I am saving up money to get a custom banjo built. I have always like the aesthetic quality of gold plating, and have considered getting it on my custom. In doing further research, I have encountered two potential issues. One, it is expensive (in my particular situation it would be >$600 more expensive to get gold plating) and two, gold generally does not wear as well as nickel.
For those of you that have banjos with and without gold plating, do you have any advice or insight into your choice? I can see both sides of the issue but I wanted to hear from everyone. Ideally, I would like to keep this banjo forever and would like to keep it looking as good as possible.
Well I don't own a gold banjo, but theoretically if you got one it should actually wear better than nickel as pure gold never tarnishes. However, it can still wear if it's an alloy. Just take good care of it and don't let it get too wet and you should be just fine.
Edited by - Benjoman02 on 06/07/2023 10:44:09
My question would be:
"If you can't HEAR it, why even bother with it?"
But, you answered already.
You like the looks.
Originally posted by mike gregory
My question would be:
"If you can't HEAR it, why even bother with it?"
But, you answered already.
You like the looks.
I hear gold plating all the time, and I don't like it!
I have both plates (plus chrome).
OLD gold plate (pre-war) appears to last longer because it often has copper flash under it. So when the gold rubs away a little bit, as it is BOUND to do from your right shirt sleeve on the armrest and tailpiece, what shows through the worn gold is somewhat brown copper flash, and when that wears away (as it will do) you see raw brass showing. The whole combination is a rather subtle appearance with nothing jarring. Newer banjos "typically" put a layer of nickel on top of the bare metal, then gold plate on top of the nickel plate. Part of the theory of nickel in the middle is that it provides a really solid, smooth surface so that minimum amount of gold plate will provide "enough" coverage. The inevitable problem is your sleeve will wear through the gold plate and then you have the jarring appearance of nickel showing through. I personally dislike this kind of plating in wildly dissimilar colored layers.
With any kind of gold plate you should NEVER NEVER polish it. Both the polish and the cloth WILL eventually wear through the gold. The most you should do with a gold banjo pot is "dust" it, or VERY careful use a damp t shirt material to dab off any spilled food, beer, sweat, dirt, dust, soda, ketchup or whatever.
Armrests and tailpieces with badly worn gold can be replaced fairly cheaply, compared to a whole new banjo or a complete replate job. One sees far too many fine banjos with the top surface of the tension hoop gold plate worn away to nickel. Or one piece flanges with the gold too enthusiastically "cleaned" and removed to base pot metal. Even some pre-war original flat heads suffer from this.
If you don't want to worry about decaying appearance, stick with nickel, or better yet chrome. If you buy a gold banjo that has gold over copper flash, and you take great care not to rub the gold in any way, you can have a gold banjo that will at most show its age in a dignified way. In general, one can be fairly confident of the pre-war two piece flange gold Mastertones aging with the most dignity.
Replated pre-war banjos nearly always have gold over nickel.
Overall, I still prefer gold over copper for my banjos.
Go to Greg Earnest's banjo photo website and look over all the old pre war gold banjos. Look close at the wear on the gold plate, and what's showing through. Then compare many (most) of the post war gold Gibsons for sale in the Classifieds and observe the appearance of the armrest, tailpiece, tension hoop, tension hooks and flange for comparison.
Edited by - The Old Timer on 06/07/2023 11:23:34
I own both types, but I am not one to issue an expert opinion. I asked a prominent ring maker recently about the tone difference between a nickel ring and a gold-plated ring. He responded that having gold plating done over the nickel is not worth the cost. To obtain any tonal difference you must have the gold plating done over the proper base metal plating. My humble opinion is that very few of the people can tell the difference in banjo tone no matter the plating.
If one goes for gold plating, it is important to have it done properly. The last "gold plated" banjo I worked on was obviously done poorly, because it tended to come off in flakes. I cut myself on one of those flakes.
I have both. Gold plated banjos do not wear as well as Chrome or Nickel. Look at it too much, and it can wear off.
I have noticed zero difference in sound.
