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Chris Cioffi

, TN, USA

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Luthier Since: 1981

Listing Created: 7/23/2012
Listing Updated: 7/12/2015

More About Me

Some banjo players know me and my work, and many other banjo players know and appreciate my work, but don’t know it’s mine.

My 30+ years experience as a player, collector, and repair and lutherie hobbyist and semi-professional was put to the test and augmented in a production/scheduled environment during my 4+ years with Huber Banjos.


DISCLAIMER:

WHILE MY PROFESSIONAL REFERENCES AS A LUTHIER INCLUDE HAVING WORKED WITH HUBER BANJOS IN THE PAST, I AND MY SHOP ENDEAVOR HAVE HAD NO FORMAL PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION WITH HUBER BANJOS SINCE I COMPLETED MY TIME THERE AND WILL NOT IN THE FUTURE. I OPERATE A SEPARATE AND INDEPENDENT BUSINESS.


Among other things, my responsibilities there included final assembly and set up, neck sets, tonering/rim hand fitting and drilling, fretwork, final inspection/QC, writing of production policy and proceedure company manuals as well as the forthcoming Huber Banjos Owner‘s Manual, nickel and gold plating, and a plethora of other construction, repair, equipment, appraisal, and shop tasks. I performed this work on new Huber banjos as well as many other banjos ranging from student grade instruments to original pre-WW2 Gibson flathead five strings. Given my work logs, I assembled and set up just under 400 new Huber banjos, and worked on the repair, conversion, and set up of almost that many other banjos of various makes, including many prewar Gibson banjos.

During this time, I became professionally acquainted with Robin Smith, and have done a fair amount of consulting, troubleshooting, and various occasional work for him as well. Robin and I continue to work together on various projects, and enjoy a healthy and friendly "competitive" relationship that continues to have positive results for both of us personally and professionally as well as for the projects we work together on.

Robin continues to publicly admit that I am a perfectionist concerning banjo work as well as the tools to accomplish that work.

Many enthusiastic customer and professional/endorsee compliments were directed towards the quality of my work during this time of my life, while not one complaint concerning anything related to any of the tasks I performed on any banjo I worked on during my time there was voiced or brought to my attention.

Consequently, Mr. Huber, his clientelle, as well as some of his competetitor’s comments directly to me and voiced publicly about my work during those years caused me to realize that I was more talented at this work than I had given myself credit for to that point, causing me to ponder my dream of self employment and working directly with banjo players.

I also enjoy working on vintage open back banjos that are my other passion as a blossoming classic/parlor fingerstyle player and collector, however, I am not offering this work at this time (with some job dependant exceptions) as I specifically tool up part of the shop to handle that work more efficiently than I can at this time.

I treat every banjo for what it is…the owner’s investment of some financial worth, if not prized possession that took a considerable amount of savings to be able to own.

I take great pride in my abilities. Every banjo and it’s needs and owner’s desires are important to me individually….because I love this work, the banjo, and the people who choose to honor me by engaging me to work on their banjo.


My work experience before my time with Huber Banjos includes 6 years as an Artist Booking and Management Agent with Keith Case and Associates in Nashville where I was engaged to professionally represent J.D. Crowe and The New South, The Del McCoury Band, Hot Rize (including Tim O‘Brien and Pete Wernick after the band‘s demise), The Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Seldom Scene, Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys, The Lynn Morris Band, Alison Krauss and Union Station, John Hartford, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Mark O’Connor, Tony Rice, Edgar Meyer, The Fairfield, Four, Doug Dillard, Peter Rowan, and Kukuruza among others on the roster of that agency.

During this time, I was involved with several instrument, string, and vintage instrument companies negotiating instrument endorsements and other arrangements for some of these artists.

I then moved to Austin, TX when I was engaged as Asleep at the Wheel’s in house manager for their 25th Anniversary season publicity push, during which they released their critically acclaimed 2 CD set "A Tribute to Bob Wills", which featured Bela Fleck on an instrumental, for which I set up the recording session. I was engaged to play banjo for the band sporadically, including a fund raising event for the long running Public Television music series "Austin City Limits" at which Bruce Hornsby performed with us.

After my time in TX, I returned to Nashville, where I was engaged by Huber Banjos, and in 2009, I started this, my own instrument repair shop, in which, I specialize in banjo repair and restoration with my own comprehensive set up regimen that has consistently yielded excellent results.

This is now my full time occupation; I am not part time, hobby oriented, nor semi-retired doing this as other commitments allow.

My full attention is on my clients’ banjos, and the shop and equipment to provide that attention as efficiently as I am able.



