I Just Inherited…

Uncle Harry has passed away and he left his old Gibson with no explanation of what it’s worth. Aunt Harriet is at her wits end. What should she do?

This happens a lot. Grandpa or Uncle Harry passes away and the guitar that he cherished since 1966 is now an orphan. Aunt Harriet has no idea what to do with it and she has no idea what it’s worth but she thinks it’s worth a lot. At least that’s what Uncle Harry kept telling her every time he bought an expensive guitar. “It’ll be worth a fortune in twenty years…” and Aunt Harriet bought it hook line and you know the rest. But now she actually has to figure out what to do with the old thing so she does a little research.

The brand on the part where the tuners are says Gibson. The label inside says ES-335 guitar so she knows it’s a guitar (OK, she knew that already) and it appears that the model number is ES-335 so she taps into the Google machine with “Gibson ES-335”. Unfortunately, my site doesn’t come up at the top of the page so she has to go through a lot of new dealers and Gibson’s own site. Those are all new ones and she needs to know about the old ones. Finally she gets to one of many vintage dealers and there are ES-335’s for sale for as much as $100,000. But there are others for as little as $5000. What is Aunt Harriet going to do? Well, she’s probably going to call her guitar player nephew Larry who will do everything he can to get the guitar for himself. What follows is a tutorial for Aunt Harriet.

Look at the label. There should be serial number. Gibson reused them over and over again but it will get you started. There are chart of serial numbers available here. Find the serial number that corresponds to the one on either the label or the back of the doohickey with the tuning keys (called the headstock). If you know Uncle Harry bought it in the 50’s or 60’s before the middle of 61, then the serial number will start with the letter A. After that it will be all numbers. You’ll find as many as four years with the same serial number and if it’s from the 70’s, it’s even worse. If there’s just one year that corresponds to the number, then you’re lucky. You now know the year of the guitar and you can go to any dealer site (or Reverb or and see what others are asking for the same year guitar. Most folks ask more than the guitar is worth so expect to sell it for less than the highest price you find online. If there are multiple years with your serial number, you will have to do a lot more research to ascertain the year.

There are simple things you can do get a better handle on the year a 335 was made. First, what color is the label. If it’s orange or possibly faded to yellow, then it was made between 1958 (for a 335) and 1970. After mid 1970, the labels are purple and black (Norlin). By 81 or so, they are white. After that, I don’t know because I’m a vintage dealer and I don’t see a lot from the 90’s and later. They’ve gone back to the old style orange labels but the serialization is different. Next, look at the markers on the fingerboard (where the strings are). Are they little dots or little blocks? Dots mean 1958-early 1962. Blocks mean mid 62 to 80. Dots again from 81 to today. Blocks again on 60’s reissues done (I think) in the 90’s and 2000’s. There are a dozen other things that will tell you the year but it can be pretty arcane. I would suggest, Aunt Harriet, that you consult with a vintage dealer with a good reputation and find out what you have. Don’t take his offer as gospel (or even fair). Once you know the year, you can look online at sites like or to see what others are asking.

Big, big asterisk on that last sentence. Folks selling their guitars on sites like those mentioned often (not always but often) ask crazy high prices so before you go off thinking Uncle Harry’s treasure is worth $120K, look at a number of similar guitars and maybe get your hands on a recent price guide. They are often low but they are also more realistic than some of the asking prices, especially on Reverb (Gbase is largely dealers so, believe it or not, they tend to be more in line with the real value). If you have a 335, 345 or 355, you can always get in touch with me (and I’ll encourage you to do your homework) at I’ll never ask “what do you want for it?” I’ll always make an offer based on what you have and what I think I can sell it for.

This is a label from late 1960. Note the A prefix. If the llabel looks like this and doesn’t have the A, then it’s from 61 to as late as 1970. Then, in the 2000’s, they used a nearly identical label (with the prefix) for some Custom Shop models

Gibson used this label from mid 1970 through 1980 (and maybe a few in 81). These are less valuable than the earlier ones but can still be worth thousands (but not tens of thousands)

By 1981, it looks like this. This is from 1983. You can tell by taking the first number and the fourth from the last number. They change again in the 90’s and 2000’s but the serial number scheme stays (mostly) the same.

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