Gibson EPB-150 Electric Plectrum Banjo , c. 1938
Gibson EPB-150 Model Electric Plectrum Banjo, c. 1938, made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 35, tobacco sunburst finish, maple body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, original tweed hard shell case. Item # 7544
Of all the instruments ever built by Gibson, this Electric Plectrum Banjo is one of the most unusual, not to mention one of the rarest. A product of Gibson's burst of enthusiasm for amplified strings just prior to WWII, the EPB-150 never caught the public's fancy, but remains a fascinating early electrictrified artifact and a surprisingly fine musical instrument. This example was likely made around 1938, based on its construction features. The simple two-digit serial number is atypical for Gibson in this period, not date-coded-but this is one of an EXTREMELY limited number of all electric banjos made between 1937-41 many of which carry no number at all. There is also a very small "made in the USA" stamp on the back of the headstock, indicating the instrument was originally shipped out of the US for its first sale. All of 85 electric Tenor ETB-150's were sold-the figure for Plectrum and 5-strings COMBINED is 22, so this really is one of a comparative handful of this model in existence.
While obviously designed with the experienced banjoist in mind, the EPB-150 is not really a banjo at all-the round hollow body is constructed of solid maple and there is no skin head. The sound is the same as an electric plectrum guitar, albeit one with the Charlie Christian pickup in the BRIDGE position, unlike Gibson's contemporary ES-150 models which have 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 in the Spanish (as opposed to Hawaiian) style. The 11" diameter hatbox-sized body is triple bound front and back, made of fancy figured maple with a lovely shaded sunburst on all sides. The metal bridge and tailpiece are chrome plated. The metal bridge saddle contributes to the sharper tone, and the tailpiece is equipped with one of Gibson's odder creations-the "Vibra-Rest" integral vibrato unit, which RAISES the pitch when engaged.
There is a rosewood armrest with inset pearl dots in the usual place on the upper rim. 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 Bakelite radio-style knobs with an engraved arrow pointer-line is black and one brown, to remind you which is tone and which is volume! The 22-fret maple neck is bound with the decorative line on the side, the rosewood fingerboard is inlayed with shaped mother-of-pearl "bowtie" like the contemporary TB-7 banjo. The elaborately shaped headstock is single bound with a pearl Gibson script and deco-style inlay made up of slotted diamonds and a "half-bowtie" side piece. Tuners are "pancake" banjo style marked "Grover Pat." with ivoroid buttons. The original tweed red-striped hardshell case is lined with dark pink plush.
This model was issued in tenor, plectrum and 5-string form; only the tenor was made in any quantity at all. While the long-neck plectrum tuning (C-G-B-D) is not especially commonly today, this EPB with its 26 1/4' scale can be readily tuned to the four top strings of the guitar (D-G-B-E) resulting in an instrument any guitar player can instantly use. It would also useful to the modern 5-string player in open G Bluegrass banjo tuning, although of course without a 5th string. 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 36 1/4 in. (92.1 cm.), 11 1/16 in. (28.1 cm.) diameter, and 3 in. (7.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 26 1/4 in. (667 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/4 in. (32 mm.). All original with some play wear-most notable the large "strum patch" to the top-the next year Gibson put a pickguard on these! There are dings and scrapes overall, and several well-repaired (long ago) top cracks in the solid curly maple cleated from beneath. Still completely solid and uniquely attractive-an excellent playing if eccentric instrument with a sound hot as all get-out, complete with the original deluxe tweed "Aeroplane cloth" case. Excellent - Condition.
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