Close-up of a the label in a Gretsch New Yorker arch-top acoustic shows serial number 19730, dating the guitar to 1956.

Previously, we’ve discussed modern Gretsch serial numbers and how to read them. Now we travel to the other end of the spectrum; to the first 30 years or so of Gretsch guitars and their considerably different serial numbering schemes. Here, we’ll look at instruments from the 1930s to 1966.

Gretsch guitars from this lengthy period are fairly easily dated with accuracy because from about 1939 (and perhaps even earlier) to 1966 they were numbered sequentially.

Before the end of World War II, serial numbers were simply written in pencil inside the body; these have understandably tended to fade into illegibility and even vanish altogether in some instances. Post-World War II, serial numbers were sometimes stamped into the headstock (some confusion might arise with older Gretsch guitars because numbering re-started after the war, but if the instrument has a “light bulb”-style headstock, it’s likely pre-war).

Finally, around 1949, reliable serial-number labels were placed on Gretsch guitars; inside the body and visible through the f hole on hollow-body models, and inside the control routing on solid-body and chambered models. In any case, much like automobiles, design changes in Gretsch guitars went by model year rather than calendar year. For example, while a 1958 Chet Atkins 6120 model might have been built in 1957, it’s still considered a ’58.

Here’s how original-era Gretsch sequential serial numbering generally works:

Below 1000:                Pre-World War II

10xx – 20xx:                1945-1947 (approx.)

20xx – 30xx:                1948-1949 (approx.)

30xx – 40xx:                1950 (approx.)

40xx – 50xx:                1951 (approx.)

50xx – 70xx:                1952 (approx.)

70xx – 90xx:                1953

90xx – 130xx:              1954

130xx – 180xx:            1955

180xx – 210xx:            1956

210xx – 260xx:            1957 (Note: 1,000 serial number labels misplaced in 1957 were found in 1965)

260xx – 300xx:            1958

300xx – 340xx:            1959

340xx – 390xx:            1960

390xx – 450xx:            1961

451xx – 530xx:            1962

530xx – 630xx:            1963

630xx – 770xx:            1964

770xx – 840xx:            1965

Note: The misplaced 1957 serial numbers mentioned above, along with a small number of odd four-digit serial numbers, surfaced in 1965 and 1966 during the transition to a new date-code system in mid 1966.