1924 Gibson TB-1 Trap Door Tenor Banjo

Judging by the factory order number, this banjo was made in '24. I also gather that it's a TB-1 with the awesome trap-door resonator unit, though the simplified "shoes" rather than a "bracket band" for holding the hooks/nuts recalls TB-Jrs of the time rather than your average TB-1.

"Trap door" Gibson tenors are interesting and excellent pieces of gear. They have a big, round, hollow brass tonering, a 10 1/2" rim, heavy-duty build, coordinator rod construction (and thus easy-peasy action adjustment and increased stability), and of course the famous resonator design on the back while allows for a mellower, warmer-sounding, "closed" position and a punchier, louder, "open" position. In practice this is very useful as it makes the instrument adaptable to playing in quieter hours or with smaller bands and then also "cranked" for use when you need to cut through a jam or bigger group.

In the soundclip above I have this tuned up to DAEB over CGDA as the 19" scale length (vs. normal 21" and above) allows this. I really like that voicing (as did a number of early tenor players) as it's more "mandolin-y" in flavor and plays easily with folk guitarists in terms of its "open range." A quick capo on the 5th fret also turns the instrument into a "banjolin" -- or, rather, 4-string mandolin, too.

This came to me 100% original, though I did replace the head (with a Remo Renaissance), the bridge (with a newer, heavier, Grover), and tailpiece (with a No-Knot repro). These are all playability/modern convenience adaptations.

The original skin head was still going strong but I don't like how fussy skin can be... the original Grover Non-Tip bridge was full-height but wobbled when tuning... and the original mandolin-style tailpiece and mounting hardware was on the instrument but it was missing its cover and I find them a little inflexible as far as string choice goes -- they're "loop-ends or bust."

Aside from that gear swap-out, I also planed the fretboard and refretted it with modern "medium" stock, cleaned it up, and set it up "on the dot" with 1/16" action at the 12th fret. The string gauges are 30w, 20w, 13, 9 for DAEB, though the strings would tune down to CGDA just fine. The refret wasn't 100% necessary, but it makes it a perfect player with a more deluxe feel than if I'd left the small, original frets leveled-down and paper-thin.

Can't argue with a snakehead look, huh? The bone nut is original, too, and I always applaud Gibson's approach with guitar-style tuners on these early TBs.

I stuffed a tiny bit of muting foam near the tailpiece to cut down on string-afterlength overtones.

All the hardware is original, too. I like that simple clamp-on arm-rest, by the way.

While the fretboard is ebony, the resonator, rim, and neck are all maple.

Here's the "soundhole" for the closed position of the trap door resonator. There's always a small amount of sideways bleed, too, from the resonator's "lid."

Here's the resonator "open," which doesn't look like much but seriously changes the tone and apparent punch and volume. It's not like you'd now be playing a B&D Silver Bell, but with it open you can easily hold your own (and possibly drive your picking-neighbor nuts) in most jams.

Here's the little adjustable bracket that lets you swap between closed and open. This banjo has both the upper and lower coordinator rods installed, though the lower one is what you're looking at in the pictures.

Here you can see the factory order number and also the big tonering with its "vent holes."

As a bonus, the tenor came with its original, good-condition, arched hard case. I love these things.

The small, compact, and sturdy case makes taking this tenor around town no more hassle than hauling a mandola around.


Nick R said…
Arrowhead Waverly tuners- like on an 1923 A2. There is a set of those on ebay right now with a BIN of US$350! Big intake of breath!
Jake Wildwood said…
Hee. hee. though these are hardly useful in mandolin applications... :)