Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

466
Banjo Lovers Online


Banjo Reviews

Review Categories

Most Recent

The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

6662 reviews in the archive.

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Haard (see all reviews from this person) on 1/12/2018

Overall Comments

Banjo Late 1920's Oriole (Gibson Mfg.) 5 string conversion

This banjo was featured on one of Russ Carson's youtube videos featuring several of Chris' tone hoop banjo conversions.

I have been lucky enough to become long distance friends with Chris Cioffi while having him rebuild and setup several banjos. This review covers a late 20's Oriole (made by Gibson) 5 string conversion. This banjo is a shoe and plate, tone hoop banjo.. 

What we started with. Chris has been very patient with me on this banjo. We did not start with a complete Oriole tenor, but I built this one up from parts I bought here on the HO and through BBay. While the metal parts were pretty solid, the rim and resonator were not in the best of shape.

Rebuilding the pot. Chris cleaned the metal parts and even had some orphaned parts for the project. The rim had some delamination issues which he fixed and the lag bolt holes required rebuilding. Chris takes the time to make sure the tone hoop seats in the rim perfectly. The worst part was the resonator. While the finish had a great vintage look the sidewalls had delaminated and were warped. Chris figured out a way to fill the delaminations where if you do specifically look for them you would not notice.

5 String neck. Chris found a second hand un-used 5 string, gull inlayed, maple neck that was perfect for the project. The heel had not been cut so it would fit the shoe and plate rim perfect. The fretboard had already been bound in black binding that matched the Oriole resonator binding. Chris did one of his great stainless steel fret jobs. To match the binding we used ebony tuner buttons so the banjo would have a "old time" look to it. A little profiling and we were ready for finishing.

Finishing. Chris arranged with Robin Smith to do the finish work on the neck (the resonator has the original brown paint that has great vintage crazing). Mr. Smith's finish work is first rate and matches the resonator perfectly.

Finished product. This is one great banjo. These tone hoop banjos have their own sound. They don't sound like a full flathead or a raised head. They have a pure banjo sound (some would call it "dry") without overtones. This banjo has a growly, metallic 4th and 3rd string . The setup is fantastic as with all the banjos Chris does. This is a professional grade banjo.

This makes the 3rd banjo Chris has either built or rebuilt for me. The first was a Masterclone with a famous makers tonering. The second was a 1950's RB-100 all original and now this Oriole. This banjo holds a special place for me due to it's tone, response and simplicity.

I cannot think of any banjo luthier that would take any more time or care than Chris on a project like this. He is readily available to talk to and sends many photos of project progress. I highly recommended Mr. Cioffi for any of your banjo work. 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Don Bryant

Submitted by greenbriar (see all reviews from this person) on 12/10/2017

Overall Comments

I highly recommend Don and his work. His work is flawless. His 37 years experience and commitment to detail and customer satisfaction is as good as his work. I understand that Sammy Shelor is using and endorsing Don Bryant. That is understandable now that I have mine.  Neck and fingerboard "feel" is a big deal to me. Many profiles seem narrow and slim. I have had several banjos that would have never been sold if the neck had been easier to play. Don allows 1/8" on the outside of the 1st and 4th strings. His string placing is perfect.  I had a Sumi mandolin, it was clear that he a master luthier. Don's attention to detail is equal. The fingerboard is crazy perfect. Hand cut inlays, the fit of the neck to the pot, is amazing. All of the aspects and  details are appreciated when I pick it up. It is a beautiful creation and the fit and feel is mighty fine. We are fortunate to have so many luthiers. The decision of who to hire to make a neck or to do work for you can be tough. Communication with Don is excellent. He backs his work up. He is a very good picker and has refined his talent to an amazing degree. Perfect is a strong word, but it is accurate in this case.

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by kjcole (see all reviews from this person) on 12/7/2017

Overall Comments

Just want to give a big thumbs up to John Boulding of Mt. Airy, NC.  John refretted and set up a professional grade banjo for me, which I also consigned to him to help me sell.  Since the used market is flooded with great banjos, it took quite awhile to find a buyer.  John displayed the highest level of integrity and provided great communication and advice, besides a high level of lutherie.  It's always great to do business with someone who operates with such honesty and integrity, especially when entrusting them with expensive goods.  Highly recommended!  Thanks John.

Overall Rating: 10

Carolina Banjo Co., Ryan Navey

Submitted by Stuart Hughes (see all reviews from this person) on 11/28/2017

Overall Comments

 

 

Carolina Banjo Co 

I recently purchased one of Carolina Banjo Co.’s  banjos and can’t say enough about the instrument, luthier Ryan Navey, and the entire experience. 

