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Thread: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

  1. #1

    Default 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Hey guys.

    I recently acquired an early Gibson tenor banjo that I am bringing back to life and hope someone can help with a few questions.

    1st question is what exact year do you think this is? Stamped serial number is 11213A-22.

    2nd question - I can see it has the four holes in the back for where there was at one point the trap-door resonator. Is it possible to find these anywhere? I would eventually like to add this piece to it but think it might be like trying to find the Holy Grail.

    3rd question - There are about 4 hook and nut pieces that don't match the others. Where do you recommend buying some other than Amazon? I'd like to keep it as close to original as possible. Or should I just buy a whole new set? They appear to be 3.54 mm thick and 2 3/8 long.

    Thanks for any help or advice.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    The trapdoor is mounted with only three holes, and had a ball bearing tone ring. The three holes are all on one side of the lower part of the pot. If the four holes are spaced around evenly it may have had a different backplate. This may have been before the trapdoor, but I don't remember when they came out with the ball bearing tone ring.
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    1. According to Spann's Guide to Gibson, your banjo was made in early 1925.

    2. Gibson experimented with resonators during this period, and used at least 2 types-- the trap door and the "pyralin" resonator [which was a disc]. Some of these old banjos also had after-market resonators installed. There were several brands that were easily available. My guess is that your banjo had something other than a trap door installed.

    I am looking at a slightly earlier trap door Gibson. The trap door is attached to the rim with only one screw, located at about 7 o'clock when viewed from the back. In addition, the resonator is secured to the coordinator rod with a hook shaped bolt and a nut. This one has no tone ring at all, but it has a hollow rim with spacers, sometimes called a Kraske rim.

    A trap door would not operate if it was secured to the rim with 4 screws-- only about 1/3 of the resonator is secured to the rim. The remaining 2/3 must be left unsecured so the trap door will open.

    Finding an original trap door resonator for your banjo would be very difficult indeed. A replica could easily be made, if one can find a suitable spring hinge. Or a disc type resonator of another type could be installed.

    3. Original hooks and nuts may be available from time to time from Smakula Fretted Instruments, Bedford Banjo Shop, or Bernunzio Uptown Music; or the banjohangout classifieds. Good quality modern hooks should be available from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to Elderly Instruments; or any store that carries a large stock of banjos.

    News flash: Bedford Banjo Shop is going out of business and will be closing down on March 14.

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  5. #4

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Thanks for the great info. I screwed up on my information. There are only 3 holes on the back, not four. 1 slightly above the rod going through the banjo and 2 below. sorry for the bad info. I hadn't had my coffee yet :/ I added a pic of the back
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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  6. #5
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    A trap door could indeed have been installed with 3 screws in those places.

    A replica can be made with the following materials:
    An 11" x 14" mahogany board, 3/16" thick
    1 piece of ivoroid binding, 48" long by 1/4" high
    Alcohol soluble brown aniline dye
    Sufficient spirit varnish for the finish
    A spring hinge, approximately 10" long
    A piece of stiff sheet metal stock, 1/2" wide by 6" long to make a latching bracket, plus a bolt and a knob.

    The spring hinge is the only thing that might be difficult to find.

    I would attach photos, but I don't have a camera. Someone on banjohangout could provide pictures.

    The style hook that you are looking for is called a flat hook. They were used on very early Gibsons, and on banjos made by Slingerland and Rettberg & Lange. The nuts are the standard Gibson shape. Replicas are available from Stew-mac, among others.

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  8. #6
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    I have had a couple of trapdoor banjos, both have been secured with 3 screws. I have one now and it has the three screws. I would find it hard to believe one screw would hold it on.
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  9. #7
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    On mine, there is one screw through the resonator disc near the perimeter; plus a hook that wraps around the coordinator rod, comes through the resonator near the hinge, and is secured on the outside with a nut and washer. A two-point system. It "shouldn't" work, but it does.

