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Thread: Value of banjo

  1. #1
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    I was watching a CMT program last night on Keith Urban who was showing and discussing string instruments. At one point he took down a banjo from its place among others and declared that it was valued at $10,000. Am I missing something here? Does one banjo sound that much better than another? Can reality support that one is more pleasant to the ear than another? Not to bash banjo players but...how much difference is there between a banjo that is valued at $100 vs. one at $10,000?

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    Registered User f5loar's Avatar
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    A pre-war 30's RB 5 string Gibson banjo can be well over $200,000. They do sound better! Banjos are just like mandolins. You get what you pay for. For a good pro model look to spend $2500 to $4000 for one. Usually the more inlays/gold engraving/quality of tone ring the more the price.

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    Registered User Brad Weiss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (pelone @ Nov. 14 2006, 02:15)
    I was watching a CMT program last night on Keith Urban who was showing and discussing string instruments. #At one point he took down a banjo from its place among others and declared that it was valued at $10,000. #Am I missing something here? #Does one banjo sound that much better than another? #Can reality support that one is more pleasant to the ear than another? #Not to bash banjo players but...how much difference is there between a banjo that is valued at $100 vs. one at $10,000?
    Over on the Banjocafe someone has just written in asking "is it really possible that an old mandolin signed by this Loar dude can fetch over $100,000? For a mandolin?!?" #

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    Oh yeah. #It's like anything. #The more limited the supply, the higher the price. #With a fixed supply, the prices get crazy, like Loar mandos. #Simple economics. #There just weren't many prewars made, so the prices are VERY high. #So a $100,000 banjo isn't unheard of.

    The other thing that is interesting and has a large effect on the value is the parallelism between Monroe and Scruggs. #Part of what makes a Loar worth so much is the fact Monroe played one. #Part of what makes a prewar Gibson banjo worth so much is because that is what Scruggs played back in the day.

    But like mandos, once you get to a certain price point, it gets VERY subjective on the differences in the sound coming out of various high quality banjos. #Even more so on a banjo than a mando. #On mandos, the whole thing is made out of wood and each piece adds greatly to the resonance. #With a banjo, you've got a different set of variables, any of which you can change on a whim. #But what the experts really get heated over are the rims and tone rings. #"Old growth" rims (sound familiar?) are what the experts swear by, which is what a prewar has of course. #And the "alchemy" of the tone rings is the biggest controversial discussion too and is considered the "heart" of the banjo. #Trying to recreate the original prewar tone ring of banjos is like chasing the holy grail for banjo afficianodos. #Very interesting stuff.
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    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    I can't believe someone would spend $100,000 for a banjo because they WANTED it to sound like that! ;-)
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    I play banjo, and I have my "holy grail" pre-war flathead.
    When I found the banjo, I just played it out of curiosity to see what it sounded like. I had played many other pre-wars, some great, some not so great, I wasn't looking for a banjo, I had about 7 good banjos already, but when I heard this one...well, I sold 5 banjos, saved money, and got a small loan.

    Many times, when I've handed it to other banjo players to try it out, they have not been able to finish tuning it before exclaiming about the tone. Sometimes the look of surprise -almost shock- comes to their faces with the first pluck of a string.

    So, is there a difference in banjos? Absolutely! Just as much as there is in mandolins.
    And, BTW, $10000 isn't really that much for a high quality banjo these days. I could sell mine and get another banjo and a BMW to carry it around in. In fact, I probably could have sold it and gotten the Loar that Skinner sold recently. Which one will gain in value the most? Who knows...




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    What got me about it was...it was a 6 string banjo. Now I don't know anything about banjos but aren't most 6 string banjo's new (with in the last 10 years?) so why is it worth so much



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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    I dunno, but I've heard that if you leave any banjo in full view in locked car, people will break into the car and leave more banjos. That would seem to be a negative value to me!

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    We could talk about vintage Martin guitars too.
    But the quarter million plus prize still goes to the manlin.

    Wait. The last Strad fiddle went for around 2.5 mil i heard.

    six strings banjers are high priced to cover the medical expenses for when you play it.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Good thread! Certain instruments get a cachet because [1] they are, in general, excellent in quality -- materials, design, sound (pre-war Gibson flat-head Mastertone banjos, Loar F-5 mandolins, pre-war Martin "herringbone" D-28 guitars, late '50's sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitars, Stradivarius violins, Wheatstone Aeola concertinas); [2] they're played by certain influential musicians (Scruggs, Monroe, Mike Bloomfield, Clapton, etc.); [3] there's a very limited supply, and many potential buyers (they're not being made any more, the "secret" of their unique sound has been lost, materials are harder to get, etc.).

    Possession of one of these instruments confers instant status upon a musician, or a collector. For example, we keep a roster of all the Lloyd Loar F-5's whose location we know. The limited number of Martin herringbone D-28's, pre-war D-45's, OM's etc. is known from factory records, so their rarity is documented. An interesting sidebar is that some manufacturers (Fender and Gibson, e.g.) are now making top-line models deliberately "distressed" to mimic older instruments, and confer some of the glamor of the originals on their owners.

    The question keeps being raised, "Aren't we producing instruments now that are the equals of these 'grail' instruments, and are available at much lower prices?" Quite possibly the mandolins made by Monteleone, Gilchrist, and other exclusive contemporary luthiers are equal to those produced 80 years ago by Lloyd Loar's Gibson shop. Martin regularly turns out "vintage" and "reissue" models that seek to duplicate the materials, workmanship and sound of pre-war guitars. Whether there is still an undefinable quality in the older instruments, that newer ones cannot match -- or won't be able to match until they're played for 75 years -- is a question that cannot be objectively settled. It's up to the individual ears of the prospective buyers, as to whether the new instruments are "just as good."

