Gibson vintage guitars have their roots in Kalamazoo, Michigan where, in 1894, an eccentric, self-taught luthier named Orville H. Gibson began making stringed instruments using the archtop design of violins as his guide. Although he began by making both guitars and mandolins, his first and only patent was granted in 1898 for a mandolin design.

Orville Gibson sold his company in 1902 and died in 1918, but his early affinity for mandolins presaged the first major success for the company that bore his name. In 1922, a Gibson engineer named Lloyd Loar designed the F5 mandolin, which featured an elevated fretboard over the instrument’s body and decorative f-holes.

Banjos would dominate the mid-1920s to mid-1930s for Gibson, but all along the company continued to make guitars. It was not recognized as a leader in this field until the 1930s when the guitar enjoyed a rise in popularity.

As with the Loar mandolin, these new 1930s Gibson guitars were archtops, usually with a trapeze tailpiece below the bridge to secure the strings and pickguards that seemed to float above the instrument’s body. The L4s of this period, which are not especially collectible despite their age, had round soundholes. The L5s, which are far more collectible, had f-holes. Other models of the day are the L7, L10, and L12, none of which were as desirable then — or as collectible today — as the L5.

The 1930s was also the decade when Gibson introduced its first electric guitars. Jazz guitarist Charlie Christian made the 1936 ES-150 famous — today, that guitar’s pickup is actually known as a Charlie Christian. After World War II, during which the company halted production due to a lack of supplies, Gibson introduced its first solid body electric guitar, the Les Paul.

There is some debate about who actually designed the Les Paul, which was introduced as a Goldtop in 1952. To hear guitarist Les Paul tell it, he is the man responsible for his namesake, but guitar author and collector George Gruhn believes the great musician may have had little do to with its design, and historians generally give Gibson president Ted McCarty most of the credit.

The collectibility of Les Pauls varies greatly depending on their vintage. Of the original, Standard models, the first Sunbursts are considered the Mother Lode of Les Pauls and e...

Another Gibson line that has proved very collectible are semi-hollow body ES 335s from 1958-1964, although the presence of a Bigsy vibrato on the guitar (a so-called whammy bar) makes it less valuable.

Key terms for Gibson Vintage Guitars:

Archtop: A stringed musical instrument whose top is rounded, either by carving a solid piece of wood or subjecting a laminated sheet to heat so it can be molded into the desired shape.

Sunburst: A finish for musical instruments that is light in the center and darker around the edges. Two of the most common sunbursts are cherry (yellow in the center fading to reddish on the outside) and three-color (yellow in the center, then reddish, then black at the edges).

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Les Paul Forum

The Les Paul Forum

If you're into Gibson's Les Paul models, or even curious, this is your site. Chock full of useful reference data, p… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2013 Gibson Les Paul Studio Electric Guitar With Hard Shell CaseVintage Ca. 1975 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Great Player PieceGibson Les Paul W Case No ReserveGibson Lp Studio 50s Tribute 2016 T Guitar With Gig Bag EbonyGibson Les Paul CustomVintage Gibson Les Paul Custom Wine Red 19782001 Gibson Les Paul Classic Electric Guitar & Case Gibson Les Paul Studio Lite Electric Guitar*1996*no Reserve*Gibson At J-30 Guitar With Electric Pickup And Gibson CaseGibson Epiphone Series Les Paul Standard Electric GuitarGibson Les Paul StandardGibson P-90 Pickup 1950's For Es-150 Es-125 Es-300 Es-175 Les Paul Junior 7.5k70s Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Guitar Body Neck Project2016 Gibson Les Paul Studio '50s Tribute Traditional - Satin HoneyburstGibson P-90 Pickup 1950's For Es-150 Es-125 Es-300 Es-175 Les Paul Junior 8.1kGibson Limited Edition Midtown Standard With Case1980 Gold Gibson Flying V Limited Edt #250 Guitar Center 100% Original2012 Gibson Les Paul Special Mahogany Electric Guitar W/hard Case Made In Usa! Gibson Le Midtown Standard Traditional Electric Guitar With CaseUsed Gibson Usa 2014 Heritage Cherry Sunburst 2010 Gibson Es-335 '60 Electric Guitar Cherry - Original Gibson Hardshell CaseGibson Les PaulGibson 2016 Hp Sg Standard Heritage Ebony With CaseGibson Le Midtown Standard Traditional With CaseUnbelievably Rare - Joe Perry Gibson Les Paul Boneyard - Pilot Run! Must See!!!!2010 Gibson Les Paul Junior Electric GuitarVintage Gibson Es-335 Ez Project Semi Hollow Body Jazz Guitar 1973Vintage 1974 Gibson J-50 Acoustic Guitar W/hscGibson J-180 Acoustic/electric Cutaway Masterbuilt Guitar W/original CaseGibson Electric Guitar Standard Classic Gibson J-50adj Acoustic With Hard Shell Case2000 Gibson Sg Special Restoration - Maestro, Goldtop, Seymour DuncanGibson Sg Robby Krieger Electric Guitar - Vibrola Tailpiece & Phase SwitchGibson Le Midtown Standard Traditional Vintage Sunburst With CaseGibson Sg The Fool With Hard Case-minor Crack To Neck Joint No Reserve AuctionGibson Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar2010 Gibson Hummingbird Acoustic/electric Guitar W/ Hard CaseGibson Usa Les Paul Studio With Hard Case1984 Gibson Les Paul Black Knight With Case1996 Gibson Les Paul With Peter Green/seymour Duncan P/usGibson Les Paul Studio Guitar 20071985 Lefty Left Handed Gibson Flying V Electric GuitarGibson 2016 Hp Sg Standard Heritage Cherry With CaseVintage Bigsby Guitar Tremolo Fits Gibson Gretsch Silvertone Parts ProjectGibson Flying V Electric Guitar With Cressant Inlays- RareGibson Les Paul Deluxe1965 Gibson Es-335 Td Gibson Les Paul 295 Gtotm 2008 Electric GuitarGibson 2015 Les Paul Deluxe Metallic Electric Guitar1960s Gibson Falcon 19rvt Amp 1969 Gibson Sg Standard2013 Gibson Les Paul Lpj Electric Guitar- UpgradedVintage Kalamazoo Model 2 Tube Guitar / Harp Amplifier...class A Gibson Tube AmpGibson Le Midtown Standard Traditional Electric Guitar With CaseTrue Historic 54 Vos Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Custom Black BeautyGibson Le J185ec Hp Jumbo Acoustic Electric Trans Ebony With Case2014 Gibson Les Paul ClassicGibson Les Paul StudioGibson Les Paul Studio Sunset Fade Free Shipping!Gibson Les Paul - 2011 Wine Red 57 Traditional Pro - With Hard Case