Gibson TB-3 Mastertone #9524-20, the "Donald C. Hill"





The TB-3 was the lowest-priced tenor banjo in Gibson's Mastertone line  This banjo conforms to standard catalog specifications for the style 3 beginning in 1929; the wood is mahogany, with two white/black/white purfling rings on the back of the resonator and single white binding.  The hardware is nickel-plated and the tailpiece is a Grover Presto.  The rim is three-ply maple with a forty-hole archtop tone ring.  The peghead is double-cut and the inlay pattern is leaves and bows.

This instruments is unusual in that it is the only known archtop tenor from lot #9524, which consisted of over fifty PB-3 plectrum banjos with flathead tone rings and wreath inlays.  The rim shows an unusual horizontal seam just above the serial number, and a Gibson employee's "PB-?" designation, although largely obliterated, is still visible just under the chalk serial number inside the resonator.  It is possible that some mishap in production led to the rim being rebuilt and the banjo being changed from a plectrum with a flathead tone ring to a tenor with an archtop tone ring.

The original owner of this banjo was Donald C. Hill of St. Louis, Missouri, who is pictured here with the banjo at the age of ten.  Mr. Hill played in a band called The River Stompers in the St. Louis area and owned the banjo until his death in 2001.

NOVEMBER 2007 UPDATE:  A newly-discovered photo of Donald C. Hill (second photo above) shows that the neck currently on #9524-20, although definitely prewar, is not original to the banjo.  The new photo clearly shows the banjo with a Bella Voce inlay pattern in the peghead and a different variation of the leaves and bows pattern in the fingerboard.  How the neck replacement figures into the puzzling history of this banjo is not known.

#9524-20 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) is now set up with a Sullivan mahogany five-string neck and Hopkins/McPeake conversion flathead tone ring.  The resulting sound compares favorably to some of the best prewar banjos out there, and I was fortunate to be able to record a sound clip of it at Banjothon 2009 in Maryville, Tennessee:

I'll Stay Around

Photos courtesy of Mike Murray.