Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Does restoration erode value.....?

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!
Jul 12, 2018 - 3:41:41 AM
15 posts since 12/31/2014

Just wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the issue restoration, particularly on the resale value of a high quality vintage banjo?

For instance, taking the most important factor of playability out of the equation, is it likely that a vintage Epiphone or Gibson that has undergone a full gold replate and “factory” woodwork restore, repolish etc. would increase in value or would be better left with the battle scars, patina and blemishes of age? Any thoughts?

Jul 12, 2018 - 4:04:46 AM

mbuk06 Players Union Member


6641 posts since 10/5/2006

It would depend on the buyer.

My preference in regard to the banjos that interest me, playability aside, is for no restoration work that affects condition or appearance.

Why destroy what age is? If I want a new-looking 'old' banjo I can ask a luthier to build a shiny reproduction.

On early rare and historically interesting banjos I think this is an important issue. What is 'restored' is taking a unique aspect that is then removed and that original character is then lost forever.

Edited by - mbuk06 on 07/12/2018 04:05:43

Jul 12, 2018 - 4:11:52 AM
like this

1369 posts since 11/27/2005

Anything done to alter the original fabric of a vintage instrument ,shotgun ,furniture or any collectable item will reduce the value .


Jul 12, 2018 - 6:11:11 AM
like this



90 posts since 6/26/2004

The following are my personal opinions formed after 50 years of working on banjos.

It is almost impossible to collect high-end Fairbanks banjos without having some pearl restoration done. Over time, it falls out and is lost. If you don't replace/restore it, you have lost the inherent beauty of the instrument. The same goes for the headstock veneer. It deteriorates with time. It can even prevent tuning pegs from operating. Replacing/restoring this raises the instrument's value. This presupposes that the restoration work is done correctly.

If the frets are terribly worn, and you don't dress or replace them, the banjo is less desirable as a player. The same with a warped or broken neck or a broken head. They can be repaired, however, without completely redoing the instrument. Things like fingerboard gouges can be repaired without replacing the fingerboard.

That said, it is not in the best interest of the instrument to replate it simply because the gold or other plating is not perfect. These are signs of normal aging and are best left as is. I would never take a set of original hardware off of a banjo and replace it with new hardware, as is sometimes done. I would rather have a banjo with missing brackets than all new ones.

As far as I'm concerned, cleaning is perfectly acceptable, including light polishing of plated parts. I also collect antique phonographs and the same discussion came up on a phono listserv a number of years ago. I like what one guy said: "why would I want a piece of crap like that sitting in my living room?"

I am pretty much a minimalist as far as restoration goes. I will do everything possible to save every piece of wood, pearl or other parts. However, sometimes it is simply not possible to keep the banjo "as found". I acquire banjos to play first, and for their collectibility second. I have replaced patent tuners with original Planet tuners to make the banjo more desirable to play. So far, I have never replaced original friction tuners with anything newer. Unless you drill out the hole and break the pearl, many of these types of alterations can be reversed by a good restorer.

A lot of what you do depends upon what sort of instrument you have in front of you and what you want to do with it. No one in their right mind would put geared tuners on an original, untouched minstrel banjo. By the same token, putting them on a Whyte Laydie, unless it is pristine original condition with ivory tuners, would be acceptable, in my opinion. Particularly if you want to play it with steel strings.

These are a few of my thoughts on the subject. I'm sure there will be dissenting views.

Jul 12, 2018 - 6:45:18 AM

10948 posts since 10/30/2008

Replating and refinishing generally reduce banjo value UNLESS the banjo was a wreck to begin with. At least in the bluegrass/old time world.

BHO has taught me however that some in the tenor/plectrum world seem to value (and pay extra for) "restorations" by Renee Karnes.

There are so many ways to do refinishing and replating "wrong"...

Jul 12, 2018 - 7:11:16 AM
likes this

159 posts since 5/29/2015

The world of high end collectors is unknown to most of us. They generally are interested in only mint and near mint condition instruments. They will readily replace a rare but less than clean instrument with a minty one when one comes available. Most of these instruments are sold privately. We do not have access to this culture. Some of these "people" are investment firms and banks. They are not interested in your banjo whether it has a rusty flange or has been replated.
Attitudes expressed and actual behavior are two different things. People will repeat the adages about never change a part, then turn right around and buy a more playable instrument that has been modified.
The major reason that vintage instruments have a reputation for being finicky to deal with is that many of them have not serviced properly. Other than the obvious exceptions (Gruhn, Elderly, Gryphon, Smakula and others) vintage instruments are sold in as is condition. Likewise, the dud instruments keep getting repeatedly bought and resold because they are suboptimal.
The antique violin market has no issues with neck lengthening, bridge, fingerboard, tailpiece replacement etc. They put bushings in the pegbox of 7 digit figure antique violins to keep the tuning pegs working. These are all playability issues. Yet violin restorers will go to great lengths to preserve the maker's original scroll, grafting it back onto the new longer neck. They are extremely careful about protecting varnish. I deduce from all this that making professional quality changes for the sake of playability are acceptable, but doing anything that degrades the original style/intent/methods of the maker is unacceptable. I would offer this as a standard for judging the appropriateness of repairs and restorations.

