In my opinion they are very good. I have a 1967 model. One of the things I really like is the deep pot on these, they eliminate being stabbed by the bracket hooks and they produce a great, deep tone. I also like the feeling of the neck, not too skinny, not too fat....but just right! Also the frets on these old ones are far superior to what's being used today. The only thing to consider is installing new tuners, as the 5th tuner was usually a grover friction, and the four on the peghead are kinda primitive. All in all they are one of my favorite old banjos, and definatly underrated. Sorry, no sound files. Aloha, PH
Just an afterthought, Steve Martin who owns several prewar Gibsons for picking still keeps his old RB170 as his "frailing banjo",and comments that the tone is nice and mellow. Remember this is one particular banjoist who can play whatever he wants!
Thankyou PastorHarry. There's one at Elderly with fiddle headstock, looks good, but even though the name matches that on my 1965 J50 guitar, I would prefer to play before I buy. I'd thought about the tuners - fifth is friction on this. I'll be travelling in the States (California and NYC) in April and I want to play all the openbacks I can, and take it from there. But the RB-170 really does appeal to me. Also - not a reason for buying an instrument - I don't pay duty on used.
I just got mine a couple weeks ago. It's a 1962. I've had to tinker a little; the nut was jacked up with shims. I removed them and the nut slots themselves need work, I just haven't gotten to it. The tailpiece is a wreck. The adjustment is made with two screws. The holes are stripped out and they had a little chunk of dowel wadded in there to change the angle. I will likely junk that altogether but I have no idea what to replace it with. I saw a 'straight pull' model at Elderly that I liked the looks of, but I know that's no sole reason to buy a tailpiece. It had a Grover bone insert bridge that was too low and the string spacing was all wrong so I now have a 5/8 Grover bone insert on it. The head was clear many years ago, it's now kinda translucent and foggy looking. It has a smaller tone hoop so it has an archtop look to it. I'm wrestling with that now, whether to replace it with a full 11" hoop. The strings were solid rust so I put a set of Gibson mediums on it, Monel or Mona-Steel, whatever... The next day I put a set of D'Addario lights on it and immediately went back to the Gibson mediums.
I've got 3 or 4 banjos around here and I've owned others, but I don't know 'if' this little Gibson can be improved or in fact if there is any problem. It sounds fine to me, I would just feel pretty dumb if a little tweak or hardware replacement would make an improvement and I wasn't aware of it.
And I'm also in the market for a case but I don't want to buy a hardshell for a resonator banjo and then have to wad foam around it. It currently has what may be the original soft case. It has the alligator look seen on old GIbson soft cases but instead of brown it's bluish-black. It works in the basic sense but the handle is a mess.
I really like this banjo. I'm not a good player, I just sit on the couch and plunk for my own entertainment. It doesn't weigh four tons and it just plain 'works' for me.
I only paid $500 for it and it's in very good condition with the exception of little things like the nut and tailpiece, so I have wiggle room in the budget. If anyone has any sage advice on how to get the most out of this model I'd love to hear it.