Do you have a "NORLIN Era" Gibson guitar or bass? What do you think of it?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Jun 23, 2010.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    I'm writing an article about the NORLIN era at Gibson (roughly 1969 to the early 1980s). This is an era that most "experts" think is notorious for designing, manufacturing and selling bad Gibson guitars.

    My article is concentrating on just the OPPOSITE and I'm trying to show that the NORLIN era produced some wonderful guitars.

    You might have a NORLIN Gibson and not know it. Was it made in 1969 to the early 1980s? Do you know how to read the serial number? If you are not sure, let me know or click here:

    I have four NORLIN Gibsons in my collection, a 1978 Les Paul Goldtop Standard, a 1973 Johnny Smith Blonde, a 1978 ES-175 blonde and a 1974 Johnny Smith Cremona burst. All picked up for a song. All four are magnificent guitars made in an unmagnificent time.

    If you are reading this and know what the NORLIN Era was, if you have an instrument, can you describe it and what you think of it (good or bad)?

    If you have no clue as to what I'm talking about, I'm sure that a Google search will help you figure it out or click on this non-pro NORLIN history timeline:

    My NORLIN Les Paul is without a doubt the BEST Les Paul I've ever played. On the surface it has everything wrong with it. As a guitar dealer told me as he turned up his nose at it: It was made in the dark year of 1978, it has one of them there Maple three piece necks, a shallow cut top, heavy Mahogany body, chrome hardware, it has the evil (but I don't know why) volute and it has that wacky injection molded machine gun chainsaw case thingy. Cost me $200.00 from a friend.

    It also has the best amplified sound I've ever heard from a Paul and I've heard hundreds of them live, trust me. It's a screamer. Yikes, it cuts through any other guitar. When this dealer played the thing his expression changed and he said: "Well, maybe you got a good one but for the most part....."

    My NORLIN Johnny Smith Artist is from 1974, made right at the Heart Of Darkness and even true jazz players who have tried it have sung it's praises. It has a wonderful acoustic tone and the mini-bucker just lights up the sound through an amplifier. It's like a Jazz Sparkle machine. (OK, the wood grain is more boring or plain than on a 1960's version, but so what?) This hand-carved axe is every bit as good or better than my 1967 JS Double. Half the price 'cause the dealer told me (whispered to me) that it was made in the "1970's". Like he didn't want others to hear the date or something. Heh, I could see the NORLIN/GIBSON serial number tag through the F hole. I tried it anyway and I'm glad I did. Now if I see the "dreaded NORLIN Sticker" I for SURE try the guitar. I've never been disappointed. I can't be the only one. Is it just a snob thing among collectors or what? I can't imagine a $300,00.00 1957 Goldtop Les Paul owner to ever want to admit that the $2,000.00 1978 Goldtop kicks his butt.

    I've never heard a bad sounding NORLIN era Gibson!

    What about you?

    Post here, and thanks.
    Photos: One way to tell a NORLIN era Gibson guitar: Look at the GIBSON inlay on the headstock (see photo). The "i" is NOT dotted on the NORLIN product. On a 1968 or earlier it would be (bottom photo of my 1967, see the "i dot"?) Geez. A silly way to save money.

    Attached Files:

  2. E-Rock

    E-Rock Forum Resident

    Madison, WI, USA
    Hi Steve,

    The first "good" guitar I ever bought was a natural-finish '79 Les Paul Custom. Back in early '91 - at age 16 - I paid $500 cash for it from a local dealer. I still have it. :)

    Construction-wise, mine sounds similar to yours: three-piece maple neck, volute, offset three-piece plain maple top, shallow top-carve, HEAVY mahogany body (it probably weighs close to 12 lbs.), ebony fingerboard with very low, flat frets ("fretless wonder" frets?). Its still completely stock - I've never changed a thing on it, and I still have the original Gibson plastic-molded "Chainsaw II" case with plush-blue interior....

