Gibson RB-1 #213-10

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 it’s therefore not surprising that RB-1 #213-10, dating to 1930 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers), surfaced in 2020 in Reidsville, North Carolina; the banjo is reported to have spent most of its life to date in the Burlington, North Carolina area, where it was played in church for decades.

The style 1, priced at $50, was a mainstay of Gibson’s lower-priced non-Mastertone banjo line of the 1930s.  Style 1 had nickel-plated hardware and a dark-finished maple neck and resonator, with white binding on the neck and both edges of the resonator.  The fiddle-shaped peghead of the 1920s Mastertone line was retained on the style 1, with a slight simplification in shape; the rosewood fingerboard was normally inlaid with a fleur-de-lis inlay pattern which is also known by such varying names as “gulls” and “flying birds”.

Photos courtesy of Corbin Hayslett.