Bill Rogers (Moderator)
Just looking for opinions here. Is rarity important to you in buying a banjo—presuming you’re not a collector? I ask because over the years I’ve seen a number of sellers who seem to justify a high asking price on the ground that they’re selling a rare banjo.
My first decent banjo, which I still have, is an unlabelled spunover 38 bracket banjo with a nice floral design carved into the peg head. I've never seen another quite like it. That said, I paid $75 for it in 1980, and if I were to sell it, which I don't plan to, I would not expect it to bring more than a few hundred dollars.
I like unusual or rare instruments, but they only attract me if they are good instruments.
I suppose if I were more prosperous, I might buy interesting looking wall hangers, but on a small time musician's income during a rough time for the arts, I leave the wall hangers for others.
Personally, I don't find rarity an important factor in choosing a banjo (although, because I live in the UK, most banjo brands are rare here). For me, what matters in order of importance are sound, playability and appearance. I've been playing more than fifty years and have owned many good banjos, but I reached a point in life a while ago when I was no longer prepared to accept compromise on any aspect of the banjos I played. I wanted sound and playability and appearance. By the most amazing good fortune, I found an Osborne Chief for sale in the UK, and at last I have a banjo meeting all my criteria. Here, it's certainly rare (I've never seen another) but the rarity isn't important to me.
Edited by - HSmith on 05/23/2020 23:59:28
I like the idea of owning something unique, but also understand that it doesn't necessarily translate to more of someone else's money.
If you aren't a collector, you probably wouldn't know "rare" unless it was a steak...or are so naive that you believe what sellers tell you. If you are wise enough to do your research...then I would call you a collector! If you are thinking of becoming banjo investor, I have another name for you.
I'm a collector. I don't buy "rare", I buy what I like. Yes, some of them qualify as "rare"...but I didn't use that as a basis. I simply thought they were cool. I don't consider investment value. I'm not going sell them to make money (I don't keep records so I wouldn't know if it sold up or down) and I don't give a hoot whether my heirs/assigns make money off the estate sale (Miz Diane likes the phrase "banjo funeral pyre"). Extra crispy, please.
I'm not a collector, but I do seem to accumulate banjos. I like vintage and I like to play my banjos. A banjo that is as rare and valuable as some sellers would lead me to believe, needs to be in an archival sealed display case of some sort, and why would I want to own a banjo I can't play regularly?
There are any number of "rare" banjos I wouldn't pay $10 for.
Plus in the banjo world, there's a large variety (brand names, models, age, etc) of rare banjos.
I want a banjo that I want to PLAY, that looks good, that I can afford. I've owned a couple or three that might have been a little bit rare/unusual, that pleased ME to own, but they had to be affordable and they had to perform first.
" I ask because over the years I’ve seen a number of sellers who seem to justify a high asking price on the ground that they’re selling a rare banjo."
That's certainly true. "Rare and (therefore) highly desirable." This is seen for other objects as well, whether they be coins, stamps, or Cracker Jack toys. There may be in part of the population a certain portion that gains satisfaction from possessing something that others don't have, and I think that sellers want to tap into this.
And I think the "rare" aspect works to some degree. Sure, there will be a lot of responders to this thread who will say, "Doesn't make any difference to me, I care only about the sound." The nature of Bill's question will tend to draw responses mostly on one side of the issue.
At the same time, in other threads plenty of different responders will be ooohing and aaaahing over the cosmetic and unusual aspects of banjos recently acquired by someone. The collector mentality can be at work even if a person is not a "collector."
I believe it is George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars who has drawn a distinction between rarity and value, with the words: "The plague is rare, but it is not valuable."
Edited by - Alex Z on 05/24/2020 07:11:56
I always have a chuckle when somebody adds the adjective "rare" to an ebay description. It usually means "I know nothing about these so it's not surprising that I've never seen one before". It sometimes means "not very good or successful design or builder so there aren't many of them". I'm not a collector so only buy banjos that I want to play (though I seem to have collected quite a few). But even if I was I would value quality but not rarity. In collecting fields where the collectible has no intrinsic value or use (stamps, coins....) rarity (and condition) is all. But banjos ?
It would be near the bottom of my list to consider. I can only think of it being considered between two equally desirable instruments (which I have never encountered)
There was only one famous banjo owned by Earl Scruggs. Litter mates are then rare also. Since they are banjos, then banjos of limited survivor types become rare. It is very easy to label anything as rare and be right.
Every buyer says rare is of no value. Every seller believes rare is important. MR Gruhn never discounts his label of rare.
Edited by - Aradobanjo on 05/24/2020 07:45:15
To me, often it's like steak...."rare", means"not well-done" or not done well. A friend of mine who is a vintage collector says, "old junk is still junk."
Rarity matters to me. If it's rare, I don't want it, because I'm paying for collector value and I don't collect banjos. I want the most common banjos out there, the ones that are overstocked and have 2 sellers for every buyer. It's the reason I don't own a Gibson and probably never will, I'm not paying a 25-100%+ premium because the company that made the banjo went bankrupt due to inept management. They're good banjos but the prices are ridiculously high considering they're used banjos, even for a basic model.
Rarity is a strange thing, because it's all about criteria. If you get specific enough with your needs, anything is rare.
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