View Full Version : Please help me id my gibson banjo / mandolin

Oct-28-2006, 11:26am
Greetings all! I have a "banjolin" that was handed down to me that was originally my great grandfathers, an Italian immigrant who moved to the US about 1900. I've searched eBay and the Gibson website, and not too much is turning up. Looking at the serial number (11832-16), and compairing to the .pdf file from Gibson, I'm thinking it's from 1912.
It's in very good condition overall, and probably hasn't been played in 50 years. The body is about 11 inches in diameter, is just about 24 inches in total length, and the gold oval label is a generic guarantee from the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company, with no model number or any other specifics.
The back can be opened and has an oval hole for volume. The wood on the back and neck is in a "sunburst" style, and there is lots of "fire" (curly character, tiger, whatever) especially on the neck. It's in the original hard case, with the green lining, and I think the pics I have might be the original tortise shell.
Anyone have the model number, value or any other info on this old guy? Thanks!

Oct-28-2006, 12:31pm
That is what is referred to as a Gibson "trap door". the fancy maple and shaded finish indicate that is is a fairly high end model, but I'd have to see the inlays to guess at which model it is. A Gibson banjo expert could tell you at a glance, probably. It might be a good idea to get some front pictures and ask your question on one of the banjo forums.

PS, I'll buy those tuners from ya for ...$5! What do you say? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Duc Vu
Oct-28-2006, 1:29pm
Bernunzio (http://www.bernunzio.com/index.php) would know.

Oct-28-2006, 2:16pm

That banjolin appears to be a mb4 model with the trap door feature. By the looks of the tuner plates I would guess 1923-1924. There is a serial number inside that can date it more accuratly. Lets see so more pictures, we always like'em.

Oct-29-2006, 8:32am
Thanks for the great info, everyone! I'm new to the board and working out how to post multiple photos. I really appreciate the offer on the tuners, too! : )
I did find some similar ones on eBay, but they all seem newer by a few dozen years. There is a true banjo up there right now (item number 220020276009) that seems very close as far as the label, finish, and component parts... just has a much longer neck!
Anyhow, I might need to do a fresh message for each photo, but have a look. Thanks again!

Oct-29-2006, 8:35am
Here is the neck detail...

Oct-29-2006, 9:07am
One last one... the keys and bridge. Thanks again all!
PS - I have photos of the original owner around here somewhere too, but unfortunately not playing it.

Rick Turner
Oct-29-2006, 4:12pm
Now that is a very cool instrument!

Nov-02-2006, 5:13pm
It has a backstrap, the veneer under the tuning machines. That is a high end feature. In playable condition it should fetch at least $700, maybe more.

Nov-02-2006, 6:40pm
how does it sound? never really cared much for manjos but that one is nice.

Nov-03-2006, 10:59pm
I wish I could answer with good info as to how it plays, but I'm all thumbs! #I'm not a player myself, but I might have to change that, and soon. #I can say that the neck is straight and it can be tuned, and there is nothing wrong with it that would keep it from being played by anyone with experience, which is pretty amazing given its history. #I remember finding it in my grandparents spare room as a kid, about 1970, and at the time I bet it had sat unused and cased up at least 15 years before that. #Essentially, it has been un-messed with since maybe the mid-1950's!
#Overall, there are no separations at any of the seams, frets all seem tight, and the skin is sound. #The bridge seems like it should be more solidly affixed to the skin somehow, but I'm not sure how it should be set up correctly. #I was trying to follow along with the mandolin lesson movie on Gibson.com, but I could never get that alternate picking technique down, and I'm way off on the proper tuning anyhow (I played bass in a heavy metal band in the 80's, which seems like the polar-opposite of any mando style!) #The strings are the same ones that have been on for at least the last 60 years, too. #Amazing!
#To top it off, I also have an early arched top Gibson basic model in basket-case condition (pick guard says Pat. 1908), and a Keystone Mandolute, not as old, but in the same un-messed with condition with sone awesome "fire" in the woodwork, too. #Thank you, Great Grandpa!

Nov-03-2006, 11:32pm
From the serial no. you give and the photos you show that is for sure a 1923 Loar era Gibson Mastertone Mandolin-Banjo, Style MB-4. Made of the finest select Michigan curly maple finished in flame and sunburst cremona brown in striking contrast to the satin finish of the heavily silver-plated metal parts. Deluxe finish in every detail, same of the Loar F5 of the same era. These are ball-bearing Mastertones and includes the tone-projector (trap door)feature. I don't think the bridge is original and it's missing the pickguard. You need an original pickguard I got one for sale but it ain't cheap. Very nice condition.

Nov-05-2006, 4:20pm
Thanks a TON. I took the info and put it into a few more Google searches, and I have to say you nailed it. The MB's from the teens are certainly not the same, and the more reading I find on Loar, Mastertone, the Gibson grading system, etc, etc... well, I'm blown away it was handed down to me. Thanks for letting me share it with everyone.
I'm going to put one or other madnolins that were left to me up in new threads, and hopefully everyone can be just as helpful. Just for fun, here is a photo of my Great Aunt, the daughter of the original owner of the Mastertone. She carried on the tradition and played all her life with her friends. I even have the washtub bass in the photo!

Nov-05-2006, 7:18pm
What a WONDERFUL photo ... these were people who knew how to have a good time!


Jim Garber
Nov-05-2006, 8:33pm
Looks like she is playing a 1950s EM150.


Nov-05-2006, 8:54pm
50's EM150 is what that is. Looks like could be a 40's or 50's D18 Martin guitar and I could be mistaken by the fuzzy photo but from the middle ring around the washtub bass that might be a pre-war Mastertone Washtub Bass made by Givson. Those are quite rare if it has that Mastertone ring on it. I had the gold plated model. Should be a genuine cat gut sting on it.

Nov-06-2006, 12:06am
Here is the other mandolin photo I have dated 1961... might give a better view.

Nov-06-2006, 12:17am
And here is the washtub, too. #I looked all over and didn't see a maker mark, but definitely cat gut string.

Nov-06-2006, 11:53am
By the finish and tailpiece I'd say this is a late 50's EM150. They have factory order numbers in them you can date the year. The close=up of the tub shows it does not have the Mastertone holes in the center rim so it's not as valuable as I first thought. It's just a standard beginner's model. Is the handle lacquer or varnish? The varnish handle will pull out a better tone.

Lowell Levinger
Nov-06-2006, 12:12pm
That garter is just too much. What a great family.

Nov-07-2006, 4:15pm
I always just thought the bass was home made, but it was from before my time, so who knows! I'm thinking it's been Spar varnished.