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Kalamazoo Gals: Gibson produced banjos, guitars, mandolins during WWII

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Jul 29, 2021 - 3:30:30 PM

2887 posts since 12/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by struggle_bus
quote:
Originally posted by Aradobanjo

Hello,

I thought the music of jazz hated banjo because it was too bright and cheery. Jazz and blues are somber and complex tones. 4 and 5 stringed instruments cannot reach the tones needed to meet jazz and blues music.

A different genre of music was needed to keep the banjo alive. Using small snippets from jazz and blues, Bluegrass or Blues-grass was defined by Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys in 1946. 7th cords and short pentatonic phrases defined Bluegrass. 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 timings were its musical constructs. 6/8 and beyond is done long after 1946. Still, the banjo is bright and cheery.

Maybe some wives “hated the banjo” because the radio was playing dance music. You can’t dance to Bluegrass.


You do realize that there is a section of this website called Playing Advice: 4-string (Jazz, Blues, and Other Trad Styles)?

Before the guitar was amplified, the 4 string banjo was a regular member of the rhythm section in jazz groups. 

 


Hello,

Yes, blues and Jazz on a guitar is more deep than a 4 string can give. This site has multiple references to the number of banjoists who became unemployed when the guitar was employed. 4 string guitars and plectrum banjos were transitional attempts to bridge the gap. 

As opined in other threads, Stairway To Heaven can be played on 4 and 5 string banjos. Just because it can played doesn't mean automatic employment into Led Zepplin. 

Bela Fleck did a jazz album with the Marcus Roberts Trio. I enjoyed the album. But it was one. 

Edited by - Aradobanjo on 07/30/2021 03:25:46

Jul 29, 2021 - 4:15:45 PM

JT1

USA

8 posts since 7/28/2021

quote:


As opined in other threads, Stairway To Heaven can be played on 4 and 5 string banjos. Just because it can played doesn't mean automatic employment into Led Zepplin. 

Sigh. I do not understand the aggression on this site. If you wish to continue this conversation, please PM me. Sigh, again.

Jul 30, 2021 - 4:01:58 AM

2887 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Aggression? How about reality?

I wear my BHO shirts very frequently. I have a group chat specific to my locality. I wear them in hopes that I might meet some of them who signed up.

Other places have get togethers. My local jam sessions died with COVID.

Back to the discussion. The Gibson war years represents a dramatic shift from the quality and quantity of the thirties to a trickle of stellar banjos from a sea of mediocrity of brands, two from 10.

The war changed everything. Guitars didn’t miss much. Banjo components are too specific and special to even remember the formula of the tone rings.

Total war meant total commitment. Nobody seems to like any vendors post war products. The woods and metals used in the thirties was consumed by WWII.

The topic about special people who built specific instruments actually tried very hard to replicate the thirties men. Thank you for sharing their story.

Maybe their story will help Gibson to see their voice after being going through bankruptcy and being bought by venture capitalists. Banjos ceased to be in 2010. CITIES and limited supplies are forcing everyone to rethink guitar design and components.

Jul 30, 2021 - 5:02:11 AM
Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1318 posts since 10/15/2019

jfc, give it a rest.

Jul 30, 2021 - 5:19:08 PM

JT1

USA

8 posts since 7/28/2021

quote:

Total war meant total commitment. Nobody seems to like any vendors post war products. The woods and metals used in the thirties was consumed by WWII.

I address this issue in detail in Kalamazoo Gals. I retrieved all 1,200 pages in the National Archives' WWII materials that mentioned Gibson. I also address in the book the particular War Production Board orders that concern stringed instruments. I quote testimony in the Board's hearings.

So, well, I know and have documented in detailed endnotes in each chapter of what I wrote.

Anyway, done here.

Jul 30, 2021 - 8:28:12 PM

rcc56

USA

3754 posts since 2/20/2016

Sigh . . . whenever anyone who has actually done serious research on instrument history joins the forum, someone manages to run them off. On this occasion, it was accomplished in record time.    sad

Jul 31, 2021 - 4:16:36 AM

2707 posts since 12/31/2005

Seriously. I invited the man to BHO to discuss his book. We were just trying to talk about what he found out about banjos in his research. And it had to devolve into arguments or efforts to show how smart you are? This is why some pros won't post here anymore. Classless.

