During the 1970s and the 1980s, certain Japanese Guitar companies using brand names such as Ibanez, Tōkai, Burny, and Greco were making high quality copies of Fender and Gibson guitars. Some brands were sold only on the Japanese market, but other brands, such as Ibanez were exported from Japan. Fender and Gibson opened Japanese branch divisions to make guitars in Japan using the Fender/Squier or Gibson/Epiphone brand names for the Japanese market.
Fender established Fender Japan in 1982 and contracted Yamano Gakki 山野楽器 and Kanda Shokai 神田商会 to oversee the production and distribution of Fender Japan guitars in cooperation with Fender. Yamano Gakki (Gakki stands for musical instrument company) are one of Japan's largest musical instrument distributors/retailers and Kanda Shokai are one of Japan's largest musical instrument distributors. Gibson established Epiphone Japan in the early 1970s with the production and distribution being managed by Aria in cooperation with Gibson.
The Aria and Gibson Epiphone Japan partnership ended by 1986 and in 1987 Yamano Gakki obtained the Gibson and Epiphone dealership in Japan Yamano Gakki distributed Gibson and Korean Epiphone guitars and also produced a limited range of Epiphone Japan semi acoustic guitars in cooperation with Gibson. In 1988 Yamano Gakki decided to expand the Epiphone Japan model range to include solid body models as well as semi acoustic models.
Gibson and Yamano Gakki decided not to use the Epiphone brand name for the expanded model range and so the Orville name was chosen instead. Orville is the first name of the Gibson corporation's founder Orville Gibson. When the Orville by Gibson series was launched in 1988, Gibson was also selling American made Gibson guitars, Japanese made Epiphone guitars and Korean made Epiphone guitars in Japan. The Orville by Gibson and Orville series were distributed by Yamano Gakki and were priced midway between the American made Gibson guitars and the Korean made Epiphone guitars.
There were a number of changes to the Orville by Gibson and Orville model range between their beginning in 1988 and their end in 1998 that are shown in the Retail Release History section. The Orville series were discontinued in 1998 due to Gibson and Yamano Gakki deciding to export an expanded Epiphone model range that included solid body and semi acoustic models. Gibson and Yamano Gakki ended their relationship in late 2006.
There were two Japanese guitar factories involved in all of the Orville by Gibson and Orville production and they were Terada 寺田 and Fuji-Gen フジゲン The Gibson Les Paul Book by Tony Bacon and Paul Day (1993) mentions that both the Orville by Gibson and Orville guitars, including the K Orville guitars (1989-1993) were made in Japan. When the Orville by Gibson series began in 1988, Fuji-Gen were concentrating on making Fender Japan bolt-on neck guitars and so the G serial Orville by Gibson and K Orville set-neck guitars were all made by Terada. Fuji-Gen began making Orville by Gibson guitars in late 1992 and also Orville guitars in 1993 after they established Fuji-Gen Hirooka Inc in November 1991. After opening Fuji-Gen Hirooka Inc, Fuji-Gen resumed large scale set-neck guitar production. After Fuji-Gen were contracted by Yamano Gakki in late 1992, Fuji-Gen were assigned to make most of the Orville by Gibson and Orville solid body guitars and Terada shifted to its more traditional role of mostly making Semi Acoustic guitars .The production of the Terada solid body K Orville guitars and most of the Terada solid body G serial Orville by Gibson guitars were ended in 1993 as a result.
Fuji-Gen and Terada used different serial number formats (Orville by Gibson Terada decal box). Terada used a G or J letter at the start of the serial number and Fuji-Gen used a serial number consisting of only numbers and no letters. The Terada G serial number letter basically stood for "Gibson pickups" and the Terada J serial number letter basically stood for "Japanese pickups". When the K Orville guitars were made between 1989 and 1993, Terada were the only guitar factory making all of the Orville by Gibson and Orville guitars. The Orville by Gibson and Orville EB-3 SG Bass guitars which were priced at over 90,000 Yen were given G letter serial numbers by Terada. The lower priced (K) Orville guitars which were priced at 75,000 Yen and below were not given serial numbers by Terada. Serial numbers are not always essential when only one guitar factory is making all of the guitars, as the distributor (Yamano Gakki) knows exactly which guitar factory made the guitar even when the guitar has no identifiable guitar factory serial number. As Terada were the only guitar factory making all of the Orville guitars between 1989 and 1993, they did not need to serialize the (K) Orville guitars which were made more for the first time or intermediate player market.
When the (K) Orville guitars were released for retail sale between 1989 and 1993, Yamano Gakki applied a year dated (K) serial number sticker for warranty serial number tracking. The K serial number prefix letter stands for Kuramae which is where Yamano Gakki's wholesale division is located. The higher priced Orville by Gibson and Orville EB-3 SG Bass guitars were Yamano Gakki's and Terada's main priority in the early years and were made for the intermediate and professional player market and were therefore given serial numbers to be in step with Gibson's usual practice of using serial numbers on Gibson guitars. Different serial number letter prefixes are usually used when more than one guitar factory can be making the same brand and model of guitar at the same time. When Fuji-Gen joined together with Terada in making the Orville by Gibson guitars in late 1992 and the Orville guitars in 1993, serial numbers were used on all of the Orville guitars by both Fuji-Gen and Terada with Terada using a J letter serial number for all of the Orville guitars they made after the K Orville guitars ended in 1993. A 1993 75,000 Yen K Orville Les Paul and a 1996 75,000 Yen J letter serial numbered Orville Les Paul are basically the same guitars made by Terada.
