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Restoring a banjo/ collector/ player value

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Mar 31, 2020 - 8:04:43 PM
10 posts since 3/30/2020

I've been wondering whether restoring an old banjo has any influence on its value or not? I really enjoy woodworking and luthier work and would like to try to restore some old instruments. Would taking an old banjo (SS Stewart for example) that has been well used, has scratches, dings, and tarnishing and taking it apart, refinishing and polishing it increase or decrease its value? I'm not meaning replacing parts with new ones, but rather doing a light sanding and finishing be a problem? If you were buying one, what would it mean to you if it had been majorly restored from unplayable to playable condition?

Thanks for the help, I really appreciate it!
-Dale

Mar 31, 2020 - 8:29:28 PM
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rcc56

USA

2759 posts since 2/20/2016

Cleaning is one thing. Refinishing is another.

Cleaning the hardware will be fine as long as you don't go through the original plating.

And yes, we like instruments to be in playable condition.  But any repairs should be done conscientiously and skillfully, and with sensitivity to the instrument's history.

But generally speaking, refinishing an antique instrument devalues it by 50% or more compared to a similar instrument with original finish. Today's preferences are for an original finish, even if it's beat up. The banjo world may be a little less sensitive to refinishing than the rest of the string instrument world, but it will still devalue the instrument significantly.

About the only reasons for refinishing an instrument these days are if the instrument was previously refinished poorly, or because you just don't like an old beat up finish, love the instrument, and don't care about the effect on the value.

Stewarts were varnished. If you like, you can try to carefully clean up the original finish with rottenstone and mineral oil. That's about as far as I would go on an antique instrument. You can get rottenstone from International Violin Company. If you do, browse their catalog. They are a good source for stains, shellac, violin varnish, hide glue, etc.

Edited by - rcc56 on 03/31/2020 20:32:12

Mar 31, 2020 - 8:50:24 PM
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beegee

USA

21623 posts since 7/6/2005

Collectible value depends on:
Desirability...how many folks want these? Are they rare or unique?
Quality: old junk is still junk
Originality...original condition is desirable over modified. Repaired, restored, refurbished, remodeled?
Condition...pristine or rode-hard and put-up wet?
Provenance...Proof of purchase, chain of custody.

Bear in mind that some Stardavari Baroque violins were "modernized", thereby making them more desirable by players, but maybe not to "collectors"

Sometimes, an old, quality instrument is in deplorable condition, in which case it would be prudent to restore to playability to the limit of its market value. Early in my career, I bought a 1941 D-18 that was mostly bondo under gold paint. If I had had the  knowledge and skills then that I have now, I would have restored it. I wish now that I had done so. I traded it. I'm currently repairing an old Bluebird banjo  to use as a personal clawhammer banjo. It has little value as-is, but once it's playable again, it will be a $100 banjo.

I have a 1928 Granada AT, 2PF that is well-worn. I have been tempted to have it re-plated and to refinish the resonator. But, as it approaches its century-mark, I have no major reason, as its condition speaks to its experience. refinishing always causes me to ask,"What else has been done to it?"

Edited by - beegee on 03/31/2020 20:57:42

Mar 31, 2020 - 9:03:43 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23446 posts since 6/25/2005

Note that among -string players, restoration tends to be much more acceptable than among 5-string players. Perhaps because flash visible from the stage is considered important.

Apr 1, 2020 - 2:21:29 AM
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DSmoke

USA

833 posts since 11/30/2015

I restore vintage tenor banjos and have no problem selling them. I believe it comes down more to what banjo are you restoring and why. Most of the banjos I restore are not playable and have finish problems, many have been over-sprayed. I can't stand a thick lacquer finish on a vintage tenor. Or, the original finish is soft, missing, cracked, or crazed. While some people might not want it, there are plenty who want a banjo that looks original as to when it left the factory 90 plus years ago and is setup to play. However, my main player is very desirable but well-worn banjo with good history, so I left it as is. This banjo would sell for more if I was to restore it as I'm not sure anyone would care who the previous owner was to justify the condition.

