Understanding Gretsch guitar serial numbers

Gretsch used several different serial number schemes through the years. Each of them can be used to accurately pinpoint the age of a guitar, if you have the correct information.

Unfortunately, correct information can be very difficult to come by. Most guides are based on Jay Scott's groundbreaking book "Gretsch: the guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company," which is a fine book, but it was published nearly two decades ago. Subsequent research has indicated inaccuracies in Scott's numbers, and therefore any serial number guides cribbing from Scott are also incorrect.

The Gretsch-GEAR database exists to get it right: to document the actual serial numbers, to determine once and for all what was built and when, and to harness the collective knowledge of thousands of Gretsch fans to put the pieces together.

For guitars already in Gretsch-GEAR, you can see the changes in serial numbers and guitars in our serial number charts.

For additional reading on Gretsch serial numbers, we highly recommend Ed Ball's excellent "Gretsch 6120: The History of a Legendary Guitar." Ball is one of the key researchers who have determined the actual dates, years and features Gretsch serial numbers correspond to.

Sequential numbering: 1930s-1966

From the beginning of guitar production until 1966, Gretsch guitars were sequentially numbered and can be used to reliably date the guitar. However, it is important to note several key points:

  1. Gretsch annual changes corresponded to model years, like automakers, not necessarily calendar year. Just as a '57 Chevy may have been built in late '56 to hit the showrooms in the fall, a '57 6120 may have been constructed in '56. Nevertheless, if it has all the typical '57 features, it is considered a '57 model, not a '56.
  2. Gretsch guitars were built in batches, typically of 100, but sometimes 50. Guitars typically did not change much within a batch – with some exceptions – but they often changed from batch to batch. Which means two examples from the same year could have different features, depending on which batches they came from. You can see this as you browse Gretsch-GEAR or chart the changes.
  3. Numbers restarted after World War II, which can lead to considerable confusion on very old Gretsches. If it has a "light bulb" headstock, it's probably pre-war.
  4. The numbers here are generally considered the most accurate numbers publicly available at the time. However, research has indicated that they could be substantially off. If you have questions, ask on the forum. One of our resident Gretsch-sperts will be able to help.

Gretsch began numbering guitars sequentially, probably in 1939 but possibly earlier.

The numbers, by model year:

Less than 1000
Pre-war
10xx to 20xx
Approximately 1945-1947
20xx-30xx
Approximately 1948-1949
30xx to 40xx
Approximately 1950
40xx to 50xx
Approximately 1951
50xx to 70xx
Approximately 1952
70xx to 90xx
1953
90xx to 130xx
1954
130xx to 180xx
1955
180xx to 210xx
1956
210xx to 260xx
1957 Note: 1000 serial numbers from 1957 were misplaced and later turned up, with original '57-style labels, in 1965.
260xx to 300xx
1958
300xx to 340xx
1959
340xx to 390xx
1960
390xx to 450xx
1961
451xx to 530xx
1962
530xx to 630xx
1963
630xx to 770xx
1964
770xx to 840xx
1965 Note: the misplaced 1957 serial numbers, as well as some odd four-digit serial numbers, show up in 1965-1966, during the transition to the date-coded system in mid-'66.
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1966 to 1972 date-coded serial numbers

Gretsch began date-coding serial numbers in August 1966. Date-coded serial numbers are typically found stamped on the back or top of the headstock, and "Made in USA" is stamped next to the number starting in June 1967.

The first digit or first 2 digits = month (1-12).
The next digit = last digit of the year (1966 to 1972: 6,7,8,9,0,1,2).
The remaining digits = number of individual instrument, probably.

For example, 27136 should be February (2), 1967 (7) and the 136th instrument made that year.

1972 to 1981 date-coded serial numbers

A hyphenated number was embossed into the back of headstock.

The digits before hyphen = month (1-12).
The first digit after hyphen = last digit of year. (i.e., 1974 would be 4)
Last 3 digits = number of the instrument.

For example, 3-8094 would be March (3), 1978 (8) and the 94th guitar made that month.

Modern era (Pre-Fender) serial numbers

Serial numbers have six numbers, with a three digit suffix.

The first two digits are the year of manufacture.
The next digit is the month.
The next three digits are the model number, without the 6 at the beginning.
The final numbers are the sequential order of the model made during the lifespan of the model (not that year).

For example, 946119-976 would be a June 1994 Tennessee Rose, the 976th made.

