June 14, 2009
Curtis McPeake Verifies $85K Pre-War Banjo Using Taste, Smell
“This is the real McCoy,” says expert appraiser
MT. JULIET, TN— Vintage banjo expert Curtis McPeake has awed the banjo world and fortified his own legend by successfully validating the origin of a pre-World War II Gibson Mastertone flathead based on smell and taste alone.
“I found this banjo in my grandpa’s attic after he passed on, and everyone told me that Curtis McPeake would be the world’s best guy to appraise it,” said the banjo’s owner, a Michigan native.
“Absolutely nobody else in the world has this level of familiarity with pre-war banjos. His appraisals are definitive, but I must admit there’s a certain element of mystery there,” said R. Smith, a Tennessee instrument maker.
Vintage Gibson banjos sometimes consist of nonstandard combinations of easily interchangeable parts that are notoriously difficult to verify. And in recent years high market values have driven ever more sophisticated forgeries.
McPeake customizes his appraisal regimen based on the exact attributes of each banjo, and much of his credibility derives from the intangible expertise gained by possessing and playing so many vintage Gibsons over the course of his lifetime.
During his analysis of the banjo, McPeake first removed the bronze tone ring from the pot of the instrument, briefly caressed it and smelled its entire perimeter several times.
“Then he licked it pretty extensively, like a lollipop,” said the banjo’s owner.
Within thirty minutes, McPeake had completed his written appraisal of the instrument, which is now for sale on consignment at cmcpeake.com for $85,000 or best offer.
“Yup, it’s the real McCoy,” said McPeake.
Impressively, McPeake’s smell and taste test was able to pinpoint the banjo’s origin to a specific 1933 lot and serial number.
“RB-3, 9469-6,” said McPeake.
However, some skeptics in the banjo community have quietly expressed concerns about the methods employed by McPeake and others.
“McPeake seriously licked a pre-war ring like a lollipop?” said Noam Pikelny, a pre-war banjo owner. “I find all of this very hard to believe.”