Let’s take apart a prewar flathead Mastertone!

Most owners of original prewar flathead Mastertones are understandably reluctant to take them apart. . . once the banjo has settled in, why take chances by messing with it?  In the fall of 2009 I had the opportunity, with my good friend Mark Bramlett, expert luthier of Woodstock, Georgia, to disassemble and clean up PB-3 Mastertone #66-2, which had been under a bed and unplayed since the mid-1970s.  I thought you might like to take a look:

It looked as if it had been a long time, if ever, since the neck had been removed.

The flange is remarkably flat, not showing even the normal slight pulling up on either side of the neck cutout.

The neck heel shows no signs of alteration.  The factory order number is stamped on the back of the peghead, so there was no need to write it on the heel as had been done in earlier years.  The original fingerboard shows the correct prewar thickness of 1/8″.

The tone-ring-to-rim fit on this banjo is what many regard as perfect.  The rim and ring assembly could be inverted on the workbench and picked up by the rim with the tone ring remaining in place; one shake was all that was needed for the tone ring to fall off onto the (well-padded) workbench.

The positioning of the twenty tone-ring holes relative to the rim appears to have been totally random.  While this banjo has a hole directly above the “m” in “Mastertone”, littermate #66-5 has holes over the “b” in “Gibson” and the “e” in “Mastertone”.

In common with many players of his generation, Earl Collins (June 24, 1915–May 18, 1988) safeguarded his banjo by marking it with his name in an inconspicuous place.

While some later prewar tone rings were buffed on the inside face as well as the outside face, this ring retains the machining marks on its inner surface.  The edges of the holes have noticeable burrs, in contrast to the more finely-done holes in most modern tone rings.

The top of the tone ring exhibits some pitting and loss of the nickel plating, likely due to moisture from newly-installed calfskin heads early in the banjo’s life.

Machining marks and burrs at the edges of the holes are also visible inside the tone ring.  This ring weighs three pounds, two ounces.

The presence of stain on top of the rim indicates that this rim was intended from the start for a flathead tone ring, rather than originally being made for an archtop ring and then modified at the factory.

The Mastertone label was applied slightly lower, as was often done on top-tensions, with the lower part of the label curving around the bottom of the rim.

The top of the rim appears nice and tight, with no evidence of voids or delaminations.

Keeping all the hooks and nuts in order may be a little on the compulsive side, but why not?

With a new head installed and everything cleaned and back together, the banjo is ready to wake up after its long “hibernation”.