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Oct 8, 2021 - 10:14:44 AM
1436 posts since 7/12/2004

One of my students just pointed this auction out to me, for a 1985 Gibson Earl Scruggs owned by Jerry Garcia:

sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/20...-banjo-in

It's a fascinating lot, with a $45,000 opening bid and an expected value of $50-$80K. Just a few problems with it as described:

The neck is wrong - the Scruggs model from that vintage had an incorrectly sized peghead, reflecting the copy neck on Earl's banjo at the time.

The tailpiece is wrong.

The finish color is wrong - a 1985 Scruggs would be blond, and would not have a sunburst.

Any opinions on this list? If it were the banjo Jerry recorded Old And In The Way on in 1975, it might justify a collector paying a Holy Grail price. But it appears to be just some banjo that had a hard life on the road in the late 80s, and that Garcia thought little enough of to give it away. What would you pay?

Oct 8, 2021 - 11:24:14 AM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

456 posts since 5/11/2021

Jerry played a lot of banjo in the 60s and 70s, but Old and in the Way was long gone by 1985, so he certainly never played it with them. He had a Weymann in his pre-Dead days, and there's some photos showing him holding a Gibson with a 'flyswatter' peghead in the 60s and I think that's what he played with OaitW. He did some banjo work with New Riders of the Purple Sage in the 70s. There's not much banjo featured at all on the JGB or JGAB recordings. But again, this is all pre-1985.

He played a single special show with "The Log Cabin Boys" in 1986, but the single photo I see of that performance has him holding a banjo with a peghead that has white binding. So it's not this ESS. Link to recording of show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCcvDTypYzI 

Aside from that single special show, the only notable post-1985 banjo playing from Jerry was with David Grisman on their duo albums. There aren't a lot of great quality photos of that time, but most of them do show him holding some sort of Gibson banjo. 

There's this photo, but that looks like a top tension(?) and the peghead/inlays aren't correct:

There's also this photo, which looks like it has the correct peghead but I don't see a 1st fret inlay like the one in the auction and the tailpiece is different (although that could be swapped):

 

It goes without saying that the bulk of the "value" in this banjo is the provenance. With that in mind, I would want to see better documentation than a simple quote from Big Steve. If this is one of Jerry's "top 3 played banjos", it seems like we'd be able to find a photo of him holding it. If there's documentation that proves he played this banjo on one of the Garcia/Grisman albums, then it might be worth quite a bit.

Edited by - YellowSkyBlueSun on 10/08/2021 11:34:06

Oct 8, 2021 - 11:39:48 AM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

456 posts since 5/11/2021

Here's a video of Jerry and Grisman playing Sweet Sunny South. It's difficult to tell what banjo he's playing, but maybe someone can figure it out. One thing to notice: In the last couple seconds of this video, Jerry sets his banjo into a stand and as he turns away it falls forward and lands flat on the stage. I wonder if there was any damage?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgUYHrcpm1c

Oct 8, 2021 - 11:55 AM

1436 posts since 7/12/2004

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

Here's a video of Jerry and Grisman playing Sweet Sunny South. It's difficult to tell what banjo he's playing, but maybe someone can figure it out. One thing to notice: In the last couple seconds of this video, Jerry sets his banjo into a stand and as he turns away it falls forward and lands flat on the stage. I wonder if there was any damage?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgUYHrcpm1c


Around 2:30 I can see that Jerry's banjo has flying eagle inlays. Near the end you can make out a Presto tailpiece. So this doesn't look like the same banjo at all, based on the few parts that can be identified.

Oct 8, 2021 - 11:57:38 AM

2233 posts since 1/4/2009

its not pictured any pictures above, those are all this top tension pictures in rolling stone.

Oct 8, 2021 - 12:13:23 PM
like this

2233 posts since 1/4/2009

bob wiers nechville is pretty cool too, and much cheaper.

Oct 8, 2021 - 12:56:30 PM

banjoy

USA

9878 posts since 7/1/2006

I agree with the sentiments above that for that kind of outlay I'd want to see a whole lot of proof that this was one of his top three banjos. Personally I have my doubts about that. If it was then that evidence would be easy to find, not hard.

Even if so, it's still over-estimated by $30k on the bottom end IMO. If provenance could be nailed down I'd think at best it's worth 2x its normal value, so what -- about $10k tops?

IMO the estimated value is wildly optimistic but I certainly could be wrong. But OP asked for opinions ... just adding mine to the heap.

