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. While large numbers of style 1 banjos were produced with tenor necks, original five-string examples are quite rare.
#170-7 dates to 1932 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) and was heavily modified earlier in its life with multiple holes drilled in the peghead and the rim cut for a raised-head tone ring. The banjo has now been restored by Steve Huber with the fiddle-shaped peghead reshaped to accept an original 1930s “double-cut” style 3 peghead overlay along with the installation of an HR-30 flathead tone ring. Additional style 3 inlays have also been added in place of the original dot inlays at frets 19 and 22.
Here’s a great demonstration of this banjo by owner Dr. Jonathan Finder:
Photos courtesy of Dr. Jonathan Finder.