The 1930s were the heyday of American banjo technology, but in those days, tenor banjos were so much more common than 5-strings. Because of that, there is a cottage industry of builders and banjo enthusiasts devoted to rigging old tenor pots with 5-string necks. Many of the most famous banjo players in bluegrass and country music use these conversions on stage. With the ability to pick and choose specific parts and fittings, these banjos can be dialed for the right sound.
Make no mistake—this 5-String "Mastertone" Conversion is a bluegrass banjo. It starts with a the three-ply shell from a 1930s TB-00. The shell is stamped with a serial number (3493-76), so that puts it to approximately '37-39. The 5-string Curly Maple neck was built by Toronto luthier Bruce Dowd. The neck profile is full-feeling C with the slightest hint of a V. It's a comfortable carve, and the Maple Flame and figure is stunning. The nut measures 1-3/8", and it has a flat fingerboard with Hearts and Flowers inlay.
Under the hood, this Mastertone Conversion is rigged with a "Tennessee 20" tone ring. Dated to 1997, the tone ring includes a certificate signed by Bill Sullivan. This type of tone ring is critical to the pop and power of a Mastertone banjo. Made by famed banjo expert Mark Taylor (son of bluegrass legend Tut Taylor), the Tennessee 20 is a proper tone ring.
From there, the tension hoop and flange are die-cast replicas of '30s designs made by Bill Sullivan, and the resonator is a Curly Maple replica of the Mastertone design. The tailpiece is a '20s Kirshner fit for 5-string use, and modern planetary tuners keep this banjo in tune nicely. Snuffy Smith bridge, Snuffy Smith head—this banjo is a bluegrass machine!
This Late-‘30s Gibson TB-00 5-String Mastertone Conversion has been played, so it shows signs of play and use. In particular, the head is worn, the back edge of the peghead is scuffed, and the edge of the fingerboard has two pin holes from a Shubb 5th-String Capo. In place of the Shubb, this banjo currently has spikes on the 7th, 8th, and 9th frets. See photos for additional cosmetics (some wear on the back of there resonator, ding on back of neck, etc).
This Late-‘30s Gibson TB-00 5-String Mastertone Conversion plays fast and smooth, and its tone pops enough to drive the hottest bluegrass band on the block. It includes a nice hardshell case.