Gibson RB-7 Mastertone #409-1, the "Red Belcher"

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 shipping 30 November 1938

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 #521 case shipping 16 November 1942
 

in as-found condition:

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 front    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 back    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 peghead    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 fifth fret

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 pot    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 slothead screw    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 hardware    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 strap attachment    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 strap attachment    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 neck and pot    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 upper frets    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 Weather King logo    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 #521 case


post cleanup:

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 neck heel    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 peghead    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 truss rod cavity

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tone ring    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tone ring underside    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tone ring face    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tone ring underside detail    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tone ring underside detail    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tone ring lip

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 flange    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 flange detail    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 Doehler Die Casting mark    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 stretcher band    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 stretcher band    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 stretcher band detail    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 stretcher band neck notch    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 stretcher band inside

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 rim    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 top of rim    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 top of rim with Mastertone decal    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 Mastertone decal    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 factory order number in rim

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 armrest    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 armrest    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 armrest    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 armrest end    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 armrest underside    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 clamshell tailpiece    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 clamshell tailpiece open    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 clamshell tailpiece underside


after repair and setup by Mark Bramlett:

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 front    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 back    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 first five frets    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 lower frets    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 first fret

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 peghead    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 peghead detail    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 fifth fret    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 middle frets    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 upper frets    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 pot side    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 pot side    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 resonator

#409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 hardware    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 tailpiece    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 bridge    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 inside pot    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 neck heel and flange    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 in #521 case    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 pot in #521 case    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 fifth fret in #521 case    #409-1 Gibson Mastertone banjo RB-7 peghead in #521 case

Five-string banjoist Finley Duncan "Red" Belcher was born on August 8, 1914 in Kentucky and died August 16, 1952 in Swift Run, Virginia.  Belcher was active in stage and radio performing as well as recording beginning in the 1930s; his band, Red Belcher and the Kentucky Ridge Runners, was featured in the late 1940s on the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia.  Red Belcher's primary banjo was this RB-7 Mastertone, which was shipped to Kaufman Music Store (location undetermined) on November 30, 1938 and was actually the first RB-7 to leave the factory.  #409-1 remained essentially untouched from the time of Red Belcher's death until 2015, when needed repairs and a complete setup were performed by master luthier Mark Bramlett of Woodstock, Georgia.  Loose fingerboard and peghead binding were reattached; an old piece of non-matching replacement fingerboard binding was replaced and the new piece of binding color-shaded to match the original binding.  Two large holes left in the fingerboard by the nails used by Red Belcher for fifth-string capoing were filled and railroad spikes installed at the seventh and ninth frets.  One missing resonator screw was replaced with a prewar original, the fingerboard was cleaned and the frets were dressed, and a new head and radiused bridge were installed.

While later Gibson top-tension banjos are noted for their frequent departures from catalog descriptions, particularly with regard to plating types and inlay patterns, #409-1 conforms to standard specifications for style 7 with the exception of one chrome-plated resonator screw.  The Mastertone decal is uncut and the twenty-hole flathead tone ring weighs two pounds. fourteen ounces; its buffed inner surface is commonly seen beginning in the late 1930s and has led players and collectors to refer to these later flathead rings as the "shiny face" variety.  The factory order number is stamped inside the rim in a large sans-serif font seen on early top-tensions and a few other Gibson banjos of the same period.  The tuners are Grover "two-band" tuners with ivoroid buttons rather than the "stair-step" Klusons with amber Catalin buttons seen on later top-tensions.  Backup nuts were installed on the bottom of the flange long ago.  #409-1 was shipped with a #121 chipboard case; Gibson's original factory ledgers record the shipment of a more substantial #521 case to Red Belcher on November 16, 1942, and this case, showing signs of extensive use by Belcher, remains with the banjo.

Photos courtesy of an anonymous owner.

 


Home