Edited by - banjoy on 10/08/2021 12:57:31

Oct 8, 2021 - 1:25:36 PM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

456 posts since 5/11/2021

kyleb I don't think the banjo in the 2nd photo of Jerry on stage is the same as the Rolling Stone photo. Look at the 1st fret in each photos. The Rolling Stone photo shows a 1st fret inlay, the stage photo doesn't.

Oct 8, 2021 - 1:46:25 PM
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1605 posts since 5/19/2018

My thoughts were if I was in the market for a banjo at that price level, and if anyone was in the market for a banjo at that price point , there are a few original Flatheads for sale that would grabbed first. Because Uncle Jerry may ha e owned it in my mind does not add 30,000 to 70,000 value plus buyer premium.

Multiple tens of thousands opening bid....I’m thinking this does not sell.

In a perfect world - I’ll buy the flat head first and then my Wife and I can talk about the Dead concerts we went to a million years ago.

Oct 8, 2021 - 1:52:21 PM
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2233 posts since 1/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

kyleb I don't think the banjo in the 2nd photo of Jerry on stage is the same as the Rolling Stone photo. Look at the 1st fret in each photos. The Rolling Stone photo shows a 1st fret inlay, the stage photo doesn't.


agreed, but its not the auction banjo either, which has the first fret inlay.

Oct 8, 2021 - 1:53:37 PM

2233 posts since 1/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Alvin Conder

My thoughts were if I was in the market for a banjo at that price level, and if anyone was in the market for a banjo at that price point , there are a few original Flatheads for sale that would grabbed first. Because Uncle Jerry may ha e owned it in my mind does not add 30,000 to 70,000 value plus buyer premium.

Multiple tens of thousands opening bid....I’m thinking this does not sell.

In a perfect world - I’ll buy the flat head first and then my Wife and I can talk about the Dead concerts we went to a million years ago.


I agree, i dont think itll sell either. but id love to some of the wall of sound thats for auction, his pedals and amps would be really cool too.

Oct 8, 2021 - 1:56:48 PM

1436 posts since 7/12/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Alvin Conder

My thoughts were if I was in the market for a banjo at that price level, and if anyone was in the market for a banjo at that price point , there are a few original Flatheads for sale that would grabbed first. Because Uncle Jerry may ha e owned it in my mind does not add 30,000 to 70,000 value plus buyer premium.
 


Not to mention that the mid-80s Earl Scruggs model is just about the bottom of the Gibson banjo barrel. Not an awful banjo, but I'd take just about anything else Gibson made over one of these. The changes that were made, if this in fact was a 1985 Scruggs, are all likely improvements in playability and sound and definitely in appearance, but all make it less valuable as a collectible banjo. The parts you can't see - rim and tone ring, mainly - could only be improved by replacing them with aftermarket parts. Only the Jerry Garcia provenance gives it any value beyond a parts banjo, and so far that provenance seems weak.

If it is a Gibson, I suspect the only factory part is the truss rod cover.

Oct 8, 2021 - 2:12:08 PM

banjoy

USA

9878 posts since 7/1/2006

Opening bid of $45,000 for a $5,000 banjo ... I just can't see a $40k spread because Jerry owned it. If it were Earl Scruggs who had owned it then I could see that, maybe, but even then it'd have to be well proven. And that's only if I had that kind of money to burn.

It's seems to me it's just fairy dust that Sotheby's is selling. The price seems crazy. But then, there are plenty of crazy wealthy people these days for whom $45k is pocket change, and maybe Sotheby's is banking on a wealthy boomer Dead Head coming along. So while I think that this will not even fetch its opening bid, it won't surprise me if it does, just for that reason.

Of course for me it's all hypothetical anyway (I can't afford this stuff!!), still -- it's a fun topic.

Oct 8, 2021 - 2:25:52 PM

2233 posts since 1/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by banjoy

Opening bid of $45,000 for a $5,000 banjo ... I just can't see a $40k spread because Jerry owned it. If it were Earl Scruggs who had owned it then I could see that, maybe, but even then it'd have to be well proven. And that's only if I had that kind of money to burn.

It's seems to me it's just fairy dust that Sotheby's is selling. The price seems crazy. But then, there are plenty of crazy wealthy people these days for whom $45k is pocket change, and maybe Sotheby's is banking on a wealthy boomer Dead Head coming along. So while I think that this will not even fetch its opening bid, it won't surprise me if it does, just for that reason.

