Gibson RB-4/TB-3 Mastertone #8914-3, the "Paul Schantz"
with five-string conversion neck by Larry Cohea:
There is no rarer iteration of the style 4 Mastertone than the version with tube-and-plate flange and solid raised-head tone ring, only produced circa 1927-1928; such style 4 banjos with original five-string necks are so rare as to be practically nonexistent, with a total estimated production of no more than ten units. #8914-3 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) is from the only known lot of such banjos, dating to 1928, but is equipped with a 1930s-style TB-3 neck with double-cut peghead and leaves and bows inlays. The most likely explanation is that this banjo was originally shipped as an RB-4, then returned to the factory a few years later for conversion to a tenor. The lot number #336 on the heel of the tenor neck dates to 1934, making 1934 or early 1935 the most likely dates for the conversion (the return of this banjo for repair is not mentioned in the surviving shipping ledgers, which go back to March 1935). Since the specifications of style 4 Mastertones had by that time changed to walnut rather than mahogany, Gibson chose to install a style 3 neck to match the mahogany of the 1920s style 4 resonator.
Close inspection of #8914-3 reveals some hidden irregularities which give an insight into Gibson's banjo production practices of the time. The lot number #8380 is stamped on the outside of the rim at the neck junction; lot #8380 dates to 1926 and an original ball-bearing RB-4 #8380-9 has recently surfaced. Like its littermate RB-4 #8914-4, this banjo was apparently assembled using reworked components originally destined for an RB-4 from lot #8380 which remained in inventory at the factory two years later. As is the case with the other observed banjos from lot #8914, a splice is visible on the inside of the rim, indicating that this rim had originally been prepped with holes for a ball-bearing tone ring assembly and was then modified for a cast raised-head ring by removing the drilled upper portion of the rim and replacing it with a solid cap. In addition to the rim splice, a previous factory order number with lot number #8380 is faintly visible inside the rim. Of the five banjos from lot #8914 which have been observed to date, this example is the only one to feature a forty-hole, rather than no-hole, raised-head tone ring.
The truss-rod cover is factory-engraved with the name of prior owner Paul Schantz; unfortunately, no information about Mr. Schantz has been located to date. Current owner Richard E. Davis is having a faithful reproduction five-string neck made to return #8914-3 to its original configuration.
Observed banjos from lot #8914 demonstrate a wide array of features, consistent with these instruments having remained in inventory at the factory for some time and being subjected to various forms of reworking and reassembly to finally get them out the door. Other banjos from lot #8914 featured on this site include RB-4 #8914-2, the "Reid Rakes"; and RB-4 Mastertone #8914-4, the "Cecil George"; and RB-4/RB-3 Mastertone #8914-8.
#8914-3 has now been converted to five-string with a neck by luthier Larry Cohea.
Photos courtesy of Richard E. Davis.