Just happened to go to the Carter Vintage Guitar website and noticed that they've dropped the price on their All-American flat head tenor and 1939 RB-75:
Could the great pre-war banjo buying boom be over? Is this a sign of things to come?
I think they are just looking for the people who refuse to pay over $90,000 for their RB 75. Those banjos are rare, but so is the banjo picker able to buy them.
An image of an angry Earl Scruggs appearing on your banjo head would be a "sign;" a signal that maybe you should practice more.
As far as banjo prices being lowered, though, I have to agree with Bobby Reavis.
Of the "Big 3" instruments, the Gibson flathead banjo, the Gibson Lloyd Loar mandolin and the Martin Herringbone D-28, I've always felt that the banjo was the one that would not hold it's value. For those of us who grew up watching the first generation of Bluegrass musicians play, it is still the gold standard. We are now generations away from that era and the people who are coming into the music now do not have the same attachment to the pioneers as we did. To many of them, a Deering or a Stelling or whatever is just as good.
The mandolin has a wider range of uses than the banjo. It is certainly used it Bluegrass, but it is also used in old-time music, mandolin orchestras and so forth. There is no doubt that the Lloyd Loar mandolins are superb instruments, but there are many others that are equal to them once you take away the historical value.
The guitar is the most ubiquitous of the three instruments. From Lester Flatt to Eric Clapton to Vince Gill to many others, the prewar Martin Herringbone is still the one. They are superb instruments and because they cross so many musical genres, they will probably hold their value better than the other two. There will alway be a demand for all three, but the demand will always be highest for the guitar.
Originally posted by hbick2
Of the "Big 3" instruments, the Gibson flathead banjo, the Gibson Lloyd Loar mandolin and the Martin Herringbone D-28, I've always felt that the banjo was the one that would not hold it's value. <snip>
So the relevant comparison is whether, in the current climate, Loar mandolins and prewar herringbones are being snapped up at asking price, whereas prewar flatheads are showing price reductions.
Martin guitars have continually gained in value since 2000 by my observation. They sell into a huge market.
Lloyd Loar prices are undergoing near collapse, down from typical asking prices of $250,000 to more like $125,000. I've only heard of ONE selling this year. Mandolin players have a host of extremely high quality "boutique" makers supplying them with wonderful instruments that they can afford to insure.
Banjos? I see the high asking prices as an attempt by the seller to find that single potential buyer who'll pay ANYTHING to get the banjo they want. If they find that person doesn't exist (at that price) they can always lower the price. The more old banjos there are for sale, the harder it is to sell any one particular one. There are easily a dozen Loar mandolins for sale right now. Perhaps fewer old top of the line banjos (even the All American is going to need a conversion neck for a bluegrasser) are in the market. And like mandolins, there are plenty of boutique makers who can provide EXTREMELY high quality bluegrass banjos to the market, at relatively affordable prices.
Apparently there is no 4 string All American fanatic out there with $135,000 to spend.
As you move farther into the higher price ranges, the potential pool of buyers gets smaller and pickier.
Most of the buyers who are able to pay $80k + for an instrument prefer items that are clean and original, and except for one-of-a-kind custom order instruments, conform to the "classic specs" for the model.
Since the RB-75 is a "floorsweep" model and has a replaced fingerboard and refinished neck, it does not meet that criteria, and will be more difficult to sell at that price. A similar RB with a neck with original finish and a more standard pre-war inlay pattern would probably have sold quickly.
The market for the painted banjos tends to be limited to collectors who like that sort of thing. Rarity is not by itself necessarily enough to motivate the high end buyers. Despite the rarity of the All-American flathead, there apparently were not any buyers who were willing to pay $130k for a painted flathead banjo.
I do notice that Gruhn has sold a couple of "standard" flatheads over the last year. The only ones that remain are the RB-7 [which I have played and is a very good banjo indeed] and two light weight style 6's. These instruments are harder to sell because the market prefers the heavy weight tone rings, and because top tension banjos are of less interest to buyers than styles 3 and 4.
As far as the mandolin market is concerned, F-5's from the 1920's have been stagnant for quite a long time.
Herringbone Martins that are in nice condition and are mostly original are selling quite well right now, and asking prices have risen over the last year.
Edited by - rcc56 on 10/21/2021 11:41:47
Unlike classical violinists who benefit from rich folks who buy the multimillon dollar Strad, Guaneri and Amati violins and lend them (often for very long periods) to virtuoso performers, we only have Steve Martin. 8-) Ironically, when they do blind tests of the Strads against the best modern violins, the old violins only win about half the time. It might be different for banjos.
Bill Rogers (Moderator)
Carter Vintage sells many (most?) instruments on consignment, leaving them with only partial control of the asking price. A lot of folks selling instruments have overblown expectations of value. Also, for instance, Gibsons from the 1960s--very good instruments--are now much older than Earl's Granada was during Flatt and Scruggs' heyday, so the age issue has faded. At the asking prices, thise instruments go to collectors or amateur and semi-pro players who have deep pockets. Working bluegrass musicians mostly lack the funds to buy them--and are sensibly unwilling to subject such costly instruments to the rigors of touring. Ergo, the market fades....
I know of a couple of Loar mandolins that have sold privately in the past year or so in the 150K range and they were indeed what I think were cream of the crop. I think you can probably buy nice Loars now for less than 100K without having to look terribly hard. AS earlier noted, they have been dropping steadily the past number of years. Meanwhile, the old pre-war herringbones have risen steadily.
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