Of course for me it's all hypothetical anyway (I can't afford this stuff!!), still -- it's a fun topic.


I think the premium of Jerry owning would add more than earl. Earl probably owned a few of these and they wouldnt command this price because everyone knows he didnt play them. If Jerry actually played this one a lot as claimed.. it makes sense. Jerry's guitars have sold for 2 million dollars. one of his guitar necks that he hardly played in this auction is already over 50k. Earl had a lot of fans, but no where near that of Jerry. People collect his stuff. I think this may sell, but it wont be to a banjo collector. 

Oct 8, 2021 - 2:26:56 PM
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1436 posts since 7/12/2004

reverb.com/item/44108279-gibso...with-case

I did a quick search for other blond ESS models from that era and found this one on Reverb - for $5500! I feel like I went to sleep in an era where 1970s RB-250s sold for $1900, and woke up to this. The copywriter on this banjo definitely went overboard on his description - it reminded me of the prewar Gibson catalogs that gushed about the intangible features that made their banjos the greatest ever built. It's worth quoting the whole thing here. It's too bad that someone who knows nothing about banjos except the Gibson name will be taken in by this drivel and actually think 1986 was the pinnacle of Gibson banjo development.

(Reverb description starts here)

About This Listing

Gibson 1986 Earl Scruggs Mastertone 5-String Banjo with Case

Banjo is very clean for its age. Plays and sounds great. Very loud. Comes in hard shell case. OFFERS WELCOME!!!

The early 1980's Earl Scruggs banjos were better than the later models for these reasons:

-signed by Earl Scruggs

From information we found on line Gibson built these with the following items listed below. These are the most desirable models. This is what makes them sound so good. Gives it that loud, crisp, sharp sound.

- (basically a Stewart MacDonald banjo)

- Stewart- MacDonald tone ring

- standard Stewart-MacDonald 3 ply rim

- resonator sides of 3-ply of maple

- ( possibly with poplar in the center layer)

- The flange was reportedly made from the same die from which all the flanges had been made since the late 20's

- Maple wood (Honey Color Finish)

- Ebony fret board

- different flange and tone rings (than the 1988 to 2007 model)

- hand-cut inlay

Oct 8, 2021 - 2:40:29 PM

banjoy

USA

9878 posts since 7/1/2006

kyleb

You make excellent points I didn't think of and you're most likely correct. I was at the tail end of the Dead era growing up and never got to see them live, and I was not aware that Garcia's stuff would be more valuable, I never really thought about it but as I now see, you're right. I didn't look at it like that until you pointed it out above.

I agree this will not sell to a banjo collector and I was looking at it through the lens of a banjo player. While to most commoners like me the price seems nuts, I'm pretty sure Southeby's knows what it's doing and has experience dealing with celeb's stuff. So yeah, it could very well sell, and if it does, it's a Dead Head buying it.

The price does make a little more sense now, but dang.

Edited by - banjoy on 10/08/2021 14:42:28

Oct 8, 2021 - 2:44:21 PM
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2233 posts since 1/4/2009

quote:
Originally posted by waystation

reverb.com/item/44108279-gibso...with-case

I did a quick search for other blond ESS models from that era and found this one on Reverb - for $5500! I feel like I went to sleep in an era where 1970s RB-250s sold for $1900, and woke up to this. The copywriter on this banjo definitely went overboard on his description - it reminded me of the prewar Gibson catalogs that gushed about the intangible features that made their banjos the greatest ever built. It's worth quoting the whole thing here. It's too bad that someone who knows nothing about banjos except the Gibson name will be taken in by this drivel and actually think 1986 was the pinnacle of Gibson banjo development.

(Reverb description starts here)

About This Listing

Gibson 1986 Earl Scruggs Mastertone 5-String Banjo with Case

Banjo is very clean for its age. Plays and sounds great. Very loud. Comes in hard shell case. OFFERS WELCOME!!!

The early 1980's Earl Scruggs banjos were better than the later models for these reasons:

-signed by Earl Scruggs

From information we found on line Gibson built these with the following items listed below. These are the most desirable models. This is what makes them sound so good. Gives it that loud, crisp, sharp sound.

