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Relative banjo prices over time (Please add data)

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Jun 3, 2020 - 8:40:12 AM
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2239 posts since 12/31/2005

Here is what got me thinking of this. I have seen comments that new Goodtime banjos are "expensive." Looks like retail for basic model is $480. I saw on e-bay a 1970 ad for five string Roy Smeck banjos for $99. $99 in 1970 is about $675 in today's dollar (roughly the price of a used RK-35 or -36).  But even comparing new to new, $480 for a Goodtime vs $675 for a bakelite Harmony . . . you get the point.

Anyway, I was thinking about my own first banjo, an "Antares" bottlecap, which I believe was in a guitar store in 1980 for about $300 (that's about $933 in today's dollars).  Think about that -- over $900 for a bottlecap banjo.

Can others post their old purchases, year and amount.  (In Google you can just type in $xxx in 1982 and it will tell you what adjustment for inflation is in terms of today's dollars).  I am not asking just about beginner instruments.   RB-250 prices, OME prices, etc. would all be interesting.  I think it would be interesting to see how values on new banjos have changed over time compared to inflation. 

(I know the market price for used banjos is what people use to justify saying that a new price is "high" but that is beyond the scope of what I am trying to see here).

Edited by - Brian Murphy on 06/03/2020 08:50:02

Jun 3, 2020 - 9:27:37 AM

543 posts since 8/14/2018

Yeah, a decent banjo is not cheap. But decent banjos have *never* really been cheap, for as long as there's been commercial banjo factories.

Jun 3, 2020 - 9:41:23 AM

10835 posts since 6/2/2008

I love this topic, Brian. I play this game all the time here. But mainly about starter or intermediate instruments.

I had never done it in reverse with Goodtime banjos. You're exactly right: they are not "expensive" compared to what certain student instruments used to cost in the late 20th Century. When I call Goodtimes expensive, it's in comparison with the the new price of competing instruments. So I compare new Goodtime open backs and Good Time 2 resonator models mainly to new Gold Tone Cripple Creeks. I compare Goodtime Artisan Special tone ring and resonator models to RK-35/36 or Gold Tone OB-150. By those comparisons, I believe Goodtimes come out expensive for what you get.

But back to the game at hand . . .

In May 1972, I purchased a Japanese made Aria bowtie inlay banjo with lightweight wood rim, slop fit pot metal tone ring, pot metal flange, and rosewood veneered resonator for $150 plus $20 for the lower model's plain black with yellow interior case at Veneman Music in Greenbelt, Maryland (near the University of Maryland campus, where I was finishing my junior year).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator (my preferred and the official US source) that $170 from May '72 equaled $1048 in April of this year -- which is nearly the cost of a new RK-35/36, including the case that most retailers throw in to sweeten the deal.  Plus, you can buy a used 1990s Deering Sierra banjo for $1,000 or less today on eBay.  Today is a much better time to be in the market for an intermediate player's genuine bluegrass banjo.  For the same relative money I paid for a less-than-professional instrument, today's buyer can have a banjo that matches the performance and key features of any maker's product.

A year later, I paid about $675 (I forget the final number) to have locally built the serious bluegrass banjo that is still my main player today. That total price included the Keith tuners which I bought separately and the case. Maybe the banjo itself cost $100 or so less.

It didn't seem expensive at the time, and I was able to save up the money from part-time and summer jobs. Having no social life at the time made that easy. But $675 in June 1973 equals $3,915 today. So I guess I'm someone with an expensive banjo!

My recollection is that RB-250, Fender Artist and Ode Style C were all around that same $650-$700 price in 1973.  No one pays anywhere near $3900 for one of those today, so they have not held their original value. Today's prevailing prices for those 1970s banjos today is the current equivalent of half their original selling price or less. That's probably fair.

Jun 3, 2020 - 11:00:01 AM
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1429 posts since 7/14/2004

In 1975 I paid $1895 for a new RB 800. In 1980 I paid $1895 for a new Staghorn direct from the factory in Calif. At the time I was making about $5.00 an hour so the purchases represented a considerable expense. Well worth it however.

Jun 3, 2020 - 11:50:09 AM

2239 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Sheenjack

In 1975 I paid $1895 for a new RB 800. In 1980 I paid $1895 for a new Staghorn direct from the factory in Calif. At the time I was making about $5.00 an hour so the purchases represented a considerable expense. Well worth it however.


So in today's dollars, the Staghorn cost about $6,300.  The RB800 was about $9K in today's dollars.  ($5/hr in 1980 was not really bad money, but it took you about 380 hours to gross enough to buy the Staghorn.  If you were full time, that was almost 10 weeks, or 20% of annual income). 

