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Prewar Gibson banjo: Wikis


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The prewar Gibson Mastertone banjo is the most sought-after vintage instrument for bluegrass banjo players.


Although this term normally refers to World War II, when used to describe Gibson banjos the term prewar operationally refers to banjos made prior to 1947. Production of metal banjo parts was suspended during World War II. However, small numbers of Gibson banjos continued to be constructed and shipped during the war years using stocks of metal parts remaining in factory bins. For that reason, Gibson banjos produced between 1940 and 1945 often reflect creativity of shop personnel rather than standard catalog descriptions. Production of metal banjo parts resumed in the Fall of 1946; however it is commonly believed that the metal composition of foundry products delivered to Gibson after World War II was inferior to that of parts produced prior to 1940. On April 12, 1947 the Gibson Instrument Company changed their corporate logo from script lettering to use of block letters and this change occurred sufficiently close to resumption of banjo output to allow easy identification of prewar and postwar Gibson instruments.

Identifying a prewar Gibson banjo

Determining the authenticity of a prewar Gibson banjo can be a real challenge, for a variety of reasons:

  • The Gibson company produced a fairly wide variety of styles.
  • Prewar Gibson banjos frequently failed to conform to the standard catalog specifications, by dint of cost-saving measures to diminish inventories of excess or less-than-desirable components, thus casting doubt on the deviant banjo's authenticity.
  • The actual number of authentic banjos is relatively small, so the experience of examining and playing them is limited to comparatively few individuals.
  • Demand for these instruments is high, which has led to significant efforts toward reproducing them, with varying degrees of success.
  • The majority of these banjos has been modified in some way by their owners over the years, due to the adjustability of the components, changes in playing style, etc.

External links

  • Greg Earnest's site contains a great overview of the various Gibson banjo styles, with many detailed photographs of vintage Gibson banjos.
  • Dan Foy's site has the most complete reference list of pre-war Gibson banjo serial numbers.


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