Can you all tell me what this is? My daughter wants to learn the banjo and this one was given to her by a friend of my husbands that had it lying around. Obviously it needs strings, but I don’t wanna give it to my 13 year old without making sure it’s not an antique and have her accidentally ruin it... help?
There are others who might be able to tell you the origin of that banjo. But, dollars to doughnuts, it's of no greater value than the least expensive new instruments currently on the market. Furthermore, while it's possible for anyone to do major damage (e.g., by stepping on the neck at its thinnest part), there's no potential danger related to any activity resembling playing (i.e., even by a complete novice).
The important question is what kind of music inspired your daughter. Almost all banjos have either four or five strings. There is very, very little in common between the music played on the two. Seeking out videos will help decide. The choice should really be made at the outset.
(Ignore the people who point out correctly that many of the all-time greatest blues guitar players started out on one-string instruments. A world-class banjo player I know started out with just a neck and imagined the rest!)
It is quite an old banjo, but not collectible. I don't know the brand either, but it was built as a student grade instrument and is not worth more than maybe a couple of hundred dollars.
That means it's still perfectly suitable for a student. You can put it to use without worry.
It was made by Gretsch. Take off the resonator and there may be a Gretsch serial number on the dowelstick. Hard to tell the year from your photos, but if the Kluson 6-string tailpiece is original, the banjo was made sometime from the late 1950's through the 1960's.
This is not a valuable antique, as has been pointed out.
What hasn't been pointed out is that this is a four string tenor banjo. If yor daughter wishes to play bluegrass banjo or clawhammer banjo, she will need a five string banjo.
This banjo does not have significant value. I think the cost of making it playable with the upgrade to geared tuners for tuning ease, cleaning and set up would cost about $200 and the banjo will not be worth much more than that.
Most importantly, what kind of banjo music does your daughter want to play? Your Gretsch banjo is a 4 string tenor banjo. It is tuned in fifths and played with a flat pick. The most common styles of music used on a tenor banjo currently are Dixieland jazz and traditional Irish. each of those styles require a different tuning and set up.
If she is interested in playing bluegrass, old time, or classic, those styles are played on a five string banjo.
With social distancing, you and her will be able to explore an overwhelming number of banjo players on YouTube. That will at least give you a good place to start.
Feel free to e-mail me through the "Contact" page on my web site. I'd be glad to discuss issues related to starting to play the banjo. I've been teaching for the past 25+ years, and most of my students have started with me as beginners.
'The One that got away...' 15 min
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