Overview of Style 3 Mastertone Banjos

Gibson's "Mastertone" line of higher-end banjos debuted in 1925 with style 3 as its lowest-priced model.  Style 3's original specifications included straight-grained maple with a cordovan stain:


The hardware was nickel-plated and, as with other early Mastertone models, included a two-piece "tube-and-plate" flange and a grooved tension hoop with flat hooks:


 In the first couple of years of production, style 3 Mastertone banjos featured resonators with ivoroid binding on the back edge only:

In 1925 and 1926, all Mastertone models including style 3 featured a ball-bearing tone ring with sixty holes:

 The earliest version of this ball-bearing tone ring, seen primarily on examples from 1925, also had holes in the outer skirt:

Style 3 Mastertone banjos from 1925 to 1928 featured a fiddle-shaped peghead and the "diamonds and squares" inlay pattern in a rosewood fingerboard:


The earliest version, seen primarily on examples from 1925, had the word "Mastertone" inlaid in small individual letters on the peghead just under the script "Gibson" logo:

Circa 1926, the word "Mastertone" moved to a mother-of-pearl block at the end of the fingerboard:

Circa 1927, all Mastertone models including style 3 changed from the ball-bearing tone ring to a cast metal raised-head, or archtop, tone ring.  While the exterior "beveled" appearance of the head remained the same, the new tone ring construction is evident inside the body, with some of the earlier raised-head rings having no holes. . .

. . . while the forty-hole variety soon became the standard on all Mastertone models:

With the change to cast raised-head tone rings also came a change to notched, rather than grooved, tension hoops with round, rather than flat, hooks.  The resonators also gained ivoroid binding on the front as well as the back edge:

Throughout the production run of the style 3 Mastertone, the standard tailpiece was the Grover Patent Presto:

The tuners were also by Grover, with earlier examples typically having the "two-tab" type attached with screws. . .

. . . and later examples more commonly seen with Grover tuners that are held in place by nuts on the front of the peghead and have no tabs or screws in the back:

In 1929, Gibson redesigned its Mastertone line.  For the style 3, this meant a change from the two-piece "tube-and-plate" flange to a one-piece flange made of die-cast "pot metal":

The neck and resonator were changed from maple to mahogany, with two concentric rings of white-black-white purfling on the back of the resonator:

The peghead shape changed to the "double-cut" design and the standard inlay pattern was changed to the "leaves and bows" design:


Other inlay patterns were sometimes used on style 3 Mastertones of the period, however, usually when the factory wanted to use up leftover inlays from discontinued models.  Nonstandard inlay patterns seen on style 3 Mastertone banjos include the wreath pattern formerly used on fancy style 5 Mastertones. . .

. . . the even-fancier peghead pattern used on the Bella Voce model of the late 1920s. . .

. . . the "flying eagle" fingerboard pattern used on the higher-priced style 4 and Granada Mastertones. . .

 . . . and other strange combinations:

The forty-hole raised-head tone ring remained standard on style 3 tenor banjos in the 1930s, but style 3 plectrum and five-string banjos were now routinely fitted with the new flathead tone ring which, according to Gibson literature of the time, imparted "greater brilliancy, sweeter tone, more volume and easier respone" to plectrum Mastertones and "extra twang and ring" to "regular", or five-string, models.  The flathead tone ring allowed the entire surface area of the head to vibrate freely.  Inside the banjo, its sloping inner face is clearly visible and, as with the cast raised-head ring, some early examples were made with no holes. . .


. . . before the factory settled on a twenty-hole design:

Style 3 banjos of both the 1920s and 1930s featured the guarantee label found inside the rim of all Mastertone models. . .

. . . as well as a factory order number stamped inside the rim. . .

. . . and written inside the resonator:

By 1937, declining banjo sales prompted Gibson to drastically overhaul its banjo line; style 3 was lowered in price from $100 to $75 and it was renamed style 75, in keeping with Gibson's new trend of naming instrument models according to their retail prices.  Style 3 would remain out of production until being revived by Gibson in the late 1980s for a series of historic reissues.