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Thread: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banjo?

  1. #1
    Registered User mandotool's Avatar
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    Default African American woman with Gibson banjo

    Its a long shot at identifying who she is but ye never know..
    still could use a little help Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	166865with the banjo year??
    Thanks in advance..
    Last edited by mandotool; Apr-17-2018 at 10:46am.

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    Default Re: African American woman with Gibson banjo

    Photo likely came from this eBay auction, but there's no name.

    If you want this post to have any value in the future it'd help to give it a proper title someone might find on a search. I'd suggest something like:

    African American woman with banjo
    or
    African American woman with Gibson banjo
    or
    Woman of color with banjo

    .etc ...

    You can go into Advanced editing mode within a 3 hour window and change the title. Otherwise this post will slip into oblivion never to be found on a search. I regularly lament how poorly the general membership here considers proper titles. Not a grip about what you've selected and not intended to single you out but a real problem that exists everywhere on the internet. A good title has long lasting value vs. the obvious.

    Someone apparently though it had significant value if indeed it did sell for $255, but I'm always leery of eBay selling prices. Some of them are bogus. Paid advertising in a different fashion that most people won't figure out. Off my soapbox.
    Last edited by Scott Tichenor; Apr-17-2018 at 10:57am.

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    Registered User mandotool's Avatar
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    Default Re: African American woman with Gibson banjo

    Thanks for the reply..i'll see if i can fix it....
    Last edited by Scott Tichenor; Apr-17-2018 at 10:58am.

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    Site founder Scott Tichenor's Avatar
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    Default Re: African American woman with Gibson banjo

    Cool. You never know what is going to turn up on the internet. We've had much smaller needles in the haystack get found. Often receive contacts from a relative of someone that was a prominent player from as far back as the 1800s going forward.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    OK -- based on some quick Googling, the Mastertone banjo is from 1926-28, based on the "diamonds and squares" fingerboard inlay and the "fiddle" headstock. Here's my source; The resonator is bound both on the front and back rims, which might move it a bit later in the '26'28 range. The "Mastertone" logo is also in a block at the end of the fretboard, which is another clue to dating the banjo.

    I have a GB-3 conversion banjo from that period, and it has the "ball bearing" spring-supported, raised head tone ring. Not enough of an expert to further ID the banjo.

    As to the woman playing it, not a clue. One would have to have at least some provenance on the photo -- where's it from, who owned it -- to come closer, IMHO.
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Might as well add the eBay auction description for posterity.

    EXCEPTIONAL 1930s STUDIO PORTRAIT OF AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN PLAYING GIBSON BANJO.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    I tried the reverse Google Image Search and came up with no match.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    She looks familiar to me, but I can't place her. I would suggest looking into c. 1930 New Orleans groups for a start.

    The banjo is a TB-3, tube and plate flange. It is difficult to distinguish between a ball-bearing tone ring and an archtop from a front-only view of the instrument. 1926 to 1929 is the best I can do. I doubt it's a 1925-- most of those had "Mastertone" inlaid in the peghead. The style 3 was redesigned about 1930 with one piece flange, "double cut" peghead, and different inlays.

    These were good instruments. A very large number of them have been "converted" to accept flathead tone rings, more often than not with the original rim recut to accept the conversion, the original neck discarded, the rim and resonator sometimes refinished, etc, etc.

    Hopefully, people will start realizing the value of these instruments in their original state and stop cutting them up. Installing a 5 string neck doesn't hurt anything, though, as long as the original 4 string neck is not discarded. The mandolin community continues to "convert" F-4's and F-7's to F-5 configuration. I hope this practice will fade out of fashion someday.
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-17-2018 at 4:05pm.

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  12. #9

    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    great photo, btw

  13. #10

    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Looks like a TB250 to me.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hanson View Post
    Looks like a TB250 to me.

    Dave H
    250's have different fingerboard inlays-- the earlier ones had bowtie inlays, the later ones had a pattern that is sometimes referred to as "leaves and bows."

