Gibson TB-3 Mastertone #9550-36

Style 3 was the least expensive model in Gibson’s Mastertone line.   It was introduced in 1925 and remained in production through 1937, when its price was lowered from $100 to $75 and it was renamed style 75.  While the style 3 of the 1920s had a two-piece flange with maple neck and resonator, a fiddle-shaped peghead and the diamonds and squares inlay pattern, the style changed in 1929 to the configuration seen here.  The flange is one-piece; the wood is mahogany with two white/black/white purfling rings on the back of the resonator, and the peghead shape is double-cut.  There is single white binding on the neck and on both edges of the resonator.  The tone ring is a forty-hole archtop, and the tailpiece is a Grover Presto.

While most style 3 banjos of this period have the leaves and bows inlay pattern in a rosewood fingerboard, a small number were produced with the intricate and beautiful wreath pattern.  It has been speculated that this small run of wreath-inlay style 3s was prompted by Gibson’s desire to use up inlays left over after the discontinuation of style 5, on which wreath inlays had been standard.  This banjo is especially unusual in that it features wreath inlays on the fingerboard while retaining the standard leaves and bows pattern on the peghead.

Style 3 banjos from lot 9550 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) have been seen with a number of unusual features, indicating that Gibson may have used this lot as an opportunity to clear out some leftover parts.  TB-3 #9550-13 is equipped with a mute-style armrest but no internal mute mechanics are present; TB-3 #9550-33 lacks a Mastertone block; and TB-3 #9550-47 has full wreath inlays.

Photos courtesy of an anonymous collector.