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New to banjo....looking for advice!

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Aug 1, 2020 - 8:19:45 PM

lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

Howdy,
I am an old pro, semi pro and hobbyist at music since 1962. Proficient at guitars, mando, uke, bass, pedal steel etc. I am drawn to vintage stuff. I just fell in love with and bought a nearly mint 1923 Gibson RB1 trapdoor banjo as it is mando tuning. What is the consensus on these? This one even has the original head signed by Rogers, no rust or tarnish or wear. 100% original head to tail. But...It doesn't intonate or tune very well. I would really like to make it playable without messing it up if possible. Maybe that's like having a 39 Ford with original battery, oil, tires and gas. It is original but you ain't going nowhere. Help! Thanks, Lotis

Aug 1, 2020 - 9:43:15 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23800 posts since 6/25/2005
Online Now

An RB=1 would not usel mandolin tuning. A TB-1 would. So which do you have? Is their a 5th string with a tuning peg set in the side of the neck? Or is it a -string banjo? How many frets? Once you determine what banjo it is, repair and setup questions should be posted to the repair and setup forum. If you can post some detiled photos, identification will be easier.

Aug 1, 2020 - 9:53:26 PM

mbanza

USA

2216 posts since 9/16/2007

RB-1 would be a five string, TB-1 a tenor normally tuned CGDA, and an MB-1 a mandolin-banjo tuned GDAE.

Aug 2, 2020 - 4:23:28 AM

1599 posts since 6/2/2010

Usually those old Gibsons don't have too many issues like this. They are very well made banjos.

Intonation issues can sometimes be caused by improper bridge placement and/or wrong string gauges .

Gibson used geared tuners on most of these banjos and they worked way better than old friction tuners that others used. Assuming you have geared tuners, they might just need some grease to make them work smoother. If you have friction tuners, I would suggest replacing them with some Gotohs.

Aug 2, 2020 - 6:27:21 AM

lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

Thanks. It is a 4 string tenor. 19 frets. Tuned GDAE. I thought RB1.....? Must be a TB1? Geared tuners.

Edited by - lotis on 08/02/2020 06:42:12

Aug 2, 2020 - 7:27 AM

csacwp

USA

2662 posts since 1/15/2014

Your banjo should be tuned CGDA, although you can tune it down to GDAE with heavier strings and some nutwork.

Edited by - csacwp on 08/02/2020 07:27:57

Aug 2, 2020 - 7:27:14 AM

7409 posts since 8/28/2013

These early Gibsons have a very short scale, which can cause problems with tuning when using the heavier strings needed for that low GDAE tuning. The strings at such short lengths and heavy gauges are simply too stiff to sound good.

I would suggest using standard tenor strings and standard tenor tuning, CGDA.

Photos of this banjo are needed. Despite what you say, it may not be a TB1, but could be a TB2, TB3, or TB4, or possibly even a CB (cello banjo). There may also be some issues which are affecting the tuning and possibly other problems not visible to a person new to banjo.

Aug 2, 2020 - 12:48:56 PM
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lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

Here are some pictures. Also the serial # is in the inside rim. 11021 A-50. The guy I got it from said it was bought by his uncle in 1923. Is that correct? Thanks!
banjohangout.org/forum/attachm...ID=264296banjohangout.org/forum/attachm...ID=264297




Aug 2, 2020 - 1:44:54 PM

13117 posts since 10/30/2008

Wow, complete with tailpiece cover (often lost), wire armrest, pickguard and top quality case! What a time capsule! It's a TB for sure.

Here's a PB 1 of about the same age as yours, from Greg Earnest's website.  Very interesting that your's has geared "guitar style" tuners instead of the friction pegs on the one in the link.

http://www.earnestbanjo.com/gibson_banjo_PB-1_11055A-31.htm

Edited by - The Old Timer on 08/02/2020 13:48:36

Aug 3, 2020 - 6:17:30 AM

7409 posts since 8/28/2013

Thta's a remarkably complete Gibson. It appears that even the bridge is original.

