Gibson RB-75 Mastertone #EG-4121, the “William R. Perry”

Gibson introduced the RB-75 Mastertone in 1937; the company’s catalog of that year described their five-string, or “regular”, banjo offerings as representing “The ‘old time’ banjo brought up to date by Gibson” and claimed that “this instrument is the most beautiful of all banjos in the hands of an artist”, with the player provided “extra twang and ring in a Gibson Regular Banjo because of the special tone chamber”.  The “special tone chamber” to which the catalog referred was in fact the flathead tone ring which Gibson had adopted on its five-string and plectrum Mastertone models beginning in 1929.

#EG-4121 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) was originally shipped from the Gibson factory on July 11, 1939 to the Grossman Music Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  The banjo was evidently returned unsold by Grossman and was shipped again on October 9, 1939 to the Levy-Page Company, a music store in Norfolk, Virginia; it was bought there on October 14, 1939 by William R. Perry of Newport News, Virginia.  Mr. Perry’s son recalls that “my father played that banjo every day of his life and if spirits can stay where they want, I know he will visit from time to time to keep watch over it.”

After the introduction of the three new top-tension Mastertone models in 1937, style 75 was the only conventional Mastertone remaining in production; as such, it gave Gibson an opportunity to use up surplus components from various discontinued models.  Like a small number of other style 75 banjos shipped in 1939, #EG-4121 features an original Granada-engraved armrest (see TB-75 Mastertone #EA-5337, TB-75 Mastertone #EG-3115, PB-75 Mastertone #EG-4061, and TB-75 Mastertone #EG-7413).  Even more usually, this armrest is chrome-plated while the rest of the banjo’s hardware features the standard style 75 nickel plating.

This banjo shows evidence of Mr. Perry’s extensive use over the years with enlarged tone ring holes, refinished neck and resonator, a repaired resonator crack and heel crack, replaced tuners, replacement prewar armrest, and replacement fingerboard by Frank Neat.  These alterations have not diminished this banjo’s powerful flathead tone, as can be heard in the sound samples below.  #EG-4121 remains in its original #521 Geib case, repainted and relined by Mr. Perry.  The inside of the resonator is covered in pencil notations by Mr. Perry giving the history of his ownership of the banjo.

Photos courtesy of an anonymous owner.  Shipping ledger information courtesy of Joe Spann.