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S. S. Stewart 5 String Banjo - Original Case

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Posted 7 years ago

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This is an old S. S. Stewart "Special Thoroughbred" 5-string Banjo that once belonged to my great Uncle from England. It has Mother of Pearl inlaid at the top. I have had it for many years and have researched it on and off over the years. I was excited to find your site with so much information! Anyone that knows anything specific on this particular banjo, please let me know. It's hard to decipher all the info out there if you aren't an expert. My father who is 90 has been curious to know more about it for a long time. Any info welcome - thanks!!

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  1. Marc, 7 years ago
    S.S. Stewart probably built more banjos during his active life than any other manufacturer of the period (est. 25,000 between 1878 and 1898). The "Special Thoroughbred" model was designed expressly to his personal taste (minimal decoration on fretboard) and for the professional player market. These (ST's, not regular Thoroughbreds...it is the extra frets that make them "special") were some of the first banjos to be made with a full 22 frets (covering 3 full octaves) and were a favorite of many, many professional/concert players of the time. Without serial number info, I would guess this banjo was made between 1896 (the year they introduced the adjustable neck brace) and 1898 (the year Stewart himself died).

    The case is not original to the banjo. It would have originally come in a tooled leather, end-opening case (which rarely survive). The wrench is modern, a Stewart wrench would have a square clock-key look and has SSS cast into the handle.

    This banjo was not designed for wire strings (and Stewart would void your warranty if he discovered you'd used them). It originally wore gut strings but today nylon is the best replacement (guts are expensive...like $30 a set). Modern steel strings are often found on STs but the extra tension can cause neck warpage.

    The bridge looks original (should be marked "Stewart" in italics) but the tailpiece appears to be an "Elite" (a common "aftermarket" tailpiece). Stewart would swap out his "common sense" tailpiece for an Elite if you asked...but an original "common sense" tailpiece with an ivory rosette adds a couple hundred dollars to the value today.

    Speaking of value, STs typically do reasonably well in todays market. A pristine example might pull well over $2,000 (and fancier ones much more). Yours has some corrosion and is a "base" model. I would expect to see it bring around $1500-$1800 more or less (the market for these base models has been down for some time).

    Otherwise, these are great players banjos. I wish I'd have kept mine! If you want to explore more about this era of banjo playing, come visit us at the Classic Banjo forum, http://classic-banjo.ning.com/ or visit the Classic Banjo website http://www.classicbanjo.com/

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