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We will start with the pre war Gibson banjo. This means that these banjos were made prior to 1947. The models during this time frame were the RB-1, (Straight Maple) RB-2, (Walnut) RB-3, (Mahogany), RB-75 (Mahogany) RB-4 (Burl Walnut) and the Granada (Curly Maple). These were also available in Tenor & Plectrum as well. which would be TB for Tenor and PB for Plectrum. They were produced with two different tone ring styles, the arch top (raised head) and the highly sought after flat head.
Metal was in short supply during World War II, so production was suspended during this time, although a small number of banjos were produced using the parts already made. Also in April 1947 Gibson changed their logo from script to block lettering for identification purposes. This was also the beginning of the Bowtie banjos, which lasted until 1969, but with a peg head change in 1968. The Bowtie banjos were available in arch top or flat head, and some of the flat head tone rings had 20 holes and some had 19 holes. Also the resonators were sunburst with concentric rings.
After this period Gibson reverted back to the two-piece flange banjo that they had used prior to 1930. These banjos are not favored as much as the one piece flange models. This lasted until the mid 1980’s.
In 1988 Gibson started the one-piece flange models again. Between 1988 and 1994 the banjos are referred to as the Greg Rich era banjos. This design remained in place until Gibson stopped banjo production right after the flood of the Cumberland River in 2010.
The models during this time frame include the RB-250, RB-3, RB-75 (JD Crowe), The Earl Scruggs Standard, RB-4, Granada, and the RB-7, RB-12, & RB-18, which are top tension models. They also had some specialty models like the RB-5 and RB-6, Earl Scruggs deluxe and the Blackjack Model.
The inlay patterns on these banjos were the RB-250 with leaves and bows, the RB-3 was available with the wreath pattern, leaves and bows and the flying eagle Reno pattern. The RB-75 (Crowe) had the flying eagle pattern, the RB-4 had the flying eagle pattern, the Earl Scruggs Model had hearts and flowers (also had an ebony fret board). The Granada was available with flying eagle or hearts and flowers. All had rosewood fret boards except the Scruggs model.
The Gibson banjo has had a strong legacy with bluegrass musicians. It seems that when you attend a bluegrass festival or convention, mostly what you seen are Gibson banjos or Gibson look a like banjos.
There are many Gibson look a like banjos. Many built by very good builders, and some have the Gibson logo and some have the builder’s name. Also, you can find some that are not so good.
Many other companies with slight changes have copied Gibson here and there. There is probably more Gibson style banjos made by other builders than any other banjo style.