The banjo I have it on is a old vintage banjo. Love the way it looks. Would I pay extra for it on a new banjo? No.
Gold plating on a banjo is classy… but you’re talking to a guy who only plays 1920’s B&D Ne Plus Ultras…
I'm going to play the devil's advocate here.
If you want to have a custom banjo made, shouldn't you go ahead and get what you really want? If you don't get what you want you will always wish you had. Gold plating, for all it's problems, gives off a certain vibe. It sort of makes a statement. It tells others that you have made it, whether you have or not.
If you really want a gold plated banjo then you should have it made. If you are still on the fence about it then all this discussion makes more sense.
I ordered a Gibson RB-800, Gold Plated, in 1985. The gold started to peal off in a few years and now there is no gold except in a couple of small places. I recommend NO GOLD plating.
Edited by - Bob Miller on 06/07/2023 12:56:36
I had a gold plating discussion with Jimmy Cox around 2008 and I thought he said having his parts gold plated in Massachusetts was over $2000.
In the 80s StewMac offered their "Vintage" kit in mahogany or maple,fiddle or double-cut peghead,H&F or FE inlays and nickel or gold plated.The gold kit was offered with Granada engravings for $1250.
I ran the gold plating shop in an executive aircraft outfitting firm in Miami in the 80's, and can say than no one who had their aircraft finished at the firm ever wanted anything except gold plating. The aircraft would fly just as well without the gold plating, but it sure made an impression next to the exotic woods and fabrics the interior was finished with. It is all about the look.
If you do decide to have the metal parts gold plated, there are a few things to pay attention to, or make sure that the shop that does the work pays attention to. George mentioned the gold coming off in flakes. That would actually be the nickel coming off in flakes with the gold plating on the nickel. A very substantial gold plating is going to be about 100 millionths of an inch thick. That will withstand 20 strokes of 400 grit sandpaper with moderate pressure before wearing through to the metal underneath. I would recommend finding a shop that can measure directly the thickness of the gold after plating if you decide to go with gold, and it will be worth the extra expense they may change for this service. On the arm rest, I would recommend 200 millionths.
There are several chemistries of gold solutions that are used in gold plating. The older solutions, used in the prewar Gibson banjos referred to above used a neutral cyanide gold. This is a softer and purer gold, and in pretty much everyone's opinion, looks better than the newer acid gold solutions. It does not wear as well as the acid gold deposits. Cobalt gold is another type of solution. This is a deposit of gold with a bit of cobalt deposited at the same time. Cobalt gold is substantially harder than cyanide gold, and will wear better over time, lasting longer. It's disadvantage is that it looks a bit bright, and not as soft looking as the cyanide gold.
There are also alkaline gold cyanide and non-cyanide gold solutions, but I am not familiar with them.
If the gold is plated over copper, the copper will migrate through the gold over time, and can then show up as green spots in places where debris and moisture collect. It is better to first plate with copper (to seal the underlying metal), polish well, electro-clean thoroughly, then deposit nickel, polish again, followed by gold. A good shop will be familiar with the details that are necessary to pay attention to that will keep the copper, nickel, or gold from separating from the metal or plating underneath.
If you go with gold, I'd suggest a wooden armrest, or if you can afford it, an 18K one made by a jeweler:<).
Go with the GOLD.
My 1927 Granada is gold over nickel. I LOVE the look, but I suspect it's not what the OP is after because it has the patina of age and doesn't look new and shiny by any means. I get the desire for making an old banjo look new, but it's not for me.
Back in the 1960s I wanted to get the banjo replated but couldn’t afford it—I have been forever grateful that I couldn’t do that—it would have messed up the banjo and ruined its antique value forever.
After 93 years, the banjo looks its age and is battered but unbowed. I am pretty good at metal patinas, but could never duplicate the original finish as it is.
Get the gold to satisfy your current desire, but do it knowing it will not stay new looking over many years. Hopefully, you will age together with many happy memories. Time has a way of helping us appreciate aged looks.
rdeanjordan I suggest listening to Rives Mcdow because he never acts like he's the only one who knows.