A purchase of that magnitude (the RB800) in 1975 was really something given inflation approaching nearly double digits.  I remember that time, but I was a kid.   Not sure our country would weather an inflation storm like that now.  We have adjusted our lifestyles to such low interest rates.  Could you imagine if all of the variable interest rates shot up to 20% again given the mortgage balances people are carrying? 

Jun 3, 2020 - 12:10:56 PM

AGACNP

USA

86 posts since 10/12/2011

I bought my first banjo, one of those bicentennial Harmonys, for $25, in 1976. Got it less than retail, as it had fallen off the rack and suffered some ‘finish rash.’ Miraculously, the neck didn’t get broken! I was making $1.50/hour working in hay and tobacco at the time. Minimum wage was about $2.35/hr at the time, or thereabouts.

My dad gifted me with a replacement (a new RB-250, I still have it), later in 1976, for which he paid $654.

I sold the Harmony fairly quickly for a $25 profit.

Edited by - AGACNP on 06/03/2020 12:17:25

Jun 3, 2020 - 12:18:41 PM

1429 posts since 7/14/2004

Your calculations look spot on Brian. Inflation at that time was about 9%. I remember you could get a bank Certificate of Deposit for 12% annual interest. Wow. Those days are gone.

I worked a lot of overtime in the 70's which made it possible for me to buy a decent banjo. Having a high quality instrument to work with was a real aid to my learning.

I recall in 1971 you could buy a new Chevy 1/2 ton pickup for $2300.

Jun 3, 2020 - 12:24:58 PM

Tweelo

USA

143 posts since 4/14/2014

This is a fantastic topic. I know a lot of folks lack a proper understanding of historic prices. I recall a kid looking at a vintage Fender ad in my room and talking about how he'd love to travel back in time and buy up all those old blackgaurds... you gotta'do the math. Yesterday's dollar is not today's dollar.

My first 5 string was a top tension Hofner which I bought used in 1999 for $200. That translates to about $310 today! That doesn't seem like such a long time ago. I never owned a brand new banjo until fairly recently.

Edited by - Tweelo on 06/03/2020 12:27:05

Jun 3, 2020 - 12:49:31 PM
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12994 posts since 10/30/2008

Fall 1967 Vega catalog prices (I believe this is before the "fair trade" laws were changed permitting dealers to offer banjos at a discount).

Open Back "Folk" Ranger: $184
Resonator Ranger: $248 -- hard case $54
Open Back "Folk" Wonder: $235
Resonator Wonder: $295 -- hard case $54
Folklore (long neck open back): $245 -- case $66
Pete Seeger: $415 -- case $66
Pro II bluegrass banjo: $469 -- case $59.50
Scruggs II bluegrass banjo: $512 -- case $59.50 Vega Scruggs tuners $45, Scruggs Keith tuners $80
Scruggs II Custom gold plated: $699
Sonny Osborne bluegrass banjo: $650 -- case $59.50

VegaVox I tenor: $515
VegaVox III tenor: $895
VegaVox IV (gold, engraved, painted) tenor: $1085

Vegalon heads 11": $8.50
Earl Scruggs strings: $2.30

When Bill Emerson reviewed the leading brands of bluegrass banjos for Bluegrass Unlimited in 1969-70, he complained that the Vega were all the highest priced, and not worth it.

Jun 3, 2020 - 12:58:49 PM

2239 posts since 12/31/2005

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

Fall 1967 Vega catalog prices (I believe this is before the "fair trade" laws were changed permitting dealers to offer banjos at a discount).

Open Back "Folk" Ranger: $184
Resonator Ranger: $248 -- hard case $54
Open Back "Folk" Wonder: $235
Resonator Wonder: $295 -- hard case $54
Folklore (long neck open back): $245 -- case $66
Pete Seeger: $415 -- case $66
Pro II bluegrass banjo: $469 -- case $59.50
Scruggs II bluegrass banjo: $512 -- case $59.50 Vega Scruggs tuners $45, Scruggs Keith tuners $80
Scruggs II Custom gold plated: $699
Sonny Osborne bluegrass banjo: $650 -- case $59.50

VegaVox I tenor: $515
VegaVox III tenor: $895
VegaVox IV (gold, engraved, painted) tenor: $1085

Vegalon heads 11": $8.50
Earl Scruggs strings: $2.30

When Bill Emerson reviewed the leading brands of bluegrass banjos for Bluegrass Unlimited in 1969-70, he complained that the Vega were all the highest priced, and not worth it.


So in today's dollars, a Sonny Osborne Vega would be about $5,000.   Goes to show you:  These are the good old days!  Think what you can buy new for $5,000.  Would you even think of trading it for a mint '67 Vega?   

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:03:49 PM

KCJones

USA

717 posts since 8/30/2012

1984 Stelling Sunflower: $1600 new at Eldery Instruments.

It also includes a trade: Elderly paid $845 for a used Ome Juggernaut in 1984. No idea on the age of the Ome at that time.