    Also, model 250 was not introduced until the 1950's, and I have no reason that the OP's photo was taken that late.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    I think rcc is right, TB-3. I see it as a great studio portrait! Possible company promotion? Banjo Artists of the late ‘20’s? Very cool piece of banjo history but, $225.00? Sorry, I don’t think I’ll bite.
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    I would imagine that at one time there was a studio identified on the image front or back. It most likely was an artist's portrait not a company advertisement. It is indeed a great photo.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Good point about studio “signature”.
    Also, probably about it being a private artist portfolio shot or, my sister with her banjo, kind of thing.
    Timothy F. Lewis
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    The banjo is a TB-3, 1927 or later judging by the resonator thumbscrew that we can see.

    Prior to 1927 the Mastertones used smaller thumbscrews to secure the resonator to the flange.

    So I'd say, at least 1927.

    As Allen pointed out above, the diamonds-and-squares inlay go replaced by leaves-and-bows 1928-29 or so.

    The banjo looks brand-spanking-new, so I'd reckon the pic is "late twenties" to "early thirties"...

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Considering how many mandolin portraits appear to be people using the instrument as a prop, i'll ask the banjo players here if she's actually holding/fingering the banjo as a player? just putting that out there. if it's a prop, that would make identifying her much tougher.
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    That would be an expensive prop for the time. Her form looks pretty good like she's familiar with holding a stringed instrument.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post

    Hopefully, people will start realizing the value of these instruments in their original state and stop cutting them up. Installing a 5 string neck doesn't hurt anything, though, as long as the original 4 string neck is not discarded. .
    Thanks for mentioning it.

    As a New Orleans-born tenor banjo player, I have been appalled at the number of these instruments converted to 5 string.

    Leave the tenor necks alone - or at least same them intact so the conversion can be undone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    Considering how many mandolin portraits appear to be people using the instrument as a prop, i'll ask the banjo players here if she's actually holding/fingering the banjo as a player? just putting that out there. if it's a prop, that would make identifying her much tougher.
    She appears to hold the pick OK, and the left hand is in fingering position for the notes
    F#-G-A on the 2nd string, assuming a standard tenor banjo CGDA tuning.

  25. #19
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    ...As a New Orleans-born tenor banjo player, I have been appalled at the number of these instruments converted to 5 string...
    Unfortunately that's where the money has been. The mechanical nature of banjo construction makes it all too easy to switch out parts. If you had to go to the same trouble to switch a banjo neck as you have to to switch a mandolin or guitar neck I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be happening as frequently.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    It's re-cutting the rims to accept a flat head tone ring that bothers me the most.

    Having said that, I will freely admit to converting a Roy Smeck Hawaiian flat top guitar to normal "Spanish" play. It did involve recarving the neck. But it's pretty hard to find anybody who wants to play lap style guitar on a Gibson flat top. I did keep the original bridge and nut, though, on the outside chance someone wants to convert it back.

    Yes, I would say the young woman in the picture knew how to play, and probably pretty well. "Posers" who don't play don't know how to arch their fingers like that.

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    Default Re: African American woman with Gibson banjo

    Quote Originally Posted by mandotool View Post
    Its a long shot at identifying who she is but ye never know..
    still could use a little help Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 10.29.11 PM.png 
Views:	255 
Size:	757.2 KB 
ID:	166865with the banjo year??
    Thanks in advance..
    I feel compelled to add this additional photo.."Anglo American women with Gibson Mandocello" to the thread..
    there is no connection that im aware but the hairstyles are fetching and they both have good taste in Luthiers.
    Would love to hear them as a duet..
    Thanks to all who have chimed to add detail so far..
    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	166915

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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    ... It is difficult to distinguish between a ball-bearing tone ring and an archtop from a front-only view of the instrument. 1926 to 1929 is the best I can do. ...
    It's an *archtop* tone ring. You can see it in the enhanced pics below. (I put the original pic in Photoshop and messed around with levels and curves to bring out subtle shadows that were only barely perceptible in the original.)

