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The newly incorporated Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Ltd. issued its first official catalog in February 1903. Sometimes referred to as catalog ‘A’, it actually had no specific letter designation. Gibson would use a lettering system for many subsequent catalogs, but there is no evidence that a catalog A – B – C – D exist. The 1903 catalog contained many illustrations of the instruments created by Orville Gibson himself, including the Style A mandolin for which Orville received his only U.S. Patent in 1898. It also had the Style F mandolins, Style H mandolas, K mando-cellos, Styles R & U harp-guitars, and the Styles L & O guitars. These letters had no real bearing on the type of instruments they were assigned too, and often misunderstood to be short for a word, such as L=little guitar. It also contained this rather provocative illustration of a lady holding an F mandolin with the caption “It’s a Gibson”. It is believed that co-founder Lewis A. Williams was responsible for producing catalogs and writing some of the most extraordinary descriptions that are often called ‘Biblical’ or the “Gospel According to Gibson”.
Above: Two of the instruments made by Orville Gibson that appeared in the 1903 catalog, The Style 'O-2" guitar and 'Artist Mandolin Style F-2".
1905: The next catalog known to exist is referred to as the ‘Red Cover’ catalog as it also did not have any letter designation. It is dated to approximately 1905, but actually no date is printed inside. It is actually more like a brochure than a catalog only having 12 pages bound in an embossed red cover with gold lettering. It’s the first catalog to contain the newly designed Style L slot-head guitars in several sizes and models. Standard size had a 13 5/8” wide lower bout and Concert Size = 14 ¾” lower bout. This later changed and Concert Size became 13 5/8” wide and was ‘standard’ on all Style L archtop guitars until 1930. The Style L (no number) only shows in this catalog, but the more familiar L-1 and L-3 were models Gibson made until 1923. The Gibson L-2 seemed to appear than disappear, and then reappear again throughout from 1905 to 1925.
Above left: The cover of c1905 "The Red Cover" catalog. Above right: The inside title page exclaiming that Gibsons were "The First Serious Mandolins and Guitars Ever Manufactured".
Above: The first Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Comapny's factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan c1905
Above left: The c1905 'Style A' mandolins. Above right: The 'Style L' guitar illustration, with list of available models. Note: The firt listed in just plain 'Style L' with no number after. This is the only appearance of such a model in any catalog. The L-1 came in 2 sizes 'Standard' and 'Concert' , as did the L-3, but the L-2 was only available in 'Concert' size. Gibson also eliminated the 18" wide 'Style O-3' and the 1905 catalog only lists the 'Style O' in the same 2 sizes as above.
Right: A small c1906 Gibson harp guitar brochure that was discovered by Gregg Miner at www.harpguitars.net
1907-08: The first official catalog with a letter designation is Catalog ‘E’ which is believed to have been issued in 1907 or 1908, though no copyright date appears on it. It had illustrations of Gibson’s ‘top-of-line” mandolin, the F-4 with the distinctive scrolled peghead design, and ‘Grand Concert’ 16” Style O guitar. Gibson had made an 18” wide Style O-3 in the early days, but was discontinued by 1906-07, and no 18” wide guitar was made until the legendary Super 400 which was introduced in 1934. It is believed that Gibson still had the tooling for the O-3 and were re-used for the S400.
Above: The outside cover and inside title page of Gibson's 1908 catalog 'E'.
Above: The c1908 'Style F-4' mandolin (left) and 'Style O' guitar (right) from Catalog 'E'.
1909: Catalog ‘F’ was 48 pages, double the size of catalog ‘E’ and L.A. Williams put page after page of ‘the gospel’ before ever showing a single instrument. With phrases like “Competition Unhorsed” and the “Prayer of the Non-conformist” – “Hold thou the potato-bugist to his love of tonal diminutiveness….”, it’s easy to see why his writing is often described as ‘Biblical’ in nature. Williams wanted to crush Gibson’s mandolin competitors that were still making the European bowl-back style mandolin he referred to as “potato bugs”, by attacking the inferiority of that design vs. Gibson’s carved models. This particular copy of Catalog 'F' has the date Sept, 1909 stamped on the front cover.
Above left: The cover of Catalog 'F' with "On and after Sept. 15,1909 initial payments on Harp-Guitars will be $10.00. Monthly payments $5.00" stamped in red ink. Above right: Page 1 of 4 of Gibson's Confidential Wholesale Price List was meant for teacher/agents only. Below left: The new Style K-2 mandocello, and bottom right: The ornate Style 'F-4' mandolin.
1910: Catalog ‘G’ ushered in a new era of Gibson catalogs going to a whopping 84 pages. Williams also included many “artist endorsements” spouting the virtues of Gibson’s instruments, including a very young and talented mandolin player named Lloyd Loar. The catalog also featured many beautiful studio portraits of prominent “Mandolin Orchestras” which were extremely popular in the early 20th century. Williams jumped at the chance to sponsor many such orchestras, as well as the promise of appearing in a Gibson catalog. It also introduced the new Style ‘O’ Artist model design by George Laurian, who was also responsible for many innovations.
Above left: The cover of Catalog 'G'. Above right: c1910 picture of Gibson endorser Lloyd Loar, and future Gibson acoustical engineer.
Above: From New York City, The Amorita Mandolin Orchestra with leader and Gibson teacher/agent Dennis Hartnett seated in center without an instrument.
1912: Catalog ‘H’ continued the expansion of Gibson’s catalogs and now over 100 pages long. It also contained the first appearance of the Gibson model L-4 archtop guitar, as well as “The Gibson” brand of strings. It had a complete section of parts and accessories, which was new.
Left: Inside title page of 1914's Catalog ‘I’ that had almost the identical design as Catalog ‘J's’ outside cover and title page. It also provided the first-ever full color illustration of Gibson’s high-end mandolin model F-4 (front & back - see below). Catalog 'k' would include even more color illustrations.
1917: Catalog ‘J’ was even larger than Catalog ‘I’ with 114 pages. The reason for dating it to 1917 and the gap of 3 years between ‘I’ and ‘J’ is from a rare "revised prices" list dated August, 25th, 1917 (below right). Although it’s hard to read, the price list specifically mentions Catalog ‘J’ and indicates it was published earlier in 1917. Gibson rarely put a date in any of their catalogs, so it’s possible that Catalog ‘I’ could be dated to 1914 or 1915.
Above: The outside cover of Catalog 'J' (left) and inside title page (right) that were nearly identical to Gibson's previous Catalog 'I'. Below left: A "Revised Prices" list dated August 25, 1917 and mentions for Catalog 'J', thus giving a firm way to date it. Below right: The 1917 'Style H-4' mandola, another instrument in the mandolin orchestras of the day.
Right: 1918-1919: Catalog ‘K’ now featured several full color illustrations including the Model A-3 mandolin, later nicknamed the “Ivory Top”, and the Style ‘O’ Artist Model. Even though it was a war-time catalog, it still had well over 100 pages, including a full parts and accessories section in the back.
Above left: The Gibson Model A-3 "Ivory Top" mandolin. Above right: The Special Grand Concert Guitar Style 'O' "Artist's Model".
Note: Dates that appear on the pictures on this website were added for visual reference purposes only.
1920: On the inside cover of Catalog ‘L’, the world got its first glimpse at Gibson’s brand new factory at 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was completed in 1918, and Gibson would occupy this landmark building for 66 years until moving all operations to Nashville in 1984. The building still stands to this day and its famous façade and “Gibson” chimneystack are as recognizable as Mt. Rushmore to us guitar geeks. Catalog 'L' had 112 pages.
1920: It wasn't until two years after Gibson started building its first banjos that they printed an all banjo fold-out brochure. It had a total of 10 panels, trimmed in light blue, and displayed Gibson's full line of banjos, including the 4-string tenor banjos, 6-string guitar banjo, and smaller 8-string mandolin-banjos.
1921: “The Standardized Banjo Family” was a small 8-page brochure that contained the entire line of Gibson banjos including the Models TB (tenor banjo) TB-2 (melody tenor banjo), MB & MB-2 (mandolin banjos), CB (cello banjo), and GB (guitar banjo), a 6-string banjo tuned like a guitar.
Above left: The 1921 Gibson Melody Banjo models MB-2 (mandolin banjo), and TB-2 (tenor banjo). Above right the cover of "The Standardized Banjo Family" with "The Gibsonian's Concert Party" (upper left), and the "Holloway's High Tension Orchestra" (lower right).
1921: The title page of Catalog ‘M’ featured the lovely and talented Priscilla Dean, who appeared in many Gibson ads as well. She was a Hollywood actress who also happened to play the mandolin. This catalog also featured some interesting pictures of the interior of the new factory and a detailed description of “Construction Principles Applied”, another great example of L.A. Williams expounding the “Distinctive Features Common to All Gibson Instruments”. It had 112 pages with color illustrations of the A-2, A-3 and F-4 mandolins, plus the O Artist guitar. 112 pages.
1923: Catalog ‘N’ was one of the first full-line catalogs to include Gibson banjos, including full color illustrations of the TB-5, and Gibson’s landmark F-5 Master Mandolin. Lloyd Loar has always been credited as the inventor of the most recognized and copied mandolin design in history, but credit should also go to Gibson’s Chief Engineer and unsung hero, Theodore ‘Ted’ McHugh. McHugh was the patent holder for the adjustable height bridge and the truss rod, both featured on the F-5, as well as other Gibsons. It was the first catalog to use Gibson’s “The Music Pals of the Nation” slogan that Gibson used throughout the 1920s. 56 Pages
Above: The cover and inside title page from Gibson's 1923 Catalog 'N'.
Above: Some of the beautiful color illustrations from 1923's Catalog 'N'. On left: The NEW Gibson Mastertone Banjo Style TB-5 'The Orchestral Grand'; Clockwise from top on the right: The A-1 mandolin, GB Guitar banjo, RB-3 Regular Banjo (5-string), H-1 mandola, L-2 archtop guitar, MB-3 mandolin banjo, K-4 mando-cello, and TB-4 tenor banjo.
1923: The third Gibson banjo brochure was published in 1923. Gibson starting making banjos in 1918 and the Model 'TB' tenor banjo was advertised in a 1919 magazine called Jacob's Band Monthly (also see our "The History of Gibson Advertising” page), but the early models never appeared in any catalogs, just the banjo brochures. The 1923 brochure contained illustrations of the entire banjo line; Models TB (tenor banjos) #s 1 thru 4; MB, MB-3 & MB-4 (mandolin banjos), and the Style GB (guitar banjo).
1923: The Gibson Service Handbook was a 48 page booklet containing a complete list of all parts & accessories, as well a lot of information on how to take care of your Gibson. My favorite is Gibson’s guitar polish formula that called for 1 quart of gasoline mixed with lemon & parafin oil, to be applied “with the tips of your fingers”. It makes me wonder how many people set themselves on fire. It was also filled with many advertisements, including an ad for the Virzi Tone Producer, an odd device that was installed inside of Gibson instruments by Lloyd Loar.
1923: The Gibson F5 Master Mandolin brochure seems to pre-date 1923’s Catalog N that was the first full-line catalog to show the new F5 Master Mandolin. It also contained a fascinating little article by legendary Gibson Acoustic Engineer, Lloyd Loar, entitled “A Talk About Tone”. The F5 was a landmark design in Gibson’s history and was available before the rest of Style 5 Master Models - L-5 guitar, H-5 mandola, and the K-5 mando-cello.
If you can’t read it, please email us at info@fox-guitars,com for a higher resolution image.
1924: Gibson’s small fold-out brochure titled “Mastertone Stringed Instruments" pre-dates 1924’s Catalog N, and is in fact the first piece of Gibson literature to mention the NEW Master Guitar Style L-5-(see below).
1924: Gibson also published a small accessory catalog in 1924, which contained 30 pages of every Gibson part and accessory for their instruments. It included strings, arm rests, banjo heads, bridges, tailpieces and much more. It was also full of information about Gibson like what strings to use and how to care for your instrument.
1924-25: Catalog ‘O’ The rest of the legendary Style 5 Master Models didn’t appear until Catalog ‘O’, including the L-5 guitar, H-5 mandola, and the K-5 mando-cello, all stunning instruments in their own right. Like the F5, the L-5 archtop is one of the most revered and copied guitar designs and literally changed guitar manufacturing as a whole. Most of Gibson’s competitors would try and copy the L-5, but not until the 1930’s. Many would pay Gibson for the rights to use the truss rod & adjustable bridge, or not use one at all, like Martin. 60 pages.
