Gibson entered the electric instrument market in 1935 with a single model, the “EH” electric Hawaiian guitar; four years later, the company’s electric offerings took up nine pages of the catalog. By 1939, Gibson was producing electric versions of not only Hawaiian and Spanish guitars, but also mandolins and banjos. That year’s catalog declared that “the virile rhythmic tones of the banjo have always had universal appeal. And now in the Gibson Electric Banjo we have developed a versatility of expression that adds a new mellow guitar-like tone to the customary snap and brilliance. You can change instantly to a subtle softness that greatly enhances this instrument’s charm.”
In reality, Gibson’s electric banjo was a banjo in name only; with a nearly-solid maple body and a single “Charlie Christian” pickup in the bridge position, the instrument was more like a round-bodied electric guitar. Traditional banjo design was echoed with a rosewood armrest inlaid with three mother-of-pearl dots, while a “firestripe” pickguard installed flush with the top was reminiscent of those used on Gibson’s flattop guitars of the period. Side-mounted knobs controlled tone and volume and the tailpiece included an integral vibrato mechanism.
As with Gibson’s concurrent line of top-tension banjos, the tenor neck on this example has twenty frets rather than the conventional nineteen. The “stairstep-block” inlay pattern is the same design used on the top-tension style 12 and style 18; the fleur-de-lis peghead inlay, while not catalog standard for any Gibson banjo model, is often seen on instruments from the late prewar and wartime periods. The Kluson #83 “DeLuxe” tuners have “stairstep” gear housings and Catalin buttons.
The factory order number #G2285-3 is stamped on the back of the peghead (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers); #G2285-3 was shipped on February 21, 1941 to a Russell Boorse along with an EH-150 amplifier. The banjo remains in excellent original condition with its amp and is housed in a #516 case by Geib with “aeroplane cloth” covering, the standard case offered by Gibson with their electric tenor banjos.
Photos courtesy of an anonymous owner.