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Chuck Lee Banjo Arrives!

Posted by Stev187 on Monday, March 17, 2008

My custom Chuck Lee arrived yesterday, and I love it.  Below is a video taking just after I got it out of the carton:


In the car, I dreamed up this silly little rhyme based on the "how old are you / you live in a zoo / you look like a monkey..." version of  "Happy Birthday."

Happy Birthday to me
I got a Chuck Lee
It's a fine consolation...
For turning forty!

Actually, I don't require any consolation for turning 40.  I actually think it's pretty cool.

But my Chuck Lee banjo is cooler.  It's going to take a while for me to settle in with it; when I do, I will write a review.  Here are my initial impressions.  I will not mention cosmetics here because the thing is just flawless.  These are all about playability and tone:

  1. The action is "stiff," which I like.  It will take getting used to.  I like resistance from the strings, and this one has more of it than my Reiter or Ramsey.  This surprised me because I think it's a slightly shorter scale length.  But again, this is a plus.
  2. The neck is wonderfully shaped, but I need to get used to it.  Back behind the 5th fret it is "crowned" a little (i.e. it comes to a slight point--you can't see it, but you can feel it).  Again, I like this, but it's new.
  3. Middle finger.  I cannot figure this out, but the angle of attack with my frailing fingers is very different on this banjo.  If I frail with my index (which is what I usually do), I get a lot more skin from the side of my finger than I do on my other banjos.  That mutes the sound quite a bit--a lot less "click" and almost no harmonic "cluck" with the index.  Switch to middle finger and its click-n-cluck city.  This is actually quite cool--it's like having a dampening switch!  I need to play around with it.
  4. Volume.  This thing is loud, and with just a wooden tonering.
  5. Third string.  This is the only negative thing I have noticed so far, and it could be a set up issue or an issue with my attack.  The 3rd string has a "muted" sound, particularly fretted.  I often fret notes on the 3rd string so I need to find a solution to this.  A simple way to address it would be to swap bridges.  I don't really understand what is causing it yet, so I am not going to mess with it.  It could just be a characteristic of this banjo.

I'll be updating with my thoughts.  Oh, and Chuck asked to put my little video on his web site.  I wish I had done a better job playing--maybe he'll let me update it later.

7 comments on “Chuck Lee Banjo Arrives!”

frailin Says:
Monday, March 17, 2008 @4:09:36 PM


I couldn't see that close enough.  Need to hear it better, too.  Send it to me for a better review, ok?  I'll get it back to you... sometime... maybe. 

Happy Birthday!


maryzcox Says:
Monday, March 17, 2008 @7:49:17 PM

Congrats on your new banjo!

Best wishes,

Mary Z.Cox

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Monday, March 17, 2008 @11:21:10 PM

I was mesmerized by the nice tone.  I can hardly wait to see the banjo you'll get when you turn 45 (or maybe 42?).

Studebaker Hawk Says:
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 @8:58:16 PM

I said it before and I'll say it again, we're living smack-dab in the middle of the golden age of banjo building.  Beautiful five-string you got there... and you REALLY know how to play it, too.  Very cool!

Banjo Rob Says:
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 @5:44:26 AM

Congratulations on the new banjo!   It looks really awesome.  Is the fingerboard mesquite as well?  Whatever it is, it has a really clean look.   The walnut is very pretty, also.  I'm wondering about the scoop and the shape of it.  You referred to a mini-fret when drop thumbing.  Is that due to the curvature of the line in the scoop itself?  I think that's what you're talking about, but can't see it too clearly in the video. 

I also appreciate your detailed notes on the banjo.  That stiff action must be nice.  And the differences in tone as far as what finger you play with was interesting.  As a newbie, I'll try that myself.

Enjoy!  Keep us all posted as you find more out about the new banjo!

RWJonesy Says:
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 @6:50:42 PM

Beautiful combination of Walnut and Mesquite. Chuck does wonderful work...and you'll do the instrument justice as you play so nicely. Happy belated Birthday Steve !!!

Paula_DHJ Says:
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 @9:38:03 PM

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the comments on Cookie the Boston.  She is a real sweetheart.  She's about 7 now.  I rescued her from a not-so-great situation when she was about a year and a half old.  I can't take her to work, but she's at my side the rest of the time.

Happy B-day, and congrats on the new banjo.  Its a great looking one, and as always you play it fantastically.

Happy Birthday to you

You got a new ban-joo

It looks really nice

And sounds pretty cool too!



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