Visit Instant Bluegrass by Acutab

 All Forums
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 Banjo Building, Setup, and Repair
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Gibson re-issue "Mastertone" tone ring: need info

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link.


buffalograss - Posted - 10/16/2009:  21:28:02

I would appreciate some input from anyone who has pretty good knowledge of the "Mastertone" rings used in Gibson banjos.........

Apparently, from my web search, Gibson introduced "re-issue" models around 2004-05. Those "re-issue" models included the ES Standard, RB 250, and the RB that was upgraded with a ring and re-named the "RB Deluxe" . The specs show that the ESS is installed with a Kulesh ring but the RB 250 and RB Deluxe were installed with a "Mastertone ring". The promo literature describes the "Mastertone ring" as a "1930's vintage reissue bell bronze tone ring."

Since I am not an expert about rings the term "Mastertone ring" sounds fairly nondescript and vague. I would assume that Gibson could purchase this ring from any number of outside foundries according to their specs but I am told that Gibson may source this ring from a supplier near to the Nashville area.

This is an open ended invitation for any tone characteristics, metalurgy, ring-to-rim fit recommendations, suppliers, etc. ......

....hey guys....thanks for your replies....Bryce

BobbyE - Posted - 10/16/2009:  23:05:50

There are people on here who know more than I do about Gibson but your definition of 'reissue' mgith need to be clarified. I am sure that the 'general' reissue Gibson's started well before 2004. By that I mean that Gibson made a decision to drastically do what was necessary to upgrade their 'Mastertone' model banjos to previous quality specs. By previous I am talking of what is considered pre World War II. I don't have the latest catalogs from vendors but the ones that I do have that are a couple of year old still refer to these banjos as reissues or that 'they come with the reissue tone ring.' The other aspect of 'reissue' with Gibson is that the general 'reissue' of the Granada, RB3, ES standard,etc. was so positive that they began to reissue other models later that were not included previously back in the late 1980s (around 1988 is the best my mind will land on). The dates you are using sound to me like they refer to the latter term of 'reissue' if the dates are correct. Again the first reissue started well before 2004. Stay tuned, I am sure others will provide more info and insight.

Bobby Elliott

"found a few chords on the banjo is the key to life." Vince Gill

Robin Smith Timeless Timber-Walnut-Wreath in Ebony
Deering Golden Era

BvilleDon - Posted - 10/16/2009:  23:38:35

John Miller "NDJohn" can give you all the information you are seeking in the most precise manner. I am sure you can find his knowledge on this subject by doing a search of his postings on the hangout.


buffalograss - Posted - 10/17/2009:  04:44:07

Thanks Bobby and Don.....Yes Don, following your suggestion I did contact NDJohn alerting him to this posting.

I am still very interested in more specifics regarding the "Mastertone" tone ring but my interest in general about the "re-issues models" is broadening my scope of curiosity.

It appears that there may be two definitions of "re-issue". First, there's the Gibson catalog use of the term "re-issue", then there seems to be the banjo community's use of the term "re-issue". Due to my limited knowledge about the subject I originally was referring to the "re-issue" of the RB Deluxe in 2005. I believe the production of the Deluxe was shut down in 2008 due to price point vs. actual production cost.

The fleur-de-lis inlay pattern on the Deluxe peghead I also find interesting due to the French derivation. Is there some reason for including this inlay pattern?

Although the RB Deluxe is a natural blond unit it was marketed as being less ornate but having the same "qualities" as the RB 250 and ESS - there's where the "Mastertone" ring comes in - I'm still interested in the specifics about that ring if anyone can comment.

There is little to none information on the net regarding this model. Does anyone have any idea how many of the Deluxe's were produced in their short run?