Jul 31, 2021 - 7:11:17 AM

12 posts since 1/21/2003

quote:
Originally posted by rcc56

Gibson did indeed ship banjos during WWII. Most were lower end models. If you look up wartime factory order numbers in Spann's, you will see quite a few batches of non-Mastertone models, mostly style 00 and style 11. As the factory order numbers get into the higher ranges, the number of banjo batches decreases. We do see a few batches of Mastertone models during this period; most of these are styles 7 and 75. We do not know the number of instruments included in these batches, but we do know that if an order for a low demand instrument came through, a batch might consist of only one or two instruments.

We know from observing guitars made during this period that there were materials shortages. In 1943, metal parts were in short supply, and guitars were being shipped with tuners with riveted shafts, no tuner bushings, and no truss rods. We also see substitutions in the woods that were used for making the instruments. As an example, many flat top guitars were shipped with necks that were roughed out for archtop guitars.

The environment at the plant during this time is pretty clear. Instruments were built with whatever materials were available. The number of instrument models was limited. In-stock parts meant for one type of instrument were sometimes re-purposed for use on instruments of a different type.

As far as banjos were concerned, the public demand for banjos had already shrunk dramatically well before the entrance of the US into the war. Were there unused parts on hand?  At the beginning of the war, there were probably quite a lot.  Were new metal parts easily available midway through the war? No.  Is there any credible evidence that many banjo parts were left in stock after the war?  No.

But war or no war, Gibson would have devoted most of their effort and resources into building guitars, because the demand for guitars was high and the demand for banjos was low. The possibility of large numbers of undiscovered Mastertone banjos springing into existence is virtually nil.


Jul 31, 2021 - 7:22:23 AM

12 posts since 1/21/2003

Gibson did indeed produce instruments during the WW2 years. I own a 1942 RB75 flathead 5-string I purchased from Mando Bros in 1974. It was shipped to Grinnell Brother Furniture in Kalamazoo September 11, 1942. I have a copy of the shipping ledger of that banjo. It has leaves and bows inlays and the peghead has an RB3 inlay pattern. It has a distinct 30's Mastertone sound and has been my best friend all these years. It was gold plated probably about 1960. The original neck is in need of some repairs since I bought it and shortly after that had a new neck made by Mando Bros in 1977 with H & F inlays and had the neck sized and shaped like the original. It is a joy to play and sounds great. I have a feeling that most of the metal parts were on hand when the instrument was assembled with the tone ring possibly made a few years before 1942.

Jul 31, 2021 - 7:46:08 AM

2707 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by astapleford

Gibson did indeed produce instruments during the WW2 years. I own a 1942 RB75 flathead 5-string I purchased from Mando Bros in 1974. It was shipped to Grinnell Brother Furniture in Kalamazoo September 11, 1942. I have a copy of the shipping ledger of that banjo. It has leaves and bows inlays and the peghead has an RB3 inlay pattern. It has a distinct 30's Mastertone sound and has been my best friend all these years. It was gold plated probably about 1960. The original neck is in need of some repairs since I bought it and shortly after that had a new neck made by Mando Bros in 1977 with H & F inlays and had the neck sized and shaped like the original. It is a joy to play and sounds great. I have a feeling that most of the metal parts were on hand when the instrument was assembled with the tone ring possibly made a few years before 1942.


As the kids would say, "pictures or it didn't happen"  :-)  Seriously, could we see the neck and banjo.  That sounds amazing.  Bet you're glad you pulled the trigger in 1977.  That was a tough time to be spending good money with the economy the way it was.  But what a great decision long term.

Jul 31, 2021 - 8:34:56 AM

12 posts since 1/21/2003

Check out website of "Prewar Gibson Banjos" maintained by Greg Earnest. FON E4370-4.

