Gibson TB-5 Mastertone #8035-10, the “Roger Smith”

Style 5 was the highest-priced model in the original Mastertone line of 1925 and remained in production until about 1929 when it was replaced by style 6.  Style 5 banjos were gold-plated and heavily engraved, with two-piece flanges and either ball-bearing or archtop tone rings.  Ornamentation included multicolored wood purfling, multicolored wood inlay on the back of the peghead, and various types of fancy binding.  The peghead was fiddle-shaped, the inlays were wreath pattern and the neck and resonator were walnut.  The gold-plated Grover tuners featured genuine mother-of-pearl buttons, and the Kerschner tailpiece was engraved “DeLuxe”.

#8035-10 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) is unusual in that its factory order number dates to 1925, at which time all Mastertones featured a ball-bearing tone ring, grooved tension hoop, and flat hooks; this example, however, has the forty-hole archtop tone ring, notched hoop, and round hooks one would associate with a manufacture date of circa 1928.  A horizontal seam visible inside the wooden rim indicates that the rim was likely made for a ball-bearing tone ring and was later reworked at the factory to accept the forty-hole archtop ring.  This factory modification has been seen on other style 5 banjos and suggests that a considerable number of style 5 rims remained at the factory for a few years before finally being assembled into banjos.

This banjo is now set up with a faithful reproduction five-string neck by Frank Neat of Russell Springs, Kentucky.  #8035-10 was previously owned by Roger Smith (July 11, 1926-May 22, 2013), a noted player, teacher, collector, and former member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.  A 2012 interview of Smith by David Hedrick can be seen on YouTube.

Photos courtesy of Lloyd Foote.