With the United States’ entry into World War II, wartime material restrictions meant that no new banjo hardware could be manufactured. Banjo production had already decreased dramatically from its peak in the 1920s, and in the early 1940s Gibson employees would sometimes search the factory for any remaining parts to fill the few orders that came in, even if the resulting instruments were a mismatch of various models. #5998-1 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) is an example of such “floor-sweep” production practices taken to the extreme. The maple neck, carved solid maple resonator, and peghead inlay are typical of the top-tension TB-7, although the rosewood fingerboard is inlaid with the “stairstep block” design usually seen on style 12 and style 18 top-tension models.
Despite #5998-1’s top-tension-style neck and resonator, the pot features the standard Gibson head-tensioning system rather than the top-tension arrangement. This example appears to have been the only instrument in lot #5998 and it was shipped to a branch of the Grinnell Brothers music store on April 14, 1944 as a TB-7, with no indication that it was not actually a top-tension banjo.
The factory order number appears only inside the rim, written in what appears to be grease pencil; unlike some other floor-sweep banjos, #5998-1 does have a Mastertone label. The tone ring is an original twenty-hole flathead with chrome plating, the one-piece flange is unplated pot metal, and the remaining hardware is nickel-plated with the exception of the resonator L-brackets, which are the thin, unplated type. The coordinator-rod holes in the rim have been plugged and redrilled, indicating that the rim was mostly likely put aside earlier due to a worker’s error and then used later when parts were in such short supply. The tuners are gold-plated, engraved Grovers. The resonator is held on by machine screws rather than the typical thumb screws; these machine screws may be replacements but they have been seen on at least one other similar banjo, suggesting that these screws may be factory original and further evidence of the improvisation of Gibson employees in getting these last early 1940s banjos out the door. The banjo remains in its original red-line hardshell case.
Photos property of Elderly Instruments; used with permission.