Gibson TB-00 #F560-15, the “Howard Blackburn”

“A genuine Gibson tenor banjo for only $30.00”, said the company’s 1937 catalog of style 00, which had been introduced two years earlier.  Style 00 was the least expensive banjo model produced by Gibson in the prewar years, and was evidently quite popular; after the fancier styles such as the Granada had been dropped, the humble 00 remained in the Gibson catalog through 1942, and style 00 banjos continued to leave the factory sporadically throughout the World War II years.. 

#F560-15 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) conforms for the most part to standard catalog specifications for style 00, with maple neck and resonator, sunburst finish on the neck and back and sides of the resonator, binding on the back edge of the resonator only, nickel-plated hardware, no tone ring, and a one-piece pot metal flange.  The peghead shape is unique to style 00, and the Gibson logo is silkscreened in white rather than being inlaid in mother of pearl.  The tuners are Klusons with amber-colored Catalin buttons.

In one respect, however, this example is rather unusual.  Dot inlays were standard on style 00, whereas this banjo features the fancier “fleur-de-lis” pattern which had been used on style 1; this inlay variation has to date only been observed in the banjos of lot #F560.

This instrument remains in largely original condition, with a second coordinator rod and an electric pickup added.  The factory order number is stamped into the back of the headstock, as was standard practice during this period; #F560-15 was shipped on October 17, 1940 to the Pontiac, Michigan branch of Grinnell Brothers, Inc., a large Michigan-based music retailer of the period and a major Gibson dealer.

The original owner of #F560-15 was Pontiac native Howard Alvin Blackburn (December 18, 1914–December 24, 1995).  He and his violinist wife Mary Fern Blackburn performed as a duo for the Christian Temple in Pontiac from 1940 until 1968; in 1969 they moved to Thompsonville, Michigan and played together for the Cornerstone Assembly of God until his death in 1995.  Blackburn gave this banjo to his first grandson, Dan Frees, shortly before his death.

Photos courtesy of the family of Howard Blackburn.