Gibson TB-3 Mastertone #9221-14

#9221-14 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) dates from late 1928 and is in most respects a catalog-standard style 3 tenor for the period.  The only non-standard component is the the “Vibrato Tone-Master” armrest-activated mute, which Gibson promised would provide the player “tonal control like an organ.”  The Vibrato Tone-Master was developed for Gibson’s new Royal P-T and was available as an option on other models; by rapidly applying and releasing the mute, the player could achieve an effect similar to that created by a present-day phase shifter pedal.

An earlier owner did in fact have this banjo modified to take advantage of electric amplification, an operation frequently performed in the 1950s as electric instruments became increasingly popular.  The pickup is an intriguing homemade affair fabricated from an old telephone mouthpiece marked with a September 1947 date code.  A switch with a “chicken head” knob was installed by drilling through the resonator sidewall and an input jack was placed in the back of the resonator.  A notch was cut out of the bottom of the maple rim to accommodate the pickup assembly which is held in place with masking tape inside the back of the resonator.

Aside from these modifications, #9221-14 remains in excellent condition with its original plush-lined hardshell case.