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Decades of Banjo

Decades of Banjo

by Tom Morgan

from his 1984 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 12 ,#4, 1984



I would be a lot more comfortable today if I could have a gutiar and a five piece band, but I quickly discarded the idea of trying to set an hour’s lecture to music.

I learned to love the sound of a good banjo not too long after the vintage years, and have had the privilege of examining a lot of good instruments. RB was the designation the Gibson company used for their five string or regular banjo, and TB means tenor banjo. Small numbers such as 2,3,4, and 5 were used, and just before the war early numbers like 7, 12, 18 and 75 came into use. The new models after World War II started with 100, 150 and 250, which was also their list price, and an 800 was added later.

The Air Force sent me to Washington D.C. in 1955, where I met Callie Veach. Callie was originally from Arthur, West Virginia, and had several mountain traditions in his past such as hunting, making whiskey, riding horses, and making music. By the time we knew him, he worked at free lance carpentry, but kept a large number of musical instruments, which he modified, inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl and used to horse-trade with the local musicians.

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Gibson Banjo Information

Gibson Banjo Information

by Tom Morgan

previously published as Data Sheet #28, 1976



Recent popularity of the banjo and a need for wider dessemination of various bits of information have prompted this writing. Much of the information is based only on opinions formed during approximately ten years of experience working on banjos, while the instruments themselves were made over a period of 60 or more years. It should then be remembered that many variations are likely to have occurred. During the years banjos have been manufactured, one strong contrast is noticeable. During the time of its wide popularity around 1920–1930, the tenor banjo was the style. The people then playing 5-string often makes it desireable to convert these. Gibson banjos used a designation of RB for regular banjo of 5-string, TB for tenor banjo, MB for mandolin banjo, and so forth. Therefore, reference to a model-00, for example, should be understood to represent the different possible models that were, or may have been made (MD-00, RB-00, etc.) The shell or rims were made to be an interchangeable basis for either of the different types, and a mandolin banjo can be converted to a 5-string banjo by installing a different neck. Problems in fitting may be encountered due to several shapes of the heel, and two sizes of lag screw (8-32 and 10-32 threads) being used. Also, shell diameters vary from about six inches in some banjo ukes to a 24 inch banjo bass. The most popular sizes were 10 1/2 and 11 inches, with the 11" size the only one well suited for upgrading with one of the better MASTERTONE tone rings.

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This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

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