Ascribing production-date information to any musical instrument is a tricky proposition, but it’s especially true with electric guitars. Changes in production methods and components typically occur gradually—rather than instantaneously—which can make “dating” a guitar a less than exact science. Adding to the confusion is the fact that existing parts are often used on “new” models, resulting in “transitional” guitars. Fortunately, in the case of Les Pauls, there are a number of general indicators of age. Of course, these indicators are valid only to the extent that the Les Paul in question has not been modified. (Something as seemingly innocuous as the changing of a truss-rod cover, for instance, could provide a false lead.) Assuming the Les Paul is in its original state, however, below are several areas to examine as starting points.
“Gibson” Headstock Logo
Differences in the style of lettering can provide helpful clues. From 1952 to 1968, the “dot” above the “i” was not joined to the “G,” and gaps existed at the top of the “b” and the “o.” In 1968, the dot above the “i” disappeared, and the gaps in the “b” and the “o” were filled. In 1972, the dot reappeared, but from that point until 1981 it came and went in unpredictable fashion.
“Made In USA” Headstock Logo
This designation was stamped into the back of the headstock from 1970 to 1975. From 1975 to 1977, a transfer bearing the logo was applied to the headstock. In 1977, the stamping method was reintroduced.
Les Paul ‘60s Tribute
“Gibson” Pickup Logo
The Gibson logo appeared on plastic-covered P-90s and metal-covered humbuckers from 1970 through 1972.
The volute refers to a carved heel located at the area where the rear of the neck meets the headstock. It was featured on Les Pauls manufactured between 1970 and 1981.
Gibson has used several distinct types of control knobs through the years. Below are the original periods of use for the main types:
‘SPEED’ KNOB – Smooth-side barrel shape, internal dial-digits, clear/colored plastic. 1952 to 1955.
‘BELL’ KNOB – Smooth-side bell shape, internal dial-digits, clear-colored plastic. 1955 to 1960.
‘METAL CAP’ KNOB – smooth-side larger bell shape, internal dial-digits, clear/colored plastic with the word “Volume” or “Tone” inscribed on the metal cap. 1960 to 1967.
‘WITCH HAT’ KNOB – conical shape with ribbed side, dial-digits on the skirt, black plastic with “Volume” or “Tone” inscribed on the small metal cap. 1967 to 1975.
1957 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue with ‘Bell’ Knobs
Gibson has also used various types of bridges on Les Pauls through the years. Below are the original periods of use for the main types.
WRAP-UNDER – This was a combination unit fitted with two long rod “anchors,” featured on the very first gold-tops. 1952 to 1953.
WRAP-OVER – This was the “stud-mounted” successor the wrap-under bridge. 1953 to 1962.
RIDGED WRAP-OVER – Same as the wrap-over, but featuring a staggered, moulded ridge on top. 1962 to 1971.
TUNE-O-MATIC – First generation of the innovative six-saddle bridge, individually adjustable for length. 1954 to 1961.
TUNE-O-MATIC RETAINER – Same as above, but with bridge-saddle retaining wire. 1961 to 1971.
TUNE-O-MATIC NYLON – Same as above, but with white nylon bridge saddles in place of the metal type. 1961 to 1971.
NEW TUNE-O-MATIC – Sturdier, heavier-duty version with no bridge-saddle retaining wire. 1971 till today.
NASHVILLE – Large rectangular bridge with long-travel metal saddles. 1971 to 1982.
Of course, serial numbers and control pot codes can provide important clues regarding dates of manufacture, but Les Paul enthusiasts should be cautious, as these indicators can be misleading. Gibson has often changed its system for serial numberings, and not all periods are characterized by sequencing that’s easy to decode. Various sources have attempted to decipher the logic behind the numbering systems, but caution is advised when relying on these sources. Some Les Pauls from the ‘60s, for instance, bear serial numbers that were used on as many as six or seven different guitars. That said, the information outlined above should provide a solid starting point for ascertaining the specific period during which a vintage Les Paul entered the guitar world. Happy detective work!