The Golden Years
1918 to 1938
(for detailed information about the various models, see Gibson Banjo Models)
The Gibson factory at 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan, ca:1940. Heralding a 48-star American flag, and getting into full swing before the War years, Gibson’s signage (on both the left and right face of the building) boasts “guitars, banjos, mandolins, violins, music, and strings.” Banjo and mandolin production continued in this facility, kindly referred to by Gibson employees as “the old building,” until Gibson moved its operations to Nashville in 1984. The building still stands, today. (The photo, originally black and white, has been color enhanced for this web page.)
Several events and model announcements occurred during a period I refer to as “the 20 Golden Years,” developments that have been documented by factory records, historical papers, early catalogs, and dated price lists:
1918: The first announcement of a Gibson banjo appeared in October of that year. It was listed as a TB (tenor banjo) with no style number designation. No other members of the banjo family were listed. Lloyd Loar joins Gibson.
1919: A price list issued in September 1919 indicated that five banjo models were available: TB, GB (guitar banjo), MB (mandolin banjo), and CB (cello banjo).
1920: The first announcement of a style-2 designation appeared in a November 1920 listing, an option available only for the MB and TB models.
1921: No change in model designations.
1922: All banjos sold in 1922 were supplied with a Tone Projector (resonator-like backing), armrest, and finger-rest. Style-2 was still only available on MB and TB models. Gibson was granted U.S. Patent No 1,402,876 on January 10, 1922, for a banjo rim and neck attachment design.
1923: The styles -Jr., -3, -4, and -5 were added to the line in May 1923. The CB and GB were only available in style -4, and the MB was not available in style -1 or style -5.
1924: The plectrum banjo (PB) and the regular banjo (RB, 5-string) were added to the line in January 1924, and only available in styles -Jr., -3 and -4. In December of that year, the UB (ukulele banjo) was added to the line in one version only (no style number).
1925: The full-resonator (with back and sides), spring-loaded ball bearing tone chamber was announced in February 1925. The first announcement of the Mastertone name as a style designation appeared in the July 1925 price list (prior to that time, the name was used in catalogs as a product title). The style -0 was made available for MB and TB models. The first announcement of the Granada appeared in this year. The style -Jr. was deleted from the listings (replaced by the style -0). this year also brought the first indication of diamond-shaped openings in resonator plates. The UB (ukulele banjo) style 1 was designated as having a 6″ rim and the styles UB-2 and UB-3 were designated as having an 8″ rim, and all other banjos (except for the 14″ CBs) were to have 11″ rims only (previously, some models had 10-1/2″ rims).
1926: A February 1926 listing showed that plectrum banjos (PB) were also made available in styles -1, Granada, and -5.
1927: The Bella Voce and Florentine models were added to the line in August 1927. UB models were available in styles -1 through -5.
1928: The style -6 was added to the line in September 1928, available in TB and PB models only. with the exception of the UB-5, the style -5 banjo was dropped from the line. Gibson received U.S. Patent No. 1,678,456 on July 24, 1928 for its design of the spring-loaded ball-bearing tone chamber.
1929: The style PT was announced in May 1929. This instrument had gold-speckled binding, “Argentine grey” finish (actually a yellow-orange), and a string scale halfway between that of a plectrum and tenor. The one-piece flange, low profile flattop tone chamber, and double cut peghead were also announced this year.
1930: The style -5 was dropped from the UB models. The bass banjo (BB) was announced. The Bella Voce was dropped from the line, and the All American model was introduced. The PT was also deleted from the line.
1931: Style -11 was introduced in November 1931. Style -0 was discontinued.
1932: No changes or deletions.
1933: Bass banjo dropped from the line.
1934: No changes or deletions.
1935. The style -00 was added to the line in February 1935 and made available on TB, PB, RB, and MB models.
1936: No changes or deletions.
1937: The style-75, and top-tension models -7, -12, and -18 were added to the line in August 1937. They were available in TB, PB, and RB models only. Styles -2, -3, -4, -6, and Granada, All American, and Florentine were dropped from the line.
1938: The UB was available for the last time, in style -1 only.
Note: Some exceptions to deleted models appearing with later serial numbers did occur as part of custom orders for important customers or resellers.
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