- (basically a Stewart MacDonald banjo)

- Stewart- MacDonald tone ring

- standard Stewart-MacDonald 3 ply rim

- resonator sides of 3-ply of maple

- ( possibly with poplar in the center layer)

- The flange was reportedly made from the same die from which all the flanges had been made since the late 20's

- Maple wood (Honey Color Finish)

- Ebony fret board

- different flange and tone rings (than the 1988 to 2007 model)

- hand-cut inlay


You are 100% when thinking of this as a banjo. But the person who buys this is going to think of it as an extension of and connection too thier idol, thier god of sorts. This was Jerry's man. Hell the main banjo he played was an old weymann, doesnt really matter the banjo quality. Someone who buys this will be buying it because it was jerry garcias. Trust me, i almost bought Bill Monroes toaster for $50.

Oct 8, 2021 - 3:12:29 PM
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11816 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

Jerry played a lot of banjo in the 60s and 70s, but Old and in the Way was long gone by 1985, so he certainly never played it with them. He had a Weymann in his pre-Dead days, and there's some photos showing him holding a Gibson with a 'flyswatter' peghead in the 60s and I think that's what he played with OaitW. 


Jerry played both of those banjos with Old and In the Way. I was at two of the four Boarding House shows and both were played.

This was one of the outdoor shows — don't recall which one:

The Weymann at The Boarding House:

Edited by - mikehalloran on 10/08/2021 15:13:30

Oct 8, 2021 - 3:50:59 PM

rcc56

USA

3844 posts since 2/20/2016

Well, apparently "Big Steve" Parish started out as a roadie for the Grateful Dead in 1969, and eventually became their equipment manager. Whether or not that's enough provenance depends on one's point of view, I suppose.

A further letter of provenance from someone such as Bob Weir or David Grisman, or one of Garcia's surviving spouses might firm up evidence of his ownership. Since they are asking for an opening bid of 45K, I would not consider a request for such a letter to be unreasonable.

Provenance for a person who is no longer alive is a tricky thing.  An example:  I worked on three of Peter Ostroushko's instruments.  I would probably be able to recognize at least two of the three if I saw them.  And I might still have a copy of the repair bills with serial numbers, which would be buried in my tax records.  But although Pete's name would be on the repair bills, his signature would not.  And despite an acknowledgement to me on one of his records, I am certainly not a well known person with a public history of association to Pete.  In short, my word would not mean much.  Provenance from Pete's wife or a well known musician who recorded with him would be much better.

Edited by - rcc56 on 10/08/2021 16:10:47

Oct 8, 2021 - 4:20:03 PM

banjoy

USA

9878 posts since 7/1/2006

I don't think the issue is whether Jerry Garcia owned this banjo or not. The provenance issue is whether this is one of his "top three played banjos" he used. That's a stretch.

Probably won't make a bit of difference to any bidder. That Jerry touched it and owned it will be enough for them. But top three he played? Really?

Oct 8, 2021 - 4:57:51 PM

rcc56

USA

3844 posts since 2/20/2016

Maybe this was the one he used for outdoor gigs when the weather was bad.  wink

Oct 8, 2021 - 7:29:53 PM

cevant

USA

290 posts since 2/5/2020
Online Now

Yeah, and only in the dark.... hence no photos.

Oct 8, 2021 - 10:41:03 PM

banjoy

USA

9878 posts since 7/1/2006

LOL you guys are too funny but on target!

After I made my post I also thought, well, maybe this was Jerry's POS beater banjo he used for jam sessions, camping out and tripping in general. That I can see :)

I seem to remember reading somewhere long ago that Jerry had quite a few nice banjos. It's just that this being described as one of his "top three played banjos" implies it was among one of his favorites. That, I can't see :) and I'd want proof of that.

But that's just me and I'm certainly a nobody when it comes to Southeby's or banjo collectors in general ( a club I don't belong). But I don't think I'm the only one here who had the same reaction (beyond initial sticker shock) to that declaration.

Edited by - banjoy on 10/08/2021 22:45:08

Oct 9, 2021 - 3:51:32 AM

cevant

USA

290 posts since 2/5/2020
Online Now

I agree. Jerry was one of the most photographed musicians on the planet. If he had played this banjo on a regular basis there would be a photo. Doesn't it seem strange that there are so many photos of him playing other banjos, but not one of this banjo? Even if it was his beater played only on Christmas mornings, there would be a photo.

Edited by - cevant on 10/09/2021 03:52:04

Oct 9, 2021 - 4:05:14 AM
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4621 posts since 9/7/2009

NCIS should be able to find some of his DNA on it... :)

Oct 9, 2021 - 9:14:34 AM

11816 posts since 10/27/2006

quote:
Originally posted by BNJOMAKR

NCIS should be able to find some of his DNA on it... :)


Oh, that's too funny!

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