    I've seen quite a bit of variation in the details of these early Gibson banjos. I think they were trying to figure out the best way to build them while they were already in production. The early flat top guitars are the same way-- they kept on messing around with bracing patterns and bridge designs.

    The resonator on mine is stained so dark that I can't tell for sure what kind of wood it is. I am now thinking it is birch or plain maple rather than mahogany. I now suggest that if Mike has a resonator built that it would be better to make it out of birch or maple. The 3 screw mounting system that Pops describes would be easier to put together. It should be pretty easy to build one. It could be completely built with hand tools, although a jig saw or bandsaw and a belt sander would come in handy. The latching bracket would take a little time to make, but it's do-able.

  10. #8
    Registered User f5loar's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    yeap, early 1925 TB-3. It had the full floating ball bearing tone tube and a trap door. The list price in 1925 was $115.

  11. #9
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    I believe in 1925 they changed the peghead shape, too, so that would identify yours as an early 1925 model.(I have a C-scale frankenbanjo with a neck that strarted life as a 1926 TB-1.)

    Reverb has a few sold listings where you could get some good visuals of the trapdoor if you wanted to fabricate a new one. Here's one: https://reverb.com/item/13050105-192...or-tenor-banjo

  12. #10

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    I appreciate all the great advice and tips!

  13. #11
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Guys, I see no evidence in the pic of the top of that rim that it ever had ballbearings. Without pics that clearly show holes for the ballbearings, washers and springs, I suspect it just had the tone tube in place, as was the case with most of these thin rimmed banjos. Serial numbers (or FONs) and catalog model descriptions were very in-exact with these early Gibson banjos, so I also have doubts that this was a TB-3, more likely a TB-2 or TB-1. It did definitely have a trap-door and it probably was also fitted with an ivoroid pickguard and a wire armrest.
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

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    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus many other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

  15. #13

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Good afternoon,

    I have some questions about my "The Gibson" Tenor Banjo that I have had since the late 60's. I always thought it should have had some form of resonator/back due to how it is made, and just recently found a photo of a model that like RCC-56 stated is attached at two points only, which is the only way mine would work. I have found an old trapdoor style part, and have been think about purchasing it if in fact, it belongs on the banjo. Also, I am looking for replacement tuners (2 per side). Someone removed the originals and put straight thru tuners, which have worn out, and never fit well anyway. Do anyone know of a supply for this item. I am attaching some photos with a hope that will help.

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    Thank you for your time and help.

    Respectfully,

    Bobb

  16. #14
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    This set is on ebay at the moment...

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-192...QAAOSweR9fmzij

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    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Your picture of the back of the rim is not clear enough for me to tell whether or not this banjo originally had a trap door resonator. Some of them did, others did not.

    If you do indeed decide to purchase a resonator, measure the diameter of your banjo and have the seller of the resonator measure his part to make sure that they are the same.

    The holes for your tuners may or may not have been enlarged. Measure the diameter of the holes, and also the spacing between the tuners before you order any new ones.

    There is an ad in the banjohangout classified for what appear to be original tuners for one of these very early Gibsons. The seller's user name is sugarinthegourd.
    If what he has will not work, you can either use some standard individual guitar tuners if the shaft diameter is suitable, or order a set of banjo tuners from Smakula Fretted Instruments in Elkins, West Virginia. They will have something that will work. Smakula is our #1 go-to for early banjo parts, and they are smart enough to sell the right part for the right banjo, instead of something that won't fit. Have your measurements in hand if you call them.

  18. #16
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    I believe yours had a trap door back!! I'd get one and make that TB-4 "I think" whole again!

  19. #17
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    The tuners look like friction, and I agree with rcc56 that the holes most likely were not enlarged.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  20. #18

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Your picture of the back of the rim is not clear enough for me to tell whether or not this banjo originally had a trap door resonator. Some of them did, others did not.

