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Good Price? Gibson Earl Scruggs Special

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Nov 14, 2019 - 9:48:22 PM
4 posts since 2/28/2006

Please help!!! I need help with a possible purchase. I know someone who has a 1996 "Earl Scruggs Special" banjo. A couple pictures attached, it seems to be in great condition. Serial number is ES-96-9.

They're asking $6,000 for the banjo. Good price or not?



Nov 15, 2019 - 12:09:54 AM



330 posts since 2/25/2011

At that price I think you should be able to decide for yourself if it's worth it or not. That's a lot of money, and for that kind of coin I'd be wanting to see the banjo in person before deciding to buy it.

Nov 15, 2019 - 4:33:22 AM
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1958 posts since 12/31/2005

In terms of market value? No. At that price, it's a $2800 banjo with $3200 of adornments. I'm not suggesting you can get an ES Special for $2800 (its about what you can get a standard for if you watch), but the difference between that and the purchase price is what you pay for bling.  Nothing wrong with that at all. If the money is not an issue with you and you have to have it (which you can only really know by playing it), then fine. If you are trying to justify by saying you can turn around and sell it later (or you think it is an "investment"), don't count on getting all of your money back (the difference between what you pay and what you will get back is essentially rent, which may be fine). You also have to be honest about what you will do with it. Will it be a closet queen, taken out only to clean and show off? Is it going to be an every day player that will develop wear? I couldn't schlep around. Also, get the serial number. There was a stolen one on mugwumps (ES-99-53). Prior discussion on these:

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 11/15/2019 04:35:31

Nov 15, 2019 - 4:49:05 AM
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598 posts since 5/19/2018

That is an awful lot of money for a little extra pearl inlay and the word special engraved on a tailpiece.

If I was able to pull together 6,000 for a relative contemporary banjo, my personal thoughts would be pull another 6,000 together and get something vintage that may have the possibility of holding some value.

With that particular banjo, I would spend 4,000 and get a mint 80’s Granada.

You can take the 2,000 you didn’t spend and take your significant other someplace nice so they forget you spent 4,000 on a banjo.

Nov 15, 2019 - 5:31:53 AM
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330 posts since 2/25/2011

You could probably get something from Jim Mills for that kind of money.

Nov 15, 2019 - 5:59:03 AM
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2261 posts since 1/16/2013

That price is about right.

Nov 15, 2019 - 6:10:05 AM

129 posts since 3/16/2008

If I had 6,000 for a banjo, I'd buy a prewar conversion from Jim Mills.

A prewar conversion will retain its value, much more significantly, if what I'm seeing in the market is correct.

Nov 15, 2019 - 6:31:38 AM

1958 posts since 12/31/2005

Adjusting for inflation, an Earl Scruggs Special sold new for $9000 (in today's dollars). If estimates are correct and you could find a buyer for $4,500, they have lost half their value. So comparatively, Ron Brooks is correct.

But another way of looking at it is you "lost" $4500 over ten years. That's $38 per month, or a little over $1 per day. Would you rent such a banjo for $1 per day? Doesn't seem like that bad of a deal when you think of it that way.

Nov 15, 2019 - 7:41:20 AM

12355 posts since 10/30/2008

Look at comparative Gibsons post 1987. There's a LOT of bling on the banjo you're lusting for. Abalone, which isn't on other standard Gibsons. Tons of engraving, putting it in the class of the Gibson Style 5 or Style 6 or 18 (Centennial models).

On that basis, $6000 appears to be a slightly lower asking price than contemporary 5s, 6s and 18s, which are listed above $6000.

It's very likely the Earl Scruggs name will make this banjo a bit more salable in future years. The market for 5s, 6s and 18s is quite restricted on the buying side.

Only you can decide if you want to sink money into "bling". If you do, $6000 is no bargain, but likewise it's lower than 5s, 6s and 18s by some hundreds of dollars.

I believe the price is lower than super fancy Deerings, Omes and Stellings.

If you see a clean $4000 Granada, nab it. Most asking prices are significantly higher for really clean ones. The banjo you're asking about has a LOT, A LOT more bling than a Granada, if that's what you like. Should sound the same.

Good luck with your decision.

Nov 15, 2019 - 8:05:13 AM



2351 posts since 2/20/2016

As has been said, $6000 allows for a lot of choices.
For that amount of money, you will want to make sure you like the banjo before you pull the trigger.

The re-sale value for fancy, limited edition instruments is rather unpredictable. In many cases, limited editions will not bring much more than standard models, but there are exceptions.

If you are buying for yourself, you like the banjo, and you can afford it, that's one thing.
If you're buying with the intention of selling later, that's another. Future re-sale at your cost or at a profit is a gamble.

In today's market, the number of buyers that will pay over $3000 - $4000 for an instrument is rather small.

Nov 15, 2019 - 9:01:04 AM

205 posts since 7/28/2019

Forget the gold and get yourself a Gibson Scruggs Std. (ESS). I own one and love it. Should find one in the 2500-3000 range. Unless gold is a must. And it really never is.

Edited by - kmwaterstx on 11/15/2019 09:01:55

Nov 15, 2019 - 11:40:03 AM

1958 posts since 12/31/2005

If you love the gold, but not necessarily teh abalone or binding, @9470 Granada (Jim Britton) has one of these:

Nov 15, 2019 - 11:43:48 AM



330 posts since 2/25/2011

Originally posted by kmwaterstx

Forget the gold and get yourself a Gibson Scruggs Std. (ESS). I own one and love it. Should find one in the 2500-3000 range. Unless gold is a must. And it really never is.

