UK Banjo Suppliers FAQ's

FAQ Page 1:  About My Services

Questions Covered On This Page:
Can you do valuations on the phone?
Can you do a valuation from photographs?
Can you tell me about the person or firm who made my banjo?
Can you tell me if I'm paying a fair price for a vintage banjo?
Can you tell me if I'm paying a fair price for a modern banjo?

Can you do valuations on the phone?
Yes, if you have plenty of time, a tape measure and an eye for detail. There is a charge for the amount of time spent. There are significant drawbacks because telephone valuations cannot be anything like as precise as a proper "hands-on" examination would be. Here are a couple of examples:-
an instrument with all its original parts and little wear to the original finish might well be honestly described (by an antique dealer, for instance) as being in "excellent condition" - but it could easily have a twisted neck, a poor action and seized-up tuners without these being obvious to a non-expert - which would render the banjo nearly worthless to a player.
an instrument could be very clean, tidy and playing well and be honestly described by a banjo player as being in "excellent condition" - but it could easily have many inappropriate replacement parts or modifications without these being apparent to a non-expert - which would render the banjo much less valuable than an original example would be.
It can therefore be appreciated that a telephone valuation (which relies entirely on descriptions given by the person actually holding the banjo!) has to be hedged with a great many "ifs and buts". This makes the range of figures a great deal broader than they would be if the banjo were actually on my workbench. In some cases, the figures have to be so widely spaced that the valuation is next to useless.
Can you do a valuation from photographs?
Yes - it's more reliable than a phone valuation but depends entirely on the quality and number of photographs. It still isn't anything like as good as a "hands-on" examination. The advent of the digital camera and e-mail has made this sort of valuation much easier to do. Again, there is a charge for the time taken.
Can you tell me about the person or firm who made my banjo?
Generally, yes. I have quite a lot of information about banjo makers of the past and I can provide printed copies or e-mail for a modest charge.
Can you tell me if I'm paying a fair price for a vintage banjo?
I am not able to comment on the prices being asked by other dealers for instruments that they have for sale - you have to shop round all the dealers for yourself and decide whether the price you are paying seems reasonable to you, given the type of instrument and its condition.  I can give you the following general guidelines: 
The most valuable vintage instruments are those in mint original condition which have had so little use as to need no restoration at all (though you do have to ask yourself why such an instrument wasn't played much).  These are very rare.

The next category are those instruments which have been sympathetically restored to full playing order using appropriate reproduction or vintage parts (which is where most of my instruments fall).  Very few dealers actually dismantle and refurbish every instrument - which what I do as a matter of course.

The next category are those instruments which are largely original but which have deteriorated through lack of maintenance or abuse.  These can be quite costly to restore or refurbish to full playing order.  You would be wise to find out the cost of the necessary replacement parts before committing yourself to a purchase.  Have a look on my "Parts" list for typical prices.  It is usually possible to correct problems like poor action and faulty tuners but watch out for loose, bowed or twisted necks and stress cracks in the metalwork.

The cheapest category ought to be (but isn't always) those vintage banjos which have been "done-up" in an inept or inappropriate way.  The hardest job in the world is undoing a "bodged" repair.  There are so many ways in which a vintage instrument can be degraded that it would take several pages to make any kind of sensible list.  The four main problems which come across my shop counter are:
"bitsers" or hybrids - usually made up with a good quality banjo neck (salvaged from a conversion of some kind) married on to a much cheaper body from a banjo where the neck failed - these seldom sound right and often don't play at all well

- banjos that have had broken or damaged parts repaired with Araldite or which are held together with woodscrews in odd places (very few banjos other than the very cheapest made after 1890 have any structural woodscrews) - these can sound OK but are often unstable and hard to play

"donors" - vintage banjos which have been robbed of their original parts to restore other instruments and which have been put back together with an assortment of modern parts, sometimes quite ill-fitting - these seldom sound right and often don't play at all well, though a well performed "Lazarus" job can produce a sensible, inexpensive instrument

"fakes" - vintage banjos which appear to be something much more valuable than they really are - this is a particular problem with 5-string banjos from the inter-war years - there are plenty of tenor banjos converted to 5-string which is fine as long as you're paying a "conversion" price, not an "original" price (with conversions, always try to get the original neck as well - you might want to convert it back some day!!)
Many of these types of problems are not immediately apparent when trying out a banjo that you're interested in buying - they surface later after you've had time to get used to the instrument.  Many private sellers may be genuinely unaware of the difficulties (particularly with "bitsers" & "fakes") though a reputable dealer should be.

In principle, there's nothing wrong with buying a banjo that has these sorts of problems as long as you are paying an appropriate price for it - a "bitser", for instance, is probably worth rather less than the value of the cheaper half in its original form (e.g.  a Vega Style N body with a Vega Tubaphone neck is worth a bit less than a Style N with its original neck and very much less than an original complete Tubaphone)
Can you tell me if I'm paying a fair price for a modern banjo?
Again, I can't comment on the prices being asked by other dealers. You have to shop round for yourself. This isn't too difficult with modern banjos as many types have been in constant production for more than 30 years. There are a few points which are worth considering:
Brand namesmany modern banjos made in the Far East are identical except for the brand name.  You have to look quite carefully to see exactly what type of banjo you are buying.  If two banjos of different brands look and sound identical to you - they probably are exactly the same except for the transfer on the headstock (and, of course, the price!).  My advice would be to ignore the brand and buy the cheaper one, all other things being equal.  Don't assume that an American (or American sounding) brand name means that a banjo was made in the USA - most aren't.  Don't be confused by the "Made in the USA" logo on the banjo head - that refers to the banjo head only, not the banjo!!

Discountsmany modern American banjos have very high "list prices".  Most secondhand examples of these banjos are priced according those "list prices" - not the actual new selling prices which can be considerably lower if you're not doing a part-exchange deal.  So check out what it would actually cost you to buy a new example of that used banjo that you're looking at before committing yourself.

Variabilitysome manufacturers have not maintained consistent quality standards over the last 40 years or so - so that a particular type of banjo may have been very nice in 1960 but not nearly so good 15 years later.  There are several very good websites which deal extensively with these subjects and they're worth checking out.  There are also cases where particular brands have changed their manufacturing source several times over the last 30 years.  Check carefully that you're getting what you think you're getting when buying a used example of some brands - for instance, there are several brands that were made in the USA in the 1960's, in Japan in the 1970's and thereafter in South Korea - the same model designation will mean radically different things depending on which period it falls into!!

Conditionin many cases, modern banjos are not made to anything like the same general quality standards as pre-war ones were - though there a notable exceptions to this generalisation.  Just because a banjo is quite modern, it doesn't follow that it will necessarily be in better condition than a vintage banjo.  A banjo made with inferior quality parts will fail much faster than one with good quality components.  Cheap hardware is the bane of many modern banjos and wholesale replacement of deteriorated metalwork is fairly common in many modern banjos.  It's pretty easy to do but it isn't cheap.  You should also consider the question of the truss-rod in the neck.  The theory is that an adjustable truss rod allows you to compensate for any bowing that might take place.  That assumes (a) that the truss rod will work and (b) that the neck wasn't made of such cheap wood that no amount of counter-stressing will straighten it.  It's not a simple matter - the presence of a truss rod doesn't guarantee a straight neck whilst its absence doesn't mean a bent one - many vintage banjos have perfect necks but very few have truss rods!  If a neck seems bowed to you, ask the seller about it and get any adjustments done before you part with your money.

At the present time, we only ship to addresses in the UK and the Republic of Ireland
If you have any queries or questions about particular instruments in this catalogue, please feel free to contact us.

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