The Other Brands of Gibson
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From 1926 through 1970, Gibson guitars made over 40 different brands and over 300 different models of instruments that didn't carry the Gibson name. The vast majority of the "budget brands" were made during The Great Depression. They include names like Bellson, B&S Barrington, Oriole, Cromwell, Kalamazoo, Ambassador, Capital, Carson Robison, Ray Whitley, Andy Sannella, Fascinator, Francis Day & Hunter, Grinnell, Hayden, Kel Kroydon, Martelle, Marshall Special, Henry L. Mason, Mastertone Special, Mitchell Brothers, Old Kraftsman (Spiegel), Montgomery Wards/Recording King, Reznick Radio Special, S.S. Stewart, Trujo & Truett, Washburn, and Werlein Leader. Gibson also supplied many guitar components for National/Valco. Here is the most complete collection of all of the known "budget brands" including descriptions, catalog illustrations, shipping ledgers entries, and photographs of existing instruments. New brands keep popping up all the time with names like Joe C. Sapp, Morris King, Marlin Conrad Studios, Levy-Page, Liberty, B&S Barrington, Pifer, Robinson, Clark, Concentino and Forbes Radio Special that were all recently discovered. It is almost certain that more budget brands have yet to be discovered.
Oriole - 1925-1929
The "Oriole" brand banjos Gibson built in the 1920s are the very first Gibson-made “budget brand” instruments. In 2015, two very rare Oriole brochures were discovered confirming that Gibson first introduced this brand in 1925. Gibson did not have a model number for Oriole banjos, but the brochures provide detailed specifications, including a change from a 10 1/2" rim in 1925, to an 11" rim in 1926, which they also did to the lower-priced Gibson models like the TB-0. A brief mention of it also appeared in a 1926 J.W. Jenkins retail catalog for $27.50, which was even less expensive than Gibson’s entry-level TB-0 tenor banjo at $35.00. Based on surviving examples, Gibson's brochure stated that "the Oriole provides a perfectly adequate instrument to learn on," as it was intended as a "beginner-students" instrument. The Oriole name was used later on certain models of the Kalamazoo line, but it's unclear if it had any relationship the original use of this brand name. The Oriole banjos did not appear in J.W. Jenkins 1930 catalog, so it is pretty clear that they were discontinued in 1929. Some extant instruments have surfaced with ornate metal resonators, but it's likely that these resonators are not original.
Oriole Tenor Banjo - 1926-1929
Small 10 ½” rim (1925) 11" rim (1926-29)
Laminated maple rim
Satin London Grey finish (1925)
Antique mahogany finish (1926-29)
21” scale length - 18 frets
"Ebonized” fingerboard with inlaid pearl dot markers
22 nickel-plated brackets
Nickel "cloud" tailpiece
Pointy top peghead shape similar to the Gibson TB-0
"Oriole" logo with fleur-de-lis stenciled design on peghead