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Nov 26, 2020 - 6:28:42 AM
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1521 posts since 11/27/2005

Back before Group Antique shops and then the Internet It was like the wild wild west finding grate instruments. If you knew your stuff you could do very well. Some of the best finds I had were the following 1939 Gibson L5 $2 , 1937 Gibson J45 $50 ,Satori Violin Bow $1500, Gibson A2 Mandolin $25, 1929 PB3 Wreath Flathead trade for a PB2, Fender Bass with the tiny peg head number (2) $1000,18th century German Cello, $500 1957 Strat $300, a few carved Basses all for under $300 the list goes on. In the 80s group Antique shops sprung up all over and this brought together many people who collectively had much more knowledge than one. The Beginning Of The End. It became harder and harder to find good deals. That energized feeling of hitting a bunch of antique shops to find great things was dying. Then came the internet that killed everything. The last good deal was a mint TB1 Nick lucas inlays OPF for $500 at an in person auction. What are your old stories?


Nov 26, 2020 - 7:22:16 AM
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2411 posts since 12/31/2005

Don't know how many bowed neck bottle cap banjos missing a tuner or two I have seen in the "antique" malls with $300-500 price tags.

Antique booth businesses might have been the beginning of the end, but the availability of info and international markets anyone can access through e-Bay really ended the prospect of finding the kind of deals you mention.

But I would argue that this is a good thing. Too many masterpieces probably were discarded in the past out of neglect and ignorance. Now they go to the highest bidder, which not only draws out more offerings, but that puts them in the hands of someone who likely knows how to be a good steward.

Nov 26, 2020 - 7:42:50 AM
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3518 posts since 5/29/2011

Not quite as far back as the 70's but;
I was driving through Roanoke, Virginia in the early 80's and passed a yard sale on Liberty Road. There was a Dobro leaned up against a card table in the case. I stopped to have a look(even though I already had a Dobro), looked it over, and asked the gentleman how much he wanted for his Dobro. He said "What's a Dobro?" I told him "That guitar with the pie pan on top." And he said, "Oh. $15." I nearly broke my arm getting my billfold out. It gets better.
It needed some work and the Dopera Brothers were still in business then so I wrote to them to see if they could repair it. I got a nice letter back instructing me how to pack and ship it and telling me they would do what needed to be done. About four weeks later I got a pick up slip in the mail box telling me I had a package at the Buchanan Post Office.
I picked it up and took it home. Inside was my Dobro restored to a nice vintage condition with new tuners, a new piece of binding spliced into the old binding, new screens to replace the rusted ones, and a new logo on the peghead where the old one had been nearly scratched off. They included an invoice for $65 for work including shipping and handling along with a nice letter which thanked me for sending it to them to restore. It was shipped out of their shop in September of 1936.
I have a grand total of $80 invested in it.

Nov 26, 2020 - 8:08 AM
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13593 posts since 10/30/2008

I never got into the hunt for old instruments, but my dad was a vulture watching the newspaper Classified Ads and the "Uncle Henry" weekly classified ad book published in Maine. He picked up a number of Martin guitars and flipped them that way. I have a nice 1957 Martin D28 that a friend nabbed from the local "Penny Saver" type booklet in NY. This was back in the 1970s-early 90s.

Another music friend of mine was King of the yard sales and estate sales. He was SERIOUS. He nabbed a pre war Martin 000-42 (the Eric Clapton type) and a 1916 Vega Whyte Laydie #7 (which I bought) among a large number of other not quite so spectacular instruments. This was in the 1990s. I bought a nice Vega #3 from an estate sale a neighbor went to, that had no head and no 5th string tuner. I knew it would be cheap to set up, so I got a bargain and my neighbor made a few coins on the flip to me.

The one Dad and I missed, that we both kicked ourselves over, was a newspaper classified ad for an "old Martin guitar" in the 1980s. It turned out to be just one of 7 or so Martin made for a guitar teacher named Foden. Like an old 00-28. Except it had SEVEN strings in the most unusual peghead shape you ever saw. We looked it up in the Martin book and it was the ONLY 7 string they made. It needed some work to be playable. It was one of those deals, where as soon as he heard our offer (fair offer in my opinin) he decided it must really be worth 20 times more. My dad taught me to always offer a junk price first, to prevent the seller from suddenly deciding he has a gold mine in his hands.

