Gibson TB-00, the “Francis ‘Hecky’ Heckman”

Style 00 was introduced in 1935 as the least-expensive banjo in the Gibson line.  An initial price of $30 was lowered to $27.50 by 1937, and the model proved to be quite popular; after the company had discontinued many of its higher-end banjo styles, the humble 00 remained in the Gibson catalog into the World War II years.

As is the case with most style 00 banjos, this example is not marked with a factory order number or serial number.  Its original owner was Francis “Hecky” Heckman (March 28, 1919-May 21, 1997) of Berks County, Pennsylvania.  Mr. Heckman was a professional guitarist who doubled on banjo and mandolin.  In the 1930s and 1940s he played with Six-Shooter Bill and his Frisco Rodeo Band, and in later years he was a member of The Nutone Trio.  Mr. Heckman was also employed at Zeswitz “Big Z” Music House in Reading, from which he retired in the 1970s. 

Like many musicians, Mr. Heckman made a number of modifications to this banjo; the original armrest is no longer present and in its place is an aftermarket Elton pickguard positioned to serve as both an armrest and pick holder.  The initials “F.H.” were placed on the peghead with adhesive letters, although only the “H” remains; a floral brooch also adorns the peghead, held in place by the strings.  On the back of the resonator, Mr. Heckman added American eagle and star stickers; the non-original case is decorated with stickers in Pennsylvania Dutch motifs. 

Aside from these modifications, this banjo conforms 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, one-piece pot metal flange, dot inlays in an unbound Brazilian rosewood fingerboard, and two-tab Grover tuners.  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 rim is 1/2″ thick below the flange, as is the case with most style 00 banjos, and there is no tone ring or brass hoop but only a bead turned in the top of the rim to serve as a bearing for the head.  The calfskin head is stamped with the name of Wittich’s, a large Gibson dealer of the 1930s based in Reading.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Collins.