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. The fiddle-shaped peghead was retained on the style 1 even though the Mastertone models had by this time gone to the double-cut peghead shape. The rosewood fingerboard was normally inlaid with a fleur-de-lis inlay pattern which is also known by such varying names as “bats” and “flying birds”; however, other inlay patterns are sometimes seen on style 1 banjos and this example features the pattern that had been used on style 2 banjos of the 1920s and on the Nick Lucas artist model guitar. Style 1 banjos have an oval “The Gibson” label inside the rim which is similar to the Mastertone label found on the higher models.
#9545-44 was owned for many years by Peter J. Eelman of Bristol, Pennsylvania. Mr. Eelman’s son gives us the history of his father’s involvement with the banjo:
“My father was born in 1900 and was always interested in music, but didn’t have much chance to learn. While in the Dutch Merchant Marine in Indonesia (1916–1920) he picked up a banjo-mandolin and proceeded to teach himself to play. During the Second World War my mother worked with a widow who wanted to sell her husband’s Gibson banjo. Mom bought it as a present for Dad and he played it on and off for the rest of his life. He only ever played plain melody on it, sometimes up to two strings at a time, and picked out all his old favorite tunes. He took it with him when he went to the home due to his Alzheimer’s and often played for the other people there. He never lost the ability to pick out a tune. Dad died in 1987 and I have had it ever since.”
Photos courtesy of the family of Peter J. Eelman.