1956 Gibson BR-6B
The BR-6 was Gibson’s mid-line lap steel in the late 1940s and 1950s. Listed at $99.50 in the mid ‘50s, it was more ornate than the student-oriented BR-9 and Skylark models but less flashy than the more expensive Royaltone, Century and Ultratone. Introduced in 1946 with a black body and exposed pickup, the BR-6 was redesigned a couple of years later with a bound mahogany body finished in sunburst with a gold plastic fixture that served as a control panel and hand rest.
Gibson did a fair amount of experimentation and custom work on their steel line in the 1950s. Console models that were nominally double-necks sometimes turn up with a third neck. Extra strings sometimes turn up on models that were nominally only built with six. There were even a few mass-produced model variations attested in shipping records that never appeared in catalogs or price lists. One of these variations was the BR-6B, of which 77 were shipped between 1956 and 1959.
Folks have speculated what the “B” denoted, and a few sources speculate that it was a return to the black finish of the BR-6’s first design. However, a few BR-6s have turned up over the years with a blonde finish and black trim – like my new acquisition – so it’s now pretty certain that this is the BR-6B. Functionally, it’s like the standard BR-6 of its time, with a mahogany body and P90 pickup. Aesthetically, the creamy finish, black binding and matching control plate give it something of a “tuxedo” effect. The P90 gives a brighter tone than the non-adjustable pickup used on most Gibson steels into the early ‘50s. As such, I find this is a better rock and roll instrument but not as well-suited to Hawaiian music as earlier Gibson steels.