Some years ago I went to visit my grandmother who had just bought a new banjo. She had it specially fitted to make sure that it matched her home. We were in her backyard and she sat down on the edge of the teepee.
“Tell me, Grandma,” she said, “how do you tell how old a banjo is?” It was a fine Sunday afternoon and we had no visitors. I said, “How do you know that it’s not a newly made banjo?
“We know the wood is good, but the finish looks a little faded,” said Grandma. “It could be just a little sunburn,” I said. “It will get better,” said Grandma.
So I tried my hand again. I rolled the banjo, looked carefully at the finish and compared it with the finish on a teak banjo. It did not look that old at all.
Then I rolled it again, this time very carefully. It was dark and smooth and compared to the teak banjo, it was not too old.
It was time to put my ear close to the old banjo and listen. It was as old as it had been when I had been sitting with Grandma a year earlier. It sounded as good as ever. And, there was no more sunburn!
In those days, you used to pull on the strings on an old banjo and listen for the sound. But, if you wanted to hear how old the banjo sounded, you could actually pull out the old strings. There was no need to rewind. Then you heard the sound from the banjo and it was unmistakable.
When I started playing, I found that it was a great way to learn. If I listened carefully, I could tell if a banjo was new or old. I could also tell the difference between a teak banjo and a rosewood banjo.
So, I pulled on the strings and listened carefully. I listened for the sound and compared it with the sound of a teak banjo. It was just as good as the teak banjo, which I had just purchased.
I could feel the difference. It was an amazing feeling. As I got better, I learned how to use this technique so that I could tell how old a banjo was.
Sometimes, the sound is subtle. For example, the sound on an old banjo when you turn up the sound and compare it with the sound on a rosewood banjo. It is not a very strong sound, but it is there.
At other times, the sound is more apparent. For example, when you push a string back and compare it with the sound on a rosewood banjo. It is not as pronounced, but it is there. You can learn the technique, follow it closely and discover how to tell how old a banjo is!