Nov 26, 2020 - 8:11:01 AM

245 posts since 11/29/2012
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I subscribed to Gruhn's newsletter/pricelist when I was 17 in '81 after buying my first electric, a '60 Fender Musicmaster with the original case for $100. Prior to the Orion Blue Books and way before heavebay, pawnbrokers didn't care unless it was a Martin or a Les Paul. Flea markets were rich with instruments. I have soooooo many stories which I won't repeat here. It was quite a time, as was the decade before me.

Nov 26, 2020 - 9:37 AM

1332 posts since 11/15/2010

Joe, what part of the country were you in when you made these purchases? I was in the northeast, looking for instruments (among other things). All I saw were old, nondescript tenor banjos and Harmony guitars with the action so high that you could put your entire hand between the strings and the 12th fret. I did see one Martin mandolin for a decent price, but the seller was sketchy and I was afraid the thing was stolen.


Nov 26, 2020 - 10:42:12 AM
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1198 posts since 5/19/2018

Well, got my start collecting in the mid-1970’s as a young teenager.

The PennySaver magazine, Garage sales. Flea markets, pawn shops. From a retrospect from the 21st century, you could not believe what was floating around then for cheap.

Being a New Yorker, the bast place was 48th St and specifically We Buy Guitars. Man, the deals out of that place. The Old Man you Quote you one price one day, and the next he be like, $20.00. Just take it.

I’m not going into specific instruments, but I have bought back them 20-30’s L-4’s and L-5’s for under 100$. My Buddy grabbed a 1930’s Flathead Gibson in Sam Ash in Heampstead LI for under $300. I got a early 50’s RB250 for like 100 and change. On and on.

Would be on subways, on my Bike and harassing the heck out of my Dad to drive me when distance or public transportation would not work.

I met some incredible people and really had a good time because of my hunts.

What really hurts is the stuff you passed on because you didn’t know, think or were short 10-15$. Things like 30’s Martins. A PB6. 5$ Marin Ukes. Nobody back then knew anything. Folks got wise in the early 80’s and that pushed prices up, then the internet and done.

I did so well back in the 70’s, it pretty much paid for University in the 80’s. When I had to unload to pay for worthless things like food and tuition.

Some of the instruments I unloaded back then Would be the down payment on a beach house now...oh well...

Thankfully I am still very blessed to have a few of those instruments to this day.

Gone are the days of running across something amazing almost every weekend.

All the same, there are still some deals out there, I get one maybe every 12-18 months with constant searching. It’s a pain, but I still enjoy it.

Nov 26, 2020 - 2:41:36 PM
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22051 posts since 7/6/2005

I bought several nice pieces in the early 70's:
A silver bell #2 for $50
A 1941 D-18 for $75
A Paramount Leader for $75
My 28 Granada for $375 and my Fender Artist
and a bunch more I can't remember, MB's Washburn Parlor guitars, Maybell tenor for $15 at a flea market.

The internet has pretty much wrecked the antique market and vintage instrument market. Everybody is an expert and shows like Antique Roadshow and American Pickers and Pawn Stars confuse everything.

Nov 27, 2020 - 6:01:57 AM
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335 posts since 2/14/2013

I never had the money back in the '70s, I was just a teenager, but I do remember seeing classiifed ads in the back of Bluegrass Unlimited and Pickin' magazines for prewar mastertones and martins selling for prices in the hundreds or low thousands, not the tens- or even hundreds- of- thousands that you see today.

You can still find deals today, but you have to have a good eye for minute details, be creative in your searching, and/or be willing to take a risk. My best scores in more recent years was a bonafide high-profile flathead ring that I bought off Ebay for $700. It wasn't listed as a prewar ring, but it sure looked right to me, and I was willing to take the chance on what might have been a worthless ring. Later it was verified by both Huber and McPeake as the real deal, and that became the down-payment on my house.

Another great find in recent years was a VERY early RB-150 probably from 1948-1949. It had an original style 75 resonator, a neck made from a prewar blank, dual co-rods that looked to be original to the banjo, AND a full weight high profile ring later verified by McPeake, who surmised that it might have been a prototype or an experimental or salesman's banjo.

The best find I've ever had (and it's by far my favorite banjo) is an original wartime-era Gibson 5-string flathead employee banjo. It doesn't conform to any standard models, but it closely resembles an RB-11. It had some odd features that caused it to be overlooked or dismissed on the Hangout by the so-called "experts", but I bought it for $3000 off of Reverb because the 5-string neck looked like a prewar in all the little details I could gather from the pics, and the flathead ring ring looked promising in the interior shots. Turns out, it was an employee banjo put together by the seller's grandfather who worked at Gibson during the war. It had all the wartime features such as thin steel L-brackets, coarse-knurled thumbscrews, phillips head screws throughout, thin tension hooks with the later-style nuts, etc. Best of all, an original flathead ring installed at the factory during the war! The ring was a factory second must have been put aside at Gibson. It had been buffed with the coarse compound on the inner face (remember, the later rings were buffed on the inner face), and had gotten plated that way without the final polish. That's probably how the employee was able to get it. The flange looks to have been a second as well, with some unusual twirly marks as from a spinning tool that slipped across the surface. Anyway, I could care less--I have a prewar 5-string flathead!

Nov 27, 2020 - 7:11:15 AM

3518 posts since 5/29/2011

Eric, I'd like to get my hands on that RB-150 you found.

Nov 27, 2020 - 9:12:17 PM

11151 posts since 1/15/2005

In the 1970's I had recently married, had no money, and was making $3.00 an hour, so I had to find bargains. My mother was an antique dealer and every month we would drive to Atlanta to the Lakewood Fairground flea market. That was when people loaded up their cars or trucks and took them to the flea market to sell. Most of them were not dealers, although there were a lot of them there too. We would leave that place with bags full of nice stuff at cheap or reasonable prices. There were always instruments, but I never made a big hit there. Back in my hometown my best buy was a 1930 Martin OM-18, the first year of the 14 fret clear of the fingerboard model. I think they only made about 80 that year and only made them for 4 years.

About that same time I found a National Model 37 (Jester sitting under a tree etched on the back side) Resonator guitar at a flea market and trader about $150 worth of "stuff" for it. I still have it. I have a blonde 1964 Fender Telecaster with original case, hang tags, and cord in as good a condition as I have ever seen for that era. Still have it too. I paid $1500 for it though, but has appreciated a bunch since then. I have also found my share of Gibson guitars and mandolins for under a $100 and bought Harry Reser's A-4 for $400 ..... probably worth about that much at the time.

Nov 28, 2020 - 5:05:04 AM

1521 posts since 11/27/2005

Originally posted by Joe Connor

Joe, what part of the country were you in when you made these purchases? I was in the northeast, looking for instruments (among other things). All I saw were old, nondescript tenor banjos and Harmony guitars with the action so high that you could put your entire hand between the strings and the 12th fret. I did see one Martin mandolin for a decent price, but the seller was sketchy and I was afraid the thing was stolen.


It was New England

Nov 28, 2020 - 5:59:38 AM

1990 posts since 1/4/2009

You can still find deals, but it's way harder with the internet. I got a 1930 style 1 conversion done by a famous old Luthier in the late 60s on reverb for under 1000 because it had terrible pictures and someone did too much research and convinced themselves it was fake. I found a Fairbanks imperial electric on Craig's 25 bucks, I just got a Cromwell labeled 1936 Gibson archtop guitar at a yard sale for $55, found an Hc Dobson and a Gibson 00 tenor at goodwills both for under $100 and my favorite story was when I got a high in ilda and Vega little wonder for $25 at a yard sale, I sold the ilda for 700, the Vega for 900 , found pat pending national ginger picks which I traded for an rb-175 which I traded for a 32 Kay bass . Deals are out there. Sure we can't find flathead prewars like you could in the 70s. But there are deals if you keep your eye open.

