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Sep 16, 2021 - 8:28:25 AM
16 posts since 12/2/2017

Hi, everyone seems to want a pre war Gibson but I have one question why? What is it about these that are so sought after?

Sep 16, 2021 - 9:02:38 AM
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87 posts since 12/19/2017

They have a tone that was represented by several bluegrass greats. People seem to be trying to duplicate that sound. What happens is as the wood ages the moisture in the cells of the wood evaporate making the wood vibrate more. That creates more tone and volume. But as others will state, that’s only one aspect of what creates the “pre-war” sound.

Sep 16, 2021 - 9:06:27 AM
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15330 posts since 12/2/2005

I'll be out shortly with the popcorn.

Sep 16, 2021 - 9:18:01 AM
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HSmith

UK

423 posts since 12/30/2005

Hi Cliff
I imagine you'll get a wide range of answers to this question! Certainly, one prime reason is that Earl Scruggs played one as did so many other great players. Don Reno, Sonny Osborne, Butch Robins. The list goes on and on. In fact, in Trischka and Wernick's 'Masters Of The 5 String Banjo' they reveal that out of 68 players interviewed, just over half reported that the 'pot' of their banjo was a Gibson made between 1920 and the 30s. Since most aspiring banjo players would like to emulate their heroes, they obviously feel that having a similar instrument is necessary. I've been playing about 50 years, and I can truly say in my experience that the 'prewar sound' comes from the touch of the player. Sure, a good banjo helps but it's the player that matters. I've heard many wonderful instruments sound unremarkable in the hands of average players. Conversely, I've heard gifted but unknown players make relatively cheap instruments sound fantastic! Some people believe there's magic in the formula of the alloy used in the tone rings and other hardware, also in the (now) aged wood of the pot and resonator, and in the quality of the workmanship in their production and assembly. They may be right, but I'd suggest that many of the current big name builders can match the quality of those pre-war banjos. Just my thoughts.

Sep 16, 2021 - 9:22:44 AM

912 posts since 3/23/2006

Many people agree with Chip's explanation. However, there are other factors, not all independent of each other. Earl Scruggs revolutionized 5-string banjo playing when he recorded with Bill Monroe only a few years after WWII, when most available banjos were made before the war. Wanting to play like Earl motivated players to seek banjos like Earl's. Having played a number of professionally set up, desirable models of pre-war Gibsons, in my experience some were great and some were not. It could be that they aged differently, or there may have been other reasons. I could never figure it out. When professional fiddlers do blind tests of multi-million dollar Stradivarius violins compared to the best modern instruments, the Strads don't consistently win. See https://bit.ly/fiddletest

But yes, I do wish that I could afford a great-sounding pre-war Granada. 8-)

Sep 16, 2021 - 9:22:56 AM
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jfb

USA

2447 posts since 9/30/2004

Here ya go, .I will silence this one before it even gets started….

Sep 16, 2021 - 9:38:15 AM
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1606 posts since 11/16/2006

Ask Jim Mills.

Sep 16, 2021 - 10:12:49 AM
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14242 posts since 10/30/2008

Mojo.

Mojo.

Sep 16, 2021 - 10:14:06 AM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

1031 posts since 8/9/2019

I like pw archtops

Sep 16, 2021 - 11:26:29 AM
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2713 posts since 1/16/2013

Those are the banjos my heroes played, rarity, tone, the smell, owning something made in America and old.
-Jim

Sep 16, 2021 - 11:39:33 AM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

416 posts since 5/11/2021

Mojo and Marketing.

99.999% of people can't hear a difference between a Prewar Gibson and a 2020 Huber/Yates/Hatfield.

This is especially true because most "prewar gibsons" are actually just a parts banjo with a couple pre-war parts. It's all just marketing by the collectors that want to drive values up for their investment.

Sep 16, 2021 - 12:15:04 PM
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RB3

USA

1096 posts since 4/12/2004

They sound better than other banjos.