    I've bought and sold several Les Pauls over the years - including some extremely expensive and collectible Custom Shop reissues - but I just can't part with the ol' Custom. It does two things better than any guitar I've ever played - it stays in tune for days, and it SUSTAINS for weeks. Seriously, no other electric guitar I've ever strummed sustains like my '79 Custom. I'm convinced the heavy, extra-dense solid mahogany body (no chambering or weight-relief here) is responsible for this.

    However, the great sustain comes at a considerable cost: the guitar has very little acoustic resonance and sounds fairly congested and "dead" - even with brand-new strings. Woody harmonics and overtones just aren't there as with other great solidbody guitars I've owned/played. Part of me thinks this could be due to the heavy weight, but I also wonder about the "Nashville" style bridge and what appears to be the thick, somewhat rubbery finish Gibson used back then.

    That said, I understand that some metal-style players (Zakk Wylde, Adam Jones, etc.) actually prefer these '70s Norlin-era Les Pauls precisely because of the thicker, denser tone many of these guitars exhibit. It is a very direct, somewhat-scooped, in-your-face kind of sound that sounds huge and screams when heavily distorted. Mine doesn't work too well for creamy Clapton-esque bluesy stuff, yet it sounds fairly decent for cleaner jazz tones, despite the endless sustain....

    I know that many vintage Gibson buffs really slag the Norlin-era guitars for substandard quality of construction, but I don't really understand why, as every Norlin-era Gibson I've ever handled appeared to be a finely-crafted instrument. My guess is that the Norlin-era guitars simply differ in their overall construction, materials, and features of their pre-Norlin counterparts. Thus, they sound a bit different than their über-collectible pre-Norlin siblings...hence the general disdain.

    From what I've read on the subject, however, the hollow-bodied guitars from the Norlin era are actually considered quite good and sell for serious $$$ today. The thinking appears to be that the old-timers who hand-carved the solid tops in '70s were the same guys who did it pre-Norlin....

    But post-'73 Les Pauls do seem to get a bad rap...quite unfairly IMHO. ;)
    BIG ED likes this.
  3. DrJ

    DrJ Forum Resident

    Davis, CA, USA
    I'm pretty sure the Gibsons my brother and I owned growing up were NORLIN era - I don't recall the exact years we purchased them (new) but it had to be right in that 1969-early 80s wheelhouse, so I'm sure that's what they were.

    One was a natural finish SG - looked just like this, purchased as I recall around 1979 or so, which I think was right when they started making this "budget" version of the SG:


    The other was a sunburst Les Paul DeLuxe with the mini humbuckers:


    I guesstimate purchased around 1980 or so. This axe was a heavy mo fo, especially for a skinny teenager to be hanging on his shoulder - but a wonderful sounding guitar - so was the SG for that matter. We loved both of 'em! Great guitars, no problems at all. The SG I preferred actually for playing lead stuff - wonderful beefy tone with killer sustain, and it really cut through in a loud "garage band" type situation. The Les Paul I know people always think of as a lead axe, but for me it was fantastic for rhythm work with those mini humbuckers, a wonderful transparent sound.

    Finally - not a Gibson - but I also have to show the first electric my bro and I ever shared, a Guild S-65D, purchased around 1977 I'd guess - something of a rare bird, not mega valuable or anything but a neat axe, looked like this one except had a somewhat lighter natural finish:

    Randon Ton and melstapler like this.
  4. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Thanks for the posts, Erik and DrJ. Very helpful!
  5. kevin5brown

    kevin5brown Forum Resident

    I have a '79 cherry sunburst Les Paul KM. I love it, and I would be buried with it, except that I would want some other guitar loving soul to be able to appreciate it after I'm gone.

    I have a friend who is a luthier ( ), and he has a '78 wine red LP. Both of these are outstanding instruments, and have only aged for the better IMO.

    There is a writer for Vintage Guitar Magazine who has only nasty things to say about Norlin era Gibsons, and I really don't know where he gets that idea from.

