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Thread: 1923 Gibson MB-4

  1. #1
    Fretsman Ronny Stecher's Avatar
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    Default 1923 Gibson MB-4

    I grabbed a new musical toy/tool, a 1923 Gibson MB-4 (Mandolin Banjo) and was hoping to obtain some pertinent info here, I doubt Iíll ever own a regular Lloyd Loar and saw this guy and grabbed it for $810, I checked here looking for info and found quite a few Gibsons fakes have been bouncing around. I saw that the label wasnít signed and was wondering if that was a common occurance?, Any advice/info would be greatly appreciated, Hereís the item info and a couple picís. Did I do good here? Thanx in advance.

    SIZE
    23-1/4" Overall Length, Scale Length: 13 29/32". Number of Frets: 18


    DESCRIPTION
    A really unique and innovative instrument by none other then Lloyd Loar 1919 - 1924 at Gibson. This Gibson MB-4 mandolin banjo FON 11832-19 was built in 1923. FON or factory order numbers from Gibson for 1922 are 11565 thru 11729. FON for 1923 are 11729 thru 11973. That puts this instrument being built during Lloyd Loar's tenure at the Gibson factory. Although keep in mind that it is not signed. This is essentially a soprano voiced mandolin that is built under the famous Mastertone Principles the same features as Gibson tenor banjos that include-
    1) Tone-Tube
    2) Ball-Bearing
    3) Tension-Ring
    4) Rim-Bar
    This is the top of the line instrument in its catagory utilizing the fanciest of appointments for the period that include-
    1) Cremona Brown Finish
    2) Silver Hardware
    3) Pearl Nut
    4) Pyralin Binding
    5) Ivroid Pickguard
    6) Ivory tuners

    CONDITION
    Absolutely 100% original parts and finish. This instrument is in exemplary condition and will make a fine piece for any collection. The instrument will require professional setup to play acceptable. The case is original but the handle is missing and replaced with rope. Comes with original tuning key.






    Live Full, Love Deep

  2. #2
    Fretsman Ronny Stecher's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    How do these sound? I'm imagining a cool voice, but have no idea? Here's a couple more pic's....



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  3. #3
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Nice set of tuners!

    Actually, the Gibson banjos that command the high prices today are the "Mastertone" banjos from the 30s with "flat head" "tone rings". The"raised head" or "archtop" banjos from the mid to late 20s are not too far behind, then there are the "ball bearing" banjos, and the ones with simply a ring of 1/4" brass around the top of the rim and the ones with a hollow brass tube and such. Apparently, from the description, yours is a "ball bearing" banjo, and from the pictures it is a "trap door" banjo. The hinged "resonator" on the back is the trap door, and it can be opened (somewhat) or closed depending on whether you want more of an open back sound or a resonator sound.

    Neither the ball bearing banjos nor the trap door banjos bring top prices as Gibson banjos go, and mandolin banjos aren't particularly well thought of as Gibson mandolins go, so it's not a coveted treasure, but it is a nice piece in great condition with all the bells and whistles of it's day.

    That verbiage about LLoyd Laor is just "sales speak". LLoyd didn't sign any banjos (or anything other than "master model" mandolin family instruments and L5 guitars), but it seems that sellers like to mention LLoyd when they are trying to sell anything made by Gibson during the time when LLoyd was employed by the company.

    It may be interesting to you that John Monteleone used that peghead shape for at least one of his early mandolins (a friend of mine owns one).

    Anyway, though perhaps it's not a holy grail, it sure is cool and in great shape and I, for one, appreciate seeing the pictures!

    It could be converted to a tenor banjo or five string banjo by adding a replica neck, and changed back to mandolin banjo at any time with no affect on the value, so that makes it more desirable in general than if it was simply a mandolin banjo.

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  5. #4
    Registered User jim_n_virginia's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Hey I had this on my watch list and was going to try and snipe it at the last second but I forgot to check on it. LOL!

    Anyways congrats its a nice piece to add to any collection. It is unusually clean and complete. And I think you got a pretty good deal on it.

  6. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    1] Loar signed the labels of "Master Model" instruments, and the MB-4 wouldn't have been signed by him. Most of the instruments Gibson produced while Loar was their "acoustical engineer" would not have signed labels. From Roger Siminoff's website:
    Further, since there were no hand-tuning properties that could then be attributed to the banjo body, none of the Mastertone banjo models bore a Lloyd Loar "tuned by" signature label.

    2] Gibson made a "Master Model" tenor banjo during Loar's tenure, the TB-5. The use of "Mastertone" for banjos, and the related engraved block on the neck, apparently began in 1925; Loar left Gibson at the end of 1924. The pictured MB-4 has the "moccasin" style headstock, characteristic of early '20's Gibson banjos. It has the flat-plate "trap door" resonator, made of wood (some of the resonator plates were made of celluloid, or "Pyralin" as Gibson called it). Calling it a "Mastertone" or citing "Mastertone principles" is a bit of an anachronism; it's a "pre-Mastertone," Gibson's second-from-the-top model of banjo-mandolin, just below the MB-5.

    3] How do they sound? Well, opinions differ. Banjo-mandolins can be quite raucous, piercing, and unsubtle. Their tonality can be adjusted by varying the tension of the head; tighter generally equals louder and brighter. You can also, as John H cites above, open or close the "trap door" resonator mechanism to change the tone.

    4] I guess you got a decent price; this MB-4 at Intermountain is going for $950.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  7. #6
    Fretsman Ronny Stecher's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Nice info hits, Thanx all. Especially for the non-snipe, I put it in for a max bid of $850 as a semi snipe myself and got it for $810. She does look clean and well kept.

