1930s Gibson RB-00 Resonator 5-String Banjo

It's only very rarely that I get to work on original-neck Gibson 5-strings from the '20s and '30s in the shop. The vast majority made at the time were tenor and plectrum banjos, so most "old Gibson 5-strings" I've played up here are renecked tenor and plectrum rims.

This one's an original Gibson RB-00 and it's all there save for a newer head, old refret job, newer bridge, and the finish on the back of the neck. That looks like it was refinished to a speed-neck natural a long time ago as it's had plenty of time to wear-in to a nice, fast feel with an aged look.

RB-00s are not Mastertones and are relatively plain in construction. It features a thinner-ply rim design and no tonering (just a shaped top to the wooden rim), though it does have a full flange and resonator with binding on the back edge. Originally the back of the neck would have been black with a small amount of sunburst in the same coloration as the rim's back. The neck also has the thin, quick, speedy feel one expects from an old Gibson.

The sound, though -- oh, it's dang good. This has a lot of volume despite having no giant, heavy tonering in it. I've heard plenty of more recent Mastertone-style banjos that wish they had the voice of this fella. It's got that poppy, clean, direct Gibson thing going on that other brands just don't have. Who knows? It's a woody mystery. When you dig-in with fingerpicks there's that delightful burr-snap to the voice that's followed-up with a clean ping. Yes, it can do bluegrass just fine -- but not with the rivet-driving shriek of an overtightened head on a flathead ring.

I played this in a small, socially-distanced jam, recently, and I had to basically play it as quietly as I could so as not to harm my friends' ears. And, yep, it doesn't make your knee go numb from excess weight.

Repairs included: a fret level/dress, restring, and glorified setup.

Setup notes: the neck is straight and it plays slinky and fast with 1/16" action overall at the 12th fret. The truss rod works. Strings are 10s at the moment.

Scale length: 26 3/8"

Nut width: 1 1/8"

String spacing at nut: 7/8"

String spacing at bridge: 1 3/4"

Head diameter: 11"

Resonator diameter: 13 5/8"

Depth overall at rim: 3 1/4"

Rim wood: maple

Fretboard: rosewood, thin

Bridge: ebony/maple compensated

Neck feel: slim C-shape, flat board

Neck wood: maple

Weight: 7 lb 3 oz

Condition notes: the back of the neck was refinished to natural a long time ago but the rest of the finish is original throughout. The resonator has the nice weather-check you'd expect to see. Like many RB-00s, it doesn't have any serial number or factory order number, but it dates to the late '30s or early '40s at the latest. The head, bridge, and frets are newer. The 5th peg button and set screw look like replacements or slightly-modified. Someone installed railroad spikes at 2 and 4 but they were a sloppy install so I removed them and plugged the holes. I can install spikes if desired. The resonator is slightly out-of-round right at the heel-pocket but it's not obvious.

It comes with: a good hard case.






















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