Sep 16, 2021 - 12:24:54 PM
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ChunoTheDog

Canada

1031 posts since 8/9/2019

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

Mojo and Marketing.

99.999% of people can't hear a difference between a Prewar Gibson and a 2020 Huber/Yates/Hatfield.

This is especially true because most "prewar gibsons" are actually just a parts banjo with a couple pre-war parts. It's all just marketing by the collectors that want to drive values up for their investment.


Those are not pre wars, then.

 

I'll see myself out before the debate begins :P

Sep 16, 2021 - 1:17:10 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25217 posts since 6/25/2005

Earl’s classic recordings were made when his Granada was 20-odd years old. It had been through multiple necks/fingerboards. A 50s-60s bowtie Mastertone is now at least 50 years old. They were well-made banjos. Draw your own conclusions.

Sep 16, 2021 - 4:01:52 PM
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1786 posts since 9/10/2003

quote:
Originally posted by Ceres Banjo Works

Those are the banjos my heroes played, rarity, tone, the smell, owning something made in America and old.
-Jim


Nuff said ! case closed. wink

Sep 16, 2021 - 4:11:53 PM

117 posts since 2/16/2008

@ cliff Surridge
Granted some of the old Gibsons sound great, but then again, so do a lot of others.
You will find that where music instruments are concerned, Hype is off the charts.
Hype Hype Hype..

Use your ears. Play what sounds good to you and pay no attention to the rest.

P.S. I own an Old Alvarez that everybody raves about when they hear it.. Cost was about 1/4 what many other banjos cast.
Go figure.

Sep 16, 2021 - 5:58:44 PM
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74 posts since 5/8/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Ceres Banjo Works

Those are the banjos my heroes played, rarity, tone, the smell, owning something made in America and old.
-Jim


My banjo is made in America, it's already rare, and in 50 years, it's going to smell and be old. Much like its player. 

But seriously, a pre-war Gibson (with non-original neck, new hardware, refinished resonator, massacred rim) isn't going to give me Don Reno's technique and Ralph Stanley's tone. Practicing (and selling my soul to the devil) will get me closer than anything. 

Sep 16, 2021 - 7:59:18 PM

234 posts since 3/2/2013

Sonny said he always smells the inside of the pot on an unfamiliar prewar, just to make sure it really is a prewar. Said the glue they used back then had its own distinct smell. Maybe thats where the secret of the magical tone lies : ) Like ive said before...Owners who have shelled out the dough for one just feel better knowing they own a holy grail but I really doubt any of them will take a blind test especially on a bet. If they did we would have it and results documented somewhere and we just don't. I guarantee somebodies tried to talk a prewar owner into taking a blind test. Think about it...a lot of PW owners if they failed the test wouldnt want to live with knowing something else (maybe even a cheap goldtone) sounded more prewar and better than their 1930 granada. Potentially very devastating. Like was mentioned earlier in this thread 99.999% cant hear a difference and the remainder won't ever chance being disappointed. Pass the popcorn

Sep 17, 2021 - 4:38:50 AM
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4654 posts since 11/20/2004

I play what I like the sound of and feel no need to prove to anyone that it is the best. It very well may not be best for them. After around 20 different rims, I found it in an old TB11 rim.
I suspect that I may not be the only one to find it in a banjo from this era, leading to a preference for them. I hear a clarity and sweetness that I did not hear in others.

Sep 17, 2021 - 6:27:21 AM

AGACNP

USA

197 posts since 10/12/2011

I’ve played a few prewar Gibsons and agree with some of the above observations: I’ve found they all sound different to me, and were all set up similarly by the same guy.

I owned a converted ‘29 TB-3 for awhile and was never fully satisfied with it. Ended up with a new Huber VRBG and couldn’t be happier with the way it sounds.

To each his/her own…

Sep 17, 2021 - 6:49:36 AM
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14242 posts since 10/30/2008

Seriously, a highly experienced bluegrass banjo picker I know (member of BHO) once had me play his pair of all-original 5 string flat heads, and I was just STUNNED. I told him I'd never heard anything like that before. Especially the shrieking power up the neck, way up the neck.

