What is all the hype about pre-war banjos anyway?
Do they produce a sound that is unique and cannot be produced by any instruments manufactured before or
since?  This is a widely-held belief, especially (it seems) by people who own one!  Let's look at this idea, using some of the facts that are widely-known about pre-war Gibson banjo construction as well as a dose of common-sense.

First, what about this rare flathead tone ring?

Was there a specific shape or weight of the tone ring that is responsible for the tone? 

Fact: several different weights and specific dimensions have been noted in examples of pre-war flathead tone rings.  In other words, there wasn't just one version of the Gibson tone ring in the 1930's, varying from as light as 45 oz to as much as 55 oz. 

Is it something in the metal alloy used in the 1930's that cannot be replicated?

For years it has been believed that there was some special combination of metals that made up the alloy of the pre-war tone rings, and that was solely responsible for their rich tone.  Fortunately, several knowledgeable people have looked into the actual content of good pre-war tone rings and have determined their exact metal composition.  It has also been found that  - just like the weight and shape of the cut - this composition varies between pre-war tone rings.

Is the wood used in the rims and resonators from a type or age of tree that is no longer used or available?

The purveyors of the "sunken wood" trees and the "old gymnasium floor maple", etc., would like you to believe this.  This one is not easily dismissed.....

OK, maybe it's not the tone ring?  What else could it be? 

Is it the sheer age of these instruments that makes them sound so good?

Well... how old is old enough to make a difference?  If we think about the ultimate flathead tone, that which came from Earl Scrugg's Granada in 1949, we would be talking about a 15-year old banjo (at the time).  That's really not that old, when you think about it.  Gibson re-vamped it's mastertone banjo line in 1984, bringing all of the major specifications in line with the pre-war gibson banjos.  Thus, by about 2000, those 15-years of aging would have had made its magical transformation upon many hundreds of new Gibsons.  Do they now sound as good as Earls old Granada did in 1949?






The Pre-War Gibson
Mastertone Banjo