    I had a running list of famous guitarists who use and love Norlin era Les Pauls too. 2 of them are John Sykes (Whitesnake, Blue Murder) and Dean DeLeo from STP:
  6. ledsox

    ledsox Forum Resident

    San Diego, CA
    So who is this Norlin guy and what's a volute?

    Sorry I can't help out here...

    I guess I just missed the era as my tobacco burst Les Paul is from 1985 with the dotted i. Bought it around 1987. It's still going strong but since my recent projects are Beatles and Pink Floyd based bands it's not getting much use right now.
  7. aceman400

    aceman400 Black Triangle Fan

    I have a 1979 Les Paul Custom. I had the pickups removed and replaced with Bartolini's in approx 1989. I used to play it through I think a '59 Explorer tube amp which created a wonderful tone. Love it but rarely play it.
  8. jrice

    jrice Forum Resident

    Halifax, NS Canada
    I have a few Norlin-era Gibsons that didn't cost me much. Generally speaking I love them, with maybe one exception. I have a bizarre 1983 Corvus III, built when they were trying to reinvent the Strat.

    Ignoring that one, I have a 1971 SG Special (hey - it was good enough for Pete Townshend), a 1972 SG Standard that plays like a dream, a 1979 "The Paul", a 1980 "The SG" and a 1980 ES 335-S Standard (solid body). They are some of my favourites in my collection and I prefer them to most guitars made in the past 20 years. They definitely have an indefinable "mojo" about them. The last time my brother was here, it was the 335-S that he couldn't put down; it was love at first sight.

    I've often thought that Norlin got a bad rap. In the early 70s it seemed like players hated Gibson because the company wasn't making the models that people wanted - particularly a Les Paul Standard. I knew several people who bought LP Deluxes and then installed full size humbuckers, I don't recall them hating the guitars as instruments, just the styling. Norlin also introduced some weird SG models - the SG-I, SG-II, SG-III - and then there were the L6-S and LP Recording guitars. I never heard people complaining about the quality though, just the fact that it wasn't what folks were looking for.
  9. Dan

    Dan Forum Resident

    I have a Norlin-era LP. There's nothing wrong it, period. The prices keep going up too, same with the much-maligned three-bolt Fender Stratocasters of the 70's. They've gone through the roof too.

    I think Norlin versions of many of the classic instruments like Les Pauls, SG's, etc are every bit as good playing, sounding, etc. as other periods even though they, at times, obviously cut corners. Where Norlin takes its deserved lumps is some of the so called "innovative" instruments they tried to produce like the "Marauder" (yuck!) and the "Invader" (a bolt-on Les Paul? Sacrilege!)
  10. goldenoldie

    goldenoldie Forum Resident

    SoCal USA
    I have a '80 Les Paul Artist w/ active electronics that I bought new back in the day. Fantastic guitar - never had any problems, the neck is perfect and plays fantastically. Creates a wide range of beautiful tones w/ or without the active electronics and will sustain all day long. Anyone who's played it has fallen in love and a couple people have pleaded with me to sell it to them over the years. I never knew it was a rotten guitar until a few years ago :). I have about a dozen guitars, so I don't play it often these days because it's 8 lbs heavy, but when I pull it out I'm still amazed with what it can do.
  11. O Don Piano

    O Don Piano Forum Resident

    Having been securely under the influence of Pete Townshend in the Kids Are Alright movie, my folks bought me a wine-red Les Paul Standard for Xmas 1980. I loved it, and it was the only guitar I played for years. Great tone, heavy, and perfect action. I did have it refretted (rounded frets- the original frets wore down fairly quick) and changed the bridge pickup to a Duncan, but went back the the original PAF- not as "metal" sounding. One night in 1990 it was stolen out of my car. I had weeks of gigs ahead of me so I had to buy a new one the next day. It was a Colours Ediition, blue flame finish. Real purty! The tone is a little more brittle than my '80 but I dealt with it.