Most of the early Gibsons used those guitar style tuners, although I've seen a few that didn't. You should be pleased youi have them; many people find friction tuners to be troublesome.

1923 sounds about right for the date this banjo was built.

I own a Gibson PB 3 from about that time, 11055A-10. It has friction tuners, but I'm used to them.

Aug 3, 2020 - 11:58:35 AM

175 posts since 4/17/2015

Could you please send yet another picture,showing inside, through the trap door, and what kind of "tone ring" is present, and the side of the rim?

While this actually has twenty frets, it has more in common with a "17 fret" tenor banjo in terms of the relationship of neck to rim, with the "extra" frets on the fingerboard extension (over the head). In the 1920s, many banjos "evolved" from 17 to 19 fret (to the body) necks.

As mentioned above, perhaps the intonation issues may relate to old strings ( as well as "wrong" strings) that would be the first thing to check, next to bridge placement.

"Spann's Guide to Gibson" lists FON 11021 A as 1924, so perhaps that is a tighter date.

Also the suffix "A" on the FON (factory order number) seems to first appear in 1924 (again, according to Spann.)

I believe your instrument is most probably a TB 3, from 1924.

Apparently the style 2 and lower used regular bracket shoes rather than the tension flange tube yours seems to have.

And style 4 had a bound fingerboard and peghead, and a slightly fancier peghead with a fleur de lis, along with a more complex shaped and slightly longer fingerboard extension.

I think the Gibson banjos of this type and period are well built and attractive, although they are not everyone's favorite.

Yours is a beaut, and looks to be in very good and intact condition! And as noted, the tailpiece covers sometime wander, so keep your eye on it, as that would be difficult to replace.

I have a TB 3 with the FON of 11039 A, which looks almost the same as yours. The dark sunburst on the back of the neck on mine is slightly shorter, and I don't have a pickguard/finger-rest. I also have a RB 4, FON 11053 A

A big drawback to these is that they are so elegant that you may feel compelled to wear a tuxedo when playing. If you experience this side effect, just buy one, as the tux rental fees will start to add up.

Aug 4, 2020 - 6:01:50 AM

lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by lotis

Howdy,
I am an old pro, semi pro and hobbyist at music since 1962. Proficient at guitars, mando, uke, bass, pedal steel etc. I am drawn to vintage stuff. I just fell in love with and bought a nearly mint 1923 Gibson RB1 trapdoor banjo as it is mando tuning. What is the consensus on these? This one even has the original head signed by Rogers, no rust or tarnish or wear. 100% original head to tail. But...It doesn't intonate or tune very well. I would really like to make it playable without messing it up if possible. Maybe that's like having a 39 Ford with original battery, oil, tires and gas. It is original but you ain't going nowhere. Help! Thanks, Lotis         Pictures: Scroll down


Aug 4, 2020 - 9:57:34 AM
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hbick2

USA

217 posts since 6/26/2004

Check out the old Gibson catalogs at the following web site. They will explain the different models and changes over the years.

https://acousticmusic.org/research/guitar-information/catalogs/

Aug 4, 2020 - 12:42:49 PM

175 posts since 4/17/2015

Nice resource! Thanks for posting the link.The 1923 Gibson catalog, which includes this type of banjo is there at: acousticmusic.org/wp-content/u...log-N.pdf

Interestingly, there is no style 2 listed here or in other gibson catalogs of the "trap-door" period, but they did apparently show up in various lists, so presumably were shipped.

In my experience, and in the catalogs, the TB (tenor), GB (guitar), and even the UB (ukulele- not in this catalog)) banjos of this period had geared "tuning machines" similar to guitars, with buttons to the side, and the longer necked PB and RB (plectrum and "regular", of five string) instruments had the friction pegs (buttons to the rear). I have seen some later trap door tenors with geared pegs (buttons to the rear).

In this catalog the TB-3 has the tone tube and tension tube, and the TB-1 has shoes and is not described as having the tone tube.

Perhaps this posted instrument is a version of the illusive and uncatalogued TB-2?

