Gibson PB-4 Mastertone #9639-5, the “Ralph Marquardt”

The style 4 inspired some enthusiastic prose from Gibson in its 1931 catalog: 

“Rich, radiant beauty is the key-note of this instrument both in tone and appearance.  It is the materialization of the dreams of the most distinguished artist, yet it is not too costly. . . The finish is a beautiful, compelling, Burl Walnut–hand-rubbed to the point of sparkling iridescence.  All metal parts Chromium plated, the best wearing plate known to science”.

Lot #9639 was manufactured circa late 1930 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) and consisted of a mixture of tenor, plectrum and five-string style 4 Mastertone banjos, including the RB-4 played by three-finger pioneer Snuffy Jenkins as well as this beautiful plectrum banjo.  In keeping with standard specifications for the style 4 of the period, the wood is walnut and the hardware is chrome-plated, giving the metal a bluish appearance as opposed to the more commonly used nickel plating.  The back of the resonator features dramatic burl grain and two rings of multicolored parquetry.  The flange is one-piece and the tone ring is an original high-profile flathead.  The peghead is double-cut and the inlay pattern is hearts and flowers, although most style 4 banjos of the period had the flying eagle pattern as seen on #9554-5.  The placement of the inlays on this instrument is also unusual, with the Mastertone block at the fifteenth fret as on the small run of wreath-inlay style 3 banjos such as #9528-3

This banjo is in fully original, excellent condition.  The original owner was Ralph Marquardt (July 6, 1921–January 29, 1993), who wrote his name and address on the uncut Mastertone label; the instrument is accompanied by its original case, maintenance instruction sheet, and price tag.

The Ralph Marquardt banjo presents something of a mystery for prewar Gibson banjo scholars in that another PB-4 Mastertone exists with the same factory order number stamped in the rim; the other PB-4 Mastertone #9639-5 features two factory order numbers, #9525-8 and #9639-5, written inside the resonator.  Gibson factory records list the shipment of PB-4 Mastertone #9639-5 to Clark Music (location unknown) on April 10, 1935 and the shipment of PB-4 Mastertone #9525-8 to the Henton-Knecht Music Company of Philadephia, Pennsylvania on July 10, 1936; it is not known to which PB-4 Mastertone #9639-5 the April 10, 1935 shipping ledger entry refers.

Photos courtesy of Elderly Instruments and Kendall Marquardt.