    I'd say the NORLIN era guitar had a warmer, rounder tone.

    Addendum: In 2005, a buddy was Ebay surfing. He saw what looked like my old '80 Paul and sent me the link. It did look just like it! My friend told me it was sold. Then at a rehearsal he directed me to look at the guitar case in the corner. I opened it and..........there she was. My '80 Paul! I was moved to tears. I had dreams of recovering it over the years, and here it was! Scrutiny of the serial number and the unique re-fretting job confirmed it. My friend paid $900 for it. The seller would not answer any further questions about it and disappeared after the sale. So I can tell you that the '80 has a better tone than the '90.
    AlienRendel, davenav, clhboa and 2 others like this.
  12. dasacco

    dasacco Forum Resident

    I have a '77 Les Paul Custom that I bought new in 1977. It's stamped "Second" on the back of the headstock, and my understanding is that there were any number of reasons that could earn a guitar a "second" rating, from cosmetics to major problems. I did make one change to it, and that was to have the original nut replaced with a ciustom fitted brass nut.

    Well I love the damn thing and it always sounded great. I recently bought a late-model VOX AC30CC2 amp and this guitar absolutely ROCKS through it.
  13. Glenn Christense

    Glenn Christense Foremost Beatles expert... on my block

    Well, I've sold guitars for a living including Gibson since around 1973, so yes, I've played some horrible Norlin era guitars and some groovy ones also, just like guitars from their other eras.

    Steve, I'll take your word that your Les Paul has "the magic" but if I had a dollar for every customer of mine that swears they have THE Strat, THE Les Paul,THE D'Aquisto, etc..:D People fall in love with their guitars like they do with their wives or something.

    I agree with Dan that the Norlin era gets tainted by some of Norlin's choices. Besides the models Dan mentions, does anyone remember the Sonex series LP guitars with the "New Multiphonic bodies" and their Mark series acoustics?:D
    I didn't care for their Ripper or Grabber basses either, mainly because the necks were so clunky.

    Gibson moving from Kalamazoo MI to Nashville happened under Norlin also, thereby losing some of their top luthiers like Lamb, etc. A few of them went on to start Heritage Guitars.
    I can remember hanging Gibson posters in my store with Santana plugging the L6-S, with wording something like "Tones are like colors and my L6-S is a rainbow ! "

    I have a 1974 J-50 Deluxe acoustic guitar that I bought for ten bucks around twelve or thirteen years ago. The guy carved his initials in the top and it's top is cracked but it still sounds great, probably because the label inside reminds me that it was "union made".:laugh:
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Heh, don't take my word for it, come over and play it!

    Really, my LES PAUL quest has been ongoing since I got this Gold one in 1986. Every time I find a groovy one for sale and try it, I keep going back to the lowly NORLIN Paul I have. I have tried all different eras and vintage reissues and "exact replicas", etc. and still haven't found one that I want to spend money on. Doesn't mean I'm in love with this '78, 'cause I'm not actually a fan of the Les Paul guitar. But when I compare this one to "expensive" Pauls, this one sounds better. This one is quite expressive and is very authoritative going full tilt and when you roll off the tone on the treble pickup you get that Rolling Stones "HAD IT WITH YOU" sound exactly or Spirit's "DARK EYED WOMAN" or some Clapton screaming chick sound. And I sure love that sound...

    And so it goes!
  15. Glenn Christense

    Glenn Christense Foremost Beatles expert... on my block

    OK. I'll bring donuts if you provide coffee .:laugh:

    Unfortunately I'm in Illinois at the moment , but next NAMM show... look out.
    Either you let me in to try it or I'm gonna ring your doorbell and run !
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    NAMM show, yeah. I'll meet you there!
  17. Glenn Christense

    Glenn Christense Foremost Beatles expert... on my block

    Done. I'll send you a reminder a week or so before the show so you can polish up your...Lester Polsfuss. The challenge is on.:laugh::wave:

    Grabber basses , the S-1 , and oh my : The Corvus 1 , II and III.