1925: Gibson Junior Instruments was another small fold-out brochure devoted exclusively to The Junior models. Although dismissed by many as “not really Gibsons” the brochure clearly states they had “Phenomenal Gibson Feature Incorporated Into Instruments At Popular Prices”. For all intents and purposes, these were Gibson first “budget brand” instruments pre-dating the Montogomery Ward guitars by 4 years and the Kalamazoo line by 9 years.
1926: Catalog ‘P’ is rather significant because it introduced Gibson’s first official flattop guitar Models L-0 and L-1. Gibson had discontinued the L-1 archtop guitar in 1923, and rather than use a new model designation, they re-used 'L-1' for the flattop version. It did have the same "Concert Size" 13 3/4" body as it's archtop big brother, but that's were the similarities stop. They would do the same with the L-2 flattop, introduced in 1929, which had been an archtop model designation dating back to 1905. Catalog P also introduced Gibson’s first ukuleles; Models Uke-1, 2 & 3. It had only 40 pages, and did not contain any banjos except on the back cover.
1927: Banjo Catalog ‘B-3’ was the first full-size color “banjos only” catalog Gibson published. It’s likely that Gibson’s sales manager Frank Campbell wanted to put out a separate catalog just for banjos, as the height of the jazz age was in full swing and the banjo was KING. It certainly helped as Gibson went from near bankruptcy in 1924 to record sales in 1926. It featured Gibson’s "Mastertone" brand of banjos that are some of the finest pre-war banjos ever made. They ranged in price and style from the plain and affordable $50.00 TB-1 to the beautiful and ornate ‘Bella Voce’ and ‘Florentine’ models that were all custom made from various designs customers could choose from.
Above right: The 'Bella Voce' and "Florentine" custom-order banjo page showing various design options.
1928: Catalog ‘Q’ introduced the famous "Nick Lucas Special", not only the first Gibson to use an artist's name, but the first ever “artist-endorsed" guitar in history. It was partially designed by Nick himself as he wanted a guitar that had deeper sides and a wider neck. Catalog ‘Q’ was a smaller catalog with only 24 pages, partially due to the fact that they issued banjo Catalog B-3 a year earlier, but also had one of the more eloquent covers.
Above right: The legendary Nick Lucas Special from Gibson's 1928 Catalog 'Q'.
1929: Catalog ‘R’ was also a small catalog with only 24 pages. It introduced the new “big-body” flattop model, the L-2. Note the short stubby bridge that was a distinct feature of Gibson’s 1929 models. During the mid-20s thru the 1930s, the instrument illustrations in Gibson’s catalogs changed in almost every catalog, in order to keep up with many changes and new models being introduced.
1928-29: Gibson Parts & Accessories catalog was a separate booklet Gibson issued to dealers. It has mainly written descriptions, and few illustrations except for some bridges and Gibson’s picks (see below). It is a great piece of reference material like knowing which Grover banjo machine heads were used on each banjo model.
1929: Banjo Catalog ‘B-4’ was the second full-size color “banjos only” catalog Gibson published. Following the success of Catalog B-3, Frank Campbell wanted to contnue to put out separate banjo catalogs in order to introduce new models like the "All American".
Note: Dates that appear on the pictures on this website were added for visual reference purposes only.
1929-30: No known Catalog ‘S’ or ‘T’ exist, but Gibson did issue a 64 page catalog called the “Road To Happiness” which could be considered as letter ‘S’, but no letter designation is printed anywhere on it. It did pre-date the Blue Cover Catalog (T), although it’s an odd catalog with a mix of old illustrations and new ones, including the big-body L-2 that appeared in Catalog R. Here are couple of sample pages, including a rather rare L-5 ‘prototype’ illustration.
Above: "The Road To Happiness" catalog cover, the rare L-5 prototype illustration, and the odd 1926 Nick Lucas Special illustration, now 3 years out of date.
1930-31: “Blue Cover’ Catalog is sometimes referred to as Catalog ‘S’, but no letter actually appeared inside this catalog, and as mentioned above, there are no catalogs designated with the ltters 'S' or 'T'. The bluecatalog was a very important catalog, including its gold embossed cover, but more importantly, it introduced many new guitars & banjo models. The “Argentine Grey” L-2, the “All American” banjo are just 2 of high-end Gibsons contained in this catalog. It also had the entirely new line of Gibson flattops guitars; The L-0, L-1, Nick Lucas Special, and the TG-1 & TG-0 tenor guitars all sported the “big body” size first introduced in 1929 on the L-2. It is the only catalog to show the "New Guitar Triumph", the Style L-2 finished in "an original tone of Argentine Grey, flecked with glints of gold..." Like Frank Campbell's predecessor, L.A. Williams, flowery and glowing descriptions were NOT exactly in short supply. 68 pages
Above left: The elegent gold-embossed Blue Cover catalog from 1930 featuring Gibson's new script logo that dropped "The" in favor of just "Gibson". Above right: One of the rarest Gibsons - The 1930 L-2 finished in "Argentine Grey".
Below left: The Guitar Banjo and on the right a pretty lady playing the Bass Banjo
Above left: The stunning Master Model K-5 mando-cello and right the Style 'U' harp-guitar.
1931: “The Road To Happiness” fold-out brochure was too small to be considered a catalog, but it did contain the only known illustration of Gibson’s NEW HG-24 Hawaiian guitar and the flat-tops L-0 & L-00 with its “black ebony” finish and white pickguard, also seen on the L-0. It also introduced Gibson's new TB-11 tenor banjo and the unusual flat-top mandolin model C-1. It is clearly a 1931 publication because all of these new models first appeared on Gibson price lists from that year, but neither appeared in “Blue Cover” catalog.
Above left: The HG-24 Hawaiian guitar with 1-round sound hole and 4-f holes. Above right: The L-0 and L-00 finished in black with white pickguards.
1932 Catalog ‘U was the next lettered catalog published after the “Blue Cover” catalog containing the full line of all Gibson instruments. It was 68 pages long and oddly contained an almost identical illustration of models L-0 & L-00 in black, but without the white pick guards (they were probably air-brushed out of the 1931 illustrations). It also introduced the first new archtop model since the L-5, the new L-10. In addition, it was the last catalog to contain the L-3 archtop and L-2 flat-top models.