With the exception of the tone tube, its out side appearance seems to be the same as that of the style 3.

It has the tension tube (rather than shoes), but without the tone tube, and so would seem to fit between the two models.

Gibson catalogs are notorious for being confusing though.

Edited by - Jarvie on 08/04/2020 12:45:57

Aug 4, 2020 - 1:48:09 PM
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lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by lotis
Thanks for all the info! Here is the interior. The head appears to be hand signed Joe B. Rogers Jr.
 

 





Edited by - lotis on 08/04/2020 14:06:07

Aug 4, 2020 - 2:34:42 PM

hbick2

USA

217 posts since 6/26/2004

Here is what Banjophiles says about Style 2  http://www.banjophiles.com

"Style 2- Introduced in 1925. This model featured a full maple resonator, shoe brackets w/wavy flange, simple inlay designs, rosewood fretboard and an amber-brown finish. In 1926, the flange was changed to diamond-hole. In 1930, the style 2 was changed to a 1-piece flange, silk-screened decor, walnut reso and pearloid fretboard."

One question to others. How come the Earnest Banjo web site only considers Gibson banjos made from 1925 on as Mastertones: The Gibson catalogs were using the Mastertone designation as early as 1919. 

Aug 4, 2020 - 5:43:13 PM

175 posts since 4/17/2015

Great new pictures, confirming that it does have the "tone tube" (per catalog) tone ring. With that information it seems to meet all criteria as a style 3 (TB-3).

The style 2 was apparently seldom cataloged, but Spann's Guide to Gibson concludes that the model was offered in the earlier period, prior to 1925.
I am relying mostly on these secondary sources, but Spann is certainly highly regarded for the quality of his research into the company and its production, and is relied upon as a go to source.

Spann actually says it was not catalogued in this period, but Style 2 does appear in one early catalog, with "Form E-58" the only identifier.

The catalog has an orange border, and is titled "The Gibson "The Standardized Banjo Family"" and features a small image of "The Gibsonians Concert Party 1921 Tour" which suggests a date of 1921/22.

This brochure clearly predates the two catalogs reprinted in the 1970s which were suggested, incorrectly I believe, to be 1919 and 1920, and have blue and turquoise borders.
These are both titled "The New Gibson Banjos"- and show solid rims, "tone tube" tone rings, and dual coordinator rods, as well as trap door resonators (and also the pyralin (celluloid) resonators).
Those clearly feature a "New" Gibson banjo, different from the earliest production, as represented in the orange border publication.

This Gibson banjo catalog dedicates one full page, of eight total, to style two, with illustrations of MB-2 (mandolin banjo) and TB-2.

They are referred to as "Melody Mandolin Banjo, MB-2" and "Melody Tenor Banjo, TB-2".
(There were "melody banjo mandolins" which were only four strings (I have one that is a Fairbanks by Vega, and other makers offered these as well) but this is a conventional eight string/four course mandolin stringing)

These are Sheraton brown with a neck shaded from natural to brown at the heel. They have the tension tube, rather than bracket shoes.

This seems to be before the transition to the solid rim or the tone tube.

The higher end instruments are indicated, as was the earliest practice , as simply TB, MB, CB (Cello) and GB (Guitar), and have no number to modify that (with exception of the style 2s).

They have appointments and decoration consistent with later style 4 banjos.

The only instrument (the MB) showing its backside not only has no resonator or back of any sort, but still has only a wooden strut.
Slightly later instruments have a single coordinator rod in addition to the wood strut, and then they converted to two (and sometimes a single) metal coordinator rods, similar to most modern instruments

The "Melody" line is presented as "lower priced instruments built on the same general principles as the De-Lux Gibson banjo line"

And the TB seems to be missing its tailpiece already! But does have a small finger-rest (pickguard) and an armrest.

As noted, the banjos with the tension tube and tone tube were called "Mastertones" in Gibson literature, and these were produced during the tenure of Lloyd Loar as acoustic engineer as well (most remembered for the signed F-5 mandolins).