    If you do indeed decide to purchase a resonator, measure the diameter of your banjo and have the seller of the resonator measure his part to make sure that they are the same.

    The holes for your tuners may or may not have been enlarged. Measure the diameter of the holes, and also the spacing between the tuners before you order any new ones.

    There is an ad in the banjohangout classified for what appear to be original tuners for one of these very early Gibsons. The seller's user name is sugarinthegourd.
    If what he has will not work, you can either use some standard individual guitar tuners if the shaft diameter is suitable, or order a set of banjo tuners from Smakula Fretted Instruments in Elkins, West Virginia. They will have something that will work. Smakula is our #1 go-to for early banjo parts, and they are smart enough to sell the right part for the right banjo, instead of something that won't fit. Have your measurements in hand if you call them.
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    Not sure if this picture helps or not. The reason I am not sure, is that I would expect to see indentations in the cloth on the bottom of the case, where the 2 protruding pieces of hardware stuck down.

  21. #19

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Thank all of you for all of the information and sharing of knowledge. Does anyone know the "exact" date and model for this banjo buy chance?

  22. #20
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    It is a style 4 made in 1922. The presence of 28 hooks and nuts leads me to believe that this is a large rim banjo. Most early Gibsons had 10 1/2" rims and 24 hooks and nuts.

    If the rim measures 12" in diameter, it is a TB-4 large rim tenor banjo. If it measures 14", it is a CB-4 cello banjo, which is a rare instrument.

    I do not recall ever hearing of a trap door banjo with a large rim, and see no evidence that yours ever had a trap door.
    If it ever did have a trap door, there would be at least one and possibly as many as three screw holes easily visible in the back of the rim.

  23. #21

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    It is a style 4 made in 1922. The presence of 28 hooks and nuts leads me to believe that this is a large rim banjo. Most early Gibsons had 10 1/2" rims and 24 hooks and nuts.

    If the rim measures 12" in diameter, it is a TB-4 large rim tenor banjo. If it measures 14", it is a CB-4 cello banjo, which is a rare instrument.

    I do not recall ever hearing of a trap door banjo with a large rim, and see no evidence that yours ever had a trap door.
    If it ever did have a trap door, there would be at least one and possibly as many as three screw holes easily visible in the back of the rim.
    Although I had never heard of or seen one until you wrote about it, after listening to a couple of peices on youtube, I wish I owned a cello CB, but alas it is not. As I am not 100% sure what to measure, I will just send pictures.Click image for larger version. 

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    Again, thank you for your continued help.

  24. #22
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    We would call that an 11" TB-4. In the past, I would have said that the presence of 28 hooks on an 11" Gibson surprised me, but having seen so many surprises on Gibson instruments over the years, I now just consider it another variation.

    You can always string it to be tuned an octave below a mandolin. Some folks call that "Irish tuning." It works well on the early Gibson tenors.

  25. #23

    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    We would call that an 11" TB-4. In the past, I would have said that the presence of 28 hooks on an 11" Gibson surprised me, but having seen so many surprises on Gibson instruments over the years, I now just consider it another variation.

    You can always string it to be tuned an octave below a mandolin. Some folks call that "Irish tuning." It works well on the early Gibson tenors.
    In case anyone needs a trapdoor, and has not see this for sale, as I now believe mine didn't come with one from all of the reasons explained to me, here is the link:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-192...8AAOSwGJJfnIG6

    He is also selling a variety of other parts from that banjo, which looks pretty rough.

    Bobb

  26. #24
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Those Bolts in that don't look right, but it was a basket case instrument he was parting out.. tenor banjo..
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  27. #25
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    Default Re: 1920's Gibson Tenor Banjo info

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    Those Bolts in that don't look right, but it was a basket case instrument he was parting out.. tenor banjo..
    The one that opens the trap door is correct, but that's the only hardware that should be there. Besides the screws that hold it on that is. I don't know what the other bolt is for, but it is not original.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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