Gibson made a somewhat late entry into the banjo market in 1918 with a single model known simply as the “TB”, for “tenor banjo”. Soon thereafter the company began to diversify its banjo offerings, and in the early years of production the most expensive banjo offered by Gibson was the style 5, envisioned by the company as a part of the “Master Model” series of mandolin-family instruments designed by legendary mandolinist and acoustic engineer Lloyd Loar. The TB-5 seen here features a number of design elements typical of Gibson’s earliest banjos; the peghead is what later players and collectors would refer to as the “moccasin” shape; the resonator is the flat “Tone Projector” trap-door type which, according to contemporary Gibson literature, could be opened for increased volume; and the rim and back are clad in “Pyralin” (an early plastic intended to resemble mother-of-pearl). The gold-plating and elaborate mother-of-pearl inlay clearly place this TB-5 in the “deluxe” category; the tone ring is a simple perforated tube which would later be incorporated into the more elaborate ball-bearing design introduced along with the modern flange and resonator arrangement in 1925. The slightly later example #11097A-22 differs from #11086A-34 in having geared Waverly tuning pegs rather than guitar-style tuners, a concave Pyralin resonator rather than the “Tone Projector” trap-door design, and no fingerboard extension.
While Loar‘s Master Model mandolin-family instruments are regarded by most modern players as the finest of their type ever made, Gibson’s banjo designs from 1925 and later found greater favor with musicians than the earlier trap-door models. #11086A-34 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) remains in excellent original condition with the exception of a missing tailpiece cover which would have been engraved “The Gibson”. The original ivoroid head guard has been repositioned upside-down for left-handed playing.
Photos courtesy of Blake Chism.