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Sep 29, 2020 - 10:00:03 PM
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2002 posts since 1/10/2004

Because every curmudgeon enjoys a pointless thread about Gibson banjos (including myself in that), so why not? :)

Just looking around at what's for sale, and it's interesting to me that for most Gibson reissue banjos in good condition (except for the humble RB-250) the asking prices are often beyond $4000 now. We're talking styles 3, 75, 4, ESS, etc. Obviously some like style 5, 6, Granada command more, and TT and special/limited ask even more still. Now only actual sales price really matters, and some people probably think some of these are only worth in the $3k neighborhood, so that's a lot of negotiating room. But it also seems to me that other than some classifieds that there are a lot fewer of these used banjos showing up at the usual dealers, whereas just a couple-few years ago they typically had at least a few nice specimens. They can certainly be found though if you want one. But it just seems to me, ignoring inflation, that beyond $4k these now 10 to 30+ year old banjos are now asking what Gibson was asking for them new toward the end of production.

After 10 years with no new production the used market Mastertone reissues are going to decline in availability. But there's also this thinking that many of the owners of these banjos are older and eventually one way or another would have to divest, gradually dumping 20+ years of Gibson reissue banjos on the market. And who knows what current circumstances are doing to the market, although intuitively one might think it would force some to try to sell.

In a sense we're in a similar situation to early generation players in the late 40s and early 50s having to search high and low to find rare pre-war Mastertone banjos that had hardly been made in more than a decade, although it was many years before prices began to rise dramatically. The re-issue numbers are still many times larger than pre-war, and there are many more great options now besides Gibson anyway. The Gibson reissues will probably never appreciate in price terribly much. Yet the general thinking is they probably will never make any more of them, or at least not true reissues. They're still not impossible to find at all, just anecdotally seem to me to be a bit more rare (for nicer/popular models) than they recently have been and to be getting slightly pricier, even ignoring/excluding the GRE premium.

Am I wrong?

Sep 30, 2020 - 2:46:13 AM

77 posts since 3/31/2004

I never purchase anything with the intent of turning a profit. When I buy something it’s because I plan on using it for its intended purpose, whether it’s a car, musical instrument, tools or whatever. I was 45 years old when I could afford a quality instrument. I purchased a re-issue Granada from Bill Sullivan in 2000. I plan on keeping it until the day I die. Maybe some folks are like me and just want to hold onto them. Just my $0.02 .

Sep 30, 2020 - 4:39:04 AM

2351 posts since 12/31/2005
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Grich era Gibsons are like Yeti Coolers. When they first came out both were the superior product. Then others started making equally good (or arguably better) products. But some will still pay a premium to have the Yeti or Gibson name showing.

Prewar Gibson prices have always been high because an important part of the market strongly believes that they have intrinsic value in their ability to produce unmatched tone. Whatever you think of that argument, I do not hear it as much with the Grich era and later banjos anymore. Certainly at the time Grich unveiled the line, they were way out in front. But since the boutique builders have really entered the market, including the newer Sullivan lines (which to me are essentially Gibsons) you don't hear the "nothing can touch a Gibson in terms of sound" like you always will with the prewars.

There are other great banjos out there now. In a blind test, telling a relaunched Gibson from one of the other great builders today would be guesswork at best. People are still paying for the name, but that has its limits. I have heard people around here refer to Yeti Coolers as the "redneck Rolex." Funny, but there's something to that concept.

Sep 30, 2020 - 6:29:22 AM
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2002 posts since 1/10/2004

I don't doubt there's an element of people just hanging onto them. I mean my Gibsons are not particularly special, except to me. I actually have no intention of ever selling them, and you can pry them from my cold dead hands, so yeah there's that.

But others are not so enamored with the old reissues with current options available and still willing to swap and deal I would think. Or maybe we really are all sentimental about them, won't sell, or only for higher prices now. Maybe it's a fading dream, but sometimes only a Gibson will do.

Sep 30, 2020 - 11:10:44 AM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

395 posts since 8/9/2019

Even the pre-war non-Mastertone TB1's, TB2's, MB1's, MB2's etc, despite not being Mastertones and having cut rims, aftermarket tone rings and other modern parts have skyrocketed in price in recent months.

I don't see how someone would pay north of $6K for essentially a Frankenbanjo of mixed parts?
Maybe I'm missing something?

