Alright, this beast arrived last night. If folks could give me ideas about what is and is not original I’d much appreciate it. The added inlays look like bone. You can make out the original MOPs on 5, 7, 10, and 12 (if memory serves) so I think the fingerboard is original (?) but if that’s so I have no idea how to explain the filled-in nut slot under the first fret. Also, these side dots? The frets have a kind of worn copper coating I’ve never seen and look poorly crowned. As expected the truss cover was a sham! And there are plenty of other unfortunate things going on here. (Were those coordinator rod holes re-drilled? What is this neck? The dark stripe runs all the way down to the heel. Are the upper tuner holes enlarged? Is there any chance this finish is original? There’s Rare darker spots that make me think not. These hooks and nuts look like replacements correct?)
Anyhow I’ll let you all have at it. This thing appears to be teetering between worthless and priceless to me ha. Happy holidays to you all! This ugly duckling is on the market by the way, for better or worse! Any guesstimates are welcome.
Ok...here’s another one. Wards banjo.
Recently another post here about a similar instrument. Maybe it was the same instrument and my memory is slipped on it.
FW = For Wards. I.E. made for and sold through Montgomery Ward, a large retailer at the time.
916-8 =. As I’m led to believe is just a serial number.
If I remember correctly, these were made for Wards only in 1939-1940.
Based on what I can see what you have there is in essence a original Gibson Five String banjo, highly messed with and in terrible condition, but all the same an original Gibson Pre-WWII banjo.
Looks like it could be resurrected to playable. Maybe even restorable to near original.
Look in the archive here or in the fairly recent posts about Ward/Gibson banjos. Also look on the website here :
Search out Ward banjos.
Don’t know what you paid for it, but you most likely got your money’s worth.
Looks “good” to me!
You probably saved in the $10,000 amount when you bought the banjo.
Not too many persons get a “Curtis McPeake deal” on a prewar Gibson (i.e., a deal similar to Curtis’ purchase of a fully fledged prewar Flathead for $100 - documented in Jim Mill’s Mastertone Banjo book.)
Edited by - okbluegrassbanjopicker on 12/25/2019 13:37:51
According to the Gibson shipping ledgers FW 916-8 was a model 955 five-string banjo, sent to Montgomery Ward in Baltimore, Ohio on Thursday, March 28th 1940. Gibson made the model 955 for Montgomery Ward in 1939, 1940 and 1941, but strangely it only appears in the 1941-1942 Fall-Winter catalog. It was a very basic instrument, thin wood rim, one-piece die-cast flange, simple brass tension hoop, flat hooks, and many shipped with no peghead logo.
Thanks for the replies all! I’m definitely excited that it appears to be an original 5 string! Since that other quite pristine 955 has been sitting on eBay for a good while with a 2,400 opening bid I suspect this will maintain a very humble price point, and I hope it will make some player very happy. There’s too many trade offs to consider with the restoration process for me to want to dig in and make it sing I think. I’m not sure what I’ll do but right now I’m thinking I’d rather give a player a good deal on a project (if any are interested) than try to elevate its price by getting it all spruced up. I’ve got to say, I just tapped the head with my nail when I inboxed it and I heard immediately why these are so legendary. I’ve seen many banjos, but dang. Thanks again! Happy holidays!
You just received "The Final Word" about your banjo from Mr. Joe Spann, Gibson banjo historian, extrordinaire.
If i were you, I'd find an age appropriate Gibson 00 resonator, take everything to one of several highly reputable, pre-war Gibson banjo luthiers, and have it restored to original condition. You'd be amazed at what these guys can do......
Yea... that is quite restorable. I don't mean pristine which, with this, would cost a fortune and borders on fakery. Restorable to a great playing, serviceable instrument with cosmetic issues that become part of the mojo—yea, someone will be very happy with that.
I paid $50 a few years back for a Kalamazoo plectrum in slightly better shape with the logo sanded off. By the time I was done, a friend was paying me my cost plus $150 for a left handed theater pit band banjo that he still uses. He's happy explaining that it's a no-name Gibson. To make the assembly more rigid, I added a second co-rod — I didn't like the feel of the thin rim with only one.