Gibson RB-1 #87-3, The “Grace Attfield”

The style 1 of the 1930s was a non-Mastertone model and therefore had no true tone ring–only a small-diameter brass hoop on top of the rim.  It did, however, feature the same pot metal one-piece flange and three-ply maple rim as the Mastertones of the same period.  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.  Even though the Mastertone models had by this time gone to the double-cut peghead shape, the fiddle-shaped peghead was retained on style 1, with a minor modification–the two small indentations normally found under the fourth- and first-string tuners were absent.  The rosewood fingerboard was inlaid with a fleur-de-lis inlay pattern which is also known by such varying names as “bats” and “flying birds”; in the late 1930s, this inlay pattern was replaced on style 1 by a simple dot pattern, although the “inverted bud” peghead inlay remained (see TB-1 #1115-3, the “Bert Johnson”).  Style 1 banjos have an oval “The Gibson” label inside the rim which is similar to the Mastertone label found on the higher models. 

This is a rare original five-string RB-1 in a remarkable state of preservation.  Owner Tim Mullins tells us about it:

“I got this through eBay. It came out of Canada. The woman who owned it, Grace Attfield (her maiden and stage name), bought it new in Victoria B.C. She toured in B.C. and to Hollywood. She later had a dance and music studio. She got married in the early 1940’s and put the banjo up. Grace’s grandson was the seller–she had died in about 2001.

As you can see, it is an RB-1 with gull inlays, factory order # 87-3 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers), with the export stamp & sticker. When I got it, it had the original two-footed five-string bridge, wrench, instructions, broken skin head, strings, original case and key, and a flatpick. The tailpiece was broken, but with it. I found a perfect replacement Grover window tailpiece through Dave at Turtle Hill. I have put in two spikes and it now has a Snuffy bridge and a Remo head. Everything else is original and near mint. I gigged with it with our band. It takes a little getting used to, with the tuners, no side dots, skinny frets and the strings are very close together at the peghead. It sounds great!”

It does indeed sound great, as this sound sample will attest:

Photos courtesy of Tim Mullins.