SOME PEOPLE I HAVE BEEN ENGAGED TO DO BANJO WORK FOR:

Ricky Skaggs, Noam Pickelny, Russ Carson (currently with Ricky Skaggs and KY Thunder, formerly of Goldheart and Audie Blaylock and Redline), Charlie Cushman (fixed one of his Victrolas, too…LOL), Jim Mills, Steve Huber, Robin Smith, Sam Shelor, John Hedgecoth (previous long time Gruhn Guitars Head Repairman), Chris Pandolfi, Bill Evans, Don Bryant (Earl Scrugg's first banjo substitute in Flatt & Scruggs in 1955 and Lester's first call after that), Harry Sparks (legendary postwar renaissance man, player, and luthier of all Golden Age banjo related research and replication), and quite a few other "less known" banjo players who are really nice folks whose patronage, support, and relationships with myself are no less important to me



MY RECORDING CREDITS PLAYING BANJO INCLUDE:

* Deannie Richardson and Second Fiddle; Webco Records 1991 CD “In The Mood“. I received published positive comments about my playing from Bill Emerson as well as in record reviews for the CD.

*Kukuruza; Sugar Hill Records 1993 CD “Crossing Borders”. While I did not play banjo on this recording, I was Executive Producer and negotiated the Rich and Taylor banjo endorsement for banjo player Dmitry Vakhrameev. At the time, this was the most popular country and bluegrass band in Russia.

*Laura Love; Warner Brothers Records 1997 CD “Octoroon”

*Gail Davies; Little Chickadee Records 1998 2 CD set “The Songwriter Sessions”



OTHER RELATED CREDITS:

*several published contributions to Banjo Newsletter including a review at Scott Vestal and Donald Nitchie’s request for the then newly released “Stealth” banjo

*several published contributions to industry trade magazines Billboard, Pollstar, Acoustic Musician, and Bluegrass Unlimited

*”Bill Monroe: The Father of Bluegrass Music” a 1993 Original Cinema documentary film by Steve Gebhardt in which I am listed with a research/history credit having assisted Mr. Gebhardt in the prepation of facts and the contacting of interviewees for/in the film

*a to be released independent film on bluegrass music playing banjo with Ronnie Reno (guitar) and Robin Smith (bass)

*performed with Jesse McReynolds, Jerry Douglas, Asleep at The Wheel, Bruce Hornsby, Vassar Clements, Charlie McCoy, author Robert Fulghum (in Crete, Greece), Toby Stroud, Steve Cooley (one of my banjo heroes)

*Engaged with Robin Smith (Heartland Banjo & Guitar) by the String Department of Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) for a banjo set up and maintenance seminar/workshop September 2013, which also involved minor set up work for the banjo students enrolled in the String Department at that school on a one on one basis. Interestingly and meaningfully to me as a player and luthier, the campus where this seminar was performed, and where these students study in their pursuit of banjo excellence, was only a few blocks from where the Gatcomb, Thompson & Odell,Fairbanks, Cole, and Vega banjo factories were located 100-120 years prior to the seminar when Boston was Mecca for banjo development and manufacture, and a few blocks away from where the Consalvi "King" banjo is currently on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (and also not far from the current World Headquarters of The Amercan Made Banjo Company, home of the Kel Kroydon banjo). Alumni of this program include Chris Pandolfi, Wes Corbett, Gabe Hirshfeld, and Greg Liszt.


I have been deeply and passionately interested in and broadly involved with the banjo and bluegrass music since I was 13 years old (1979). I bought my first prewar Gibson flathead banjo in 1982 (before many of the recent well known "authorities" had); it was not my first old Gibson banjo, and there have been too many to recall the number of after that. I performed my first fret job at 15 years old on a vintage Gibson Mastertone, which is also the year I replaced my first guitar top.

This long and deep involvement with the banjo, it's people, music, and history, as well as my inherent passion for wood and metal working and restoration of things permeate my consciousness, and my intention is to share my abilities and passion with the banjo community through my own shop endeavor.

With some of my past personal and professional involvement with the banjo listed above, my feelings now that I am 4 years hence into my own shop endeavor is that the best is yet to come, as I am excited to be able to grow as a craftsman and shop proprietor under my own name and to offer the results of my experience, ability, and study as the future unfolds.

I encourage you to read the reviews posted on my behalf in the link below, as well as to consider the other posted reviews for other luthiers.

I consider it an honor and an enjoyable privilege when a person engages me to work on their banjo.


I am about halfway between Nashville, TN and Bowling Green, KY, and personal visits are by appointment only, though they happen often.

I welcome inquiries, as well as any pricing for specific projects, by telephone at:

(615)382-1376


Respectfully,

Chris Cioffi





ADDITIONAL READING ABOUT ME AND MY WORK:


Some of my customer reviews that have been posted publicly are found here:

http://www.banjohangout.org/reviews/search.asp?m=m&v=8507&redir=true



Link to video that includes 5 prewar Gibson banjos I restored that represent the major OEM types of prewar Gibson tone ring systems (including original flat head) all played in controlled comparative environment by professional players:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovfiyOPEvPI



Discussion/explanation thread about above video:

http://www.banjohangout.org/topic/305504/1



This is the thread I started about me and my shop when I opened my shop in July of 2009, and includes many customer comments, reviews, and pictures and descriptions/discussions of work in progress from a relatively involved 1930’s Gibson TB-6 conversion restoration through Gibson banjos from the 1950’s through the recent years, as well as other banjos:

http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/152453



Some reading just for fun (the real history on pre World War 2 Gibson banjos and flat head 20 hole tonerings, and prewar Gibson and Huber Tractors, along with some biographical info on Don Remo and his development of the plastic banjo head)…see my first post 2/3 down the page where it really starts to get "interesting" (be forwarned, if you have a weak stomach, don't like dry humor or satire, or have no appreciative knowledge for the characters of bluegrass music history, stay away from this thread, as this is some of my best (worst?) inspired fictional writing gone awry....... ;-) ):

http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/161470

Comments

This guy doesn’t just work on them; he is a banjo player first and foremost. Ck out all the reviews, they speak for themselves. Ck out all of his review’s Probably worked on your banjo and you didn’t know it if you own a Huber.
Rich C:
- Rich C


If your banjo is in need of a sound overhaul, put your trust in Chris Cioffi. He is a banjo setup expert!! He's not just blowing smoke or dropping names in his resume. These are people who know and expect quality work. Give him the opportunity to make your banjo sound its best.
- Tom Robison


Chris, above all is a gentleman; he is one of the few truthful and trustworthy folks in the business. No one else touches by Gibsons but Chris because he places quality over speed, trust him with your investment - Rian Adams


excellent, timely service. can't say enough. check out my review. - SR65


I bought an 1890s Morrison project banjo from Chris recently...and it was the smoothest transaction I've ever had with anybody...period! He bent over backwards to accomodate me and make sure both of us got a good deal in every aspect. A wealth of knowledge and happy to share it...if you have the opporunity to do business with Chris....do it, you'll thank youreself!

Dow D.
- Texican65


I recently purchased a 1927 TB3 conversion Gibson banjo. It being born in'27, over the years it had been played, adjusted and tinkered with by different folks. Therefore some things had been changed to make it better at the time although over time took its toll on sound etc. Now to the purpose of my comment. I took it to Chris ( because of his credentials and reputation ) and also being recommended by Jeremy Stevens..First thing he did was dis-assemble and inspect, without going into detail, He gave me a detailed estimate of the work that needed to be done. After he finished with the banjo, I could not believe how much better it was. He turned a good banjo into a great banjo. I am one happy customer..
trustworthy, honest, master craftsman and all around good guy, all describe Chris Cioffi. Thanks again Chris for an excellent job..Buster Kendrick
- busterk


I have a Fender Artist archtop which hadn't had any routine maintenance in almost 40 years. Although it still sounded good I longed for the sound I remember years ago when it was relatively new. Based upon reviews and credentials I selected Chris to do the work. What I got in return was more than I expected. Not only does the banjo sound great (I'll stack it up against anything and either beat it or come in a close second) but his knowledge and willingness to share will help me care for the instrument for years to come. It took a little longer and cost a little more than anticipated, but the results were nothing short of spectacular. What I wanted was a bit different from most folks, but he hit it dead on target. Also made a new friend - one of the nicest folks you'll ever get to know. He treated my banjo with the same honor and respect he does the professionals (I know this because one of them was there during one of my trips to see him). There may be others out there that are as good as he is, but I can't imagine there being one better. Trust me on this. You will be forever grateful you chose Chris to do your banjo work. - Al Shepherd


For 20 years I have been searching for my “LIFE” Banjo and I have finally found it. That would of never happened if not for Chris Cioffi. I brought him a pile of parts that I never thought could be much of a banjo and he turned it into the best banjo I have ever played. It’s so good I can’t put it down. I started out with just a beat up 60s bowtie neck and reso and Chris transformed it into a banjo that looks and playes like it just came off Gibson’s factory floor. Better actually. His stainless steel frets are by far the best I’ve ever played. This thing playes like butter. There is no words for the fine work he did on this Banjo. I will never use another luthier as long as Chris is in business. He is no doubt the best banjo luthier there is. I will eventually have Chris to refret and overhaul all of my Banjo’s. Every part on this Banjo is fit perfectly from peg head to tailpiece. He basically built this banjo from scratch. Chris’s attention to detail is unbelievable. If you send your banjo to him I guarantee you will not leave disappointed. He does not accept anything but perfection.

I could not be happier with the work Chris did for me. He is a outstanding guy that does outstanding work. He kept me informed throughout the whole process with pictures and updates on the progress. It was a joy doing business with him and I can’t wait to do business with him again. Not only did I get a killer banjo out of this but a great friend to.

If you need some banjo work done and done RIGHT contact Chris you won’t regret it. He can do it all.
- jRook22


I have recently purchased a banjo from Chris. It is a Oriole Tb 1 hex flange, original uncut rim with larger diameter hoop. Chris built a neck from scratch out of straight grain maple. He copied the original peg head overlay and used a clean simplistic inlay. For those unaware of Chris and his work, it is next to none. He is truly a master of his craft, and does not believe in the words "good Enough". It has to be right or it doesn't leave the shop. As for this Oriole and my impressions... I would play it up against any full weight flat head, it has crisp clean tone and projects very strong. What Mr. Cioffi was able to get out of it is amazing. It also came with a stainless steal fret job, which is just perfect. Chris's fret work is the best
I have ever played. If your looking for someone to work on your banjo, Chris is the man.
- TubeandPlate-3


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