Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

when did the pre war phenom start

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!
Sep 25, 2020 - 4:30:40 AM
5787 posts since 9/5/2006

i got into picking banjo in 78 and it was already in the system of banjo pickers somewhat,,, not at its peak but still everyone was talking about wanting a pre war .. so when did the want of a pre war start over taking the "i want a brand new gibson" desire?

Sep 25, 2020 - 4:42:47 AM

5744 posts since 10/13/2007

I don't know the answer to this but will venture a guess from what I know, and I am sure I know less than you. But players right after the war (creating the eras/dividing line of pre and post war banjos) wanted what Earl had and played. Now I am under the impression that many post war banjos were of inferior/different craftsmanship as well as components but some had similar qualities as pre-war because they were using some of the same parts left over from the pre-war era. Didn't Gibson thin the rim shortly after the war? Not sure and I am sure a Doug Hutchens will come in and educate us on this. I am sure I have not answered your question (pretty sure I have not) but maybe I have furthered the conversation a bit more.
have a good one.

Sep 25, 2020 - 6:22:04 AM
like this

3414 posts since 4/27/2004

I would guess that the interest in prewars increased about the time the quality of new Gibson banjos decreased. A couple of my friends began collecting prewars in the mid 60s so I would venture to say that was about the time.

Sep 25, 2020 - 7:10:20 AM

5787 posts since 9/5/2006

well i have heard that folks complained about the quality of the gibson banjos had fell off in the mid to late 60s thru the 70s... i think sonny got his granada in 72. but i do remember when i first starting playing festivals i was still playing my epiphone and it seemed like everyone else was either playing an old gibson or wanting an old gibson.

Edited by - 1935tb-11 on 09/25/2020 07:11:07

Sep 25, 2020 - 9:20:20 AM

4204 posts since 6/15/2005

It was definitely happening in the mid-'60s. I was in college then with Pete Wernick (a year ahead of him) and I remember when he bought his prewar Gibson RB-1 from Porter Church. I was strictly an old-time player at the time and knew nothing about bluegrass banjos, so I didn't really understand why he wanted to replace his relatively new Gibson Mastertone (an RB-250?), which I thought sounded pretty good, with a prewar instrument.

My impression, which may well be mistaken, is that prices started to take off in the late '70s, after it became known that Butch Robins paid $6,000 for his 1934 Gibson in 1977.

Sep 25, 2020 - 9:21:05 AM
likes this

1096 posts since 5/19/2018

I think a better answer would be 1949.

Folks who were solid banjo players, be it Bluegrass or whatever style was being played right after the war wanted a solid and well made instrument. Right after the war the only units around that fit the bill would have been used Gibson’s.

If you can find some of the older photos from the early 50’s of performers, you will see a lot of them are playing Gibson banjos that were maybe 10-20 years old already.

I have read a number of accounts of guys back in the early 50’s hunting down and finding banjos from the 20-30’s because of the sound and the quality.

The pre-war thing has been a thing pretty much starting the day WWII ended.

Sep 25, 2020 - 9:43:41 AM

904 posts since 2/21/2011

My early '60s flathead bow tie, OPF RB250 had a full thickness rim and it was the loudest banjo I've ever heard..

In about 1980 I found a virgin (Jos Rogers head) 1937 FH TB75, by placing WTB classifieds ads in the newspaper, that literally came from under a grandpa's bed. I paid $300, sold it to Gruhn for $900 the same day and he sold it for $1200 soon there after. I needed the money for college tuition. That was the going price at that time, I guess.

Sep 25, 2020 - 10:07:40 AM
likes this

13353 posts since 10/30/2008

I was just a young teenage banjo picker in the mid 1960s, but once we started getting Bluegrass Unlimited magazine in 1967 I started reading these words "pre-war". At that time I didn't even know WHICH war they were talking about. (I had hopes my 1963 RB 250 was pre-war --Vietnam War.) I particularly remember the poem "Paul's Banjo" in BU, which gushed romantic about "Paul's" pre-war hearts & flowers Mastertone (I didn't even know what hearts & flowers meant then!).

After devouring Gibson catalogs from the music store, I realized the current Gibsons didn't look at all like the ones on the LP covers and Flatt & Scruggs song books. Getting to know Jimmy Cox, who was a traveling salesman but appeared with his bluegrass band weekly on our local tv station, helped me to understand that the old banjos didn't just look different. A bit later I got to know Bob French who was playing with Joe Val, and he filled me a little bit more. At the first festival we attended when I was 17, Berryville VA 1970, I got an EYEFUL of pre-war banjos and copies. By 1971 I was on the hunt for ANY pre-war Gibson myself.

I read once somewhere, many years ago, that Tut Taylor may have been the first guy to really begin to appreciate, seek out, and market "pre-war" bluegrass instruments. I don't if he would have been earlier than Harry West, but I bet between those two you'd find the initial commerical promoters of pre-war instruments. In those days they didn't even get a premium! The often sold cheaper than brand new post-war instruments!

I remember my excitement about the first pre-war Mastertone I stumbled on by myself -- it was a ball bearing though; learning what that meant took some of the joy out of the discovery.  Then first TB-5 I stumbled on!  Another ball bearing.  I didn't find a cast arch top TB 5 until 1993!  