I have the receipt, dated 11/10/1984. $1600 in 1984 is $3950 in 2020 according to inflation calculators.

But here's the fun part. If you would have invested that $1600 into the SP 500 and reinvested your dividends, that 1600 would now be worth $60,000. (Proof that vintage banjos are not an investment) 

Edited by - KCJones on 06/03/2020 13:10:42

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:06:15 PM

5331 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

Fall 1967 Vega catalog prices (I believe this is before the "fair trade" laws were changed permitting dealers to offer banjos at a discount).

Open Back "Folk" Ranger: $184
Resonator Ranger: $248 -- hard case $54
Open Back "Folk" Wonder: $235
Resonator Wonder: $295 -- hard case $54
Folklore (long neck open back): $245 -- case $66
Pete Seeger: $415 -- case $66
Pro II bluegrass banjo: $469 -- case $59.50
Scruggs II bluegrass banjo: $512 -- case $59.50 Vega Scruggs tuners $45, Scruggs Keith tuners $80
Scruggs II Custom gold plated: $699
Sonny Osborne bluegrass banjo: $650 -- case $59.50

VegaVox I tenor: $515
VegaVox III tenor: $895
VegaVox IV (gold, engraved, painted) tenor: $1085

Vegalon heads 11": $8.50
Earl Scruggs strings: $2.30

When Bill Emerson reviewed the leading brands of bluegrass banjos for Bluegrass Unlimited in 1969-70, he complained that the Vega were all the highest priced, and not worth it.


According to the calculator a banjo case @ $59.50 would be $463.68.  That seems a little high for the cases of that era. 

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:08:13 PM
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5331 posts since 9/21/2007

This also puts my Gariepy/FVE at nearly $4K (3,896.49). That might be why I only know of one other being built (but I do not know where it is).

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:19:42 PM

Bart Veerman

Canada

4649 posts since 1/5/2005

1979 Fender Leo with hsc: $179 CDN
1979 Gibson RB250 with hsc: $799 CDN

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:31:49 PM

399 posts since 7/20/2013

In 1961 I purchased my Ode Long Neck # 6XX for $125.OO. It had a maple /walnut neck, was open-backed and was one of the tail-end items from the first batch of aluminum rims from Boulder, CO. I had saved for a year of after school employment to afford it. (That price was about a quarter of the price for a Vega Pete Seeger long neck, and those Odes were comparable in quality and tone to Vegas and Gibson RBs)

That is equivalent today to $1,061.00. ... and that's about the going rate in today's depressed LN banjo market for a used quality long neck.

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:47:27 PM

12994 posts since 10/30/2008

Joel, cases were INDEED expensive back then! Many a musician didn't buy one with their instrument! That's kind of unthinkable now.

In those days suggested retail price was pretty much "the price", unless you could "dicker" with the music store manager.   Usually if you also bought strings, capo, strap and maybe a record or an instruction book you could get a little bit off.

My dad bought a Martin guitar in 1967 and the case was indeed about $60 extra.  He was a dickerer, so I'm sure he got something of a discount...

I remember seeing the first ads in the 1970s in catalogs and mail order places ADVERTISING "41% off MSRP".  It got to be almost an automatic thing in every catalog.  The "fair trade laws" were rescinded,    So there had been a lot of padding in pre-1970s selling prices!!   Basically telling retailers that they couldn't resell wholesale items at tiny mark ups, or they'd lose their right to buy wholesale.   Restraint of free trade, you see.

Of course in anticipation of the disappearance of fair trade laws, we saw the MSRP of instruments getting jacked up pretty fast!  But instruments DID get cheaper (net) in the 1970s.  MSRP quickly became a joke.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 06/03/2020 13:53:51

Jun 4, 2020 - 4:47:03 AM

92 posts since 3/10/2020

The banjo I play at the moment was about $500 before tax. It's an openback gold tone I bought it a few months back. I think it's worth what I bought it for. Decent sound and it stays in tune for a good amount of time. I haven't had to change anything like the rod or my tension yet for example. Good quality based on my knowledge, I don't know the general amount of time tweaks need to be done on them.

Jun 4, 2020 - 7:11:06 AM
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942 posts since 5/19/2018

Very timely subject as I was just going through an old Mugwumps Magazine that I have from 1977.

Back then I would peruse the ads and as a young teenager ponder which instrument I would but if I had the resources.

From one volume:

Kyle Creed banjo 265.00
#9 Tubaphone 5 string 1700
1965 Stratocaster 400.00
1929 00-42 1950.00
1929 RB 3 850.00

Goes on and on.