Above left: The cover of 1932's catalog 'U'.
Below left: The page listing the Hawaiian guitar models HG-20, HG-22, and HG-24 did not include any illustration as did the 1931 foldout, but showed a picture of noted Hawaiian guitartist Andy Sanella playing a custom Nick Lucas Special painted white. Below right: Gibson's ukulele line, including the Tenor Uke.
Below: An impressive line-up of Gibson's high-end banjos from catalog 'U' - L-R: 'The All American", TB-F (F=Florentine), and the TB-G Granada.
1933: Again, there is no known Catalog with the letter ‘V’ designation, but Gibson did issue a 48 page ‘pocket catalog’ in 1933 that contained some very interesting information and guitar models. It lists the first models called ‘L-75 Century’ the ‘L-50’ with smaller bodies than their 1934 successors. Gibson only made these for about one year, and would re-use this body size & shape for their new ‘budget brand’ guitar, the Kalamazoo KG-11. This catalog also contains the first new illustrations showing the 14-fret necks that became standard on all flat-top models L-0, L-00, L-1, L-C & Nick Lucas Special. The L-2 vanishes and was discontinued by Gibson only three years after its introduction.
Note the inside edge of the L-75 page with the ink-stamped "NEW MODEL - Larger Body - Rosewood Fingerboard", which would become the L-75 shown in 1934’s catalog W. It gives a clear indication that this design was quickly abandoned in favor of a more standard 16’ wide archtop body.
Below L-R: Cover of the 1933 'pocket catalog', the L-75 'Century Model', the L-50 roundhole model, and the gorgeous TB-11 tenor banjo.
Below: Four of the pages of parts & accessories show in this small pocket size catalog.
1934: Catalog ‘W’ was also a very significant catalog that first introduced the legendary Gibson ‘Jumbo’, later called the J-35, the Roy Smeck ‘Stage Deluxe’ and ‘Radio Grande’ - two Hawaiian style guitars that carried the “Wizard of the Strings” name. It introduced the new L-7 & L-12 16” wide archtop guitars, and the smaller 14 ¾” wide L-50 & L-75 archtops. The ornate “Century Model” Style L-C guitar and Style A-C mandolin were inspired by the “Century of Progress” world’s fair in Chicago. As you will notice, from 1928 through 1934 Gibson was constantly experimenting with new models, new designs, and this era remains one of the most interesting in the company's history. 84 pages.
Above left: The 1934 'Jumbo' Center: The Roy Smeck Radio Grande and Stage Delux, above right
Above left: The "Century" Model Style L-C Center: L-12 with picture of Carl Kress Right: The L-10
1935: Gibson issue a second version of Catalog 'W' with a slightly different blue & white cover and was almost identical to the previous version. It did introduce the Gibson banjo model TB-00 that did not appear in the first version of 'W'.
Also in 1935, Gibson issued a brochure in between Catalogs ‘W’ and ‘X’, simply titled “New Models” dated October 1, 1935. It introduced the new gigantic 18” Super 400 arch-top guitar, so named because it cost a whopping $400.00, an unheard of price in the height of the Great Depression. Since it pre-dates Catalog ‘X’, it was the first sales flyer to show the new ‘Advanced’ 17” wide archtop guitars, and other new models coming out like the all-black L-30. It did not contain any flat-top guitars or other Gibson instruments, so it is generally referred to as ‘The Archtop Brochure".
Above: The NEW "Super 400" one of the most sought-after pre-war Gibsons. Middle: The 'Advanced L-12' now 17" wide across the lower bout. Right: The new all-black L-30 small archtop. Gibson only made the black L-30 in 1935-36, then went to a sunburst finish. They continued to make the black model, but called it "The Black Special" or sometimes, the "Special #3".
1936: Catalog ‘X’ introduced the new gigantic 18” Super 400 named because it cost a whopping $400, an unheard of price in the height of the Great Depression. The Super 400 was available in 1935 and was shown in a small archtop brochure prior to this catalog. It also introduced the 17” wide “Advanced Model” archtops L-5, L-7, L-10, & L-12, while designating models L-4 & L-50 to remain 16” wide. The L-75 became the only round sound hole 16” archtop, while the small 14 ¾” wide L-30 & L-37 were new models with the same specs as the previous L-50 & L-75 of 1932. The ‘Jumbo’ was re-named the Jumbo ‘35’ (more commonly, just J-35). The most significant introduction was Gibson’s first electric guitars that were Hawaiian lap-steels & amplifiers. Model numbers were the same for guitar & amp as they were usually sold as a set; EH-100 & EH-150. The most famous of Gibson’s new electric guitars was the ES-150 made famous by guitar great, Charlie Christian. EH stood for “Electric Hawaiian” and ES=”Electric Spanish” a term that referred to any standard guitar with electronics that wasn’t a lap steel or pedal steel. Catalog X is the only catalog to mention a ¾-size L-00, although there was no illustration and never appeared on any price list from this era. 80 pages
Above: The cover and inside title page of Gibson's 1936 Catalog 'X'
Above: The new Style L-5 "Advanced Model" with its 17" wide body. Opposing page shows several well-known Gibson guitarists, and the first appearance of the slogan "Only A Gibson Is Good Enough".
Above left: Gibson's first electric guitars were the EH-150 with matching amp, EH-100 (not pictured), and the ES-150 (pictured below). Above right: The new Style A-75 mandolin, and Style A-C mandolin, which was first introduced in 1933 as a companion instrument to the Style L-75 & L-C "Century Models", inspired by the "Century of Progress" world's fair in Chicago. Only the L-C & A-C were made after 1933 up to 1938.
1937: In Catalog ‘Y’ Gibson changed the L-30 & L-37 to a sunburst finish. It is also the last catalog to have the Nick Lucas Special, although it wasn’t discontinued until 1941. It also introduced the new Advanced Jumbo, one of the most sot-after pre-war Gibsons; the HG-00 a Hawaiian version of the L-00; the double-neck lap steel; the EM-150 electric mandolin, as well as the F-7 & F-50 mandolins; plus 3 new banjos – the TB-7, TB-12 & TB-18. 88 pages. Cover pictured on the right
Above left: The top-of-the-line Gibson Super 400, so named because of it's price tag - $400. Above right: The ES-150 made famous by guitarist Charlie Christian.