I would love to have a 22 karat armrest to protect my tendons.
This issue for me would be the quality of hardware underneath, and what process is used to get what material plated with what quality gold (%)
A forest fire fighter up in Alaska during COVID was gifted a set of gold hardware at no extra cost because of the environment he would be playing in.
And he worked very hard during quarantine while his banjo waited and waited at the post office.
Greg Rich of Music Link/Recording King had the best gold plating for those on shore banjos he and his team produced a "few" years ago. That plating looked like solid gold. I know they were plated here in the USA in our economy,
Let's say other peoples' gold plating is done to their budget and specifications and it doesn't always look as good as one might think.
Many people are allergic to nickel. I ain't allergic to gold.
I would agree with what Culloden wrote. Being custom made, it's YOUR banjo. If you can afford it, and it complements the wood and finish of the rest of the banjo, go for it.
FYI I have a Gibson Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe. Its gold finish looks great against the dark stained maple. I also have a 1978 Imperial with nickel hardware. Over time the nickel has that old patina. It looks really nice, but the Gibson really pops.
Once again larry, posting a comment that puts down other people's comments.
Paulf Hello again Paul, are you thinking of responding to the OP about gold?
Originally posted by rmcdow
" I ran the gold plating shop in an executive aircraft outfitting firm in Miami in the 80's, and can say than no one who had their aircraft finished at the firm ever wanted anything except gold plating. The aircraft would fly just as well without the gold plating, but it sure made an impression next to the exotic woods and fabrics the interior was finished with. It is all about the look.
If you do decide to have the metal parts gold plated, there are a few things to pay attention to, or make sure that the shop that does the work pays attention to. George mentioned the gold coming off in flakes. That would actually be the nickel coming off in flakes with the gold plating on the nickel. A very substantial gold plating is going to be about 100 millionths of an inch thick. That will withstand 20 strokes of 400 grit sandpaper with moderate pressure before wearing through to the metal underneath. I would recommend finding a shop that can measure directly the thickness of the gold after plating if you decide to go with gold, and it will be worth the extra expense they may change for this service. On the arm rest, I would recommend 200 millionths. .............."
OP - Listen to this man! I have done Quality audits at dozens of plating companies in my 43 year carrier - this is the plain truth. Its almost impossible to find platers who are using the highly carcinogenic and toxic cyanide anything processes these days, thanks to the EPA regs. My local plater, who is a friend too, stopped his gold plating line because of 2 things: the price of gold is just crazy and more importantly his employees kept dropping pennies in the gold tank, to be retrieved later, now heavily gold plated! He was hemoraging money. There are companies that do electronic work, plating contacts and such and there are companies that do decorative plating. Rarely both. You can ask over on Finishing.com if any one is still doing cyanide process Gold plating and if they also do decorative work. Great site for plating info.
Edited by - wrench13 on 06/08/2023 06:15:42
Jimmy Cox used a plating company in Massachusetts.
I really appreciate all of your input. There are some great arguments on both sides. I didn't realize that gold plating could be such a heterogenous process. I am not sure what plating protocol is used at the company I hoped to commission - I will inquire to see if I can get some insight. I think the most important take away is that no matter what I decide, with time all finish is going to wear off.
Why buy a Rolex when a Casio tells time just as well?
Edited by - KCJones on 06/09/2023 06:36:56
"no matter what I decide, with time all finish is going to wear off. "
How much time? Acquired a new Baldwin D in 1971. Played it just about every day for 10 years.
Wiped any perspiration off the armrest with a soft cotton well-washed t-shirt after playing with a short-sleeved shirt. Washed the gold parts in liquid dish soap when I changed the head, which was twice.
No wearing of the gold, even on the armrest. No flaking on the tops of the hooks. No rub through on the tailpiece. No tarnish, no leaching through of copper from underneath. No nothing.
I enjoyed the aesthetics of this superb instrument. Nothing indicated the plating would not last another 10 years, then another 10 years.
A lot depends on the method and quality of the plating. I don't know what is done now.
If you like the look of gold more than the look of tarnished nickel, go for it.