Any other information would be welcome. Thanks to all. Bryce

rb4player - Posted - 10/17/2009:  04:58:08

Promotional literature is not worth considering too carefully when it comes to Gibson. I think their use of the label "Mastertone" ring simply refers to the fact that on the later RB model they added a standard, high-profile flathead ring of the type they used on their Mastertone-type banjos rather than the solid hoop they may have used on an earlier RB model. The identity of specific rings used has varied tremendously over the years with Gibson, and even when there were specific banjo-ring combinations intended (Scruggs/Kulesh, RB-75/Crowe?) models escaped from the factory over the years with other tone rings.

There are plenty of voices here who know all the gritty details on this stuff. I haven't paid enough attention to discussions of recent banjos to give better information.


RB100 - Posted - 10/17/2009:  05:08:46

Welcome to the club! I am certainly a 'hobbyist' with banjos at best, however, perhaps I can point you in a couple of directions so that you can fill in the gaps and find the info you are looking for...

1. Gibson banjos have a long and storied history. The best place that I know to start is going to be Greg Earnest's Prewar site. It gives lots of photos and histories of many of these wonderful old instruments in addition to links for great detail of the history and serial numbers, etc of Gibson banjos - the entire history.

2. Re-issues of some of the above banjos began to be produced in the early to mid-80s. These were primarily Mastertone models, i.e. heavy tone ring bluegrass models. However, in the early 90s, the RB-1 re-issues were built for a 3-4 year time period. Please check this link for info on those.

3. The RB of the last few years is a "strange duck"...not quite sure if it could be called a re-issue, since there was not (to my knowledge and I could very well be wrong) an original RB from an earlier period. It started off somewhat like the non-mastertone models using a simple 1/4" rolled brass tone hoop and then was later changed to the heavy (app. 3 lb) mastertone tone ring.

Other more knowledgeable historians will pick up from here...enjoy the ride!


"I've been to Georgia on a fast train..." Shaver

North Georgia Bluegrass Chronicles

Kevin B - Posted - 10/17/2009:  05:12:49

If you do a search on Gibson Mystery ring you should find a bunch of stuff if it is still archived. It would be under the Building Setup Section and also under Shopping Advice. The foundry is in those post (Precision Moulding or Manufacturing [PM]) as well as many opinions. My 2003 RB250 has the Kulesh ring from the factory. See the "Forum Search" button, top tab above. Hope this helps.

Kevin ( )=='=~

'Possum, It's what's for dinner . . ."

Edited by - Kevin B on 10/17/2009 08:58:49

NDJohn - Posted - 10/17/2009:  06:48:43


Though BvilleDon's compliment to my knowledge is certainly overblown, I can confirm what Kevin has posted. It is my understanding that there have been three modern Gibson rings in common use--the Kulesh rings manufactured by Rick Kulesh, the "Crowe-formula" rings by FQ, and the so-called "mystery" rings by Precision Molders. The modern Kulesh is identifiable by the stylized R K over W logo and a serial number (Richard Kulesh Sr.'s rings had a stylized AFP [Anti-Friction Products] logo). The Crowe rings have the Gibson logo and 4-digit serial. The "mystery" ring is presumably called that because it has no markings. Each type has different weights and taptones.

The following thread contains some excellent information by many folks:



John Miller or

BvilleDon - Posted - 10/17/2009:  14:53:11


I wasn't trying to overblow your knowledge. I just knew what I knew about the rings, but did not trust my stroke addled brain to be able to state succinctly what I knew you could so do! Also, what I do know, I learned from reading and following up on your posts. Hope I did not offend, as that was not my intention. When I am in better shape, financially and logistically, I hope you won't mind me asking you some questions about ring possibilities for my own use. There are folks on here you learn to trust. I do apologize for throwing something your way without asking you first. I did not want to post a thread when it might not be the best one for the info requested

On a somewhat related point, I know that some are dissatisfied with having a mystery ring in their Gibson (if that is the ring they have). I think there must be quite a variation in manufacture and build. I have been quite happy with my mystery ring, although under differing circumstances, that might not have been the case.

