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. Style 1 banjos have an oval “The Gibson” label inside the rim which is similar to the Mastertone label found on the higher models.
#311-15 dates to 1935 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers). Owner Jim Sweeney of Pennsylvania acquired this banjo in April 1982. “It was”, he tells us, “basically original with the exception of a plastic head and was in very good condition. I spent over 200 hours that summer building a five-string neck with parts that I bought from Bucks County Folk Music nearby. I also removed the brass tone hoop and Bucks machined the rim for a “Buck” flathead tone ring in which I drilled twenty holes”.
Photos courtesy of Jim Sweeney.