During times of
transition in American music, the dominant musical instruments of each era have
borne or begotten hybrid children. In
each instance, this deliberate morphing allowed the person who was well-versed
in the playing of the prior popular genre to instantly be able to perform in
the new medium. When the banjo became
the dominant instrument in the post-WW1 period, the guitar-banjo was
popularized to allow the guitarist to instantly become a banjoist. This example, which is beautiful in its
simplicity, has three things going for it.
First – it’s a Gibson and, as you know, “Only a Gibson was Good Enough.” Second, it has been well preserved (played
only on Sundays, in the gazebo, with the ensemble) and survives 84 years of
plectral posturing with panache and poise. Thirdly, it sounds mahvelous!
The Gibson GB-1 is a
non-Mastertone model with a one-piece flange that features diamond-shaped
cutouts. Our workshop has completed a
set-up and clean up and now it plays with a low, comfortable action and sounds
amazingly good. During the 1920s and ‘30s Gibson and many of
the other major brands made six-string banjos with wider necks than the tenor,
plectrum or 5-string versions had, and these were strung with light gauge guitar
strings and tuned to standard guitar tuning.
This GB’s fingerboard measures 1 23/32nd” making is a hair
wider than standard 1 11/16th and a bit smaller than 1 ¾”. The neck width measures 2 5/16th”
at the last fret. The fingerboard is
bound in grained ivoroid, as is the back of the resonator. All six tuners are original “Grover Pat.” And
all match with grained ivoroid buttons.
The banjo shows light normal signs of use, four dulled thumbprint areas
behind the neck where the finish color is lighter (the original owner played
mostly below the fourth fret). There are
some light normal scratches on the back and sides of the resonator, and a bit
of light wear of the silver silk-screened “The Gibson” headstock logo. Since this was made in 1926 it has the
adjustable truss rod feature with the bell-shaped truss rod cover (yay!), and a
full diameter 11” wide replaced Remo Weatherking Mylar head. The Brazilian
rosewood fingerboard is inlaid with 6 dotmarkers. This is a non-tone ring model Gibson banjo whose
bridge and tailpiece appear original but the armrest is a later Gibson banjo
armrest (though not new by any means – it shows arm wear). This banjo happily has four full-sized
thumbscrews, original brackets and nuts, and if the case isn’t original to the
banjo then it could only be a Gibson plectrum banjo case from the same period –
but it might well be original. This guitar-banjo
plays good, sounds good, and is ready for its next 85 years as a rock ‘n’ roll weapon!