Gibson RB-1 #117-7, the “Troy Foster”

A Gibson catalog of the early 1930s described the RB-1 as providing “sparkling, bell-like brilliancy of tone; powerful volume and trueness equalled only by the famous Mastertone models.”  The same catalog claimed that the five-string banjo was “increasingly popular” and that there was “every indication that the future of this instrument will be a glorious one and that those who equip themselves to stand out as accomplished artists with the five-string banjo will profit accordingly.”  Gibson could well be accused of protesting too much, for the fact was that in the early 1930s the popularity of even the four-string banjo was seriously on the wane, and the five-string banjo’s fortunes had never been lower.  Almost the only market remaining for the five-string banjo was among string-band musicians of the rural southeast, and #117-7 belonged to just such a player.  Troy Foster of Wilkesboro, North Carolina performed with his brothers on local radio in the 1930s and 1940s; the banjo has remained in Mr. Foster’s family since his death in the early 1960s.

#117-7 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) dates to 1931 and is a catalog-standard example for the period with dark-finished straight-grain maple, nickel-plated hardware, a fiddle-shaped peghead, fleur-de-lis inlays, a one-piece cast flange, and a small-diameter brass hoop on top of the full-thickness maple rim.  The banjo remains in its original flannel-lined hard case.

Photos courtesy of the family of Troy Foster.