Aug 1, 2021 - 7:33:26 AM

2887 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Thank you for sharing the proof of banjos being manufactured during the war years. And quite possibly made up by the Gibson girls. Who may have had a hand in its construction. Its piece parts demonstrate how dire WWII was to Gibson operations. I can see how production dwindled to zero as the term Floor-Sweep seems appropriate.

Thank you again for sharing your banjo. This makes John Thomas’s book more realistic.

Aug 1, 2021 - 8:55:38 AM

12 posts since 1/21/2003

My banjo wasn't technically a "floor sweep", considering that it had a stamped FON (serial number) on the peghead. See Jim Mills' book about the floor sweep banjos. The one he shows (Last RB75?) didn't have a FON, but rather a shipping number and date which was attached on the inside the rim. His book is a valuable source of info on the subject. BTW, Jim has seen my banjo up close and personal when I met him at the first ROMP in Owensboro.

Aug 2, 2021 - 3:46:08 AM

2887 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

I am glad Jim Mills considers this legitimate. Some pre-war banjos are considered floor sweeps and owners are glad to have ownership of them. Per Greg Earnst’s assessment, the RB-75 model had Mahogany necks. This 1942 product does not match this specification. It came with a straight grain maple neck, like TB/RB-00 and 01. No volute on the neck is further oddity specific to the neck. Other oddities are described by Greg.

Deviations like this are considered floor sweep models (mixing of model appointments) or finding available parts to fulfill an order. Floor Sweeps monikers are never considered bad.

Keep original parts together. This is one very special FON. It represents a period of our history where gender equality in skill was demonstrated. Jim Thomas’s book validates its existence. Having multiple supporting documentation is the best an owner can have. Thank you again for presenting its existence.

Edited by - Aradobanjo on 08/02/2021 03:47:48

Aug 3, 2021 - 3:35:32 AM

2887 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

My name gets misspelled often. John Thomas wrote the book. “Jim Thomas” is a typo error.

Aug 4, 2021 - 4:56:31 PM

12 posts since 1/21/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Aradobanjo

Hello,

I am glad Jim Mills considers this legitimate. Some pre-war banjos are considered floor sweeps and owners are glad to have ownership of them. Per Greg Earnst’s assessment, the RB-75 model had Mahogany necks. This 1942 product does not match this specification. It came with a straight grain maple neck, like TB/RB-00 and 01. No volute on the neck is further oddity specific to the neck. Other oddities are described by Greg.

Deviations like this are considered floor sweep models (mixing of model appointments) or finding available parts to fulfill an order. Floor Sweeps monikers are never considered bad.

Keep original parts together. This is one very special FON. It represents a period of our history where gender equality in skill was demonstrated. Jim Thomas’s book validates its existence. Having multiple supporting documentation is the best an owner can have. Thank you again for presenting its existence.


Aug 4, 2021 - 5:24:05 PM

12 posts since 1/21/2003

I have to agree with you. I don't disagree with you with regards to "floor sweep" instruments. I am very happy to have this banjo. It is unique, especially with the inlay arrangement. They match the photo of the "Last RB75" layout. Mine has the RB3 headstock, which is one of my favorite inlays. I have all the original components, including the flange...it was bending up on both sides of the neck heel. Original neck is indeed from an RB-00 blank most likely. My newer neck with H&F inlay was made from mahogany. I think that mahogany makes a difference in sound, in my opinion.

You may notice the tailpiece. It was replaced with the one shown probably around the time of the gold plating...1960ish. The original was most likely a Presto. BTW, the tailpiece on my banjo was used on some Gibsons at that time. There is a photo of Pete Wernick playing a banjo with this same tailpiece. He said that banjo was a "Gibson Mastertone" that he received as a High School graduation present! We all should have been so lucky! That photo is in the Masters of the Five-String Banjo book on page 321 in my copy. I assume that was the one he was referring to.

Thanks for your interest.

Aug 5, 2021 - 7:31:02 AM

3913 posts since 3/28/2008

Photos, astapleford ?

Aug 5, 2021 - 7:35:29 AM
likes this

12 posts since 1/21/2003

Go to Greg Earnest's "Prewar Mastertones" site and look up RB75 "E4370-4".

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