Gibson Nick Lucas Special Flattop Guitar

Description: Gibson Nick Lucas Special flat top guitar, aka Gibson Special
Available: 1927 to 1941.
Collectibility Rating: 1927-1933: B-, 1934-1941: A.
Production: (no pre-1937 production numbers) 1937:35, 1938:15, 1939:3, 1940:2, 1941:2
General Comments: A very inconsistent model as Gibson seemed to change their mind about the Nick Lucas guitar specs often, making Nicks difficult to accurately date. Additionally in 1928 Gibson printed up a bunch of Lucus serial number labels, and then used them over the next 4 or 5 years. So a later 1933 Nick Lucas guitar could easily have a label printed in 1928 with a 1928 serial number. Therefore dating a Nick Lucus guitar by serial number really does not help prior to 1935, and it's far better to use the FON number. But one thing standard to all Gibson Nick Lucas models is the body depth of at least 4.5 inches and all have the custom Nick Lucas label in the soundhole.

The Nick Lucas Gibson guitar was the first artist endorsed model offered by Gibson (or anyone else for that matter.) Gibson's advertising stated the small but deep bodied guitar was "an exceptional guitar for vocal accompaniment on the stage, radio, and records." Gibson developed the model thinking Lucas fans would love to have their hero's guitar, which he used on hits like "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," "Picking the Guitar," and "Teasing the Frets".

Nick Lucas was an amazing performer whose career spanned seven decades (first recording in 1912 for Edison, last in 1980). A great clip of Nick is from the 1929 Golddiggers film, singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips with his native Joisey accent (born Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese). The accent comes through every time he gets to the title phrase and sings, "Tiptoe through da Tulips." Nick Lucas was an Italian American who Anglicized his name. Born as Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese, the name "Lucas" certainly rolled off the tongue easier. Nick Lucas had musical roots in Italian mandolin and was a skillful uke player, in addition to banjo and guitar skills.

Nick Lucas playing an early pin bridge model (probably 1928) bearing his name.

Nick Lucas from the 1934 sheet music "Red sails in the Sunset" playing a later black NLS.

Bob Dylan playing a early-30s refinished 13 fret Nick Lucas converted to a pin bridge.

1928 Gibson catalog showing the first generation (1927) of the Nick Lucas Special guitar.

If you need to figure out the exact year of your Gibson Nick Lucus guitar, check the serial number or the information below, or better yet, date by spec or FON. The serial number is located inside the body's sound hole on the label (but see the warning above about Nick Lucus serial numbers). The Gibson Serial Number Info web page for help determining the year.

If you have a vintage Nick Lucas guitar for sale, please contact me at

Dating a Gibson Nick Lucas guitar.
Every Nick Lucas Gibson guitar was custom made to some extent, so it's really hard to get an exact year of any model, especially the earlier variants. Using serial numbers is not conclusive, as bodies were made and serialized, and then features were added/deleted as an order for the Nick Lucas guitar came in. Below are some general guide lines, though again, prior to 1935, it's difficult to get an exact date for any Nick Lucas. The FON number is a good way to date this model.

Using Joe Spann's book on Gibson FON numbers, here's a list of known Gibson Nick Lucas factory order numbers (not all inclusive.)

    • 8615 = Nick Lucas
    • 8644 = Nick Lucas
    • 8815 = Nick Lucas
    • 8989 = Nick Lucas
    • 9009 = Nick Lucas
    • 9010 = Nick Lucas
    • 9107 = Nick Lucas
    • 9316 = Nick Lucas
    • 9323 = Nick Lucas
    • 9405 = Nick Lucas Custom
    • 9417 = Nick Lucas
    • 9461 = Nick Lucas
    • 9577 = Nick Lucas
    • 9662 = Nick Lucas
    • 9667 = Nick Lucas
    • 9688 = Nick Lucas
    • 9689 = Nick Lucas
    • 9728 = Nick Lucas
    • 9772 = Nick Lucas
    • 114 = Nick Lucus
    • 9921 = Nick Lucus
    • 9961 = Nick Lucus
    • 169 = Nick Lucus
    • 617b = Nick Lucas
(Note there is a lack of documented Nick Lucas Special FON numbers after 1932.)

1927 Gibson Nick Lucas guitar introduction specs:
First shown in the Gibson catalog in 1928, but was first available during 1927. $125 list price, 13.5" wide, 24.25" scale, deep body (4 1/2" deep or more), slightly arched top and back, mahogany back and sides, spruce top. The shape of the first generation Nick Lucas Special was the same rounded shape used on Gibson's L-1 and L-3. Note some early Nick Lucas Gibson guitars are *not* X-braced (they had H or A style bracing). Though H or A braced Nick Lucas models are not common, they do not sound nearly as good as the X-braced models. This earliest version of the Gibson Nick Lucas had an angled "The Gibson" silk-screened in silver paint on the headstock. The sound-hole purfling rings were alternating white, black, white wood strips. Fingerboard inlays were small varied pattern inlays which included a five-point star at the third fret. Rosewood bridge with pyramids at ends, slight belly on bridge with white pins, extra pin below bridge pins, triple bound top & back, triple bound rosewood fingerboard, 12 frets clear of the body, Grover 98 tuners, angled special round "Nick Lucas" label inside, sunburst finish. Usually no pickguard. Most Nick Lucas guitars have serial numbers indicating 1928 or 1929 - date guitar by spec not by serial number.