Nov 28, 2020 - 6:40:59 AM
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11151 posts since 1/15/2005

Originally posted by RB3WREATH
Originally posted by Joe Connor

Joe, what part of the country were you in when you made these purchases? I was in the northeast, looking for instruments (among other things). All I saw were old, nondescript tenor banjos and Harmony guitars with the action so high that you could put your entire hand between the strings and the 12th fret. I did see one Martin mandolin for a decent price, but the seller was sketchy and I was afraid the thing was stolen.


It was New England

Joe ,,,, you were definitely in the right place.  Although there have been a number of pre-war flatheads that were bought and have showed up in the south, far and away the largest number of fine instruments were shipped to the northeast and midwest.  I used to stop by and see Harry West when his shop (basement of his house) was in Salisbury, NC and talk to him about the instruments he came up with when he was in New York ....... lots of great stuff.

It is a good thing that you could find things inexpensively in the 70's because I had very little expendable income.  I remember spending $75 at the flea market for two Case pocketknives in about 1974 and worried the entire drive home about how I was going to tell mu wife I had spent that much money on pocket knives.

Nov 28, 2020 - 8:36:35 PM

1278 posts since 3/1/2012

Surprised nobody has mentioned the instruments for sale listed in the old Mugwumps magazines. Would love to have prices like that now!

Nov 28, 2020 - 11:29:49 PM

2224 posts since 1/16/2010

I wasn’t around back then...but I have two very special instruments that my uncle Johnny picked up in the 70’s. He travelled around playing in bands all over Texas after he got back from the service. Somewhere or another, and I’m trying to remember this...been a long time since he told me and I was young and didn’t pay total attention...he bought a ‘57 strat off an old black bluesman in a parking lot...for $150. “Leadfoot Willie” I think was his name?

I also have a ‘73 tele that uncle Johnny bought new...

He died several years ago and I inherited the instruments.

I try to do them justice with some Jerry Reed type picking...but electric guitar ain’t really my bag.

Either way...very special instruments that I’m proud to have.

Nov 29, 2020 - 7:19:32 AM
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280 posts since 6/26/2004

I’ve been playing and fooling with instruments since 1963. Here are some of the deals I’ve gotten myself or had friends do so. These were all playable instruments that needed no work.

A Larson Brothers pearl-bound guitar for $126.
A Herringbone D-28 for $400 in a pawn shop.
A Herringbone D-28 for $2 in a bar.
A Loar F5 for $375.
A Gibson snakehead A mandolin for $100
A Gibson trapdoor ukulele banjo for $50
A Weyman tenor for $100.

In the late 60s and into the 70s, Gibson tenor banjos were anywhere from $100 to $400, flathead or arch top. Tubaphone and Whyte Laydie banjos went for around $100. I remember when Ricky Skaggs paid $1000 for a Loar and we were all astounded. There were D-45s advertised for $1200. Les Pauls were $50 and up. I saw a super-fancy one in a pawn shop for $375.

I worked for an instrument repairman named Tom Haile. He told me about a guy in the 50s bringing two Gibson banjos, a Bella Voce and a Florentine, into the store and the manager turned them down for $15 apiece because he said he couldn’t sell them. He told about a man walking down an alley in Old Louisville and finding two carved Stewarts with their necks sticking out of a trash can. One fellow found a $10,000 bow in a trash can.

I’m sure are were many more I’ve forgotten about.

Nov 29, 2020 - 3:25:52 PM



1427 posts since 11/3/2016

Originally posted by IMBanjoJim

Surprised nobody has mentioned the instruments for sale listed in the old Mugwumps magazines. Would love to have prices like that now!

I was subscriber to Mugwumps , one of the earliest mags a collector could find .

When Mandlin Bros started advertising in the 70's for instruments in just about every papershop in the country , it put a hurt on finding deals as it clued in the antique people of values who most of which had no knowledge of same . Mugwumps also was not afraid to print about unscrupulous ethics of some "collectors" .  


Edited by - heavy5 on 11/29/2020 15:30:11

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