Gibson TB-11 #F688-6, the “Willard Brown”

After the “banjo boom” of the 1920s, the instrument’s popularity declined sharply in the 1930s.  In 1937, Gibson made the decision to dramatically overhaul its banjo line by introducing the three top-tension models and discontinuing all other Mastertone models with the exception of style 3, which was lowered in price from $100 to $75 and renamed style 75.  The lower-priced, non-Mastertone banjos remained in production and were shipped sporadically through World War II.  Among these lower-end banjos available in the early 1940s was style 11 which, according to one Gibson catalog, offered banjoists “a touch of color and flash” with its pearloid veneers, stenciled “inlays”, and blue finish.

In 1930 only, Gibson made an S.S. Stewart-labeled banjo for New York City-based musical instrument distributor Buegeleisen and Jacobson which was essentially the same banjo as the Gibson-brand TB-11.

Although many style 11 banjos were not numbered, this banjo bears a factory order number on the back of the peghead as was standard practice beginning in the late 1930s; Gibson’s shipping ledgers indicate that #F668-6 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) was shipped to the Holmes School of Music in Millville, New Jersey on December 10, 1940.  The brass tone hoop is the smaller-diameter type, giving a raised-head appearance, which was introduced in Catalog X of 1937 (see above) and purported to provide “more brilliancy”.  #F688-6 exhibits a number of features typical of later prewar and wartime banjos, including a slightly taller tension hoop, short bracket nuts, Phillips-head rather than slot-head screws, no handstop, and Kluson tuners with amber-colored Catalin buttons.

The original owner of #F688-6 was Willard Brown of Millville, New Jersey; the banjo remained in the Brown family until May 2013.

This banjo has now been converted to five-string flathead with a mahogany neck by Frank Neat using a style 75 inlay pattern and a Tennessee 20 tone ring.  The original Catalin tuner buttons have been installed on the new tuners and the pearloid truss-rod cover from the tenor neck has been transferred to the five-string neck.