He replied that most people have no idea how great the original real thing can sound, because they've never had a chance to play one. I believe he's onto something there.

Sep 17, 2021 - 9:01:15 AM
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5726 posts since 12/20/2005

I’ve never seen a prewar flathead but I do have a 29 arch top. It is all original. It gets played a lot.
I have owned a number of modern Gibson and Gibson clone banjos and have a small collection of a variety of vintage banjos, including 2 prewar Gibson conversion banjos and another all original Gibson.
All of the Gibson, especially the arch top, have a certain response and tone I have not felt from a post war Gibson.
There was one that came close, a Yates SkilletHead.
I would love to spend a day with a prewar flathead.
I can not honestly comment on a Huber, or one of the other fine Gibson type banjos being made today, I have never played one.
I don’t believe for one second the aura of a good prewar flathead is hype.
Far too many fabulous and knowledgeable professional players who can play whatever they wish choose a good prewar Gibson.

Sep 17, 2021 - 2:57:24 PM

37 posts since 6/12/2014

must say pre wars are a joy,me and wayne clyburn logged in a few hours discussing these old gibsons,must say owning one is worth it, jd once said to me if its not a pre war its not worth it, joe

Sep 17, 2021 - 9:23:42 PM

csrat

USA

865 posts since 9/14/2008
Online Now

Before the war, the craftsmen of middle America were multi-generational. Grandfathers who trained sons who then trained their sons. Why build banjos? Because that's what your father did, that's why. Nobody was getting rich and there weren't a plethora of opportunities, so your reputation was what drove you. Craftsmen were discriminating in their choice of materials and you didn't lay hands on another man's tools. Family and work, these were the common focus.

Post-War, as the song said, " How you gonna keep 'em, down on the farm, once they've seen Pa-ree!"
The younger craftsmen learned there were many options. Well paying jobs in the cities, different countries, the G.I. Bill, heck, you didn't have to carry the families tradition!

Result? Loss of skill and experience. Did quality suffer? Of course, but the way things were built changed too. Can't blame it all on the craftsmen changing careers. The war changed viewpoints, technology and goals. More banjos that folks can afford is better than less banjos at a higher price and quality.

The type of glue, where the wood was cut, magic Kentucky Dust. Whatever. Were those banjos of very high quality and dedication? Yes. Are there craftsmen out there today with that same focus on quality and skilled construction? Yes. Lots of great banjos out there. Get to listening and picking and you'll find them.

Sep 18, 2021 - 5:01:31 AM
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2886 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Magic Kentucky Dust? What has this to do with Kalamazoo, MI? LOL ?? 

I attended a Jack Hatfield training event at SPBGMA in Nashville. I took video of the event because Bela Fleck was there with one of his custom pre-war RB-75s. If loud was a measurement, his RB-75 wouldn't cut the top 10.  Nechvile may take the cake. Jake played that. 

I watched many litter mates videos and the Wade Mainer's resurrection back to its past. A destroyed pre-war RB-7 was said to be its heart. 

I have noticed with Bela videos his amplifier setup is always there to support his instrument. I like his setup. Bela likes his 7.25 radius. 

I enjoy a 7.25 radius also. I figure in 20 years my 2005 RB-12 will be coming to age of Earl's Granada.  Every day it gets sweeter. But by 2025, banjos may not be around except in our minds. Change is coming and not for the good. It may start this year. At least that is what the great reset is promising.

Sep 18, 2021 - 9:41:09 AM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

416 posts since 5/11/2021

This is the first I've heard that the people building prewar Gibsons were multi-generational banjo craftsman. Does anyone any sources for this information?

I'd love to read about the people that were on the floor and working the tools back then. My family is originally from the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek area, my grandma worked at GHS for quite a while, and as a clerk at Gibson for a short period of time in the 50s.

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