On April 9, 1936, Gibson sales manager Robert Anderson issued the following memo to his salesmen:
“Never refer to the new banjo we have as the ‘Reser’ banjo. No authorization has been made to use this name. For the present use the name ‘New Banjo’ or TB-X @ either $100.00 or $200.00.”
Bandleader and four-string banjoist Harry Reser (January 17, 1896–September 27, 1965) is considered one of the instrument’s all-time greats; he can be seen performing “Tiger Rag” in a “Vitaphone” short film from the 1920s. Anderson’s memo suggests that at some point Gibson considered marketing a Reser model banjo along the lines of the company’s celebrity-endorsed Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck guitars; the Reser endorsement obviously never materialized, and one can only speculate as to the thinking behind the design of the style X banjo. The instrument’s most obvious feature is the resonator with its “pie-section” veneer of alternating light and dark sections; closer inspection reveals a tone ring design unlike anything seen on any other Gibson banjo model and a rim even thinner than the 1/2″ rim found on style 00–so thin, in fact, that the ends of the l-bracket screws had to be snipped off to avoid going all the way through. Later versions of the style X featured a curly maple resonator veneer with a sunburst finish rather than the “pie-section” design; style X banjos featured highly radiused fingerboards with a variety of inlay patterns. The $100 and $200 prices cited in Anderson’s memo correspond to the instrument’s availability in both nickel and gold plating; some examples, including the one seen here, were also produced with chrome plating.
The first mention of one of these banjos in Gibson’s shipping ledgers occurs on March 18, 1935 with the shipment of an “X Modle (sic) New Banjo Gold Bl. + Wh. Resn.” in a #509 “special” case to the Gibson Music Shop (location unknown). Subsequent ledger entries record the model under such varying names as “new 100 banjo”, “new TB-100”, “TB new nickle (sic)”, “TB new $100”, “PT banjo X-1”, and “TB new”. The first shipping ledger evidence of the model’s would-be association with Harry Reser comes on February 21, 1936 with salesman Clarence Havenga taking out “TB-Reser” #4758-5 as a sample. Subsequent ledger entries generally refer to the banjo as style X with the last recorded shipment taking place on March 12, 1940. A total of twenty-four style X banjos with factory order numbers in lots #1194 and #4758 (1935) and #451 and #668 (1936) appear in the ledgers; another fourteen style X shipments are listed with no factory order number being recorded, some of which could be repeat shipments of the same instrument. Some of these fourteen banjos no doubt belong to the lots mentioned above while some, such as the example seen here, were not marked with factory order numbers. While the majority of style X banjos were tenor-necked, examples were also produced with plectrum necks and twenty-fret “plectrum-tenor” necks as seen on the illustrated banjo.
The example seen here is said to have been sold new in Kokomo, Indiana, making it likely that this is the banjo listed in the ledgers as being shipped on March 29, 1935 to Pearson Music, a chain with numerous Indiana locations. The peghead features the “flying eagle” inlay pattern while the fingerboard is inlaid with simple dots; the Slingerland May Bell case is a later replacement.
Photos courtesy of an anonymous collector. Robert Anderson memo courtesy of Joe Spann.