I feel this is different than what you find in the 5 string and Gibson world though.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:02:29 AM

Brett

USA

2155 posts since 11/29/2005

I had a Baldwin prop style D hardware all replated, as well as Gibson ES-345 hardware replated. I was thrilled with the work and price, this was 30 or so years ago. But now, I don’t think it’s as reasonably priced as it used to be. Likely due to more astringent EPA regulations upon that industry. That’s what the guys in autobody stripping and radiator dunking and blasting industries tell me. More stringent rqmts means more cost passed on to the customer.
It’s hard to find or afford having plating done anymore.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:10:11 AM

Brett

USA

2155 posts since 11/29/2005

The concerns with refins are, what was under there and might be glued and camouflaged. And also, it was aging great, drying out, sounding better and better, and you just resealed the wood. So, it’s not going to sound as open as it did before. And now it’s going to have to age another 40 years to sound as good. This also brings up materials used to refin. Did you just use a thinner more breatheable finish that’ll allow the wood to continue to dry (and sound better), or did you use 2 pounds of poly, so the old fiddle now sounds like a gourd. Or mandolin, or d-18. I’ve heard a lot of these thoughts.
I’ve heard other guys say it makes no difference in tone. I’ve heard a dealer and picker once say he’d just as soon have a new one as an old one. There are guys that can hear and feel the differences and those who can’t, and those mixed on it. And, they’ll adjust what they feel something’s worth accordingly.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:12:35 AM

Brett

USA

2155 posts since 11/29/2005

Wouldn’t trade my ‘56 d-18 for a new one! And it looks like Willie Nelson threw it away.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:18:15 AM

Brett

USA

2155 posts since 11/29/2005

I should clarify also, on the Baldwin style d and es-345, the gold was completely gone. I desoldered orig pickup covers, stripped all parts down and reused every factory part only replated, same on he style D. Neither instrument really needed or received any modifications otherwise except thorough rag cleaning kinda stuff. My 56 d-18 has no finish on a lot of it. And, will stay that way. Took me a long time to force myself to put new tuners on, as 1 was so badly bent and hard to use.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:28:27 AM
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csacwp

USA

2643 posts since 1/15/2014

Restoring/refinishing a 5-string will ruin the value. It's as simple as that. Only make repairs that are necessary for the structural integrity of the instrument. Do not alter it to conform to modern playing styles.

Edited by - csacwp on 04/01/2020 07:29:13

Apr 1, 2020 - 9:09:50 PM

10 posts since 3/30/2020

Thank you guys for the help, I really appreciate it! If I do restore a banjo, I definitely wouldn't completely re-varnish it; if you were buying a vintage/ antique banjo, would it be ok if the seller had oiled it? Often in my woodworking, I use a clear oil that enhances the wood but in no way colors it. Do you think using it would be a bad idea? Ultimately, I'm thinking as far as buying a non-working banjo, restoring it (to an extent) and reselling it.
Thanks!

Apr 2, 2020 - 9:04:10 AM
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rcc56

USA

2759 posts since 2/20/2016

The most that I will do on an old varnish finish is to clean it with rottenstone and oil. If you want more gloss, you can follow that with a high grade violin polish. I do not recommend commercial guitar polishes for this sort of finish, and you should absolutely not use store-bought furniture polishes.

Apr 2, 2020 - 7:50:31 PM

RG

USA

3020 posts since 8/7/2008
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quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

Restoring/refinishing a 5-string will ruin the value. It's as simple as that. Only make repairs that are necessary for the structural integrity of the instrument. Do not alter it to conform to modern playing styles.


If it's an old trade banjo who cares?  It would have limited value anyway.  Higher end banjos yes, but repairable tubs?  Get in the shop and fix them up to play, better then being wall hangers...

Apr 2, 2020 - 8:38:36 PM

csacwp

USA

2643 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by RG
quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

Restoring/refinishing a 5-string will ruin the value. It's as simple as that. Only make repairs that are necessary for the structural integrity of the instrument. Do not alter it to conform to modern playing styles.


If it's an old trade banjo who cares?  It would have limited value anyway.  Higher end banjos yes, but repairable tubs?  Get in the shop and fix them up to play, better then being wall hangers...


Agreed, but he mentioned an SS Stewart.

Apr 3, 2020 - 1:55:16 AM

RG

USA

3020 posts since 8/7/2008
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp
quote:
Originally posted by RG
quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

Restoring/refinishing a 5-string will ruin the value. It's as simple as that. Only make repairs that are necessary for the structural integrity of the instrument. Do not alter it to conform to modern playing styles.


If it's an old trade banjo who cares?  It would have limited value anyway.  Higher end banjos yes, but repairable tubs?  Get in the shop and fix them up to play, better then being wall hangers...


