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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!

6910 reviews in the archive.

Chris Cioffi Luthier Reviews

Submitted by fireballeight (see all reviews from this person) on 1/27/2020

Overall Comments

A couple years ago, I discovered Chris and his craftsmanship when a good friend of mine had his 1927 TB-1 converted and set up by Chris. I had been keeping an eye on any luthier's work that impressed me (due to the fact that my old RB-100 was going to need some intensive repairs), and I was absolutely blown away by Chris's craftsmanship when I checked out my friend's TB-1. The frets were smooth, the neck shape was super-comfortable, the level of detail was eye-catching, and the sound coming from the banjo was incredible (from a brass hoop!!). I decided that Chris would be my luthier of choice, and to make a long story short, a week ago I just picked up the first banjo of mine that Chris laid his hands on. Chris turned my battered and scarred '29 Pyramid right around into a fantastic and beautiful banjo. The level of detail that brought me to Chris is as present as ever: he took the time to age the string nuts, chamfer holes, stabilize the resonator, seal worn spots on the rim, smooth sharp edges on the metal parts, fit everything to precise standards, and polish everything to a brand new shine. Plus, the banjo sounds better than I ever thought it would (despite the fact that everything is still "green"). I can't wait for everything to settle in, because I know it'll sound unbelievable! I'm so happy with the Pyramid that I'm entrusting Chris to work on a second banjo of mine, and I'll be saving up so that hopefully he can put his special touch on all of my banjos. I encourage any others looking for a meticulous, careful, and knowledgeable luthier to strongly consider Chris. He doesn't rush through the work, respects the history and character of each banjo, and makes sure every aspect of the banjo is near-perfect. It may take a little longer to get finished, but it's completely worth it! Thanks Chris!!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by palc (see all reviews from this person) on 8/11/2019

Overall Comments

“Cioffi” brand banjo??  Yes!!

Chris Cioffi has done (2) projects for me (as detailed in previous reviews).    I decided I would like a “version” of a prewar banjo, so I discussed options with Chris.  

I learned that Chris had built (2) Chioffi brand banjos around 2009, and both happened to be coming on market for sale.   I was interested, because I was looking for good tone with some degree of prewar parts, and Chris had built two banjos that happened to satisfy what I wanted.  I got to play both of them at Chris’ shop and was blown away with his attention to detail and overall craftsmanship.  Of course they sounded great.

i ended up going with the Cioffi banjo with a 20s or 30s original original Gibson nickel plated raised head tone ring, probably out of a TB-3.  The rest of the parts are all new, with all built and assembled at Chris’ shop    Also included walnut resonator,maple neck , and hearts and flowers inlays.

The raised head has some pop as well as nice low end.   It is kind of a hybrid sound to me, and I love it.  Very happy with this purchase and continue to be amazed at the talent Chris has.  I feel proud and fortunate to have one of the few banjos out there that have “Cioffi “ inlayed on the peghead.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by palc (see all reviews from this person) on 4/29/2019

Overall Comments

“REBIRTH OF A SPECIAL BANJO”.    Brought back to life by Chris Cioffi.

My dad and  I made a banjo from scratch many years ago when I was a senior in high school by following instructions in the back of Earl Scruggs’ banjo book.   Purchased most parts from First Quality and relied on my dad’s significant woodworking skills.   We shaped the neck, fit the heel, installed binding and frets, cut and inlayed hearts and flowers mother of pearl and finally stained and finished.

It actually turned out pretty nice, and I ended up playing this banjo in country and bluegrass bands for about 12 years ( even played it on the Grand Ole Opry stage in in the late 80’s at the Wrangler Country Showdown contest).  Eventually, I got the Stelling bug and Gibson reissue bug and was able to get a high quality professional banjo and stuck my “Dad banjo” in a a closet for many years

Fast forward a number of years when my dad passed away (2014) , I dusted off the old banjo that was wore out and rough looking, and played it at the funeral service and realized how much it meant to me.

i decided to get this banjo refurbished to really pop and get the best possible sound with as many of original parts as possible.  Only one guy came to mind to do this.. Chris Cioffi.   He did my Baldwin Ode D rework (reviewed on the Hangout) and I also bought one of the few original complete Cioffi banjos ( review of this one coming soon)   Both have turned out great;   Quality, attention to detail second to none.

i discussed my idea with Chris and took the banjo to Nashville to show him.   He was very enthusiastic about doing the project, loved the story, and jumped in to start the professional rework I wanted.

He tore it down, corrected some mistakes my dad and I made during original construction.  Some of the highlights included.. neck to pot fit, stainless steel frets, new binding, new flange and resonator refit 5th string peg, add spikes, thin down peg head to proper thickness, polish and buff all metal parts, and finally an outstanding finish on the neck.

My banjo looks amazing now, like showroom new shine, with a lot of pop!   Plays and sounds great.  So proud of this banjo and know it will be a special piece in my family for years to come.

