I came to know Chris Cioffi last September (2011) through Dave Wadsworth. I had decided to purchase Davidís TB 11 conversion that was for sale, but first wanted to experience the banjo in person before the final decision was made. My wife and I took a few days off work and drove out to Chrisí shop where the banjo was located (No small drive from north Texas to Springfield, Tennessee).
It was such a treat. We were greeted and treated like good friends. I was very impressed with Chrisí knowledge of banjos and luthier skills as we visited and he showed me around the shop. I was very pleased with the late 30ís Gibson TB11 conversion and decided to buy it. Chris had done work on it too. Well, I had brought all my banjos with me of course. He gave very sound advice, and still does, as we converse on the phone from time to time. He helped me decide what was, and was not, a waste of time and money concerning my banjos with my best interests in mind. Now let me add, that my wife is no pushover. She is a very business minded person, but also a loving wife who wants me to be happy, within reason that is. Chris had won her confidence because of the integrity he demonstrated and practical advice he gave me, and she could see that. I had a clearer picture of my banjo goals and decided what to sell off and what was best to keep. I wanted to end up with 2 good banjos: one for gigging and one for special occasions.
I had my new RK 75 Elite with me and wanted him to do some work on it (as Chris and I had discussed in detail beforehand). Chris then stayed up all night working it over, since our time was getting short and we had travelled all that way. He reset the neck and did a full setup on it including new nuts and bridge. It was quite an improvement even though it was good as it was. I could see his love for the craft, devotion to detail, and willingness to go above and beyond with a great attitude. I decided that weekend that Chris was going to be my banjo go to man from now on!
I also had a walnut custom banjo that I would eventually send to Chris when finances permitted. I sold my RK 75 to help afford the work on the walnut banjo to make it a really good second banjoÖ Let me tell you about that experience now. I wanted it to be really special, but I couldnít ever get it right with my own efforts, and was ready for Chris to transform it. The neck and resonator were of high quality, but the neck was cut too thin in the critical stress area. Although it is a laminated neck, which is probably what saved it from the fiery furnace! I was having trouble with the neck moving around on me. I sent the banjo to Chris with a pot that was not that great for such a banjo. I figured if anyone could and would do anything for this neck, it would be Chris. After his thorough assessment of the banjo, Chris called me and gave several options that I had to choose from and itemized costs of each. We talked and we decided on a plan. I decided on a different rim and ring ( going with a prototype Huber HR-30 ring and engineered rim) and stainless steel frets.
Chris replaned the neck since it had backbow in it. He repositioned it on the new pot, did a neck reset, among many other details I wonít go into, at a very fair price. I believe Chris went above and beyond what most luthiers would have gone with me and the banjo. When I got the banjo back it sounded and played like a dream! However, within days the neck started shifting again. I found high and low frets and was very disheartened to say the least.
Chris stuck with me through all this and had me send it back to him. Chris didnít build the neck, but he repaired it again at no cost, even though the neck problems were not his fault. Had he built the neck Iím sure it would have never been so troublesome for him or me. This time he kept it for a longer time to make sure it was stable. After several conversations on the phone over a period of a month or two we came to some possible conclusions of the ĎWhy?í question, such as, heat during shipping, the neck being so thin, glue not fully dried inside the neck, climate change and padding in my case, used for shipping protection, was pushing the neck around, which I had not removed after shipping but kept in the case. I am now more aware of how my banjos rest in their cases when stored. Well, Iíve had my banjo back now about a month and it is holding up this time and sounds even better than before. Chris even offered to build me a new neck for it at a considerable discount if the walnut neck fails again. I think itís going to be ok though now.
I would recommend Chris if you want the most out of your banjo.