The first Gibson banjo, TB (tenor banjo) was announced in 1918. While the tenor banjo was conceived at the turn of the century, Gibson TB helped popularize the instrument among players and fans. This model featured an open back design and four strings (CGDA) that made it easy for mandolin players to switch to playing the banjo.
Between 1918 and 1938, Gibson produced a variety of banjos that experimented with innovations in design, tone chambers and hardware. They include tenor banjo (17 to 19 frets); plectrum banjo (22 frets); guitar banjo (a 6-string model); mandolin banjo (a small, soprano-voiced model); ukulele banjo (a small 4-string model); 5-string banjo; and half the breed plectrum-tenor banjo. The decoration on these early models was equally multifaceted: Gibson equipped his banjos with a number of different styles, ranging from ‘All American’, which featured an eagle carved on the back, to Florentine, as brandished Italian Renaissance motifs.
While the company experimented with a variety of models that never really gained traction in the early 1920s, the introduction of the Masterton in 1925 changed the tide and continues to this day. The master tone comes in a 4-string and 5-string configuration made in tenor and plectrum styles. Each model has its own set of unique fingerboard inserts, headboard design and handmade finish.
Gibson continued manufacturing banjos after World War II and was one of only two companies with a banjo production line when the popular boom hit in the 1960s. Its post-war production was mainly concentrated on ordinary 5-strings, tenor and plectrum banjos.
Gibson’s banjo line balances innovation with ties to its predecessors before the war. In the lower part of the cost spectrum, the Epiphone line includes MB-100, MB-200 and MB-250. These banjos have 5-string design and retail prices ranging from $ 300 to $ 1,000.
Gibson’s premium banjos also feature standard 5-string designs, but offer handmade surfaces, capital etchings and elaborate fingerboard inserts that drive their prizes into thousands of dollars. These include Style 1 Custom, Christmas Banjo, Earl Scruggs Standard, Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe, Granada Hearts & Flowers and Super Earl. Since 1918, Gibson has been producing banjos that have won over enthusiasts ranging from amateur players to legends like Earl Scruggs. A Gibson banjo is synonymous with the folk music and bluegrass music traditions and in some cases an authentic collector’s item. Over the years, the company has produced a large number of models, although production can be broken up into two different eras: before the war and after the war.