Gibson TB-6 Mastertone #9083-1, the “Glenn Eastham”

The November 24, 1928 issue of Music Trade Review magazine carried an article with a Philadelphia dateline announcing a “New Tenor Banjo in the Gibson, Inc., Line”:

“Following a round of the prominent musical organizations and orchestras of the Quaker City, Factory Representative E. Havenza, of Gibson, Inc., manufacturer of the Gibson banjos, has brought to the attention of the profession the latest model of tenor banjo which the firm is introducing.  It is known as Gibson tenor banjo No. 6, and is constructed with the improved attachment to the arm rest, which provides for a set or adjusted pressure of the arm, giving softened and expressive playing and when released allows for volume of tone.  The wood frame is of novel two-tone effect, making an artistic design.” 

What the article described as a “two-tone effect” was the new sunburst finish which Gibson referred to as “Argentine grey”.  #9083-1 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) dates to 1928 and is likely the prototype of the TB-6 with Argentine grey finish; only one earlier TB-6 is known and it features a uniform blond finish.  As with some of the other early examples of the style 6, the tension hoop, tone ring, and flange on this example are engraved in the pattern used on the recently-discontinued Bella Voce model rather than the “x” engraving pattern which would become standard on the style 6.  The larger Gibson logo on the peghead is an unusual feature seen only on a few of the earliest style 6 Mastertones, and the original tuners with mother-of-pearl buttons are a type not normally used by Gibson.

The original owner of #9083-1 was Glenn Eastham (November 18, 1909-June 2, 2009) of White Hall, Illinois, a small farming community in the west-central part of the state.  Mr. Eastham’s son tells us that his father was educated in a one-room schoolhouse and showed a real aptitude for music, taking lessons on both tenor banjo and saxophone as a young man.  In the 1930s he played both instruments in dance bands that performed in many of the small towns between Springfield, Illinois and St. Louis; Mr. Eastham served in World War II from 1942 to 1945 in Australia, the Philippines, and New Guinea.  #9083-1 remains in excellent original condition with only some replaced tension hooks; the banjo is set up with a vintage Rogers “Three Star” calfskin head and its original “Vibrato Tone-Master” armrest-activated mute is present and functional.  In common with many players of his generation, Mr. Eastham safeguarded his banjo by writing his name an an inconspicuous place, still faintly visible inside the resonator.  The banjo is housed in its original “Kant Krack” case by Geib and Schaefer; this historically significant TB-6, seen above in a photo with Glenn Eastham on his birthday in 2006, remained in the Eastham family until March 2014.