Gibson TB-5 Mastertone #9029-23, the “Jim Robinson”

Style 5 was included in the original Mastertone line of 1925, one model above the Granada, 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 (1925-1926) or cast raised-head (1927-1929) tone rings.  Ornamentation included multicolored wood purfling, multicolored wood inlay on the back of the peghead, and “smoky pearl” binding.  The peghead was fiddle-shaped, the inlays were wreath pattern and the neck and resonator were walnut.

#9029-23 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) dates to 1928 and remains in excellent original condition with the exception of a replated armrest and replaced tuners (although the original mother-of-pearl tuner buttons remain).  This banjo exhibits constructional details frequently seen on style 5 banjos; although it is equipped with the later knurled resonator thumbscrews, the flange plate has holes to accommodate the earlier small hex-head resonator screws as used in 1925-1926.  The rim also shows evidence of having originally been prepped for a ball-bearing tone ring assembly, with a cap later being installed on top of the rim to accept a forty-hole raised-head tone ring.  Both of these oddities reflect the fact that, as Gibson’s highest-priced banjo of the mid-1920s, style 5 Mastertones were slow movers and consequently style 5 components tended to remain at the factory for long periods of time.

The longtime (and possibly original) owner of #9029-23 was noted tenor banjoist Jim Robinson, whose name is engraved on the armrest.  Mr. Robinson is said to have won the Santos School of Music tenor banjo competition in Rochester, New York in 1936; he can be seen here performing on this banjo at his home in 2001.

Photos courtesy of Tyler Jackson.