Gretsch numbered most of their guitars chronologically, which would give a pretty accurate picture
of when it was built, but specs were pretty fluid, to say the least, so the serial number and the
actual specs of any particular guitar may not match. The specs may have been changed over the years,
as well. Gretsch also did a good business in special order guitars. In other words, try not to
obsess over this stuff too much.
Gretsch began numbering it's guitars sequentially in 1939, beginning with the better models. They
started, sensibly enough, at 001, just writing the number inside the back. After the war that method
continued, but some guitars had the serial number embossed on the headstock. With the advent of
labels in the late '40s, the serial number is usually found on the label, which is usually visible
through the soundhole on hollowbody models. On solidbodies, it's usually inside the control cavity.
Note also that Gretsch, like the Detroit automakers, had model years, so in the same way a '57
Thunderbird may have been made in 1956, a '57 White Falcon may have been made earlier.
For guitars built before 1964 or 1965.
(Numbers are consecutive, but all number/year matches are approximate) Be aware that these numbers,
while considered by most authorities to be accurate, may be substantially off. Several guitars have
appeared that seem to use the new dating scheme from as early as Feb. 1964. There may have been overlap
between the two numbering schemes, or the earlier method may have been phased out as early as 1963.
Which of course means those 1964 and 1965 serial numbers probably came earlier. More input on this
subject is welcome.
1964 or '65 to 1972 serial numbers
(Most numbers are 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 (1965 to 1972: 5,6,7,8,9,0,1,2).
The remaining digits = number of individual instrument, probably.
For example, 27136 should be February (2), 1967 (7) and the 1376th instrument made that year.
Also note that this serial numbering scheme may have come into use earlier than previously thought.
1972 to 1981
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 Gretsch guitars
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.
One last thing to remember is that Gretsch years through the 90s were like model years for cars.
They made some to unveil in January at NAMM and tried to be ready to fill orders immediately. So
they made some early to do this. Furthermore, some less popular models may have sat on the shelf
either at the factory or at the dealer for years before being sold as new. Technically, they are
new, since they'venever been sold.
When Fender took over production in January 2003 the serial number scheme changed again.
Serial number JT03074463, for example, breaks down as:
T: Terada factory
07: July Production
4463: 4,463rd guitar built in 2003 (all models combined)
Specific models are no longer designated within the serial number.
(Thanks to Mike Lewis of Fender for detailing the current numbering system)