Photographs of your old Gibson banjo can be sent to me by e-mail.
The general rule is the more photos and the more detailed, the better. Be sure to include shots showing the entire front and back of the instrument:
A closeup of the peghead, showing the Gibson logo, is also good:
Prewar Gibson banjos come in two varieties–the higher-priced Mastertone models and the lower-priced non-Mastertone models.
Look to see if your banjo has a mother-of-pearl block on the fingerboard with the word “Mastertone” inscribed in it:
Details of the body, or “pot”, can be especially important. A good view of each side of the pot will show the condition of the metal parts:
While you’re photographing the hardware, here’s a detail to look for. See if the head-tightening brackets on your banjo run down through little metal “shoes” around the body:
. . . or disappear into holes in the top of a hollow tube:
. . . or go down straight into a flat metal piece, with threads showing:
If your banjo has the last type of hardware, you’ll want to pay particular attention to both that flat metal piece (the “flange”) and the ring holding down the head (the “tension hoop” or “stretcher band”). In Gibson banjos of this design, these two components were made out of brittle “pot metal” rather than brass, and many years of being under tension can cause problems:
Now it’s time to take a look inside your banjo! To do this, you’ll need to remove your banjo’s wooden back, or resonator. Don’t worry. . . removing the resonator is no more invasive than raising the hood on a car. You’re not going to hurt anything! The resonator will be held in place by three or four large screws that look like the one circled below:
On some earlier Gibson banjos, the screws will have small hex-shaped heads instead of the large round heads (yours might not be gold-plated):
Whichever kind of screws your banjo has, you can just undo them with your fingers and remove the resonator. Put the screws in the resonator so they don’t get lost!
If your banjo is a Mastertone, you will see a metal part, called a “tone ring”, between the banjo’s wooden rim and the head. It will either look like this (a large tube with sixty holes in it, with a smaller tube sitting on top of it):
. . . or maybe like this (a vertical metal face with forty holes in it):
. . . or maybe like this (a sloping metal face with twenty holes in it):
The second and third types are sometimes seen with no holes:
If your banjo is not a Mastertone, there will be a gap between the top of the wooden rim and the head; if you look very closely inside this gap, you may see a small-diameter metal hoop sitting on top of the rim.
You probably noticed some numbers and labels in those previous photographs. About those. . .
Many, but not all, prewar Gibson banjos have serial numbers (actually a factory order number in most cases). You’ll typically see this number in three places inside the banjo. . .
stamped into the wooden rim:
and written inside the resonator, both in large chalk numbers in the center, and in smaller red or brownish numbers near the edge:
If there is no serial number inside the rim or resonator, it could be hiding on the back of the peghead, above the tuners:
If there’s no serial number anywhere, that’s not necessarily a bad sign since some prewar Gibson banjos were shipped out without numbers.
If your banjo is a Mastertone, you should see an oval label inside the rim stating the Gibson Mastertone Guarantee:
If your banjo is not a Mastertone, it may have an smaller oval label inside the rim reading “The Gibson / Gibson Inc. / Kalamazoo Mich.”:
On non-Mastertone models with bracket shoes, there will be screws through the rim which will cover part of the label:
Lastly, a photo of the case is always good:
I’m looking forward to seeing your banjo!