Sep 30, 2020 - 2:02:46 PM

2351 posts since 12/31/2005
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quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

Even the pre-war non-Mastertone TB1's, TB2's, MB1's, MB2's etc, despite not being Mastertones and having cut rims, aftermarket tone rings and other modern parts have skyrocketed in price in recent months.

I don't see how someone would pay north of $6K for essentially a Frankenbanjo of mixed parts?
Maybe I'm missing something?


Well, it depends.  How does it sound?  There are Frankenbanjos that are incredible.  If it has the sound you want and you either have that much disposable income or make your living with it, then pedigree should not matter and $6K worth of sound should command $6K.  But we all know that is not what is going on here.  "Invest" at your own peril.  The kids ain't going to be buying this stuff. 

Sep 30, 2020 - 3:21:19 PM

rcc56

USA

3173 posts since 2/20/2016

The Gibson name still carries a lot of weight on the used resonator banjo market, and I expect this to continue for a long time.
There is no shortage of modern era Gibsons on the market right now. I have noticed that many of those that are currently available from a single seller.
This seller has been acquiring these banjos rapidly and is listing them at higher prices than in the past. We call this "cornering the market."

Edited by - rcc56 on 09/30/2020 15:26:56

Sep 30, 2020 - 4:17:09 PM
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10828 posts since 1/15/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Flatiron53

I never purchase anything with the intent of turning a profit. When I buy something it’s because I plan on using it for its intended purpose, whether it’s a car, musical instrument, tools or whatever. I was 45 years old when I could afford a quality instrument. I purchased a re-issue Granada from Bill Sullivan in 2000. I plan on keeping it until the day I die. Maybe some folks are like me and just want to hold onto them. Just my $0.02 .


Spot on Mark ..... just buy the things you love and you will never have to worry about their value.  I am always reminded of the old saying about someone who is always concerned about the price of things ..... "he knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing".

Sep 30, 2020 - 4:20:22 PM
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10828 posts since 1/15/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Murphy
quote:
Originally posted by ChunoTheDog

Even the pre-war non-Mastertone TB1's, TB2's, MB1's, MB2's etc, despite not being Mastertones and having cut rims, aftermarket tone rings and other modern parts have skyrocketed in price in recent months.

I don't see how someone would pay north of $6K for essentially a Frankenbanjo of mixed parts?
Maybe I'm missing something?


Well, it depends.  How does it sound?  There are Frankenbanjos that are incredible.  If it has the sound you want and you either have that much disposable income or make your living with it, then pedigree should not matter and $6K worth of sound should command $6K.  But we all know that is not what is going on here.  "Invest" at your own peril.  The kids ain't going to be buying this stuff. 


Spot on Brian ........ go to the Banjothon and let me know how many people under 60 you see there!  I am sure a big part is that younger pickers can't afford pre-war flatheads ..... but another part is that there isn't the same interest.

Oct 1, 2020 - 6:14:59 AM
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bill53

USA

346 posts since 3/26/2004

to quote jim mills or just read his article on prewar why would anyone want to buy a copy ? his words not mine

Oct 1, 2020 - 6:34:19 AM
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66 posts since 8/9/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by bill53

to quote jim mills or just read his article on prewar why would anyone want to buy a copy ? his words not mine


And , that's exactly what I would say , if I were a pre-war banjo salesman .......8^)

Oct 2, 2020 - 7:41:42 AM

GStump

USA

388 posts since 9/12/2006

I think there is much truth to the concept that younger folks aren't "into" the old Gibson banjos to the same degree as us "older guys." (and girls of course) True, there are many great banjos being built by the other guys, and I suppose we truly are living in a great time of instrument building and luthiery. After having played many fantastic prewar flathead Gibson banjos, and many non mastertone models that are also really tremendous instruments, I believe I can say that NO NEW BANJO can touch them, for sheer quality of tone, range of available color to that tone, power ease of playability, etc., AND inherent value that most anything of a "vintage era" commands when stacked against it's newer counterparts. Sure, we see some new banjos that are priced at absolutely ridiculous prices, 10, 15 thousand dollars, but one truly has to wonder "WHY!?" It has also come to my attention that if one simply wants the mojo that playing a prewar Gibson banjo brings to the table, and price is, and should be, a factor in someone's decision whether or not to acquire one and play one - that they can get into a banjo of that sort for about the same as any really nice new banjo.... when you see that converted TB 1's and 2's and 10's and 11's run 5K more or less, and many new banjos cost that, WHY does someone buy a NEW anything? Put quite simply, only a few answers come to mind - that is either what they WANT, OR they truly do NOT see and understand the "coolness" factor the old Gibson has! This could be discussed until the cows come home....

Oct 2, 2020 - 11:34:38 AM
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1966 posts since 10/7/2008

One thing about it: If you are playing a Gibson you don't have to explain anything. It is still the standard for Bluegrass, even though there are other great banjos being made. Those great banjos are inspired by the Gibson.

Oct 2, 2020 - 6:40:44 PM

RevD

USA

128 posts since 4/8/2019

Caveat Emptor just like in anything else, I've only been watching this for about 2 years but wow how many people have bought 'Gibsons' and then shown pictures of their new love and told the truths. Never played one (pre-war), but darn they do sound special and if I was a 5-10k sort of guy yeah I'd get an original.

Edited by - RevD on 10/02/2020 18:53:05

Oct 3, 2020 - 11:21:41 AM

2002 posts since 1/10/2004

If I'm honest I don't much believe in the "pre-war sound". At least not exclusively to be found in actual original pre-war instruments. I have access to a couple of conversions that are okay, even pretty good. I admit I've never played an original 5-string flat head. My general sense of what people are referring to, if there's really anything to it at all, is a pleasing growl and gut rattle, and a certain resonance and complexity or sweetness of voice without excessive overtones. A few pre-war pots, originally 5-string or not, may be very special in this regard, with setup. Mostly they're just old and scarce, and priced accordingly. Good, even great, but not phenomenal. Most of them are just old banjos. And 75-80% of it is still the player and the setup.

I think it has been possible to buy banjos just as good or better than pre-war for the past 30 years. I also believe the most special thing in a pre-war is the old rim. But on newer banjos of quality construction and materials I believe I've observed and experienced that something happens to them (primarily to the rim) once they've aged about 10-20 years, and then they maybe gradually improve for another decade or so after that. I've anecdotally heard of sentiments along these lines purportedly from Earl himself, among others. So that's my vague/general theory on the matter.

The other problem with pre-war banjos is the numbers don't add up, and a lot of what's changing hands these days are low-end style 1's and 2's with added tone rings and necks. Or outright fakes. I think the pots/rims on those old low end banjos are usually pretty good, but so are many new builds with tighter quality, precision and tolerances than anything Gibson every built. At this juncture buying practically any Gibson re-issue banjo now has that age factor built in, and to roughly the same degree as the banjos that were used by the first and second generations of Bluegrass pickers. So that should make reissues attractive as long as their prices don't inflate too far.

If you want a pre-war, get a pre-war. But play it and be sure you like it and believe you can hear the hype, don't just slap down $6000-$25,000 or beyond just cuz it's old.

There, I've said it :P

Oct 4, 2020 - 8:03:21 AM

18 posts since 2/7/2019

A local fellow has an old rb 250 & a Frank Neat build too. Guess which one plays best & sounds the best? Just like the old Martin & Gibson guitars some have it & some don't. Sound first for me which is why i've had my old Dixon Hummingbird flat top for the last 37 years. It looks like it's been through a war, but everybody that plays it goes on about how hit sounds & plays too. Frank Neat actually worked on the neck years ago for my boss that i bought it from afterwords. & yes it's the Frank Neat built banjo that by far beats the old rb 250 hands down.

Oct 7, 2020 - 11:41:31 AM
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banjoez

USA

2368 posts since 7/18/2007

Any decent banjo in the right hands and setup properly can sound good. It's the luck of the draw. Old or new. I'm almost ashamed to admit it but I currently have a $1200 banjo that knocks the socks off of just about any banjo I've ever owned. (And I've lost count how many old and new Gibsons were in there). To me it's all about the sound and playability, not the vintage or name. I got over that years ago.

Edited by - banjoez on 10/07/2020 11:44:39

Oct 16, 2020 - 7:18:47 AM
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rcc56

USA

3173 posts since 2/20/2016

In an earlier post, I mentioned that one seller was listing most of the then-available modern era Gibsons at higher prices than usual.

But in the last few days, a number of others have been listed at more reasonable prices at several of the well-established stores.
All of these new listings, including a Granada and some Scruggs models, are in the 3000 to 4000 range.

There are too many of these banjos floating around for any attempt to inflate prices to last very long.

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