Gibson PB-11, the “Carlos Brown”

Style 11 was one of Gibson’s lower-priced models and was dressed up through the use of pearloid decorated with red and black silkscreened designs on the back of the resonator as well as the fingerboard and peghead, along with a colored finish on the rim, the sides of the resonator, and the back of the neck.  Blue is the most commonly seen color for this finish, and style 11s are consequently sometimes referred to as “blue banjos”.

Style 11 banjos were not Mastertones and only had a small-diameter brass hoop sitting on top of the rim; they did, however, share the one-piece flange and thick maple rim of styles 34, and Granada, and thus make excellent five-string conversions with the addition of a new neck and a tone ring.  So many style 11 banjos have been converted in this way that examples in original, unaltered condition are becoming very difficult to find.  This PB-11 has never been converted and remains in near-mint, “time capsule” condition including its original red-line Geib Masterkraft case along with setup and maintenance instructions from Gibson.

The original owner of this banjo was Carlos Brown (February 4, 1921–July 15, 2002), who lived in the Reno, Nevada area.  The case contains a cut-off sweater sleeve which Mr. Brown must have worn on his right arm when playing, helping to explain why even though there is noticeable play wear on the calfskin head, the hardware is in immaculate, seemingly unplayed condition.  Like most style 11 instruments, this plectrum banjo bears no factory order number or serial number so precise dating is not possible; there are a few clues, however, which point to a likely date of 1942.  There is a Union Pacific Railroad freight tag still tied to the case handle showing the shipping destination as Reno, and while there is no point of origin indicated, it is likely that the banjo was sent by train directly from the Gibson factory.  Inside the case is a section of newspaper comics dated December 12, 1942, which includes no newspaper or city name but may well have been used as packing material at the Gibson factory.  Lastly, the rim thickness of this banjo is .580 inches, which is consistent with rim measurements seen in the latest of Gibson’s prewar banjos.

I acquired this banjo in March 2007 from the family of Carlos Brown.