If such information comes to light in the future, it will then be possible to date your instrument more accurately. But for now, either 1965 or 1968 is the best that we can do.

    The exact date of construction is really not very important anyway, except perhaps for sentimental reasons. A '65 mandolin would have the same market value as a '68.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    That actually really helps. It must have been 1965, because by 1968 he had moved to Oregon and I know he bought the mandolin before he moved.

    I really did just want to know for sentimental reasons. I would never sell it, especially now that I've been playing it myself.

    Thank you again. Having a (nearly) exact date makes me really happy.

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Even Gibson struggle with Gibson serial numbers ?

    Dave H
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  6. #5
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    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Gibson doesn't know anything about their numbers except for their current system.

    For those who want good info on Gibson serial numbers, the best references are Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars, Spann's Guide to Gibson, and Guitar Identification by Duchossoir.

  7. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    This GuitarHQ website, which was originally set up by Vintage Guitar, is where I go first to check models, serial numbers, and FON's.

    I have found that some of the info there, such as what years particular models were made, and when changes were made in some models, may not be 100% accepted as accurate, but I haven't found another source for as broad a range of easy-to-access Gibson info.
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  8. #7

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Thanks for the resources. Great information. Would you guys say what I have here is an A-50?

  9. #8

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    I recently acquired a TG-0 tenor guitar, and it's serial (1084) isn't in the online lists at that site. Or rather it is, both as a 1903 mandolin and as a 1961 acoustic. Mine is clearly neither - it has "The Gibson" script logo, so it must be 1927-33 because that's when the first run of tenors was stopped, and the smudgy FON seems likely to match a 1931 instrument, which fits.

    Rather confirms the consensus that Gibson serial numbers aren't reliable for dating!

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by LM33 View Post
    Thanks for the resources. Great information. Would you guys say what I have here is an A-50?
    I think so, but I would need to see a picture of the back to confirm it. A-50's had maple backs, A-40's had mahogany backs.

    As for the "TG-0", we would need pictures and/or specs to correctly identify the instrument.
    We identify the model and the period first, then try to narrow down the year of manufacture.
    Most of the factory order numbers for 1927 through 1931 were 4 digit numbers in the 8000's and 9000's, or 3 digit numbers lower than 200.

    The number 1084 is more likely from 1933 or '34. Again, pics and specs of the instrument would be necessary to say for sure. This info is in "Spann's Guide to Gibson," which I mentioned earlier. It is the most complete and up to date source for identifying Gibson numbers from 1903 to 1945. The man put a lot of work into researching and compiling this information. Buy his book, he earned the publishing royalties.

  11. #10

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    I think so, but I would need to see a picture of the back to confirm it. A-50's had maple backs, A-40's had mahogany backs.
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    Here is the back.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Hmmm. It's a bit of an anomaly, but I think it's an A-40 with a sunbursted back, which is rather unusual.

    Can you give us one more shot with more light and better focus, maybe from a slight angle so we can tell whether the back is arched or flat?
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-11-2021 at 8:47pm.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Hmmm. It's a bit of an anomaly, but I think it's an A-40 with a sunbursted back, which is rather unusual.

    Can you give us one more shot with more light and better focus, maybe from a slight angle so we can tell whether the back is arched or flat?
    Yes, I will take some more pictures during my lunch tomorrow when the light should be good. It does have an arched back.

  14. #13

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Here are two more. The arch on the back and the front are about the same.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    It's an A-40. The arched sunburst back is unusual, but spec changes were not unusual for Gibson, and not all changes are documented in the reference books.

  16. #15

    Default Re: Struggling with Gibson serial numbers

    I wish I could go back in time and ask him why he chose this particular mandolin. Would be an interesting conversation. Knowing him he put a lot of time and thought into choosing it.

    Thank you for the information. I could never have figured that out on my own.

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