    The design of his banjos is unique, elegantly efficient, and creates amazing sounding instruments that are lighter in weight. I acquired  a cherry banjo with a brass tone ring. It has lots of color and precision to the tone, and dependent on how it’s played, can create the most delicate of sounds and alternatively be played with a lot of punch.

    The absence of tension hooks, rim bolts and nuts makes the banjo so light to handle. Ryan’s angled internal pot design again reduces the weight of the instrument, but adds to the pots amplification potential.

     The esthetic look of the banjo speaks of another era of craftsmanship and luthiers. With unique, individual hand carvings, the  banjo is beautiful to the eye and touch. 

     Ryan was fantastic to deal with in every way. He talked me through the various attributes and distinctive qualities of each instrument he had, and helped me find the instrument that best suited  my needs and desires. He answered all my questions with patience, good humor and vast amounts of knowledge. His passion for his instruments, and banjo design in general is infectious. He clearly loves what he does and you can feel his quiet pride, skill and graceful esthetic in the banjo. 

      Brett Ridgeway has made a fabulous documentary on Carolina Banjo Co., that gives a great sense of the company and maker. 

     Stuart H.

  

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Ichiban Jo (see all reviews from this person) on 11/3/2017

Overall Comments

In short, Chris Cioffi is a master luthier.  Contact him now if you are in the market for luthier services and rest assured that your instrument will be in the world’s most capable hands.  I am a recent client and am amazed by the result of Chris’s work on my original Goldstar GF200 every time I play it.  I was initially skeptical that an instrument could be so drastically improved, but after watching a few of the available Youtube videos that addressed his Goldstar improvements and reading reviews about the work that comes out of his shop, I decided to engage him to do the work on my instrument.
This man is a perfectionist and nothing leaves his shop unless it meets his standards; that’s a good thing because as an incredible musician and craftsman, they’re likely a lot higher than yours.  His initial assessment of my 200 pegged it as an average instrument with potential; the result of his expertise is an instrument worthy of the industry’s most respected hands.  I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and sound may fall into the same category, and everybody is looking for that pre-war sound (I’m getting a little tired of hearing that term), but if this banjo falls .005% short of whatever perfect is….I’ll save my hard earned dollars and giggle knowing that I get to play a truly phenomenal instrument.  Can you seriously tell yourself that you’re done looking for your “keeper” banjo?  I can…I’m done.  Thank you, Chris.

The work accomplished essentially amounts to the reconstruction of an instrument.  Here’s a list of most the work performed..

Complete disassembly, evaluation, reassembly

New head

New bridge (selected by Chris for optimal tone match to this instrument)

Neck reset for proper fit, angle, etc

Remount lags in neck heel for proper neck-to-pot geometry (I’m a woodworker and his work is impeccable)

Refit rim to tone ring

Refit rim to flange

Repaired several delaminated flaws in binding

Reassembled/rebuilt/lubricated tuners 

Metal parts cleaned/buffed

Planed and Re-fretted neck with stainless.  (a truly masterful piece of work)

New polished bone nut and prewar-style 5th string nut

New spikes

Remounted/installed new L brackets for resonator

Repaired damaged and delaminating resonator

The last item on the list warrants an explanation.  Shortly after I purchased this banjo, I noticed some damage to the resonator.  It had been dropped at some point in its life and wouldn’t seat correctly with the pot.  I wondered for years what may have happened and why the existing fix was so substandard.  After having the instrument for a while, Chris offered his explanation of what probably happened and how someone attempted to repair it.  I’ve no doubt that he’s right on the money in his estimated account of the damage.  I kidded him and said he needs to list his occupation as “Forensic Banjologist”…In actuality, it’s a worthy title.  The resonator now fits perfectly and shows no previous indication of delamination.

I have no doubt that one of the key ingredients which separates an average instrument from a priceless sounding and coveted creation is the heart and soul of the human who created it.  Maybe that’s the “IT” that people are always looking for but can’t explain.  My original Goldstar had all the right ingredients but never had the “IT” that banjo players are perpetually in search of.  After spending some needed time with Chris in Tennessee, this “Goldie” finally has the undeniable “IT”.  My banjo received the same attention as one owned by any professional.  I’ve got an older Goldstar GF100 that will be making the same trip to Chris sometime soon.

In conclusion, if your banjo needs work and you’re looking for a professional luthier, stop looking.  Set up an appointment and get your banjo to Chris for some heart and soul.  I noticed that after reading most of the luthier reviews on this site, scores of “10” are commonplace.  Why can’t I rate my review an “11”?  Please contact me personally if I can offer any further details about my experience or why this is the best place to take your prized possession.  I couldn’t be happier with the service and level of professionalism offered by Chris Cioffi.

