Bella Voce is Italian for “beautiful voice”; this model was introduced in 1927 and remained in the Gibson line for only three years. One of the most ornate banjos ever produced by Gibson, the Bella Voce was available with a variety of woods and trim options. The Bella Voce is a tour-de-force of carving, painting, multicolor sparkle “Christmas tree” binding, gold plating, and engraving; the flange is two-piece and the tone ring is a forty-hole archtop; the Grover “two-hump” clamshell tailpiece is engraved “Bella Voce”. #8615-26 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) dates to 1927 and is currently equipped with a reproduction five-string neck by Chuck “Duke of Pearl” Eriksen.
The current owner of #8615-26 is Douglas Hatlelid, a.k.a. Chip Douglas, the songwriter, musician, and record producer best known for his work in the 1960s with The Turtles and The Monkees. Douglas acquired the banjo in Salem, Missouri in 1966 or 1967 from Dale Sledd, later a member of The Osborne Brothers, and had the five-string neck made by Chuck Eriksen using the front and back veneers from the original tenor peghead; in place of a conventional truss rod in the neck, there is a 1/4″ by 1/2″ solid cold-rolled steel bar set in AMR101 solventless epoxy. The fingerboard features inlays in the “flying eagle” pattern cut by Chuck Erikson.
Photos courtesy of Chip Douglas and Tyler Hatlelid.