Below: "The Most Popular of all Orchestra Guitars" - The Advanced L-5.
Above: The NEW 1937 'Advanced Jumbo' which wasn't actually bigger than the J-35 (regular Jumbo), but a lot more fancy.
Below: Also from 1937 - The 'HG' Hawaiian guitar models HG-00, HG-1 & HG-C "Century" first appeared on Gibson's April, 1936 price list, but strangely, only the HG-00 appeared in Catalog 'Y' the following year, and the other two models were never shown nor mentioned in any catalog at all.
Above: The newly christened 'J-35' was originally called "The Jumbo" in 1934-35, then changed in 1936. This page is from 1937's Catalog 'Y'.
1938: Catalog ‘Z’ is another significant milestone in Gibson catalog history introducing the ‘Super Jumbo’ (pictured below), which would eventually be re-named the J-200. Its ‘moustache bridge’ design is one of the most recognizable features on this guitar. Catalog Z also introduced the ‘Console Grand’ double-neck lap steel; the ES-100; EM-150 electric mandolin, and the ETB-150 electric tenor banjo. It had 52 pages including a large parts & accessories section.
Above left: The Super Jumbo 200, also named because of it's price - $200.00. Above right: The 1937 ES-100, which had the same body as its acoustic cousins Models L-30 & L-37.
Also in 1938, Gibson issued a short 8-page accessories catalog named "Get The Habit" that contained all of Gibson's parts and accessories. Most of the illustrations also appeared in Catalog Z, so this catalog was mainly done for dealers and distributors.
One more very small catalog was published in 1938, measuring only 4 1/2' x 7" titled "From 1892 To Year After Tomorrow". For some reason, Gibson decided that the company started in 1892, when in fact it was officially incorporated in 1902. I had a total of 28 pages, but most of the pages were 2-page fold-outs making it one of the oddest little books Gibson ever issued. It is also one of the only catalogs to mention the flat-top guitar model L-00 3/4 size guitar (see below).
Note: Dates that appear on the pictures on this website were added for visual reference purposes only.
1939: Full-line Catalog ‘AA’ was first published in 1939 and used up to 1941, but there were also two supplemental brochures printed in 1940 and 1941 called "What's New". ‘AA’ introduced two more Gibson firsts, the Super 400 and L-5 “Premiere Cut-Away” models in with a blonde finish. It also introduced the ‘Super Jumbo 100’ a less expensive version of the J-200; the J-55 with a rather unusual “stair step” peghead design also seen on the new 1939 ES-250 electric guitar; Gibson’s first classical guitar models GS-35 & GS-85, as well as Gibson’s complete line of violins, violas, cellos & basses. 58 pages.
Above: Catalog AA featured several "firsts" - The Super 400 & L-5 'Premiere' cut-away models, and the EH-185 Electric Hawaiian lapsteel and matching amplifier. Below: The Super Jumbo 100 (aka J-100) and the Jumbo '55' (aka J-55).
1940: In October, 1940 Gibson issued a supplemental catalog to 'AA' called simply "What's New". It included the only appearance of the ES-300 with the long diaginal pickup design that was soon changed, as well as the EH-275, which also disappeared quickly. It was one of the few catalogs or brochures to have the date clearly printed on the cover.
1941: In May, 1941 Gibson issued another supplement to catalog AA also titled "What's New" that contained the updated ES-300 with shorter slanted pickup. Most of the rest of its contents was the same as the 1940 supplement including the cover except for the date that was printed at the bottom.
1942: Catalog ‘BB’ had the same cover as catalog ‘AA’, but was one of the only fill-line catalogs to have a printed date of 1942, next to the ‘BB’, and was also the last catalog to have a any letter designation. There were a few fairly minor design changes to existing models, but no significant new models were introduced. This was probably a direct result of the outbreak of WWII, when Gibson re-allocated some of its manufacturing to support the war effort. Although the slogan “Only a Gibson Is Good Enough’ first appeared in 1936’s Catalog ‘X’, it became synonymous with WWII-era guitars, including the famous “Banner” models that had the slogan imprinted on the peg heads below the Gibson logo.
Above left: The only appearance of Gibson's full violin line was on the back inside cover of Catalog 'BB'. Above right: The inside title page containing both the 'BB' letter designation and the date, 1942.
Above: The rather odd and short-lived ES-300 with diagonal pickup. Right: Catalog BB featured an entire section devoted to teaching materials, including method books, and music.
Special note: No new catalogs or brochures were published from 1943-1945 during WWII.
1946: As mentioned above, there are no “lettered” catalogs printed after 1942 and none during WWII, but several smaller brochures appeared in 1946 – 1949. Gibson's first post-war full-line catalog was not published until 1950. This was two years after Ted McCarty took over as Gibson’s General Manager following CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments) acquisition of Gibson. These sample pages are taken from several of these smaller brochures, and are the only ones to show the ‘banner” models with the slogan “Only a Gibson Is Good Enough”, and they only appear in c1946-1949 literature.
Above: The cover and inside page of one of Gibson's c1946 brochures.
Above left: 1946 LG-2 Center: The J-45 Right: Southerner Jumbo. You can just barely see the "Only A Gibson Is Good Enough" banner logo on the head stock, below the Gibson logo.
New models introduced in 1947 included the ES-300 which replaced the ES-250; ES-350 cut-away electric (shown above); the L-12 ‘Premiere’ cut-away acoustic archtop (below); the J-45 and Southerner Jumbo (usually called the Southern Jumbo or SJ); the LG-2 which became Gibson’s only smaller-body acoustic when they discontinued the L-0, L-00, L-1, L-C & HG-00 during WWII; the Ultratone, BR4 & BR-6 electric Hawaiian lap steels; BR-1, BR-4, BR-6 amplifiers.
New models introduced in 1948-49: LG-1, LG-3 & J-50 flat-top acoustics; the TG-50 a 16” archtop tenor guitar; the GA-series of amplifiers; L-7CE cutaway electric archtop with Ted McCarty’s own ‘wrap around’ pickguard design; L-4 cut-away; ES-5 triple pickup electric; ES-125 & ES-175.
Note: Dates that appear on the pictures on this website were added for visual reference purposes only.