Good luck in your search, Bryce!


NDJohn - Posted - 10/17/2009:  15:11:56

Hey Don,

Absolutely no offense taken! I was just responding that there are many others with lots more detailed knowledge than I have on these matters. I'm happy to help any way I can. Feel free to contact me any time if I can help with such things.

Bryce, I hope this kind of information is what you're looking for.



John Miller or

buffalograss - Posted - 10/17/2009:  15:45:56

Yes John, thank you, this thread is along the right track of what I was interested in, but still one minor re-question - then a new one.

re-question: .....does anyone know the Gibson significance of the fluer-di-lis inlay on the peghead? (BTW, Wikipedia says: The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily (in French, fleur means flower , and lis means lily ) or iris that is used as a decorative design.) In Canada the fleur-di-lis is reserved for most anything French related. Do you have a guess as to why this inlay choice ended up on the peghead or simply because its nice to look at?)

new question: .....since I removed the ring in an attempt to identify it (and since it had a split head when I received it) I've not heard the ring yet. Is it worth keeping, or change it out with an upgrade?

Thanks to all of you for your've been helpful. Bryce

NDJohn - Posted - 10/17/2009:  16:00:41


I have no idea about the fleur-de-lis inlay or why it was chosen; some of the earlier styles, like a style 1, have an inverted flower like "bud" that may have been a theme predecessor.

As to the ring, examine the under lip to see if there are any markings, and also on the slope in the 6:00 position--often the Kulesh rings will have "Gibson USA" engraved there. With the information in the above posts, you should be able to determine if it's one of the Gibson rings or perhaps an aftermarket ring. If you post the details of any engraving or stamping, someone will be able to identify it.

But don't replace it yet--try it out and see how it sounds. Rings are often good in one banjo, not so good in others. Lots depends on the marriage of the components and setup.



John Miller or

El Dobro - Posted - 10/17/2009:  16:03:56

Gibson used the fleur-de-lis on a fair amount of it's Mastertones and mandolins in the early 40's. Probably got a deal on them from the pearlcutters at the time.


buffalograss - Posted - 10/17/2009:  18:08:38

John.....there is no Gibson logo or Kulesh RWK initials anywhere on the ring. Only thing existing is a number stamp of "184" on bottom edge of inside lip., probably representing the part #, run, or SN. It's nickle plated and exterior skirt wall is generally smooth (not machined) but with a few nearly imperceptible pinpoint markings.......probably is sand cast.

El Dobro......I wouldn't have thought of that one but your answer is as simple as it gets and it sounds most reasonable and plausible.

thank you.

NDJohn - Posted - 10/17/2009:  18:53:58


Any chance of a picture of the number stamp?



John Miller or

buffalograss - Posted - 10/18/2009:  00:53:51

.....well John....yes, I think I can take a macro pic of the number (?) but I'll have to play around with the pic posting procedure - I've no experience with that. I'll try that Sun morn. Bryce

buffalograss - Posted - 10/18/2009:  19:07:52

...I've tried to post a pic of the ring # and followed the method by beegee at but I am unable to do it. The right click step of "copy to image location" does not appear on my XP right click. Any other suggestions? Otherwise, for those interested to see the stamped # detail, the ring pic is loaded on my home page photos. Thanks. BO

NDJohn - Posted - 10/18/2009:  19:15:31


I don't recognize the stamp, but maybe others do...

John Miller or

Edited by - NDJohn on 10/18/2009 19:18:06

El Dobro - Posted - 10/18/2009:  19:41:44

I believe someone here mentioned that Gibson was serial numbering the mystery rings.


NDJohn - Posted - 10/19/2009:  03:53:05


Oh? I hadn't heard that and have never seen one before. Of course, they may be these days; I'd like to know.



John Miller or

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!

You are not logged in.
Log In

Not a member? Create an Account (FREE!)


Viewing desktop version - switch to mobile version