    The $950 for that Intermountain one might be high if it has no back to it? I'm assuming that's the case as they advertise it as open back, Their case has a handle on it though, I'm happy and looking forward to getting my hands on it.
    Live Full, Love Deep

  8. #7
    Fretsman Ronny Stecher's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    I got the mandolin in the mail and ran her up to my trusted luthier buddy and he tweaked her a little bit, He's in the process of moving but he set her up with the strings she had on her. He adjusted the neck to get the inner part of the upper fretboard off the skin (did the same with the pick guard). I will change the strings myself but wanted him to go over her mechanically. I love the trap door and didn't think the initial pic's told the story.
    The knob off the back spins to twist the inner fingers in position to grab and hold the tuning rod locking the door open and when closed spins to latch the door closed.
    I was wondering about cleaning/maintaining the skin, Can you clean it? Is it taboo to even mess with it, It's got some minor stains I wanted to play with, but don't want to harm it, Is it something that ever gets replaced? The back of the neck has some wear from being played so much it seems to have gotten some love. Here's some pic's I took...





    Live Full, Love Deep

  9. #8

    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Heads get replaced as needed, just like strings (well maybe not JUST like strings) . Banjo heads get worn out or torn or whatever and you can order another one. If you get another one you will have a choice of material and thickness.
    Just looking at the photos that one looks pretty good to me, but I am not a banjo (or banjo mando) player, although I plan on building one for grins.
    Bill Snyder

  10. #9
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Nice instrument! The "trap door" resonator mechanism was found on Gibson banjos from around the turn of the 1920's -- 5-strings and tenors as well as banjo-mandolins.

    As to cleaning the head, you could try first brushing it, then a damp cloth perhaps moistened with a bit of mild detergent. If that won't take the stains off, I'd live with them. Banjo heads get replaced when they tear, but they can last a long time; I have a couple of century-old instruments with what appears to be their original heads. Calfskin banjo heads are fairly sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity; when it's cold and damp they loosen up, when it's hot and dry they tighten, and these changes affect the tone and volume of the instrument. If you want to adjust the head tension, you can get a bracket wrench which will fit the nuts on the end of the bracket hooks. Be careful, if you do adjust the head tension, not to tighten it up in cool, damp conditions, without loosening it when the climate changes; an over-tight head may well split.

    Let us know how you like playing your MB-4, and what you think of its tone and volume.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  11. #10
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    It's interesting that there is a "cap" of curly maple on the heel of the neck showing near the bound heel cap. I wonder if they used more than one width rim and just capped one of the smaller necks for that banjo... or if someone cut it too small and then glued on a piece to bring it back to size. Ah the stories old instruments could tell!

    I don't see any indication that it is a ball bearing banjo despite the mention of bearings in the description, and besides it's too early to be a ball bearing banjo, most likely.

    That's a nice piece! Nice wood, nice finish, good shape, apparently all original... good grab!

  12. #11
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    ...I don't see any indication that it is a ball bearing banjo despite the mention of bearings in the description, and besides it's too early to be a ball bearing banjo, most likely.
    Concur. I believe the ball-bearing banjos, like my GB-3 conversion, were arch-tops, which this isn't.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  13. #12
    Fretsman Ronny Stecher's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Thanx, I love it's sound, It's boisterous compared to my Martin, I have another mando player coming over to do some pickin' and will have them singing together with their respective unique sounds. I have to get my luthier to do a follow up on her.
    He cleaned up the saddle which was missing a sliver of wood between the D & A strings, He took a little off and regrooved it to seat the strings. He was time challenged and still put in 45 min's happily tweaking her as he yapped and admired the ingenuity put into the instrument.
    I have a '29 Dobro that had a similar issue, the E & A strings sound deadened by it's original aged wooden saddle. Tom Doyle worked on it and created a bone saddle for it which made it sound great (I kept the original saddle), My buddy Jim wants to make a new saddle for the Gibson when he settles in. I have to trust his judgement about making the call to do it and what wood to use, I'm gun shy about things like this, I'm worried about devalueing it or just damaging it, It's quite a relief to have a luthier you have faith in.
    I see what you're saying about the heel, Here's a couple more pic's that show the heel and the minor skin issue I'll clean ever so gently, Thanx


    Live Full, Love Deep

  14. #13
    Registered User diptanshu's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Hey Ronny
    Looks like I have you banjo mandolin now! It travelled all the way to India! I am really happy with it. Noticed a tiny crack around the neck but could be just a finish crack. In any case seems to play well.
    Can you tell me where you got this from? Previous owner information? Any info would be appreciated.

    Thanks




    Quote Originally Posted by Ronny Stecher View Post
    Thanx, I love it's sound, It's boisterous compared to my Martin, I have another mando player coming over to do some pickin' and will have them singing together with their respective unique sounds. I have to get my luthier to do a follow up on her.
    He cleaned up the saddle which was missing a sliver of wood between the D & A strings, He took a little off and regrooved it to seat the strings. He was time challenged and still put in 45 min's happily tweaking her as he yapped and admired the ingenuity put into the instrument.
    I have a '29 Dobro that had a similar issue, the E & A strings sound deadened by it's original aged wooden saddle. Tom Doyle worked on it and created a bone saddle for it which made it sound great (I kept the original saddle), My buddy Jim wants to make a new saddle for the Gibson when he settles in. I have to trust his judgement about making the call to do it and what wood to use, I'm gun shy about things like this, I'm worried about devalueing it or just damaging it, It's quite a relief to have a luthier you have faith in.
    I see what you're saying about the heel, Here's a couple more pic's that show the heel and the minor skin issue I'll clean ever so gently, Thanx



  15. #14
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: 1923 Gibson MB-4

    Nice find ...... enjoy it's company.... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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