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.
Note: It is not uncommon to find an SG with pots dated several years before it was actually made based on the other features. Most commonly, this seems to occur on 1967 models with pots dating to 1965. It is possible that a batch of forgotten pots from 1965 were discovered that year, but the reason is anyone's guess.
It is important to remember that no one feature is the absolute determinant factor in dating, but rather the totality of all features taken into consideration.
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 mid 1965, the hangover was removed:
And in early 1966 (before the switch to the batwing pickguard), the design made a radical change to the style that would remain through 1968 and into early 1969:In early/mid 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:This divergence held until 2013, when the '61 Reissue was discontinued and the Standard redesigned with the Reissue's heel design. Since then, the Standard has fluctuated back and forth between the two heel designs.
Pickup Routing Edit
Another feature that would change through the 1960s was the style of pickup routing. Note that this guide refers only to the SG Standard.
The first style was the same routs seen on Les Pauls:
That would be used until the switch to the Batwing pickguard in early-mid 1966.
Then, came a slightly different style with wiring channels (mostly) routed as well:
Note that the unpainted extensions to the far ends of the routs in the above picture are aftermarket work.
Also note the change in tenon design, as the heel was also redesigned in early 1966.
The next style, introduced in early 1967, is known as the "Swimming Pool" rout. This simplified construction so that the Standard and Custom would use the same rout. However, Specials and Juniors still used a different rout to accommodate the longer P-90 pickups.In early 1969, the design changed slightly, with amorphous shaped holes for the pickup legs and no neck tenon: For 1970, it changed yet again to a simple rectangle shape with more rounded corners and circular routs for the pickup legs:
And in 1971, it changed again before the lineup was redesigned at the end of the year. This time, it went back to the individual routes, now shaped to accommodate many different pickup types:
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
- No screw under bridge pickup
- 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
- Double line Kluson tuners
- Small bevel truss rod cover
- 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.
- Larger control cavity route
- 1 9/16" nut width by end of year
- New heel design
Early / Mid 1966:
- "Batwing" pickguard
Mid / Late 1966:
- Crown inlay positioned lower
- "Swimming Pool" pickup route (Custom/Standard)
- "Witch Hat" knobs
- No dot over "i" in "Gibson" logo
- Note: Not uncommon sporadically in other years, but consistent in this year
- Small bevel pickguard
Early / Mid 1969:
- Walnut finish option
- 3-pc laminated neck
- This feature strengthens the neck
- Narrower headstock
- Non-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)
- "Gibson Deluxe" tuners
- 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.
- Resin impregnated fiberboard headstock veneer
- New "Gibson" logo
- Closed "b" & "o"
- Dot over "i" returns
- More squared font style
Mid / Late 1970:
- "Made in U.S.A." stamp
- 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 returns
- Less curve to follow unbeveled cutaway
- Harmonica Tune-O-Matic
- Speed knobs
- Cutaway beveling returns
- Pickguard re-shaped to accommodate beveling
- Pickguard tip longer and more rounded than original "Angel Wing" design
- 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)
- Crown inlay moved back up to pre-1967 position
- 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. While not all SGs produced from 1975-1977 used this system (some retained the old system), all that did were produced in these years.
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.
(1977 - 2005) Edit
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.
Y = Year
D = Day
B - Batch
P = Production NumberFor example:
025494925 = 2009 model - 254th day - Batch 4 - # 925Starting in 2008, the model year was stamped under "Made in U.S.A." on the back of the headstock.
Serial Numbers (2013-Present) Edit
Gibson's most simplified system was introduced in late 2013. 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.
Y = Year
P = Production NumberFor example:
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:
Y = Year
P = Production Number
M = Model (1 = Special & Custom, 2 = Standard)For example:
075292 = 2007 SG Standard, # 529In 2010, it changed to a new format:
(?)Y(????)However, 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.