The ESS seem to be going for a bit more these days. There was one recently that someone sent a link to for $3,000, but was reported to have a lot of player wear on the neck, lots of oxidation of hardware, etc. another I saw for $3,000 had some modifications. Seems like they're more in the $3500-plus range these days. 

Nov 15, 2019 - 11:58:08 AM
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205 posts since 7/28/2019

If you are not in a hurry..................others will show up before too long.

Nov 17, 2019 - 11:32:38 AM

upin the air


11 posts since 11/10/2010

I purchased an Earl Scruggs Special a few years ago. It was unusual as they don't come up for sale often and at that time there was one for sale privately and another thru a reputable dealer. They were both in pristine and or in unplayed condition (obviously not every day players) and they were all selling for approximately that same price as the banjo you are looking at.

They are like their name Special, gold hardware, Bella Voce engraving, beautiful abalone fingerboard, neck and resonator inlays are incredibly beautiful.

Like a Granada (yes and no). Likely sound exactly the same but all of those above mentioned extras obviously take a considerable amount of time from skilled craftsmen which in the end all costs money.

I purchased mine as a collectors piece period. It remains basically that way in unplayed mint condition. NO thoughts on selling or parting with it as it would possibly mean at best break even or maybe a loss? and I would kick myself later forever parting with it.

Nov 17, 2019 - 12:01:22 PM

1105 posts since 7/12/2004

Dick and Bob have nailed it. The instruments that are in demand are the ones that people are most familiar with. From that period, it's the nickel plated Scruggs, RB-3, RB-250, and the Granada. IMO, the fancier models made around the same time, like this one and the New Century line, actually suffer from the fact that they look different. Even in the original pre-war flathead world, it's the mainstream models like the -3, -4, -75 and Granada that get the big bucks. You can save lots of money if you go for a top tension or the super-blingy -6 and carved models instead. Also, condition is critical in collector banjos, so if you're serious about playing it, you'll be reducing the value every time you rub a little gold off the armrest or add wear to the frets.

Consider your motivation. If you're buying a work of art that makes your heart beat faster whenever you open the case, and this one does that for you, go for it. If you want a great sounding banjo, keep in mind that Mastertones from the late 80s to the early 2000s are quite consistent in quality and somewhat consistent in sound, and there are enough around that you can shop for just the sound and look you want. If you're buying as an investment and look forward to cashing out in the future, consider stocks.

Edited by - waystation on 11/17/2019 12:02:43

Nov 18, 2019 - 8:07:11 AM

1919 posts since 1/10/2004

IMO, only get it if you very specifically want to have a Special and don't mind paying the premium (it doesn't seem to me like a banjo I'd want to play everywhere or every day with the bling). Otherwise get a better value in an RB-3, RB-250, ESS, etc. I agree with others about the appeal of the standard models that are "classic" and look the part. My favorite banjo right now is my 95 RB-3 with the "plain" and classic full leaves and bows inlay. Just plain old good and solid Gibson style, build and tone. In most respects it fully resembles what might have been a highly coveted and treasured pre-war banjo for a pro or semi-pro in the 50s and 60s (and even to this day of course).

Nov 18, 2019 - 8:22:11 AM



330 posts since 2/25/2011

I'd go for a Standard over the Special. You can find standards in the $3,000-$4,000 range, sometimes even less. A $3,000 uncharge seems to be a bit much for gold plating and more inlays. But with that said, I usually prefer less bling, not more, and if this particular Special sounds great, you love the look and have the money, why not?!

Nov 18, 2019 - 11:14:36 AM
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2351 posts since 2/20/2016

Does anyone know how many ES Specials were made?
It is doubtful that Gibson can provide accurate information about this.
I will guess that not more than a few dozen were made.

Most of the respondents don't want you to buy the banjo.
But, if you like the banjo, and like the trim, it may be a long time before you see another one.
You can always make an offer.

Unless buying it would put you under financial strain, go with your gut on this one.

Nov 28, 2019 - 11:18:39 AM



294 posts since 9/12/2006

I suspect there certainly are individuals who can tell you exactly how many ES Specials were produced, NOT counting any special order, custom, or any other "change from standard spec," or things that might have come out of the custom shop. Nick Kimmons and/or Doug Hutchens are 2 names that immediately come to mind, and I'm sure there are probably others. I also suspect they number over a few dozen; maybe not into the thousands, but certainly into the "hundreds."

Nov 28, 2019 - 9:23:30 PM



2351 posts since 2/20/2016

Note that a member has found an ebay listing for a similar banjo at twice the price . . .

Nov 29, 2019 - 5:19:22 AM

317 posts since 3/27/2011

Someone just listed one for 12,000 on mandolin cafe and there’s also one at a music store here in Knoxville for about the same price. Not sure what either will end up bringing but the asking prices are about the same. Not my cup of tea but if I was in the market I’d expect to pay over 10 at least.

Nov 30, 2019 - 1:09:14 PM



770 posts since 2/9/2007

If you like its sound ,looks and playability,and if you can afford it, i would buy it . Just remember it may not be what others would be prepared to spend on such a banjo, but if it excites you every time you play it , it will be worth it to you .we all place value on different things ,and some things are only worth what people are prepared to pay for it to have it .

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