A Gibson catalog of the 1930s promised that the RB-1 offered “sparkling, bell-like brilliancy of tone” along with “powerful volume and trueness equalled only by the famous Mastertone models”. This example dates to 1939 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) and was originally exported to South Africa; the back of the peghead bears the “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp typical of export instruments and the inside of the resonator features both a “Made in U.S.A.” export sticker and the yellow sticker of Gibson’s leading South African retailer of the time, H. Polliack and Co., Ltd.
The lack of a handstop, Kluson tuners with Catalin buttons, and horizontal “Gibson” logo are all features characteristic of late 1930s Gibson banjos; although many style 1 banjos began featuring simple dot fingerboard inlays as early as 1936 (see RB-1 #919-5), this example retains the “fleur-de-lis” inlay pattern more commonly associated with the model. As was common practice in this period, this banjo is marked with a true serial number stamped on the back of the peghead; the numeric portion of the serial number is also written in chalk inside the resonator.
While #EA-5317 does not appear in Gibson’s original shipping ledgers, an entry for October 20, 1939 does list RB-1 #EA-5312 and RB-1 #EA-5315 being sent to Polliack. There is a high probability that #EA-5317 was also shipped to Polliack on that day but was not duly recorded due to a shipping clerk’s error. This banjo remains in exceptionally clean, original condition with its #521 case by Geib. The original Grover “first model” or “window” tailpiece remains with the banjo but has been replaced with an original five-string Presto.
Photos courtesy of Don Bryant.