 

BJ Williams

bjwilliams1@gmail.com

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by nashvillebanjo (see all reviews from this person) on 9/29/2017

Overall Comments

I sent my main banjo neck to John to do a re fret this week and he installed EVO Gold man its great!

John's workmanship is the best! he has re fretted my necks many times and like I say his work is

just awesome! this EVO wire feels great and will last a long time if you need a re fret hes the man

and hes also a very nice guy.

 

Todd

Overall Rating: 10

warren yates

Submitted by mhammer (see all reviews from this person) on 9/17/2017

Overall Comments

I recently had Warren build a pot for a neck I acquired. From the beginning, we discussed all the options and what sort of tone/sound I wanted to achieve. He was communicative, responsive and honest about the entire process.

The end result was simply fantastic. I got exactly the tone I wanted from the banjo and it plays like a dream.

If you want to work with a luthier who really understands tone dynamics, Warren is your man.

Here is the video sample of the banjo before shipment: https://youtu.be/y11TCwYtCtU

Overall Rating: 10

Clifford Seales

Submitted by BTuno (see all reviews from this person) on 9/12/2017

Overall Comments

Clifford provided inlaid rosewood fretboard, and ebony peghead overlays for the neck of a very special 1925 Gibson Style 5 neck that I assembled and finished.  The wreath style inlays were skillfully hand cut and inlaid into the fretboard and overlay, and sent to me for assembly.  He made the inlays exactly as I specified which included an unusual configuration that was on the original tenor neck.  His inlays are the highlight of the new neck!    He also provided me with some handmade style 5 marquetry binding for the neck.  I could not find anywhere else and his marquetry is beautiful.   Thank you Clifford, it was a pleasure working with you on this project, and I would highly recommend talking with him before you start your next neck project.   He's the man!!! 

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by jgbryant (see all reviews from this person) on 8/18/2017

Overall Comments

Just wanted to thank John for the fine job he did on the speed neck for my Crafters Classic mahogany.  For those who are considering doing a speed neck themselves, I would recommend that they have it done professionally.  I removed the neck and shipped it for only $15 and the cost to have the speed neck made was very reasonable.  I should note that the stain John used to match the dark mahogany finish has lightened over time, but that doesn't bother me at all. 

Overall Rating: 10

Robin Smith

Submitted by HenrytheCat (see all reviews from this person) on 8/16/2017

Overall Comments

Rob built a banjo for me last year. The more I play it, the better I like it. I run out of superlatives when I describe it; it is a work of art. The fit and finish are perfect, the neck is a pleasure to play, and the sound is great. In addition to doing great work, he is a very nice guy and a pleasure to deal with.

Overall Rating: 10

bryantde

Submitted by HenrytheCat (see all reviews from this person) on 8/16/2017

Overall Comments

Don recently made a conversion neck for an old TB-1 for me. He did a truly excellent job. The neck is even better than I had hoped it would be. His banjo necks deserve their great reputation. And, dealing with Don was a pleasure. He is a very good guy, and wants to make sure that his customer is satisfied.

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by sspiars (see all reviews from this person) on 7/31/2017

Overall Comments

Just got my Earl Scruggs Gibson Mastertone back from John and I am very pleased with the headstock repair, fret replacements, and the tone ring setup.  The tone is clear and crisp and the banjo sounds fantastic!

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by texasbanjos (see all reviews from this person) on 7/22/2017

Overall Comments

John does fantastic work, and at a very reasonable price. Quick turnaround too. I urge you to contact him for all your banjo repair needs. None better, IMO.  

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by Bk2olKY (see all reviews from this person) on 7/12/2017

Overall Comments

John did an outstanding job dialing in my Gibson RB3 with Neat neck. Sounds and plays great! I really appreciate him working me in during a very busy time. I also appreciate the fret work on my Huber. His work is top notch, prices are extremely reasonable, and he knows exactly what is needed. He also takes the time to explain what was done and why. Well worth the drive!

Overall Rating: 10

Mike Ramsay // Chanterelle

Submitted by angler (see all reviews from this person) on 6/25/2017

Overall Comments

I purchased a new Chanterelle Electric for $1600 two years ago from The Music Emporium in Lexington, Massachusetts.  Within a month the fingerboard cracked and the fret ends and ivoroid binding became distorted.  The neck and dowel stick were not properly aligned with the pot.  I returned the banjo to Chanterelle and Mike Ramsey, the luthier, for repairs.  He addressed the fret and binding issue but returned the banjo to me with cracks running under the inlays.  I had a lot of contact with the builder via email and telephone.  He told me to send it back, and eventually said that he was making a new neck.   