1950-1952: Gibson issued separate full-line catalogs for acoustic instruments, electric guitars, and Hawaiian electric & amps, under the new management of Ted McCarty that ushered in what many call the “Golden Age” of Gibson guitars. McCarty & Co. would maintain a separation between acoustic & electric instruments throughout most of the 1950s & 60s. It introduced new models like the Super 300, a less expensive version of the Super 400; The L-48 which was very similar to the L-50 archtop acoustic; the GS-1 classical guitar (see Ted McCarty’s own notations on that page); The Super Jumbo 200 became just the J-200 and the Southerner Jumbo became just ‘SJ’; The J-50 was a new design featuring a Martin-style pickguard; It was the first year for the CF-100, a sharp cut-away version of the LG-2; New mandolins including the F-12 and A-50; Gibson also dramatically cut banjo models down to just two – the RB-150 (RB=Regular Banjo, which was a 5-string, and the TB-100 tenor banjo. Since there are no dates printed in these catalogs, they date to somewhere between 1950-1952, so dates added below are for reference purposes only. Each catalog was 12 pages.
Above: A rare glimpse at Ted McCarty's personal copy of Gibson's 1950 catalog with editorial notes. The "?" next to the GS-1 classical guitar calls into question the description: "The tone of an instrument can be no better than its strings..." It doesn't make to sense to me either, Ted.
The 1951-52 electric guitar catalog was nearly identical to the small 1949 catalog, including the same cover with the ES-5 triple pickup archtop electric. It did introduce a couple of new models including the ¾-size ES-140; Custom built amplifier GA-CB; It also showed minor design changes to existing models. The Hawaiian guitar catalog also contained some new models like the Gibson ‘Century’, and ‘Royaltone’ lap steels.
1953: Another major milestone in Gibson history with the introduction of many new models including the legendary Les Paul. Most historians agree that the Les Paul was available in 1952; it’s also interesting to note that the picture of Les and Mary Ford, Mary is playing a black Les Paul, which did not appear in this catalog and was not available until 1955. Below is a montage of the Les Paul models from 1953 – 1955 showing design changes, including the original trapeze-style stop tailpiece that apparently didn’t work very well, to the ABR-1 adjustable height bridge and separate tailpiece now standard on all Les Pauls. Gibson was always big on putting well-known musicians in their catalogs dating back to the early 20th century, but in fact, Les Paul was only the 3rd player to have his name put on a Gibson guitar, after Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck. Other guitarists had their names attached to other brands made by Gibson, including the Ray Whitley Jumbo, Roy Smeck, and the Carson Robison models made for Montgomery Ward in the 1930s. The late 50s and 1960s would prove to be fertile ground for many more “artist models”. The 1953 catalogs also introduced the Super 400 CES and L-5 CES (C=cutaway – ES=electric Spanish), the ES-175D (D=double pickup), the J-160E made famous in the 60s by the Beatles, CF-100E (E=electric), the J-185, and one of the most interesting designs – the ES-295. They also introduced the Les Paul amp, EM-150 electric mandolin, A-40 mandolin, and TB-150 banjo, as well as their first-ever Gibson Electric Bass, later renamed the EB-1 (shown below). 1956: Two more legendary Gibsons came down the pipe, The Byrdland, named after its designer Billy Byrd, and the ES-5 “Switchmaster”, both very collectable and desirable guitars. Gibson also added the ES-350T, which was a thin-line model, but also had a rounded cutaway & double pickup, so maybe the name should have been ES-350 CEST or TCES? There were now 2 Les Paul Specials, one the same as 1955, and the other was described as the ‘TV Model, Limed Oak – 1 pickup. This became a very collectable guitar known as the ‘LP TV Special’. 1959: Again, Gibson put two separate catalogs, one for acoustics that included mandolins and banjos, and the other for electrics including lap & pedal steels, and amps. There weren’t any significant additions to the line, in fact they were almost identical catalogs to those published in 1958. .
Above: The ES-295 with "flower" print pickguard
Above left: The Supper 400 CES and L-5 CES C=cutaway – ES=electric Spanish). Above right: The ES-175D (D=double pickup).
1954-1955: Gibson continued to maintain separate catalogs for acoustics and electrics, even producing two versions of the 1955 electric guitar catalog with different covers. The first one saw the introduction of the Les Paul Custom with its black finish (shown above), and the Les Paul Jr. Gibson also premiered its “thin” style guitars, including the ES-225T (T=thin). The 2nd in mid-1955 included the new Les Paul Special.
Below: The covers of Gibson's 1954 and 1955 catalogs.
Above: The first 'Gibson Electric Bass' - later renamed the Model EB-1, aka the 'Violin Bass'.
Above: The "sensational new electric spanish guitar" - "The Byrdland", named after designer & player Bill Byrd. Right: Also new in 1856, the ES-5 "Switchmaster"
Above: A 2nd catalog came out in mid-1956 showing the "Les Paul Special - TV Model" using "Limed Oak"
Right: 1956's "Favorite of the Stars" back cover, showing off all the well-known guitarist playing their Gibsons.
1957: Gibson electrics only appeared in CMI’s master distributor catalog that also included other brands owned by Chicago Musical Instruments, including the newly acquired Epiphone Company. Gibson did put their own separate acoustic catalog, which was 16 pages. It did include the C-1 & C-2 classical guitars models and Gibson’s first slot-head guitars since the early 20th century; The J-185N (N=natural finish), the SJN “Country Western”, as well as the electric tenor guitar model ETG-150. The CMI catalog included some cool Gibson factory pictures showing guitar-manufacturing processes. It also introduced the ES-135, ES-125T, and a bevy of 3/4-sized guitar - ES-140T ¾, ES-125T ¾, Les Paul Jr. ¾ electrics, and the LG-2 ¾ acoustic guitar. The LG-2 ¾ did appear in Gibson’s acoustic catalog suggesting that CMI requested these 3/4-size models to fill a specific need somewhere in the market.
Above: The cover of Gibson's 1957 acoustic instruments catalog.
Below: The new SJN "Country Western" guitar and the ETG-150 electric tenor guitar.
Below: From CMI's 1957 distributor catalog, interior shots of Gibson's Kalamazoo factory showing several stages in the guitar-manufacturing process.
