The Gibson Mastertone is the superlative resonator banjo design. Since Gibson set the standard for banjos in late '20s, the Mastertone has been copied by private luthiers and commercial manufacturers alike. For some bluegrass banjo players, a Mastertone is the only instrument they will play. For others, the image is so strong that they feel they are not really rendering a certain musical style unless they are playing it on a Gibson.
The 1930 Gibson catalog touted the RB-3 as having “tone of recording quality” and “volume more than ample for all playing conditions.” It went on to describe it as “unusually responsive" and "beautifully finished." But for whatever reason, it wasn't until the 1934 catalog that Gibson literature pointed out the most important feature that had standard equipment on five-string Mastertones beginning in 1929: the flathead tone ring. Often simply called a "Mastertone" tone ring, this heavy cast-bronze ring is what drives the sound of the banjo. It gives a crisp, powerful tone that cuts when the instrument is played at lower frets, and it maintains impressive clarity at higher positions. That tone ring is responsible for the quintessential bluegrass and dixieland sounds.
A rare instrument relative to other models, the RB-3 was reintroduced in the '30s with the '30s-appropriate "Reno" inlays—elaborate curlicues as seen on bluegrass legend Don Reno's banjo (which he apparently acquired from Earl Scruggs). It features the traditional mahogany resonator, mahogany neck, and of course a 20-hole flathead tone ring that produces the driving sound of a proper Mastertone banjo.
This 2002 Gibson RB-3 was made in Nashville, TN. Even though the Gibson name is the keystone of the 5-string resonator banjo, Gibson does not currently build banjos, so these fine-quality banjos from 20 years ago are the closest you can get to a new Mastertone. This one shows some general wear and tear, and the nickel-plating is tarnished all around the rim and flange. But it plays like it should, and it produces the sound the inspiring sound you want form a good Mastertone.
Despite some cosmetic wear, this '02 RB-3 is free of repairs and issues, and the original frets have plenty of life left. The bridge has been upgraded to a Snuffy Smith bridge, and at some point, the original tailpiece failed and was replaced with a Prucha Presto tailpiece. It has 5th-string spikes installed on the 7th and 9th frets. This 2002 Gibson RB-3 includes its original hardshell case and a cool leather strap.