Jul 12, 2018 - 8:55:27 AM
likes this

968 posts since 1/16/2010

Well put Harry.

I have an 1890’s Morrison that was a complete wreck when I got it. Neck broken away from the dowel/pot, busted head, missing inlays, gouges in the peghead, missing frets, missing tailpiece, missing hooks, pot so corroded and green that it looked like it came out of a swamp. Now a normal person probably would have chucked this thing. But because I’m a huge Vess Ossman nut, and he used one of these early on, I wanted to have it properly restored. I lightly polished all the metal, and had everything else professionally repaired. It’s now a beautiful piece of history and art, with purpose and capability, where as before, it was worthless except in trade or parts. Restoration and it’s addition or detracting from an instruments value really varies case by case I feel. Good luck.


Jul 12, 2018 - 10:07:28 AM
likes this



1750 posts since 1/15/2014

It really depends on the condition of the banjo to being with, who does the restoration (and what quality work is done), and how much work is done? Some touchup work here and there shouldn't hurt the value at all, but things like refinishing, refretting with larger frets, neck resets, etc. can all hurt the value.

Jul 12, 2018 - 12:41:42 PM

4742 posts since 8/28/2013

5-string players differ in their attitudes toward restoration than 4 string players do. It's fairly common to see tenor and plectrum banjos that have had major restoration done, and it's not just for "playability" but also for looks. 

Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 07/12/2018 12:42:48

Jul 12, 2018 - 1:18:16 PM

Parker135 Players Union Member


295 posts since 2/19/2012

I've been wondering about this also. I have a 1967 Gibson RB-170 that has some severe checking on the neck. I don't mind a little checking, and I know that checking is sometimes "applied," especially to vintage electric guitars and such, but it feels really crappy under the hand. Since this isn't exactly a collector's banjo, I think I'll probably go ahead and have the neck refinished to make it more enjoyable to play. The pot has some light checking and some strap hook damage that I'd probably leave alone to reflect its 50+ year history of many hours of play. I just don't think it would negatively impact the value of this particular banjo to get the neck redone. Besides, it's my banjo, and I plan to keep it and put a few more years of playing on it.

Jul 12, 2018 - 6:29:44 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


21040 posts since 6/25/2005

Leaving out the collectors’ world.... My rule of thumb: 5-strings—repair for playability, probably repair damaged inlay; 4-strings—full cosmetic and playability restoration. That’s what the markets seem to want. [Irish tenors—I have no idea.]

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 07/12/2018 18:34:57

Jul 12, 2018 - 8:04:33 PM



20719 posts since 7/6/2005

It is every collector's dream to find a pristine time-capsule of whatever it is they are collecting from automobiles to violins or Faberge eggs, furniture or timepieces. In the real world that seldom exists. Rarity can reflect supply or it can indicate condition. 

My Granada was worn out when I got it. The finish is scratched and gouged. The frets were worn and the pearl inlays had been played down through the fingerboard to the maple neck wood. I have been tempted to have it replated and refinish it. But my knowledge of vintage instruments tells me that originality is worth more, because it leaves fewer questions to be answered.

In classic automobiles, it would be expected that new tires, brakes, belts etc would be necessary maintenance items. But the car guys have ways of checking for paint thickness and body filler and repro parts. And if you replace maintenance items, you get more points for having OEM or original type and style, color, size appropriate to the model. Same with banjos and guitars. A 1928 Granada with a Rogers skin head and original case is more appealing  than an identical-condition one with a mylar head and new case. Two PW that has been oversprayed will be worth less than an original-finish, just because.

As stated it really depends on the buyer, but generally speaking refinishing an instrument reduces the value, even if it was rough to begin with. It always begs the question, what else has been done to it?

Edited by - beegee on 07/12/2018 20:07:16

Jul 12, 2018 - 8:17:45 PM
like this

14 posts since 2/4/2010

I'm probably in the serious collector category ( pre-1910 banjos only ) having owned thousands of banjos in the last 40 + years. I pretty much agree with Joe Deetz and Harry Bickel in that cleaning, removing rust and oxidation, replacing missing inlays and trying to undo past poor restorations are all worthwhile endeavors and serve to enhance instrument values. I differ only slightly with Harry about tuning pegs which I keep original whenever possible ( especially on banjos with historical merit like early Whyte-Laydies, Electrics and Tubaphones). Banjos are only original once- installing geared tuning pegs ( particularly geared fifth pegs ) on collectible vintage banjos almost always means enlarging holes or suffering the small holes from the locating pins on pre-war planets. I'm reminded of an old story where the owner of the first double gryphon Fairbanks presentation banjo I ever saw wanted to have Scruggs pegs installed in place of a magnificent set of carved ivory tuners. Luckily the banjo did not suffer that indignity and went on to be the old Pickin' magazine cover photo ( the Fairbanks-Vega history issue in June 1978 ) after an extensive restoration ( many missing inlays replaced, painstaking rotting veneers glued and touched up rather than replacing them, etc).I also have my restorers salvage pearwood veneers whenever possible even though replacement with ebony would be much cheaper and perhaps be less likely to incur further damage with time. I love the patina and color gradations on aged pearwood veneers on vintage Fairbanks banjos and try to save them whenever possible ( confessions of a more than slightly manic collector ). Since there is a plethora of wonderful " boutique " banjo makers building these days I'd like to think many of the important early banjos could be preserved in as original a state as possible.

Jul 12, 2018 - 8:32:32 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


21040 posts since 6/25/2005

Speaking of restorations:  Here’s one you might have seen:

Jul 13, 2018 - 4:45:10 AM

mbuk06 Players Union Member


6641 posts since 10/5/2006

Originally posted by Jim Bollman

> Since there is a plethora of wonderful " boutique " banjo makers building these days I'd like to think many of the important early banjos could be preserved in as original a state as possible.<

Well said.

Jul 13, 2018 - 4:48:03 AM

184 posts since 7/28/2016

I was wondering if applying parts to a vintage pot from a duplicate pot is considered a no no ?. I own a vintage banjo that had some rusting on the hooks and nuts. I bought another banjo that was the exact same model and took some of these parts and used them on my original banjo. Also in my misguided youth I somehow lost the original tenor neck and tuners. Can the neck and tuners from the second banjo be sold along with the original and still be considered "original" ? Both banjos have the same metal parts and there is no serial numbers on the neck.

Jul 13, 2018 - 11:22:40 AM

15 posts since 12/31/2014

Well it looks like the jury is divided on the question I raised....prompted as it was by seeing some wonderful restorations of high end vintage banjos but simultaneously hearing many "leave it alone" comments, especially with regard to the more cosmetic aspects of restorations, which was the main focus of the question I had in mind.

Essential "playability" restorations....refrets or neck corrections for instance are easy enough to argue about I guess and maybe tuning pegs are somewhat akin to "consumables" , ideally to be replaced with vintage parts if these can be got. Bringing an instrument back to its original shine and glory both for appearance and perhaps for preserving its overall fabric is a great temptation but I get the impression that more respondents favour letting an instrument show its history as it an old fella's skin carrying the lumps, bumps and fading that come with a long life!

Thanks for so many thoughts and sound advice.......really appreciated!

Jul 13, 2018 - 8:11:52 PM
like this

14471 posts since 2/7/2003

I was trained in vintage restoration by the Masters at McCabes in the seventies.

Originality is always the driving force, as you said FUNCTION is also TOP

On vintage acoustic instrments generally looks are way down the list of priorities, and refinishing most always will not be a plus.

The instrument that got me in this business, my 1919 Gibson mandolin needed extensive repair, McCabes taught me the craft using that instument. BUT when it came to the fact it had no side dots and I wanted to add them for playability, the COLD wall came up and it was clear that was crossing a red line they would NOT be associated with, so it is as original as the day it was made... and shows every bit of its 99 years, with a SOUND to match. Even has one bent tuner, that works


Jul 13, 2018 - 10:10:38 PM

571 posts since 6/3/2013

You convert a 4 string tenor or plectrum to a 5 string Bluegrass banjo, and you have just tripled the value.

Jul 13, 2018 - 10:25:30 PM
likes this

14471 posts since 2/7/2003

APPLES and Oranges, thats not in the relm of repair or restoration, thats strictly marketing

Jul 14, 2018 - 3:40:31 AM

15 posts since 12/31/2014

Originally posted by dupreejan

You convert a 4 string tenor or plectrum to a 5 string Bluegrass banjo, and you have just tripled the value.

Oh..... what a provocation? Surely, to a tenor or plectrum player such an act of vandalism on a totally original classic will be detrimental to its “value”..... however we might now define that......a bit like replacing Mona Lisa’s head with .......well, who should I say ?

No disrespect to 5 string players though.....just a pity you had to rob the bits from someone else .....:)

Edited by - Flatat on 07/14/2018 03:56:43

Jul 14, 2018 - 5:00:20 AM

1369 posts since 11/27/2005

Back in the 70's I bought a Bacon FF Chubby Dragon in a pawn shop in California with a broken peg head The break was really bad, straight across with no good way to re glue it. The back of the peg head had the gryphon inlayed I removed the ebonized maple back strap from the banjo then removed the gryphon. I made a new ebony backstrap then glued the peghead back on and replaced the backstrap to give it strength. After re inlaying the gryphon and frenck polishing the repair it looked great. This banjo is the one in the Ring the Banjar book.


Jul 14, 2018 - 7:21:22 AM

10948 posts since 10/30/2008

Joe D. in the case you described I'm sure you INCREASED the value. Anyone who obtained that banjo deserved a set of photos of it in the broken/unusable state, so they could understand that value had been increased by the repair.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories