One of Gibson’s earliest banjo designs has become known to collectors and players as the “trap door”, after the hinged back that could be opened for greater volume. This style 1 plectrum banjo dates to 1924, the year before the company switched to the more familiar flange-and-resonator design; the perforated tone-tube seen here would be incorporated into the new ball-bearing tone ring design used on Mastertone banjos in 1925 and 1926.
Plectrum banjos were tuned the same as five-string or “regular” banjos, but lacked the short, high-pitched drone string of the five-string banjo and thus were more suited to chord-melody styles played with a flatpick. While the four-string banjo was nearing the height of its popularity in the mid-1920s, Gibson’s research and development were still focused largely on the mandolin under the influence of acoustic engineer and mandolinist Lloyd Loar. This plectrum banjo’s tailpiece cover, engraved with “The Gibson”, is reminiscent of those seen on Gibson mandolins of the period.
#11055A-31 remains in excellent original condition including period artwork on the underside of the calfskin head. The soft case by Geib dates to the 1930s and is in a remarkable state of preservation.
Photos courtesy of an anonymous collector.