"Ukulele Banjos - Joyous and Practical. Glorious good times … social popularity … fun a'plenty … what more could one ask .… even from a genuine Gibson Ukulele-Banjo?"
So reads the enticing headline in a Gibson banjo catalog from the late 1920s, and it certainly speaks to the times. The ad goes on to say, "But, there is more… these instruments are so accurate… so sweet in tonal quality… so great in volume that they offer money-making opportunities in vaudeville, radio and recording for those whose desires turn in this direction." It ends by pointing out that they are "Endowed with the same attributes which have made famous the Gibson Mastertone and Custom-Built Banjos."
Gibson hardly needs an introduction to anyone even casually interested in musical instruments. Founded by Orville Gibson in 1896 the company, which was located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, grew to become a household word. However, they didn't start manufacturing banjos until 1918, and it wasn't until 1924 that they introduced their banjo ukulele.
That first Gibson banjo uke - designated UB -- was a "trapdoor" model. It had a 9" head, and was made of maple with a natural finish. The back was hinged, so it could be opened to project the sound out. During this time the regular Gibson banjos were also of the "trapdoor" design. Although there are two varieties, differing primarily in the shape of the peghead, the "trapdoor" model was only produced for a short period of time; probably less than two years.
Click Here to read Steve Shelton's thoughts on the UB banjo uke.
The first Gibson banjo uke, designated UB, was a "trapdoor" model.
Gibson then started manufacturing a more conventional line of banjo ukes. The least expensive, designated UB-1, has a 6" head and a flat, flush-fit resonator that attaches to the rim with four screws. There are metal spacers through the screws so there is a space between the resonator and the rim.
The UB-1, with its 6" pot, is often referred to as the "Baby Gibson."
The UB-2 is similar in construction to the UB-1, but with an 8" rim and more brackets.
The head on this UB-2 reads, in blue letters, "Ludwig USA WeatherMaster Pat. No. RE26,415 TA - PRACTICE PAD db-750."
We now come to the UB-3 and this is where things get a bit confusing, because there are actually two very different instruments having that designation. The first type is similar to the UB-2, but with fancy peghead and fingerboard inlays which are similar to those found on the style 3 Mastertone banjos of the late 1920s. I have seen this model referred to as the UB-2 Deluxe, no doubt to distinguish it from the later version of the UB-3.
Here's the first type of UB-3. On this example, "The Gibson" is in two straight lines. Others have the words in two slanted lines, with a diamond inlay above and a fleur-de-lis below. The fingerboard inlays are the same on each variety.
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