Gibson PB-18 Mastertone #857-2, the “Paul E. Wesebaum”

Gibson described the TB-18 as “the headliner of all modern tenor banjos” in its Catalog BB of 1942.  “Modern” seems to have been the operative word in Gibson’s conception of their new line of top-tension banjos, introduced in 1937.  Art Deco styling, flathead tone rings, radiused fingerboards, and solid carved resonator backs, along with the new and more convenient head-tensioning system, were clearly meant to help the banjo shed its old-fashioned image and regain popularity in a popular music world that was increasingly dominated by the guitar.  As the top model in Gibson’s new banjo line, style 18 was the only gold-plated Mastertone in production from the late 1930s until banjo production was suspended during World War II.

#857-2 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) is a plectrum-necked style 18 that was shipped on November 6, 1939 to Wagner’s Music Store, identified by Gibson researcher Joe Spann as having been located in Elyria, Ohio.  The banjo was ordered from Gibson for Paul E. Wesebaum (November 10, 1926-May 29, 2005), a lifelong resident of the Cleveland, Ohio area who is pictured above in 1937 with the Gibson TB-11 he played before acquiring #857-2; his older brother Harold is shown with a Gibson L-50 archtop guitar.  Wesebaum played the PB-18 for approximately a year and it was then placed in storage, where it remained until 2007 when it was acquired by professional musican Mike Scott.  The banjo is now equipped with a reproduction five-string neck by Frank Neat.

Photos courtesy of Mike Scott.