Agreed, but he mentioned an SS Stewart.


The way Stewart's values have plummeted, unless it's a Presentation, Thoroughbred or Special Thoroughbred, again, who cares?  The condition he described it as would leave me to believe it's a Universal Favorite or lower end model.  Stewart's aren't getting near the prices they used to... 

Apr 3, 2020 - 6:43:12 AM
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7075 posts since 8/28/2013

Prices of collectible items will always vary, and when the prices rise again, a refinished Stewart will be far less valuable than a Stewart that hasn't been mucked with.

Even now, when values have ebbed, to equate any real Stewart with a "tub" is like equating a Ferrari and a Yugo.

Apr 3, 2020 - 7:37:48 AM

10 posts since 3/30/2020

Thanks for the advice guys, I really appreciate it. I was kind of looking into an SS Stewart Thoroughbred, I found one for sale in reasonable condition for $300. I'm not sure if the seller realized what he had or not, but all he'll tell me is he isn't sure he wants to sell it. sad I was kinda wanting to really get a deal, but...

Apr 4, 2020 - 6:35:37 PM

RG

USA

3020 posts since 8/7/2008
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Prices of collectible items will always vary, and when the prices rise again, a refinished Stewart will be far less valuable than a Stewart that hasn't been mucked with.

Even now, when values have ebbed, to equate any real Stewart with a "tub" is like equating a Ferrari and a Yugo.


Then Yugo must have really upped it's game.  I've owned 22 SSS banjos over the last 40 years, none of them Bauer's or later, including a couple Special Thoroughbreds and Presentation.  I wouldn't hesitate in the least in refinishing a Universal Favorite into a player, it's value will always be minimal and I've found other contemporary makers lower end tubs (Fairbanks, Gatcomb, Haynes, F&C, Coles) to be of better quality.  No one would think of buying a Universal Favorite as an investment, and if you did, you should have your head examined.  I routinely bought Universal Favorites for $300 two decades ago, only $200 or so more than what you could get them on the 70's...

Edited by - RG on 04/04/2020 18:38:38

Apr 5, 2020 - 5:03:37 AM
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m06

England

8785 posts since 10/5/2006

Rarity value doesn’t necessarily suggest ‘high end’. Examples of early (pre-c.1870) home-made banjos or ones that were basic and relatively cheap to buy may be equally rare survivors today and to most of us valuable. That value is primarily in the original nature of that banjo i.e. the direct and tangible link to the past as experienced physically.

Sensitive and appropriate restoration/repair where possible to restore an early banjo back to original playable condition is IMHO desirable. As a banjo player interested in the history of our instrument rather than a collector per se, I want to hear and feel that banjo. To know it. Personally that acceptable work would include for example having a damaged crown gear copied exactly in every detail by a skilled machinist and replaced so an instrument can again be tuned, or cutting and repairing missing inlay with the identical material. It does not include non-structural aesthetic enhancement e.g. polishing metalwork and removing the patina of age. Someone who wants a perfect ‘as new’ specimen can have a luthier replicate the entire banjo referencing the materials and precise dimensions of the original.

Edited by - m06 on 04/05/2020 05:16:36

Apr 9, 2020 - 6:52:02 PM

137 posts since 4/17/2015

Oil, as suggested, is probably not a good idea, other than on the fingerboard.

Mineral spirits will remove most old wax and grime, and leave most finishes, including shellac, intact (but always test).

There are good polishes, such as the one made by Stewart MacDonald. And afterward finish up with a light coat of quality paste wax, such as Liberon Black Bison.
The mineral spirits can leave a bit of a haze which the polish or wax, or both, will "restore" the appearance.
I prefer a pigmented wax, amber or brown, depending on the finish color.

That is the approach I would take.

Do not use supermarket or auto products, unless you are certain, as most contain silicone and other bad stuff.

The important thing with this approach is that it protects and enhances the finish while being REVERSIBLE.

Gold plating can be delicate, and opinions differ (probably hands off is a good bet), but for nickle plated (or German silver) instruments I will usually use a quality metal polish.

Patina is important on both wood and metal surfaces, although there can be disagreements on where grime starts and patina begins, on any instrument.

But for brass, or on earlier banjos (say before 1880 or so), I would generally simply clean parts in Ivory or other PH neutral soap/detergent. Our local art conservation center uses Ivory on a number of surfaces.

In my opinion it is much like in medicine- "first do no harm."

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