The Orville by Gibson and Orville serial number format had 4 variations in the 10 years that they were produced. The Orville by Gibson guitars used ink stamped serial numbers and the Orville guitars used both ink stamped serial numbers and Yamano Gakki (K) serial number stickers.
Serial Number Format: 1988-1989.
From 1988 to 1989 a YYPPPP serial number format was used for the Orville by Gibson guitars and Orville SG bass EB-3 guitars.
For example G887013 is dated 1988 and was made by Terada.
Serial Number Format: 1989-1998.
Starting in 1989 a new serial number format of YMMPPP was used for the Orville by Gibson guitars and Orville SG bass EB-3 guitars.
For example G206135 is dated June 1992 and was made by Terada, J603523 is dated March 1996 and was made by Terada, 411264 is dated November 1994 and was made by Fuji-Gen. This format was also used for the ink stamped serial number Orville guitars from 1993 to 1998.
Reissue Serial Number Format: Late 1992-1995.
The Orville by Gibson 1957 and 1959 Les Paul reissue models (LPS-57C, LPC-57B, LPS-59R) and the Orville by Gibson 1961 SG reissue model (SG-61R) had two different serial number formats.
The first reissue serial number format was a YMMPPP format.
The second reissue serial number format was a YPPPP format.
For example G3 6942 is dated 1993 and was made by Terada, 4 7345 is dated 1994 and was made by Fuji-Gen, G306385 is dated June 1993 and was made by Terada, 412562 is dated December 1994 and was made by Fuji-Gen.
The YPPPP Orville by Gibson reissue serial number format is the same format as the Gibson reissue serial number format. The reissue year is in the model number (LPS-57C = 1957) and the 1957 and 1959 Les Paul and 1961 SG reissue models were made from late 1992-1995 with some guitars having limited production runs.
K Serial Number Format: 1989-1993.
The Yamano Gakki K Orville serial number format is K 0YPPPP. The shortened K Orville serial number format is YPPPP, with the K letter and the first 0 having no year or date information.
For example a K Orville serial number such as K 015113 = 1 5113 = 1991 and 5113 = the production number.
The K Orville Les Paul Standard and Custom models originally retailed for 65000 Yen 円 beginning in 1989 and in 1990 the Orville by Gibson and Orville model prices were increased. From 1990 to 1998 both the K Orville and ink stamped Orville Les Paul Standard and Custom models retailed for 75000 Yen. Orville photo flame models retailed for 80000 Yen. Orville signature models and Orville ebony fingerboard models retailed for 85000 Yen
Orville by Gibson models retailed for over 90000 Yen and were introduced in 1988. The Orville by Gibson guitars featured nitrocellulose finishes and Gibson pickups. In 1995 the Orville by Gibson models were discontinued and only Orville models were continued until 1998. The Terada G, J and K serial number Les Paul guitars featured a mixture of medium, medium long and long tenon neck joints. The Fuji-Gen no letter serial number Les Paul guitars featured long tenon neck joints.
Epiphone Japan was first established by Gibson in the early 1970s with the dealership mostly being managed by Aria in cooperation with Gibson. The Matsumoku guitar factory in Japan was used to make the Aria Epiphone Japan guitars. In 1987 Yamano Gakki obtained the Epiphone Japan dealership and produced a limited range of Epiphone Japan semi acoustic models in cooperation with Gibson. The Terada guitar factory in Japan was used to make the Yamano Gakki Epiphone Japan guitars. After Gibson and Yamano Gakki ended Orville production in 1998, Gibson and Yamano Gakki produced an expanded Epiphone Japan model range including solid body as well as semi acoustic models.
Some of the Gibson/Yamano Gakki Epiphone Japan guitars were exported. The Epiphone Japan guitars that were intended for export do not have a Gibson style open book headstock. The Epiphone Japan open book headstock guitars were produced for the Japanese market only. The same Terada and Fuji-Gen guitar factories that made all of the Orville by Gibson and Orville guitars were used to make the Gibson/Yamano Gakki Epiphone Elite and Epiphone Elitist series with the Terada guitar factory mostly making the semi acoustic models and the Fuji-Gen guitar factory mostly making the solid body models. Gibson and Yamano Gakki ended their relationship in late 2006.
The Yamano Gakki Epiphone Japan serial numbers from 1998 onwards (after the Orville series was discontinued) are in a YMMPPP format.
The serial number letters used by the Terada and Fuji-Gen guitar factories are J = Terada, T = Terada, no letter = Fuji-Gen and F = Fuji-Gen. For example 903584 is dated March 1999 and was made by Fuji-Gen, J903584 is dated March 1999 and was made by Terada, F505693 is dated May 2005 and was made by Fuji-Gen, T505693 is dated May 2005 and was made by Terada.
For Yamano Gakki Epiphone Japan semi acoustic models from 1987 to approximately 1997, the serial numbers are in a YCPPP format. They were made by Terada and usually have an Orange Epiphone label.
Model Codes (C)
For Example 34784 = 3 4784 = 1993 SHERATON.
The Aria Epiphone Japan models that were made by Matsumoku from the early 1970s and ending before 1987 do not have a reliable serial numbering system but can be approximately dated using their Epiphone label colours.