1958: Gibson’s 1958 catalog was almost an exact reprint of CMI’s 1957 catalog, but it also included the new EB-2 electric bass, and the renamed Gibson Electric Bass – now EB-1 or the ‘violin bass’ as it was nicknamed. Those additions paled by comparison to the legendary Les Paul Custom (3 pickup version), The Flying V, ES-335T, the very rare & expensive ‘Double 12, and ‘Double Mandolin’. Any one of these 4 guitars can fetch $100,000 - $500,000 in today’s vintage guitar market. Oddly, the infamous Gibson 'Explorer' that was introduced in 1958 never appeared in this or any other catalog. It did appear in a promotional ad in a February, 1958 issue of "The Gibson Gazette" (see our "The History of Gibson Advertising” page).
Above left: The legendary Gibson Flying V and below it, the ES-335. Above right: The Double 12 twin-neck guitar and the Double Mandolin.
Below left: The cover of Gibson's 1958 catalog. Below right: The EB-2 and EB-1 electric bass guitars.
Above left: The cover of Gibson's 1959 electric guitars and amplifiers catalog. Above right: The cover of Gibson's 1959 acousticc guitars catalog.
Note: Dates that appear on the pictures on this website were added for visual reference purposes only.
Again, I would like to personally thank Rod McDonald for his kindness and generosity in sharing one the most amazing collections of Gibson catalogs and ephemera on the face of the earth. Paul Fox
1953: Another major milestone in Gibson history with the introduction of many new models including the legendary Les Paul. Most historians agree that the Les Paul was available in 1952; it’s also interesting to note that the picture of Les and Mary Ford, Mary is playing a black Les Paul, which did not appear in this catalog and was not available until 1955. Below is a montage of the Les Paul models from 1953 – 1955 showing design changes, including the original trapeze-style stop tailpiece that apparently didn’t work very well, to the ABR-1 adjustable height bridge and separate tailpiece now standard on all Les Pauls. Gibson was always big on putting well-known musicians in their catalogs dating back to the early 20th century, but in fact, Les Paul was only the 3rd player to have his name put on a Gibson guitar, after Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck. Other guitarists had their names attached to other brands made by Gibson, including the Ray Whitley Jumbo, Roy Smeck, and the Carson Robison models made for Montgomery Ward in the 1930s. The late 50s and 1960s would prove to be fertile ground for many more “artist models”.
The 1953 catalogs also introduced the Super 400 CES and L-5 CES (C=cutaway – ES=electric Spanish), the ES-175D (D=double pickup), the J-160E made famous in the 60s by the Beatles, CF-100E (E=electric), the J-185, and one of the most interesting designs – the ES-295. They also introduced the Les Paul amp, EM-150 electric mandolin, A-40 mandolin, and TB-150 banjo, as well as their first-ever Gibson Electric Bass, later renamed the EB-1 (shown below).
1956: Two more legendary Gibsons came down the pipe, The Byrdland, named after its designer Billy Byrd, and the ES-5 “Switchmaster”, both very collectable and desirable guitars. Gibson also added the ES-350T, which was a thin-line model, but also had a rounded cutaway & double pickup, so maybe the name should have been ES-350 CEST or TCES? There were now 2 Les Paul Specials, one the same as 1955, and the other was described as the ‘TV Model, Limed Oak – 1 pickup. This became a very collectable guitar known as the ‘LP TV Special’.
1959: Again, Gibson put two separate catalogs, one for acoustics that included mandolins and banjos, and the other for electrics including lap & pedal steels, and amps. There weren’t any significant additions to the line, in fact they were almost identical catalogs to those published in 1958.
1960: Gibson issued one combined full-line catalog and continued to expand its ES-series “thin-line” models with the introduction of the ES-345TD (T=thinline – D=double pickup), the ES-355TD, ES-330T, with several other variations like 355-TD-SV (S=stereo V=Varitone) TDN (N=natural finish), TDC (C=Cherry finish). They also introduced the ‘Melody Maker’ which looked like the late 50s Les Paul Jr. with a single pickup, while they changed the LP Jr.’s design to a double-cutaway body. They also introduced the EB-0 electric bass and several new GA-series amplifiers. A new J-50 acoustic guitar was added with an optional adjustable saddle on the bridge, called the J-50 Adj., and also added the LG-0 & TG-0 - all mahogany 6 string & tenor guitars, and the C-6 ‘Richard Pick’ classical guitar model. 42 pages
Upper left: 1960 catalog cover. Upper right: The 1960 EB-2 and EB-0 bass guitars. Lower left: The ES-355TD-SV (T=thin D=double pickup S=stereo ouput & V=Varitone). Lower right: On left is the Les Paul Jr. that inherited the 1959 Melody Maker body, and on the right, the Melody Maker with 1959 Les Paul Jr. body.
1961-62: At first glance, Gibson’s 1962 catalog looked very similar to 1960 and could possibly be dated to 1961. However, this catalog had significant differences, including NO 1950’s style Les Paul model. The story goes that the 50s LP was not selling and Gibson decided to give it a complete facelift. Now known as the LP SG, the 1962 Les Paul had the same body of the later 60s Model SG, but still had Les’ name on the truss rod cover. Les was not too pleased with the change and parted company with Gibson shortly thereafter. There were five 2 new LP models – the ‘Custom’ 3-pickup with Gibson’s own “vibrola” sometimes called the “sideways vibrato”; The ‘Standard’ 2-pickup, ‘Special’, ‘TV’ and ‘Jr.’ models, but the LP Jr. also had the SG-body style. Gibson swapped it with the Melody Maker, so the MM had the previous LP Jr. double cut-away body instead. This catalog also introduced another well known “artist models”, including the ‘Barney Kessel’, and the ‘Johnny Smith’. The EB-2 electric bass and Gibson’s first 12-string acoustic, the ‘B-45-12 were also added to the line. 48 pages
Left: The cover of Gibson's 1962 catalog. Above right: The new Barney Kessel and Johnny Smith "artist model" guitars. Below: The "SG Les Paul" models were a complete redesign of the 50s LPs.
