19 Nov 2014

How to Tell if Your Vintage Banjo is Worth a Fortune

No two models of banjos sound alike. Older banjos are highly prized for their unique tones that evoke the late great artists of blues, bluegrass, and folk. This handy guide lets you know if you’re picking on a goldmine.

Vintage Banjo

    1. Age

With a few exceptions, older banjos are more sought-after. This is because older models use now-defunct materials, giving them tone that is unique from more modern instruments. Many early Gibson models are incredibly valuable.

You can find the age of your banjo by Google searching the model name and serial number. If your banjo was handmade, you can have it dated by an expert.

    1. Extreme rarity

Some banjos are incredibly rare and can be worth thousands. The 1938 Gibson Mastertone flathead five-string, made famous by Earl Scruggs, is valued at thousands of dollars since fewer than 100 were ever made. While more common, Epiphone banjos made during the Great Depression tend to also be worth great deals of money.

    1. Condition

People don’t buy banjos just to display; they buy them to play. The condition and tone of your banjo should be like new. Otherwise, it is not likely to have increased in value.

    1. Refurbishment

Banjos can fool you. It might seem in great condition, but that could be because the original patina, frets, or tuners have been replaced.

Replacement parts damage a banjo’s value in a number of ways. First, it interferes with the authenticity of the banjo, a highly-prized quality for collectors. Second, it can compromise the banjo’s sound. For example, a common repair since the 1980s has been to replace a vintage banjo’s friction tuners with easier-to-use modern gear turners. However, gear tuners put weight and pressure on the banjo that older instruments are not designed to withstand. They can cause micro-fractures in the grain.

Similarly, frets, finishes, and plated hardware have changed a great deal in the last generation, and modern replacements compromise the unique sound of older banjos.

The exception is skin. The skin covering is very difficult to date, does not compromise vintage sound, and thus does not usually decrease the value of the instrument.

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