Edited by - The Old Timer on 09/25/2020 10:11:01

Sep 25, 2020 - 11:11:37 AM
likes this



68 posts since 2/5/2011

I was privileged to be at Tut's home in Wilkesboro, NC back in 2011...we had returned Lester's D18 to his lap for a visit. Tut spoke of the overall instrument quality before the war, and how time/age make a high quality instrument better. He also discussed the prominence of an instrument used by noted professionals and icons of the music....thus the premise of his early partnership with George Gruhn. I seem to remember he mentioned that after about 15+ years of post war banjo production (early 60's), the noted professional banjo players were using the older instruments from before the war..... and there were now certainly enough of the newer ones for repeated comparison...and they were not as desired. I don't know if Tut actually originated the common use of "pre-war", but I think he certainly had an early appreciation for them as something special.

Sep 25, 2020 - 11:20:37 AM
likes this

13353 posts since 10/30/2008

I'll tell you one use of "pre-war" that caught my ear! It was a Bugs Bunny Looney Tunes cartoon. Bugs made a wisecrack about some old fashioned men's suit he put on for a disguise, and he looked at the camera and said about the suit pants "Look! Pre-war cuffs!"

Because cuffs on pants had been discouraged or "ruled out" due cloth rationing during the war.

Sep 26, 2020 - 4:30:40 AM

2699 posts since 11/15/2003

Right after sonny got his granada,..he really publicly started heralding its tonal superiority,
So for me,.I think sonny started it...almost single doubt, him and jd were the biggest influencers.


Sep 26, 2020 - 4:41:44 AM

1309 posts since 2/4/2013

I can definitely say it was post war.

Sep 26, 2020 - 6:41:02 AM

2159 posts since 2/10/2013

I think many players who "dreamed" of getting a "pre-war" banjo, had never played one and did not even know what one sounded like. A player they know made this remark, and they accepted it as "gospel". Some of the young people who say that may not even know which war they are referring to.

With a few exceptions, banjos were not commonly played in some geographic areas. But some types of music started featuring banjos. Folk music and bluegrass for example. More people started playing banjos. Foreign banjos were manufactured and imported. The price of a decent banjo became cheaper. Some small domestic banjo makers expanded their operations. So today players have a large selection of banjos of different quality and price.
You can start out with a modestly priced instrument, and gradually upgrade the quality of the instrument you currently have.

Everything I said in the previous paragraph also applies to guitars and mandolins. If a person shops wisely, they can get a "life time" quality guitar for a little over $1000. Many top notch guitars now sell for four or five thousand dollars. Top quality banjos are not cheap either.

Sep 26, 2020 - 6:56:12 AM

5787 posts since 9/5/2006

from what i have learned and experienced with the new banjos is after about a year of solid playing giving everything time to settle in,, you will know if its got it or not. some do ,, some don't. just like pre wars,, goodins and bad ones. the secret is in the rim construction,, wood selection ,, and fitting the ring. neck fit is also crucial. it took about a year for my pre war to settle in after having a new neck made for it.
but i do think the fact the earl,,reno,,sonny, ralph and JD playing pre wars were a driving factor in the desire to have a pre war and when the research was done and announced how many there were,, and how few flatheads there were,, the prices went crazy.

Sep 26, 2020 - 9:26:06 AM
likes this



1344 posts since 11/3/2016

Started collecting in about 1958 & wholesaled some instruments to Gruhn & Steve Senerchia . Mandolin Bros had not yet begun advertising in every paper shop in the nation or been nabbed for selling a faked F5 as mentioned in "Mugwumps" the only collectors magazine I was aware of at the time .
One of my earliest finds was a 28 PB5 I re-did into a RB & was very proud of as it was an IMHO an unmistakable RB unless you were sharp enough to catch the slight heel offset . BTW , style 5's were advertised as walnut but this orig PB neck was stained mahogany .
Also visited the Berryville fest several times in the early 70's --- met Monroe , Gaudreau had just joined the Gents & Adcock just tore me up w/ his on stage antics ! Back home in NY I was in a group w/ Jim's brother Dave Gaudreau , playing banjo .
Also met Ben Eldridge parking lot picking at night who really liked the sound of my banjo which was an early ODE w/ resonator . Tons of great memories !
So to me the pre war interest seemed to be in the 50's - 60's .

Edited by - heavy5 on 09/26/2020 09:35:21

Sep 26, 2020 - 10:27:47 AM



3173 posts since 2/20/2016

I'd say the phenomenon started the day folks started trying to learn how to play in Scruggs' style, say about 1946 or 47.

Certainly, pre-war Mastertone banjos had already begun to establish themselves as the instrument of choice for bluegrass before Gibson introduced the first post-war RB-250's in 1954.  Gibson finished the process off when they started to cut corners on their 250's during the 1960's.

Earl Scruggs was known to supplement his living from time to time by buying pre-war Mastertones and reselling them.

Edited by - rcc56 on 09/26/2020 10:34:04

Sep 26, 2020 - 1:23:40 PM

2590 posts since 4/16/2003

"when did the pre war phenom start?"

August 14, 1945...

Sep 26, 2020 - 2:05:11 PM
likes this

261 posts since 10/4/2018

7 December 1941

Sep 26, 2020 - 2:31:04 PM



3173 posts since 2/20/2016

Earlier if you lived anywhere in Europe . . .

Edited by - rcc56 on 09/26/2020 14:34:25

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories