Gibson RB-1 #EA-5316

The style 1 of the 1930s was a non-Mastertone model and therefore had no true tone ring, but otherwise it featured the same basic construction as the higher-priced Mastertone models, with a three-ply maple rim and one-piece flange.  The fiddle-shaped peghead that had been used on the Masterones of the 1920s was retained on the style 1, although with a minor modification; the small indentations under the first- and fourth-string tuners of the 1920s banjos were absent on the style 1 peghead.  This example, a rare original five-string dating to circa 1939, features the “fleur-de-lis” inlay pattern that, at least in catalog illustrations, had been discontinued by that time in favor of simple dot inlays.  The serial number is stamped on the back of the peghead as was standard Gibson practice by this time; the letter prefix “E” indicates a production date of 1939.  Original Gibson shipping ledgers reveal that #EA-5316 was shipped on September 5, 1939 to Jones Furniture Company; two other RB-1s were shipped the same day.

Owner Randy Lucas tells us more:

“About a year and half ago. . . I was at home and  the telephone rang.  I wasn’t in the market to purchase a banjo, but a friend of mine told me that another musician that I also knew at the time had a banjo for sale. . .  I asked what it was and he told me that it was a 1939 RB-1.  At the time, I’m not sure if I had even seen an original RB-1 five-string banjo except for a few photos, but never one in person, in the flesh. . . the more I played it, the more I realized that I had never played a banjo that sounded like this.  I have never actually owned any other prewar Gibson banjos beside the RB-1 and the RB-3.  I have played prewar Granadas, a few original five-string 75‘s, flathead 3‘s, an original RB-6 and even Snuffy’s RB-4 and so I have somewhat of a reference point of what the mystique and excitement is about these old banjos. As far as tone and power this RB-1 sounds better than any banjo that I have ever played, including Snuffy’s banjo.  I never thought that a banjo without a flathead tone ring could sound like this.  I feel so fortunate and blessed every time I play this banjo. . .”

Photos courtesy of Randy Lucas.