1963: Another “artist” model, the ‘Tal Farlow’ was introduced with its distinctive scrolled cut-away design. But also a some stunning new designs that would prove to be way ahead of their time; The Firebird, that came in four different configurations – Firebird I – single pickup, Firebird III double pickup with short Vibrola, Firebird V with 2 pickups and the beautiful vibrola with engraved ‘Lyre’ tailpiece cover, and the most expensive – Firebird VII with 3 pickups and all gold-plated hardware. Gibson also issued a separate Firebird brochure that provided customers with many color choices for the finish. Gibson also gave us the ‘Thunderbird’ II & IV basses which had the same body as the Firebird, and considered by many to be the best electric basses Gibson ever made. Other basses like the EB-2, EB-6 and Double Bass (a double-neck with a 6-string guitar neck below a 4-string bass neck), were also added. Of special note: The electric guitars previously known as the Les Paul, were now called the ‘SG’ and NO Les Paul model was available. Thankfully, Gibson rekindled its relationship with Les Paul himself, and re-introduced the 50s-style LP in 1968.
Below left: The cover of Gibson's 1962 catalog. Below right: The 'Double Bass" a double-necked bass & guitar combo.
Above: Some of the new models for 1964 L-R: The Tal Farlow, Firebird VII, Firebird V, Thunderbird IV & Thunderbird II basses.
1964: Gibson a few new acoustic guitars to the 1964 lineup including the ‘Hummingbird’ and ‘Dove’ large-sized dreadnaughts (The Country Western was changed from a round-shoulder J body to the large dreadnaught body); The Everly Brothers 16” flat-top with double pickguards in an all black finish; The ‘B-25’ small acoustic & B-25 ¾-size; The ‘FJ Folk Singer” dreadnaught also with 2 mirrored pickguards; The ‘F-25 Folk Singer’ LG-size acoustic, and another 12-string acoustic, the ‘B-25-12’, as well as some additional classical guitars.
Above: The front and back covers of Gibson's 1964 catalog. The back cover showed the tenor guitar models ETG-150, TG-25N, and the TG-0.
Below: New acoustic guitar models from L-R: The 'Dove' - 'Everly Brothers' - The 'Hummingbird' - "J-160E" (The J-160E was actually introduced in 1955).
1964-1965: The following black & white catalog could be dated to '64 or '65 and only contained some acoustic guitars, mandolins and ukuleles, plus Gibson's lap & pedal steel models. There is no overlap vs. the 1964 catalog, so it's probably just a companion brochure showing the rest of the full-line of instruments.
Above left: The cover of the 1964-65 black & white catalog. Above right - L-R: The Super 400-C, The L-5CN, and the L-7C (C=cutaway - N=natural finish).
Below left: The new 8 pedal Electraharp, Multiharp, and Electraharp EH-160 (top to bottom). Below right L-R: The Uke 1 (soprano ukulele), the TU-1 tenor uke, and the Baritone Ukulele. Plus "Popps Music Store - Dayton, Ohio stamped in red ink.
1966: There was apparently no catalog issued in 1965, but Gibson’s 1966 catalog with the tree silhouette cover contained some major model & design changes. Gibson introduced 2 “artist models” named after Trini Lopez, the ‘Deluxe’ that was similar to the Barney Kessel, except for its Fender-like peghead design & diamond-shaped sound holes, and the ‘Standard’ that had an ES-335 body with diamond sound holes & a Firebird-style peghead. The Firebird guitars & Thunderbird basses got a complete make-over (personally, a huge mistake by Gibson), but it was in response to lagging sales of the 1964 versions. Gibson also introduced a 12-string version of the ES-335. 16 pages
Above left: The cover of Gibson's 1966 catalog. Above right: Promo shot of the Super 400 CES with parrot & pelican (fly, pelicans, fly...).
Below L-R: The Trini Lopez 'Deluxe' & Standard', and the redesigned Firebirds VII - V - III.
1968: Ted McCarty left Gibson to run the Bigsby Company, also in Kalamazoo, as Gibson and their parent company were in financial trouble. They cut down the number of models they were producing and only issued some small color brochures, but no real catalog. There are no other brochures that can be accurately dated to 1967, but the sample pages below seem to date to the 1967-1969 era, considered by most as the end of the ‘Golden Age’ of Gibson.
Below left: One of the covers of Gibson's 1968 small brochures. Below Center: New amp models (top to bottom) - The 'Skylark' & 'Skylark T' - 'Hawk' guitar amps, and the 'Thor' & 'Falcon' bass amps.
Above: Special 1968-69 re-introduction Les Paul flyer cover and inside layout after it had been discontinued in 1960. Hard to believe that Gibson make the 'Paul' for such a long period of time in the 60s.
1970: CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments) sold Gibson and Epiphone to a company called Norlin, and although Gibson’s workforce was still pretty much the same, the change in management caused a steady decline in Gibson sales, quality, and certainly innovation. Gibson did introduce some new models, like the ‘Citation’ which looked more like an Epiphone archtop electric; The ‘Crest’ a customized ES-335-style electric; The ES-150DC, ES-340DNand a couple of new bass guitar models including the EB-3L slot-head bass.
Above: Some of the new 1970 Gibson models - The 'Citation' - 'ES-150DC' double-cutaway - 'EB-3L' slot-head bass guitar.
1970s: Here are a few samples of brochures Gibson (now owned by Norlin) issued in the 1970s. It may not be considered the greatest era in the company’s history in terms of innovation and design, although Gibson did make some good basses, including the ‘Ripper’ and ‘Grabber’ models, plus some others listed below - some great - some NOT.
Above right: The not so great looking Les Paul 'Recording' model, but also the interesting Rickenbacker-style Les Paul 'Signature' model. Above left: Keith Richards who's in an obscure band called The Rolling Stones (or something like that).
Below: A sample of guitars from Gibson's 1975 catalog. Top row L-R: RD Artist, Les Paul 55/78, LP Special Double Cutaway, The 'Paul', L5-S, and S-1.
Bottom row L-R: The awesome ‘Kalamazoo Award’, Super V CES, JSD Double pickup, Howard Roberts Artist, Howard Roberts Custom, Les Paul Triumph bass.
1980: Gibson issued a larger catalog for 1980 with some models that headn't been seen in years including the Explorer (now called the Explorer II) that was introduced in 1958, but disappeared soon after, and the Flying V (now called the Flying V-II) that was also introduced in 1958, but hadn't appeared in a Gibson catalog since the 1960s. The J-45 acoustic guitar model also made a comeback and is still being manufacturer today. Hats off to whomever was responsible for re-introducing these legendary models. Gibson also introduced some not-so-good guitars called the 'Sonex' models that were made from a composite material of sawdust & resin.
Note: Dates that appear on the pictures on this website were added for visual reference purposes only.