I may potentially have an opportunity to purchase an SS Stewart Thoroughbred Banjo and am interested what you guys think it is worth or worth paying for it. It appears to be made by Samuel Swaim Stewart and not his partner, George Bauer, as the model number is 13789. It is in pretty good condition from the pictures, however I haven't been able to see it in person yet. It will need a new fifth string tuning machine and probably also the four tuners as well. It does appear to have a new Remo Weatherking head. What would you guys say would be a reasonable offer? Thanks for the help, I really appreciate it!
Bill Rogers (Moderator)
Stewarts are prone to neck warpage and twisting if they’ve had steel strings. Be sure to check that out. I don’t know where the market is right now—depends on the particular banjo.
Some Stewarts warp, some do not. They have a bad rep on this forum that they don't necessarily deserve.
I've seen quite a few that have held up with light steel for decades.
The established retail shops list solid Thoroughbreds from $1000 to $1750 these days, depending on condition and who the seller is. That's for a reasonably original instrument, no cracks, at least somewhat set up, with a 48 hour return policy. $1750 might be stretching it.
There are three in the classifieds right now, one at $900 with no returns, one at $1500 with return policy, and one at $1099 with a repaired peghead crack [which might be considered a high price in that condition].
The one pictured on your home page looks to be in pretty good shape. If I were looking for one I might offer $1200 if the neck is straight and there are no cracks. If the neck isn't straight or there are cracks, considerably less.
Someone will retort that they can be had all day long on ebay for a few hundred dollars. No returns, no accurate condition statement, buy at your own risk, etc, etc. Let the buyer beware. For those who are willing to take a risk, they might get a bargain, or they might get a wreck. I prefer not to buy ebay instruments.
Yes, those are the prices that dealers are asking for them.
I am not sure what velocity they are moving them at with those prices.
Edited by - Joel Hooks on 03/31/2020 05:40:15
Thank you guys for the help, I really appreciate it. I forgot to mention that it does appear to have a repair done where the fingerboard meets the pot, not sure if this would decrease its value much or not? Thanks!
The fairly thin fretboard has been rammed against the tension hoop for 100+ years and guess what? It flattens out a bit. On my much cheaper SSStewart student #2 I took a small cat can lid and cut a shim with tin snips, brass side out, and it came out pretty good. The thin brass shim matches the thin brass fret wires already on the Stewart and it almost looks like it is supposed to be there, unnoticeable by most banjo players and all non-banjo players (yes they do exist. banjered
Stewart banjos are not supposed to have shims. People add shims out of ignorance of the original set up. Or to try and make them something that they are not.
Stewart banjos were built with a high action (as high as 1/4" at the 12th fret) with a 1/2" bridge. They are nearly unplayable with steel strings without irreversible modifications (or should I say invasive modifications).
Make sure that there has not been a second hole drilled at the tailpiece end of the rim. This is a hack job attempt to lower the action that is seen on many of them. Sometimes a second block is added or some sort of metal angle for the same "repair."
These banjos are what they are. They were developed for a specific sound and music style that very few people play today (or even know about). They make okay "old time" banjos. There are much better "old time" banjos than these.
Provided that there is no lasting damage from the steel strings, expect it to be what it is, a banjo designed for popular music of the late 19th century (and played with gut strings). It is a relic of a forgotten music style and sound.
Be suspicious of other damage. Things that wire strings damage... friction tuners, the shoulder where the 5th string nut is (this breaks off), neck straightness, tailpieces (missing original tailpieces were broken, not lost), slipped dowel joint, ruined (and irreplaceable) original frets, and scratches to the peghead (caused by the sharp end of wire strings).
I am sure there are other things I can't think of right now.
I used to have one of those, a wonderful sounding and playing instrument. Mine was steel-strung, had it like that for about 30 years and the neck was perfect.
Sold it last year, as I wasn't playing it anymore, to a young fellow who always wanted one. It was great to see it ending up with someone who was going to be playing it instead of becoming a wall ornament.
The damage at the end of the fingerboard can easily be fixed by a competent repairman. You can use it as a bargaining chip to knock a hundred or so off the price.
Some folks don't want you to buy a Stewart. Some consider them inferior to modern instruments. I don't see it that way. Personally, I prefer the old banjos. But what we think doesn't really matter. What matters is what you like.
I say buy what you like and enjoy it.
Edited by - rcc56 on 03/31/2020 10:18:52
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