But the banjos of 1925 on are quite different, with flanges, shaped resonators with sides, and the expansion of the rim from 10 1/2 to 11 inches.
I suspect that not calling these earlier banjos "Mastertones" by most people is probably a concession to clarity for the contemporary player and collector.

I know I have a Lloyd Loar pre-war Gibson original five string banjo! If it was a year or two newer, it would be a lot more desirable, but what the heck. I don't play bluegrass anyway.

Aug 4, 2020 - 5:48:28 PM

175 posts since 4/17/2015

Rogers heads were probably not hand signed, but rather marked with a stamp. They were offered for many years and are very high quality.

Aug 5, 2020 - 5:51:15 AM
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lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

I would like to thank everyone for the advice. I did what was recommended....the strings on it were way too heavy. The bottom string was .40! So I put traditional 9 to 30 strings, lithium greased the tuners, tuned it correctly to CGDA , used Nutsauce on the nut and bridge, fussed with the bridge position, and it now sounds, plays, stays in tune and intonates as good as one could hope for. Happy camper here! Thank you all.

Aug 5, 2020 - 6:04:56 AM

1561 posts since 10/12/2011

quote:
Originally posted by lotis

I would like to thank everyone for the advice. I did what was recommended....the strings on it were way too heavy. The bottom string was .40! So I put traditional 9 to 30 strings, lithium greased the tuners, tuned it correctly to CGDA , used Nutsauce on the nut and bridge, fussed with the bridge position, and it now sounds, plays, stays in tune and intonates as good as one could hope for. Happy camper here! Thank you all.


I'm scared to ask.  What's nutsauce?   Most folks use graphite or something like that.

Aug 5, 2020 - 7:13:17 AM

7409 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by buckholler
quote:
Originally posted by lotis

I would like to thank everyone for the advice. I did what was recommended....the strings on it were way too heavy. The bottom string was .40! So I put traditional 9 to 30 strings, lithium greased the tuners, tuned it correctly to CGDA , used Nutsauce on the nut and bridge, fussed with the bridge position, and it now sounds, plays, stays in tune and intonates as good as one could hope for. Happy camper here! Thank you all.


I'm scared to ask.  What's nutsauce?   Most folks use graphite or something like that.


Why be scared? Nutsauce may actually be better than graphite. You won't know until you find out.

Aug 5, 2020 - 8:01:08 AM

1561 posts since 10/12/2011

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie
quote:
Originally posted by buckholler
quote:
Originally posted by lotis

I would like to thank everyone for the advice. I did what was recommended....the strings on it were way too heavy. The bottom string was .40! So I put traditional 9 to 30 strings, lithium greased the tuners, tuned it correctly to CGDA , used Nutsauce on the nut and bridge, fussed with the bridge position, and it now sounds, plays, stays in tune and intonates as good as one could hope for. Happy camper here! Thank you all.


I'm scared to ask.  What's nutsauce?   Most folks use graphite or something like that.


Why be scared? Nutsauce may actually be better than graphite. You won't know until you find out.


Hahahaha I looked it up.  I may have to give it a try.

Aug 5, 2020 - 9:48:15 AM

lotis

USA

7 posts since 8/1/2020

Yeah.....nutsauce doesn't sound too pleasant. But it works and has various sized syringe tips for different applications. I used to use powdered graphite but it was a mess!

Aug 5, 2020 - 11:07:43 AM
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175 posts since 4/17/2015

I just use graphite with the common application device- a pencil. either get a very sharp point, or even better a mechanical pencil. Always at hand, and no mess at all. Great to hear your lovely instrument is working for you!

Aug 6, 2020 - 1:19:21 PM

175 posts since 4/17/2015

Here are a couple of pages from a c. 1921 Gibson banjo catalog, showing the TB-2. This is an earlier catalog than your instrument, before trap doors, solid rims, coordinator rods, and many of the more moderen features found on this banjo. The only other tenor model offered at that time (per the catalog) was simply TB (with no number) with decoration (binding, inlay, etc.) consistent with later (but pre 1925) style 4 banjos.


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