Late 1928 Gibson Nick Lucas guitar specs:
By the end of 1928 the peghead "The Gibson" logo was inlaid in pearl. Also the pyramid bridge changed and the sound hole perfing changed to ivoroid rings of alternating white, black, white plastic. Extra bridge pin deleted. Fingerboard inlays changed to a large varied pattern with notched diamond at the 3rd fret (Roy Smeck Radio Grande style) - no longer included a star at the 3rd fret and was less delicate than the original Lucas design. Often has a raised (archtop style) pickguard. Gibson continually made changes in the design of the Lucas model during this period. These changes were often arbitrary and conflicted with catalog descriptions continually through the years of production (1927-1940).

1929 Gibson Nick Lucas guitar specs:
Gibson completely re-designed their flat-top guitar line including the Nick Lucas. The size and shape was changed from the small rounded shape to a somewhat larger instrument, more flat on the bottom and elongated. The Gibson Nick Lucas body size increases to 14 3/4" wide and 4 5/8" deep at the endpin, and had a longer 24.75" scale. Typically the Nick Lucas had a 12 fret neck (though sometimes 14 frets clear of the body is seen), 3-ply soundhole ring, rectangle rosewood pin bridge with no pyramids, mahogany body with a spruce top. Usually the pickguard is elevated, but 14 fret models seen to have a glued-on pickguard. Fleur-de-lis peghead inlay added.

1930 Gibson Nick Lucas guitar specs:
raised ebony fingerboard, rosewood back and side, usually has a trapeze tailpiece with adjustable bridge, sometimes has rectangle pin bridge, raised pickguard, 13 frets clear of the body. But most of the rosewood Nick Lucas guitars have a trapeze style bridge with an archtop style movable bridge.

1931 Gibson Nick Lucas guitar specs:
cataloged with mahogany back and sides but in reality most use rosewood (1931 to 1933 it appears that most have rosewood bodies). Pin style bridge or optional adjustable trapeze tailpiece (most seem to have the trapeze tailpiece), most have elevated pickguard (but some have pickguard glued to top), ebony fingerboard raised off the top. Also most have 13 frets clear of the body with a moveable bridge/tailpiece. This design proved to be problematic, since the tops were unable to take the downward pressure of the strings and the result was a "pushed in" top. Hence many rosewood body Nick Lucas guitars from this era have been changed to a pin bridges. A few rosewood guitars were made from 1931 to 1933 with a 14-fret neck and standard pin bridges (these 14 fret rosewood Nick Lucas models have a warm tone with excellent sustain.)

1933 Gibson Nick Lucas guitar specs:
catalog states rosewood back and sides.

1934 Gibson Nick Lucas Model guitar specs:
retail price dropped from $125 to $90, 14 fret body, Maple back and sides (some with mahogany), mahogany neck, flat back and top, pickguard glued to top, standard rectangle pin bridge, 14 frets clear of the body, inlay at 1st fret, sunburst finish on top, back and sides. Some made with all black finish. Gibson did not cut any corners in spite of the drop in price. The maple Gibson Nick Lucas models are among the best of the Nick Lucas variants. The sound of a maple Nick Lucas has a bright bass and piercing loud treble with enormous projection.

Gibson Nick Lucas guitar discontinued from catalog in 1938 with the last guitars being shipped in 1941.

1928 Nick Lucas guitar (pic by Willi). Mahogany back and sides:

1928 Nick Lucas Special guitar:

1928 Nick Lucas Special guitar with banjo tuners:

1929 Nick Lucas Special with mahogany back/sides, 12 fret neck, pin bridge, in original black finish.
The serial number indicates 1927 (#844xx), but the FON 9316 indicates 1929. (Black was Nick Lucas' favorite guitar color, so it appears.)

1930 Nick Lucas Special with mahogany back/sides, 12 fret neck, pin bridge.
The serial number indicates 1928 (#85xxx), but has features from late 1929 like
pearl "the Gibson" logo, new body style and new bridge style, but older 12 fret neck.
Also the FON 9689 indicates 1930.

Probably a 1929 Nick Lucas with mahogany back/sides and 12 fret neck and pin bridge.
Interesting banjo-style tuners and celluloid fingerboard. Obviously a special order.

1930 Nick Lucas Special with mahogany body and 14 frets clear of the body:

1931 Nick Lucas Special with 13 frets clear of the rosewood body and trapeze bridge:

1932 Nick Lucas Special with 13 frets clear of the rosewood body.
This guitar originally had a trapeze style bridge but was converted
to a modern pin style belly bridge.
Pictures by Folkway.

1934 Nick Lucas Special with maple back and sides:

1936 Nick Lucas Special with maple back and side and an original black finish.
Looks like the identical guitar to the one shown in the 1934 "Red Sails" sheet music.

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