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; it’s especially unusual, then, that this 1932 RB-1 founds its way into the hands of M. Campbell Lorini, a resident of New York state.
Mr. Lorini was born about 1890 and died in the early 1960s; he served as an infantry lieutenant in France in World War I, volunteered for duty again during World War II, serving stateside, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Lorini at one time owned a piano company and was also involved in antiques, co-writing a book in 1949 on the restoration of antique furniture. His grandson recalls that Mr. Lorini’s “musical taste seemed to run to turn-of-the-last-centruy pop tunes.” A song list in the case contains titles such as “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose“, “Valencia“, and “Wild Irish Rose“, some of which are also faintly written in pencil on the banjo’s calfskin head.
#213-4 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) is a catalog-standard RB-1 for the period and remains in excellent original condition including its “red-line” #521 Geib and Schaefer case. The factory order number is written twice inside the resonator, stamped inside the rim, and penciled on the neck heel. There is evidence of an old and well-done repair to the peghead which involved the replacement of the bottom portion of the peghead overlay.
Here are a couple of sound samples of this original five-string prewar Gibson banjo in as-found condition: