Gibson PB-3 Mastertone #9467-12, the “Morell DoRan”

In the 1933 Gibson catalog, the illustration of the style 3 plectrum banjo is accompanied by the somewhat cryptic blurb “single bearing–flat type head–for twang and sweetness”.  What Gibson would make clearer in subsequent catalogs was that they had developed a tone ring which imparted greater depth and richness of tone to the plectrum (and five-string) banjo by allowing the entire surface of the head to vibrate freely, and this flathead tone ring would become standard equipment on most plectrum and five-string Mastertones for the rest of the prewar period while the forty-hole archtop ring continued to be most commonly seen on tenor models. 

The use of the flathead tone ring on plectrum and five-string Mastertones had actually begun in 1929, when Gibson revamped their Mastertone line and switched from the two-piece brass flange to the one-piece cast flange, also changing the inlay patterns, peghead shape, and other specifications of their Mastertone models.  The PB-3 seen here is among the earliest Gibson Mastertones to feature both the one-piece flange and the flathead tone ring; while all prewar flatheads are rare, this one is especially so in that it is one of the very small number made, for unknown reasons, with no holes rather than the typical twenty holes.  The most well-known of these no-hole prewar flatheads is the famous “Banger”, a style 3 from this same lot used by J.D. Crowe on his early recordings with Jimmy Martin and later with his own bands the Kentucky Mountain Boys and The New South.

Aside from the solid flathead tone ring, this banjo conforms to standard catalog specifications for the style 3 of the period.  The wood is mahogany, with two white/black/white purfling rings on the back of the resonator and single white binding.  The hardware is nickel-plated and the tailpiece is a Grover Presto.  The rim is three-ply maple, the peghead is double-cut, and the inlays are in the leaves and bows pattern.  This banjo has been converted to five-string with a 1980s Gibson neck.  The current tension hoop is a replacement for the broken original.

This banjo’s original owner was Morell “Mart” DoRan of Lincoln, Nebraska. Mr. Doran was born on April 4, 1902 and played in a number of bands in Europe and the United States. Over the course of his career he worked with such well-known bandleaders as Leo Beck and Paul Whiteman, as well as playing with the legendary Dorsey Brothers. In his later years he played with the Sesostris Shrine Dixieland Band in Lincoln. Mr. Duran passed away in 1980.

Photos courtesy of an anonymous collector.