  • 94 is the year 19"94"
  • 6 is the month "6" = June
  • 119 is the model 6"119"

Lower numbers will always appear on earlier guitars, higher numbers on later guitars. Remember that 2000 and 2001 guitars will, of course, not begin with a 9. Also, on guitars built in October, November or December, the third AND fourth digits denote the month.

A special note on pre-Fender MIK models (Electromatics, Synchromatics and Historics

Serial numbers on Korean made guitars in this era were printed on a sticker affixed to the back of the headstock. This sticker, along with the "Made in Korea" sticker, went missing almost immediately — sometimes before the guitar even left the store.

In addition, these guitars followed no known numbering scheme. As of July 2011, the current thinking is that the first digit probably denotes the year, while the following numbers remain a mystery.

This only pertains the pre-Fender Korean-made guitars. The Fender-era 51xx guitars follow the normal Fender numbering scheme.

Modern FMIC-era serial numbers

When Fender took over production in January 2003 the serial number scheme changed again, and Fender-era serial numbers have a two-character originating factory code, followed by year and month, and finally a sequential ordering number.

For example, serial number JT03074463 would break down as:

  • J: Japan
  • T: Terada factory
  • 03: 2003
  • 07: July Production
  • 4463: 4,463rd guitar built that year (all models combined)

The two-letter factory code prefixes include:

  • CS: US, Custom Shop
  • CY: China, Yako
  • KP: Korea, Peerless
  • KS: Korea, Samick/SPG
  • JD: Japan, Dyna Gakki
  • JF: Japan, Fuji-Gen Gakki
  • JT: Japan, Terada
  • IS: Indonesia, Samick

Of those, JT is by far the most common on the pro-line instruments. However, other Japanese facilities have been used, so it's not particularly unusual to see JD and JF prefixes.

Most Electromatic hollowbodies carry a KS designation, although KP was fairly common prior to about 2007.

CY is usually seen on Electromatic solidbodies such as the Corvette/CVT.

The last four numbers are sequential for the given year (all models combined) and are broken into two categories as follows:

  • 0001 - 0100: Reserved for prototypes, samples, one-offs, and other special things.
  • 0101 - 9999: Regular production (all models combined).

So, JT05070014 would be made at the Terada factory in July 2005 and would be the 14th of something special that year (all special models combined).

Unlike the pre-Fender codes, specific models are no longer designated within the serial number.

Thanks to Mike Lewis of Fender for detailing the current numbering system.

Finding your serial number

In the beginning, Gretsch simply wrote serial numbers inside the guitar in pencil. These pencilled-in numbers often fade and become illegible, or even disappear.

After World War II, some guitars had a serial number embossed on the head, but reliable numbers didn't really appear until the advent of the first labels, around 1949.

Early labelled Gretsches will usually have a printed serial number and a handwritten model number. On hollowbodies, the label is usually visible through the f-hole. On other models such as solidbodies, it should be inside a control cavity.

From about 1949 to 1957 watch for a white rectangular label that reads:

        Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co. 
        60 Broadway, Brooklyn 11, N.Y. 
        Model ________ 
        Serial No.__________ 
        Musical Instrument Makers Since 1883
      

The serial number will probably be printed in red, and the model number written in blue or black. The label has a fairly ornate border around it, but the "Gretsch" is usually printed in a plain font. However, some have "Gretsch" printed as the familiar logo.

Beginning in about 1957 a new label was introduced, which lasted until about 1965. On this one, "The Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co." was printed in black on an orange shape that vaguely resembles a musical note. This was superimposed on a gray over white label.

On the white part, the serial number is printed, and the model number should be handwritten. This label should be on all guitars after number 25000.

This would be a good time to note that some models, particularly 1962 -'65 models, had the serial number embossed on the headstock in lieu of a label.

Beginning in 1965, the model number was printed either on top or on the back of the headstock or engraved in the metal model plate on the headstock, and no label was fitted.

In the late '60s the labels returned on most models. For a brief period rarely found labels were used that look like the second-generation labels, except "That Great Gretsch Sound" is printed across the bottom.

Finally, sometime around 1972 a plain black and white label was introduced. With "Gretsch Guitars" in a logo-type font across the top. These labels list model and serial numbers and along the bottom reads "Made in U.S.A."

On modern Gretsches, the serial number is usually readily visible on the back of the headstock.