Gibson PB-4 Mastertone #444-1
In 1937 Gibson overhauled its entire banjo line in response to declining sales; all existing Mastertone models were discontinued with the exception of style 3, which was lowered in price from $100 to $75 and renamed style 75. The other Mastertones were replaced by the new top-tension models, described by Gibson as "the alarm clock that is going to wake up new possibilities in banjo playing".
Among the casualties in this shake-up was style 4, which had been the second model up in the Gibson Mastertone line since 1925. The PB-4 plectrum seen here is one of the last style 4s to be produced in the prewar years. In fact, its littermate #444-2, although identical to this banjo, was listed in the Gibson shipping ledger as a PB-75. #444-1's walnut neck and resonator with two concentric rings of multicolored wood purfling are standard specs for style 4, while the hardware is nickel-plated rather than the chrome specified in the catalog. The Brazilian rosewood fingerboard is inlaid with the hearts and flowers pattern. The flange is one-piece, and the twenty-hole flathead tone ring is original but the Mastertone label has been cut. This label shows a mottled appearance, likely due to heat from the head lights which, according to his family, were factory-installed at the original owner's request. These lights, listed for ten dollars in the 1935 Gibson catalog, were often used by players to keep the calfskin heads of the day dry and tight; they also enhanced the banjo's stage appearance.
Photos courtesy of an