Gibson TB-Florentine Mastertone #9137-1
The Florentine was introduced in 1927 and was one of the most ornate banjos ever produced by Gibson. Like the Bella Voce, the Florentine was offered in a variety of finishes; this example is finished in what Gibson called "white holly" but was actually white painted maple.
Higher-end models such as this tended to be custom-ordered, and as the thirties progressed and banjo production slowed, instruments were sometimes put together with whatever components happened to be on hand; it's understandable, therefore, that even though this instrument appears to be completely original it bears three different factory order numbers: 9654-7 inside the resonator, 9137-1 inside the rim, and 9188-2 on the tenor neck (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers).
This banjo is elaborately carved and painted on the resonator and tenor neck, and the hardware is gold plated and heavily engraved. There is checkerboard binding on the bottom edge of the rim as well as on both edges of the resonator. The flange is two-piece and the tone ring is a low-profile flathead of the kind frequently seen on style 6 banjos. The tailpiece is engraved "Bella Voce" and the bracket nuts are nickel plated, further indications of Gibson's legendary eccentricity in its prewar banjos.
Although the catalog specifications for the Florentine included a pearloid fingerboard decorated with hand-painted Venetian scenes and a pearloid peghead overlay ornamented with rhinestones, the tenor neck of this banjo incorporates features more typical of style 6: an ebony fingerboard with checkerboard binding and style 6 hearts and flowers inlays.
The five-string conversion neck features carving to match the original, a Bella Voce peghead inlay pattern, and "Florentine special" pattern fingerboard inlays.
Photo courtesy Stan Jay/Mandolin Brothers.