    Click each pic a few times to enlarge:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    and

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Quote Originally Posted by J.Albert View Post
    ... 1927 or later judging by the resonator thumbscrew that we can see. ...
    Also the hoop is notched:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    According to Siminoff's Gibson Banjo Rim Evolution page, the notched hoop first appeared on Gibson banjos in 1927:

    "In 1927, the first cast tone chamber was employed, which supported the head in the same arch-top manner as its predecessor. ... With the introduction of this system, a notched stretcher band made its appearance, ..."


    For what it's worth, here is a somewhat-corrected version of the original pic - with less barrel distortion, fewer blips & scratches, and I spent a few minutes experimenting with Photoshop "Smart Sharpen" settings to see if that made it easier to discern what was in the pic. Here's how that turned out:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    ... Her form looks pretty good like she's familiar with holding a stringed instrument.
    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    ... She appears to hold the pick OK, ...
    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    ... Yes, I would say the young woman in the picture knew how to play, and probably pretty well. "Posers" who don't play don't know how to arch their fingers like that.
    Yup, she looks like she knows how to actually play the thing, not just a posed shot by some non-musician or something. That pinky action especially, don't see that with 'posers'. I'd say she was legit, and probably pretty good at it.

    Something else I noticed - all those tiny pleats in that skirt she's wearing - rather impressive. I don't think 'permanent press' fabric had been invented yet, so someone had to actually iron or press all those pleats. Would take either motivation & patience to do it yourself, or have someone do it for you, or sufficient monetary income to have the skirt professionally cleaned & pressed (some pressers charge extra for excessive number of pleats because it's labor-intensive). Of course, if one was playing a nearly-new Gibson Mastertone, I suppose monetary concerns wouldn't be one's first priority.

    Anyway, a very cool pic, and thanks to the OP for sharing it with us.
    Last edited by JL277z; Apr-20-2018 at 6:44am. Reason: Added quote.

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  32. #23
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Nice photoshopping! Pretty interesting too get all the “t’s” crossed and so on.
    I fully agree that this was not some “Oh, lets take a picture” session, I’d bet there are several other from this session in a box somewhere. This was a very “well heeled” musician’s promotional photograph. Good catch on the tiny pleats too, this is a fun detective thread! What do we know about the mandocello picture? Given the almost identical hairstyle, I’d venture it’s pretty close time wise.
    I thought about just saying, “Hey, that’s my great Aunt!” But, then there would be a whole story to fabricate and even though it might be fun, it would be way more work than I think I’d want to try to fool you guys!
    Timothy F. Lewis
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  34. #24
    Registered User mandotool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    Nice photoshopping! Pretty interesting too get all the “t’s” crossed and so on.
    I fully agree that this was not some “Oh, lets take a picture” session, I’d bet there are several other from this session in a box somewhere. This was a very “well heeled” musician’s promotional photograph. Good catch on the tiny pleats too, this is a fun detective thread! What do we know about the mandocello picture? Given the almost identical hairstyle, I’d venture it’s pretty close time wise.
    I thought about just saying, “Hey, that’s my great Aunt!” But, then there would be a whole story to fabricate and even though it might be fun, it would be way more work than I think I’d want to try to fool you guys!
    The Mandocello Gal photo came from a group of a dozen or so individual photos from an all Girls music school mandolin orchestra..on Ebay 10 or 15 years ago.I was able to get a couple that caught my eye..here's the other one..w/ a pre trussrod Style O Guitar..
    Click image for larger version. 

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  36. #25
    Registered User Russ Donahue's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Photo help...who is she and what year is that gibson banj

    Can these last few posts be moved to a thread of their own so they don't inadvertently hijack the original thread. Both are interesting, and both deserve their own focused discussion. Thanks.
    One watch by night, one watch by day...if you get confused, just listen to the music play.

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