    Attached Files:

  18. rednoise

    rednoise Forum Resident

    I have owned two in the past. From about 1973 to 1977 I played a cherry sunburst '72 Les Paul Deluxe. It was my second good guitar and I loved it, but then I didn't have much to compare it to. Looking back on it, my criticisms are that the was quite plain looking, with the multi-piece top very visible but no interesting pattern in the wood. The pickups were a bit microphonic. The neck had a dead spot under the e and g strings around the 8th and 9th frets. Only the dead spot was a real problem.

    Then I had an L6-S for a year or two in the late '70s. I never liked that thing. NO sustain at all, neck heavy, dull-sounding pickups, and I didn't like the rotary pickup selector.

    I wish I had them both now, especially the LP so I could judge them with the benefit of my experience. It's been a long time now, but I consider that LP to be a good but not great instrument (but I loved it!), and the L6-S to be a poor design.
  19. glea

    glea Well-Known Member

    My '73 SG Standard isn't half bad. A former band member gave it to me. I think he was feeling guilty for bad behavior while in the band.

    Some clever person did some unspeakable mods on it... did what I could to get it back close to original shape, except for the hole, cut to make room for coil tap switches.

    It's a good gig guitar. I'd rather not take the old ones out of the studio. There are some real odd ones they made. The ones with the knobs on the pick guard and the odd pick ups. You see people using these now, but for a while they could hardly give them away.

    Attached Files:

  20. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    I agree, some of those NORLIN era designs were real dogs. However the tried and true older stuff that was kept in print continued to be reproduced well.

    Funny and sad now that, even a NORLIN era guitar is now considered a "VINTAGE!" guitar. Why? It's OLD. It must be a classic!
  21. glea

    glea Well-Known Member

    here are a couple of the less than wonderful models. I couldn't find too many pix..

    Attached Files:

  22. kunstwork

    kunstwork Forum Resident

    Los Angeles, CA
    The one on the right was my first electric guitar--it wasn't a bad guitar, just not a great one either (the Norlin folks skimped on this one--could have used better materials). consequently I prefer non-Norlin Gibsons
  23. I had a later 1970's Black Les Paul Custom with a white pickguard and a maple fretboard. I really loved it, a whole lot, also helped me discover what a Fender player I really & truly was. I played my Stratocaster easily 5 times as much. I eventually sold it for that very reason, & picked up a Jazzmaster as my 2nd guitar, & ended up playing that about equal amount as much as the Strat...the only other electric I've ever worked with much outside of those two models was a mid-60's Rickenbacker 360-12- though I would have to say that I'm fine with Telecasters too, just never owned one because I prefer Strats and they are close enough to each other for me to not own both.
  24. oxenholme

    oxenholme High Quality Posts™ a speciality


    Back in 1980 I went to Music Ground in Doncaster where they had in stock a left handed Fender Telecaster, a left handed Fender Stratocaster and a left handed cherry sunburst Gibson Les Paul Deluxe.

    I sat down and played all three for some time before opting for the Les Paul.

    It came in the moulded plastic case and cost £535.

    It weighs a ton, its binding is coming off the top, the varnish has worn off the neck, the frets are well worn, the strings recommended are in gauges that nobody stocks as a set so they have to be bought individually.

    I noticed it drowned everybody else out when I used it at a jam session at Kendal's Brewery Arts Centre.

    Its intonation is superb, its action is good, it sounds wonderful and I wouldn't part with it.
  25. BobbyS

    BobbyS Forum Resident

    Delaware OH USA
    I've been playing guitar since 1970 or so and in that time have owned exactly one Norlin era Gibson. It was a 1971 Gold top Deluxe and was a fine guitar, although extremely heavy. But I traded it towards a 1954 Gold top in the mid 70's and never looked back.

    My current go to Les Paul is a 1998 Historic 58 reissue flame top - it's a monster.

    Bobby Sutliff

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