Money years ago was extremely tight and didn’t loosen up until the 1980’s when instrumentnprices started to hit the ceiling. As I teenager in high school in the ‘70’s if I worked a ton of hours, I might pull 50.00- 75.00 in a week if lucky , so 850.00 was a fortune and financing at 20% in times of extreme inflation was not even an option.

I did manage to buy back then a beautiful 50’s RB250, (still have it) a near mint Whyte Laydie (still have it) for $400.00 and a very early 20’s L-4 for the same (gone to help pay university) Back then you could find stuff like that at garage sales.

Based on that, the value of money in the past, a lot of today’s instruments from modern builders are absolute bargains when you take into consideration quality of build and materials and reasonable prices. If you go used, they are even a better bargain.

Jun 4, 2020 - 3:09:36 PM

2519 posts since 4/16/2003

I bought a new Vega PS-5 Seeger from Harry Newcorn Music on Park Row near City Hall (NYC) in 1966 for $240.

The next year, I got a new Martin D-28 from Terminal Music on 48th Street for $320.

Times have changed!

Jun 4, 2020 - 4:01:56 PM

12994 posts since 10/30/2008

I bought my 1926 Gibson Granada (ball bearing) with tenor and 5 string conversion neck, from Mandolin Brothers' "1977 Christmas Sale" for $1750. I was absolutely thrilled! (And still have it, it's a beauty.) I had been playing a worked-over 1963 RB 250 arch top.

I'm afraid perhaps this banjo's value has not held up to inflation, as the Gold Stars and good Gibson reissues shortly thereafter came out and offered frankly better bluegrass banjos at better values.

Jun 4, 2020 - 11:45:43 PM

QldPicker

Australia

40 posts since 4/17/2020

Hope you Americans realise how lucky you are!!!!!!! Quality, interesting, well made stringed instruments at enviable prices. If I lived there I would be broke and need a very big house. :-))

Jun 5, 2020 - 8:46:27 AM

1838 posts since 2/28/2003

1976 - Westbrook bottlecap (new) - $110 (2020 -$495)

1978 - Ibanez Artist (new) - $635 (2020 - $2,627 - Holy crap, that's a lot of money!). I still have this banjo

1990 - Deering Crossfire (new) - $1,250 (2020 - $2,547) 

2015 Nechville Phantom (used) - price redacted, just wanted to brag <g>

I always try to judge my purchases in terms of my relative income. In 1976, $110 was my entire monthly income (high school, part-time janitor). In 1978, $635 was about 1.5 months income (college, part time breakfast cook). In 1990, $1250 was about 1/3 of my monthly income (computer service technician).

That's not a lot of banjos for 44 years of playing. I do own 15 other stringed instruments in various flavors.

Jun 5, 2020 - 2:10:40 PM

1309 posts since 11/15/2010

Open Back "Folk" Ranger: $184

Thanks for posting that, Dick. I bought a used Folk Ranger in 1969 for $75. I guess I did OK. I still have it. 

Jun 5, 2020 - 3:55:16 PM

32 posts since 12/5/2015

Great topic!

A side note regarding the goodtime banjos, the ones that originally came out were a lot more 'basic' than the current models. I will compare only the ones I know existed 'as-is' in both yester... and today. What was the basic open back then was $300 2005 and only had dot inlays compared to now $575, which has more elaborate wood inlays. Never owned one, but I teach banjo and lots of students migrated to those....back then.

I will post a then (with date) and then a now price. Starting with my first

Roy Smeck Banjo $100 (1998) you have the now;
Wildwood Troubadour $1000 (1999) last I checked $1500 new (2015);
Bart Reiter Standard $1000 (1999), now $1395;
Gibson RB250 $2300 (2001), now $3000+.

The other banjo's I have are customized and would be hard to get modern prices, efficiently.

Jun 6, 2020 - 8:10:30 AM
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gDGBD

USA

504 posts since 2/7/2005

1961 --  Harmony 5 string with a plastic rim, hide head, and resonator attached to a dowel stick. Paid around $75 for it, including a cardboard case.  That's $645 today.  

ca. 1964 -- Gibson RB-100 with a metal hoop instead of a tone ring, cam-type Scruggs tuners, and hardshell case.  Bought for around $150 ($1250 today).

1972 -- Fender Artist with geared 5th string peg and hardshell case, bought for $450.  That's $2815 today, which is a lot more than what you could currently pick one up for.

Edited by - gDGBD on 06/06/2020 08:25:37

Jun 17, 2020 - 3:57:53 PM
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6 posts since 12/21/2011

I bought a new Vega Wonder for $350 in 1965. It had factory tuners and built in 5th string capo. I still have it. Coulda had a new Mastertone for $380 but didn't have the extra $30 back then. One of the known banjo players here saw my Vega and said, "I love those old antiques." Kinda pissed me off.

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