    But it's clear that the vintage instrument market has already settled that question, as far as prices go. You can pay more for an old guitar, banjo or mandolin than you'd pay for a house, and as for old violins, don't even ask. I doubt that any contemporary luthier could get six figures for the instrument he's building today (although Martin's D-100 guitar lists in that range). As in so many areas in our "free market" society, supply and demand set the prices. A fixed supply, a series of objective and subjective criteria (rarity, sound, materials and construction, reputation), and a constantly expanding number of prospective purchasers -- the formula for a "bull" market. What something is "worth," ultimately, depends on what you can get someone to pay for it.
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    Bravo Allen! #Bravo! #
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    All joking aside, and I like a banjo joke as much as the next guy, there is a difference in tone.
    Jim Mills' cd "Hide Head Blues" has him playing several pre war Gibson banjos; I think there is a difference in tone between different banjos. (this is a really good cd, no financial interest, etc...)
    Of course, we could turn this into the old - is it the driver or the car - discussion.
    Kirk

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    Quote Originally Posted by (grant_eversoll @ Nov. 14 2006, 11:02)
    What got me about it was...it was a 6 string banjo. Now I don't know anything about banjos but aren't most 6 string banjo's new (with in the last 10 years?) so why is it worth so much
    Someone at the Banjo Hangout was asking about the value of a 1928 Gibson GB-1 six string banjo.
    http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/to...TOPIC_ID=66219

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    Registered User JimRichter's Avatar
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    I've sat across from John (sunburst) with his late 30's flathead in a picking circle. #It's a hoss and worth whatever he paid for it.

    I've had fairly consistent access to a few prewar flatheads, among them Butch Robins' spectactular '34 RB4, and they are very much the coveted instrument that a Loar or Fern is.

    Again, the difference in pricing of the prewar Gibson 11inch head banjos is akin to vintage Gibson mandolin pricing. #The holy grail is an original RB (5 string) flathead which would easily be $200K. #An original flathead tenor or plectrum will be between $50K to $100K depending on condition and model. #An original one piece flange Mastertone with an archtop ring is now between $10K to $25K depending on model. #A 20's era two piece flange archtop Mastertone is between $2500 and $10K depending on model (with something like a Florentine capping out the high end).

    I'm a long time banjo player and have owned a few prewar Gibsons, though never a flathead. #I'm currently converting a late 20's MB3 to 5 string. #I can say that most any prewar Gibson Mastertone I've played or owned as been worth the cash. #It starts getting a little funkier with modified prewars, such as someone taking a style one and converting it to a Mastertone. #But like old Gibson mandolins, they have the tone--especially if you want to sound like JD or Earl.

    Jim




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    I'll take it! JGWoods's Avatar
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    Oy, I am reminded of why I never frequent banjo forums.
    Idol worship.
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    Someone gave me a free 4 string neck, bound to be a lot of loose necks from all the 4>5string conversions. cannibalizing the inlays is a use for the old tenor necks, sadly.
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    My Mastertone is a '20's "ball bearing" raised head GB-3 6-string guitar banjo, for which Bernie Lehmann here in Rochester built an RB-3 copy neck. I still have the 6-string neck if I ever want to put it back "original."

    Paid $500 to a childhood friend for the GB-3, have another $500 into the neck, so I guess I'm money ahead by Jim's calculus...
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    check out:

    musurgia

    they have a large collection of 6 string banjos - some HUGE ones. and they are all vintage. it was typically a ragtime jazz instrument used by a second guitarist who didn't play tenor banjo.

    they also have some nice old mandos. got my snake head there.

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    . . . yes but if we live in fear of the banjos, the banjos have won.

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    Chief Moderator/Shepherd Ted Eschliman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (JGWoods @ Nov. 14 2006, 13:24)
    Oy, I am reminded of why I never frequent banjo forums.
    Idol worship.
    Gordon, har har...
    Check your spelling. Is'nt it spelled "Idle?"
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    Registered User JimRichter's Avatar
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    The ball-bearings are in a different boat. The Style 3 ball bearings fetch between $1500 and $2500 depending on condition. They aren't as desirable as either the no hole or 40 hole two piece flange banjos. Now, a TB5 ball bearing would be a different story. Really, as far as the prewar Gibson market goes, the two piece flange Mastertones are still a sleeper value out there, though that will probably change given where the one piece flange market has gone.

    Jim

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    Quote Originally Posted by (sunburst @ Nov. 14 2006, 10:36)
    I play banjo, and I have my "holy grail" pre-war flathead.
    I knew there was a reason I liked you, John. And you, too Allen, and all the rest of the banjo players who ain't skairt to admit they play the banjo here on the Mandolin Cafe.

    My first good banjo was a '24 TB5 ball-bearing. Wish I'd hung on to it.

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    Registered User big h's Avatar
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    Some guy just gave me and my brother a 5 string Fender banjo.I can play Old Joe Clark and you guesed it Foggy MT Breakdown!and i can play the G chord!
    I like mandolins.

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    Banjos are not like mandolins.

  25. #25

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    Every time I'm on stage, I'm standing beside one of the five known pre-war RB Grenadas and its banjo-thrashing owner. Out of the five, this one has never had a part replaced(unlike Wade Mainer's, and Earl Skruggs')and it is highly sought after. (Ask Jim Mills about a Grenada in West Virginia if you ever run into him.)

    But the beauty of it is, my buddy plays it all the time. This is his giggin' banjo. Isn't that what these instruments should be? Not stuck in a museum somewhere, but out there to be heard.

    Once you play around an instument like that, and hear the incredable tone, you realize why they are worth what they are worth.
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