Two years.  Where's my Chanterelle Electric s/n 2778.  He must have told me "two weeks" at least five times.  And The Music Emporium, a most reputable retailer, called him several times to ask for the return of the instrument.  "Two Weeks" ~ so the store manager  was told.

Mr. Ramsey is a liar and a thief.  $1600.

Overall Rating: 1

Tommy George

Submitted by drmarx999 (see all reviews from this person) on 6/24/2017

Overall Comments

I just had my 1927 Vega Artist tenor banjo re-fretted by Tommy George, of George Banjos, in Somerville, TN (Somerville is roughly an hour east of Memphis). 

Not only is the fret work beautiful, he also filled in some of the "craters" on the ebony fingerboard (it's amazing how much wear can happen on a 90 year old instrument!), and restored the detail to many of the fingerboard inlays.  All beautiful work!

I would recommend Tommy to anyone.  Quick turn around, and very nicely priced.   He builds them, he plays them, he repairs them, and it's obvious that he loves banjos.  And, he's a nice guy!

 

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Banjer user (see all reviews from this person) on 6/3/2017

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi  (Banjo Restore Review)

The short read. "Chris is the Best" at getting the most out of your banjo. His knowledge of banjos, and attention to detail, will have your banjo looking, playing, and sounding, the Best it ever has. (Highest Rating)

A longer read. I had a banjo that needed some work. My problem was, who do I take it to? Who do you trust to do the work? Will the work be of good quality? These questions were answered in part when I found Russ Carson's "81 Crowe" Utube web site. 

Russ was playing a few banjos restored by Chris at his Tone Lab Shop. After hearing Russ play and comment on Chris' work, I decided to give Chris a call. Talking with Chris is a real treat. He "knows" banjos, and is willing to share his knowledge. I told him what I had and some of my concerns. He mentioned he has worked on a number of these banjos and was familiar with their problem areas. After talking to Chris I felt confident I was making the right choice in having him work on my banjo.

Through out the whole repair process, from the estimate, to shipping, to finding unexpected issues, Chris was informative via, email text, telephone, and photographs. He assisted in providing alternatives and options when needed. The repair process did not take very long and before I knew it, my banjo was back. I consider this a restoration because every aspect of the banjo was looked at for tone, playability, and appearance, all from a skilled, dedicated craftsman. The banjo now looks, plays, and sounds, better than it ever has.

A side note to the repair process is a "before" and "after" video shot  by Russ Carson, and posted to Utube. The video provides an interesting perspective on the repair process, and highlights the skills of both Chris and Russ. They make a great team.

I am very happy with my banjo and the work that was done. I highly recommend Chris for any of your banjo repair needs.


Sincerly, Banjer user

Overall Rating: 10

Rob Zwally

Submitted by Stamper (see all reviews from this person) on 5/9/2017

Overall Comments

I met Rob when I decided to buy a banjo, shopped around online and decided on a Deering Artisan Goodtime Special.  I perused the Deering dealers and found Rob's site, contacted him, and purchased the banjo through his business.  I can't speak to Rob's many years as a luthier because I didn't get any 'work' done, but I can speak to his professionalism, integrity, and (in my case) the patience required with working with someone new to the banjo and from a distance to boot.  From my perspective the time and distance (I live a few states away) were worth it.  Thanks Rob - keep up the very good work!

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by coach8910 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/19/2017

Overall Comments

I picked up a very nice Recording King RK25 here in the classifieds. When I got the banjo it sounded pretty good. I decided to send it to John to have a real professional set it up properly. When I received it back, WOW what a major difference. John was/is extremely patient with all questions, answering thoroughly going over every detail of what he was going to do to the banjo to get it to sound the very best it possibly could. Top communication the whole time. Extremely fast turn around. And very fair pricing. I highly recommend John Boulding for any repair or professional setup needs.

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by MikeR231 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/1/2017

Overall Comments

I took John my RK36 for his full setup treatment. He tore it down and went through it completely making adjustments or changes where needed. Wow! Amazing improvement and sound this thing produces now! I honestly didn't know such a change was possible! Quick turn around and very easy to work with. Also very good communication and even takes the time to thoroughly explain changes he performed and what they do for the banjo. I couldn't be more pleased with his work and the outcome. I will certainly be going to him for any future work that I need! Thank you John!

Overall Rating: 10

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.078125