As I was reflecting on what to write about today, it occurred to me that several students of mine have gotten new banjos in the last year or so. One, I'm happy to say, bought my very own Casey Henry model banjo. Her old banjo was a Stelling Murphyflower. Now she's the only person in the world who has both a Murphy banjo and a Casey banjo! I'm also in the process of selling my Stealth banjo, which I bought when I was in college. Someone was asking me about it, trying to decide if he wanted to buy mine or wanted a new one. I, in shamelessly trying to influence him to buy mine, gave him some things to think about which generally hold true for all used vs. new banjos.
#1. It's cheaper. This is frequently the case, except when you're talking about pre-war Gibson flatheads.
#2. It's available now. When you order a banjo from a smaller maker, like Stelling, or Kel Kroydon, they make each one as it is ordered and it usually takes two or three months, unless you find a dealer who has some in stock.
#3. It's good and broken in. Nothing can replace the settling in process of an instrument. A new banjo doesn't sound as good as it's going to right when it is put together. All the parts need time to settle and start vibrating together. As a general rule, the older an instrument is, if it has been well cared for, the better it will sound (relative to itself). Your pawn shop banjo is never going to get so old it starts sounding like a Granada, but I bet you it sounds better than it did the first day it rolled out of the factory!
#4. You can play it. I always recommend playing an instrument before you commit to buying it. Even if you don't play very well yet, you can tell a lot by holding the instrument in your hands and plunking a few notes on it.
I know not everyone has a neighborhood banjo store where you can go and play lots of different banjos. But if you are thinking about investing in a quality instrument, it is well worth the trip to a place that stocks many banjos, or to a convention or festival like the IBMA Fan Fest, so that you can try them out. When you pick up the banjo that you are meant to have, you'll know it!