The prewar flathead five-string RB-3 could be considered the classic bluegrass banjo; Rudy Lyle, J.D. Crowe and Sonny Osborne are among the legendary players who established their reputations on flathead RB-3s from the 1930s.
This is one of the most sought-after of all prewar Gibson banjos–an original flathead five-string RB-3 with a one-piece flange and the rare wreath inlay pattern. The majority of 1930s style 3 banjos had leaves and bows inlays, while a few featured the flying eagle pattern and a handful were made with the wreath pattern. It has been speculated that this small run of wreath-inlay style 3s was prompted by Gibson’s desire to use up inlays left over after the discontinuation of style 5, on which wreath inlays had been standard. Early Monroe banjo player Rudy Lyle played an RB-3 identical to this one.
Aside from the inlays and tone ring, this banjo conforms to standard catalog specifications for the style 3 of the period. The wood is mahogany, with two white/black/white purfling rings on the back of the resonator and single white binding. The hardware is nickel-plated and the tailpiece is the original Grover Presto. The first, second, third and fourth string tuners are Grovers, while the original friction fifth-string peg has been replaced by a geared tuner. The rim is three-ply maple with a high-profile twenty-hole flathead tone ring weighing exactly three pounds. The peghead is double-cut.
This banjo was formerly owned by noted banjoist John Hickman, whose name appears on a metal plate attached to the original hardshell case.
Photos courtesy of an anonymous owner.