After all the fun I had with the serial number on my Strat yesterday, I figured I’d try Googling about serial numbers on Gibson Les Pauls. I learned a couple of things, but most of what I found I already knew.
It was just a few years prior to my guitar’s creation that Gibson switched to the eight digit serial number format. I knew that the first digit and the fifth digit combine to form the year. That’s how I figured out my guitar was from 1978. I also knew that the other six digits represented the rest of the date and the production count for that day. I didn’t quite know how though.
The pattern is this: YDDDYRRR
YY is year
DDD is the day of the year
RRR is the counter.
From that, with a little Googling to figure out what day the date counter corresponded to, I learned that my guitar was made on September 18, 1978.
So what does the counter mean? It turns out that three digit counter is actually two counters in one. Numbers between 1 and 499 are for guitars made in the old Kalamazoo, MI factory while numbers from 500 to 999 are for guitars made in Nashville, TN. The actual number represents the number that was stamped that day. So a guitar stamped with 123 was the 123rd guitar to have it’s serial number stamped on that day in Kalamazoo, where the number 623 would be the 123rd guitar to have it’s serial number stamped on that day in Nashville.
My guitar was made in Nashville. I never knew that. It doesn’t matter even the tiniest bit, but somehow that little fact made this whole pursuit worthwhile.
The only other outstanding question for me is, what kind of pickups did it have when it left the factory? I bought the guitar in 1990 and neither of the pickups were stock. In 2006 (I think), in an attempt to make the guitar sound more like a stock Les Paul, I had Larry install a set of Gibson Classic ’57’s. Gibson was marketing those pickups as being close to the original PAF pickups that were first added to Les Pauls in 1957. (PAF stands for Patent Applied For, and they were Gibson’s first humbuckers. Prior to that Les Pauls had single coil P90 pickups). It turned out that I didn’t really like the sound of the Classic ’57 in the bridge position and a few years ago I had a tech at Guitar Center swap it out for a Gibson Dirty Fingers. I was familiar with those because they came stock in my ES-335 Pro and I love them.
But that doesn’t answer the question… what did my Les Paul originally come with? I Googled that too and was pretty surprised to find that there is almost no definitive information online. I did find a couple of forum posts though that said a 1978 Les Paul Custom would have come with what Gibson called “Original Humbuckers” which unfortunately is a name that they’ve used for a few different models of pickups. To the general public though, the pickups in my guitar would have been known as T-Tops.
I don’t know anything about them except that some people like them and some people don’t, and lots of people were swapping them out for non-Gibson models anyway. The two pickups in the guitar when I bought it were perfect examples of that.
So now I have to dig into T-Tops and see if I can score some on ebay. Insert maniacal laughter here.