Gibson ETB-150 Electric Tenor Banjo (1940)

Gibson  ETB-150 Electric Tenor Banjo  (1940)

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Item # 500
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Gibson ETB-150 Model Electric Tenor Banjo (1940), made in USA, tobacco sunburst finish, maple body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, tweed original hard shell case.

Of all the instruments ever built by Gibson, the Electric Tenor Banjo is one of the most unusual, not to mention rare. A product of Gibson's burst of enthusiasm for amplified strings just prior to WWII, the ETB-150 never caught the public's fancy, but remains a fascinating artifact and a surprisingly fine musical instrument. This example was made in 1940, one of a very limited number made between 1937-41. While obviously designed with the tenor banjo player in mind, the ETB-150 is not really a banjo at all -- the round hollow body is solid maple and there is no skin head.

The sound is the same as a tenor guitar, albeit a tenor guitar with the Charlie Christian pickup in the BRIDGE position, unlike Gibson's contemporary ETG-150 which has only a neck position pickup. The small nearly solid body and pickup location result in one of the hottest-sounding prewar electric instruments ever made -- at least of those played Spanish (as opposed to Hawaiian) style.

The 11" diameter body is triple bound front and back, sunburst on all sides. The pickguard is fire-stripe tortoise celluloid and the metal bridge and tailpiece are chrome plated. The metal bridge saddle contributes to the sharper tone, and the tailpiece is equipped with an integral vibrato unit. There is a rosewood armrest with inset pearl dots in the usual place.

The electronic components are somewhat unusually located, however -- the jack is on the treble side near the neck, and the tone and volume knobs are in the mirror location on the bass side. The knobs are fluted brown Bakelite radio-style knobs with an engraved arrow pointer. The 20-fret maple neck is bound with the decorative line on the side, and the rosewood fingerboard is inlaid with shaped mother-of-pearl blocks like a TB-18 banjo. The elaborately-shaped headstock is triple bound with a pearl Gibson script and Deco block inlay. Tuners are "pancake" banjo style marked "Grover Pat." with ivoroid buttons. The original tweed red-striped hardshell case is lined with green felt.

All in all this is a perfect, supremely collectible example of Gibson at their most experimental, and a unique musical instrument whose potential has perhaps never been fully explored.
Overall length is 33.5 in. (85.1 cm.), 11 in. (27.9 cm.) diameter, and 3 in. (7.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 20.75 in. (527 mm.).

Overall condition nearly flawless, with only the most minor signs of wear. A few small dings to the top and sides, very light fret wear. Finish still shiny, chrome excellent. Original case also nearly perfect; even the tweed-covered handle is fully intact.