Thanks Chris Cioffi!  Yet another outstanding job.  Banjo players everywhere need to get to know Chris and what his capabilities are      ( also a really nice guy).  You will be very impressed.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by sixish (see all reviews from this person) on 4/2/2019

Overall Comments

I had the good fortune to come across one of the 1981 Goldstar JD Crowe models (#12) a few years back.  I purchased it and enjoyed playing it for the past six years but always felt like it needed some in-depth TLC beyond a head change and new strings.  Looking at the luthier reviews on the hangout I found that Chris Cioffi had had several older Goldstars, including a few of the Crowe models, through his shop with great results and satisfied customers.  After leaving mine with him I can say that I too am very pleased with what he was able to do.  In a word, he made an outstanding instrument excellent in all regards!
  
Flawless stainless steel frets, recut heel to bring the neck into correct alignment, small resonator repair, along with fixing, correcting, adjusting, polishing of everything else brought my instrument to a whole new level!  It is an absolute joy to play.  The action is correct up and down the entire neck now.  Correct reseating of the tone ring on the rim made the overall tone and volume range of the instrument so much more evident and musical in all positions.  Dynamic playing without sacrificing tone comes much more easily now.  It is hard to put this thing down!

I completely enjoyed my time with Chris while at his shop.  We of course talked banjos and bluegrass, but Chris and I found our way to discussing music of all sorts, stereos,  literature, movies, plus whatever else we could think of.  When you go plan to spend a couple of hours (at least) during drop off and pick up, not just for the conversation but for the time it takes for Chris to fully understand what your desires are for your instrument, a full breakdown inspection for anything else that might need attention, a quick evaluation of your playing style, plus, upon pickup he wants to ensure that he was able to accomplish those things for you.  Bring your picks so you can play!  It's part of the diagnosis process and is no pressure.  It is another facet of the process that will help him give you his very best.
 

Chris specializes in fully rebuilding banjos, whether pre-war or modern, to ensure that all the parts are working in optimal concert.  He does not perform quick string/head setups. It may take several weeks, possibly months - plan on having another banjo to play in the meantime - for him to fully dial an instrument in to its potential.  This time is necessary to ensure that all  the work is completed accurately and that the banjo has time to sit and adjust to being under tension and played.  Even a small adjustment might take a couple of days to truly evaluate the outcome on the tone.  Quality workmanship like this takes time so be prepared. 

If you  want to ensure that your banjo is performing at its absolute apex, give Chris a call to discuss your needs. The time and cost for this may not be for everyone, but if you are a professional or serious amateur that wants to entrust your instrument to a meticulous expert that will help your banjo be the very best it can be, then Chris Cioffi is your guy.  The woodshed time is then up to you.  Highly recommended!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by jRook22 (see all reviews from this person) on 1/28/2019

Overall Comments


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 your looking for a great trustworthy banjo luthier look no further and contact Chris you will not regret it I promise!!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by TubeandPlate-3 (see all reviews from this person) on 1/20/2019

Overall Comments

I had recently picked up my 1928 style 3 from Chris Cioffi's. The list of work he did is quiet lengthy. But there are three things he did that I want to talk about in detail. They go as follows... stainless steel frets, fe-fitting the heel, and repositioning the lag bolts. I had already wanted to go to stainless steel frets before I found Chris, and a big part of why I found Chris is because he is pro stainless. Many Luthier's won't do stainless frets because "they're to much work" or because i won't be able to " charge you for a fret dress later down the road". I personally feel that stainless steel frets are great, they feel great, look great, and they will virtually never wear out. The way that Chris levels, dresses, and polishes the stainless frets is superb. I have personally held other necks next to one of his and the fret work is night and day. This is just one of the many places were his perfectionism shines through. If your on the fence about stainless frets just remember, you have about four re-frets to a fret board if your lucky. After that your banjo will need a new fret board.... that's major surgery. Talk to Chris about stainless you won't regret it.

Next I want to talk about Mr.Cioffi's heel work, The way your heel fits to your banjo is paramount. Chris settles for nothing less than perfect, I have never seen a better neck fit than what he can do, and he makes them look super clean also. From the neck gap by the tension hoop, to how the heel fits are the flange... everything is tight a clean. Well except for the neck gap of course lol... Even his neck gaps are super clean looking. they're not to big or to small, and are nice and even from one side of the fret board to the other.

The third thing I will touch on is repositioning the lag bolts. Chris is big on this by repositioning the lag bolts Chris is putting your fret board level with the pot. Chris can do a much better job with explaining this than I ever could. But I can tell you that it is very visually pleasing, and I know it plays a role in how the pot and neck fit together. Banjo's are a synergy of parts, if everything doesn't fit together just perfect your banjo will not perform to its fullest potential. I'm telling you Chris will get every ounce of potential your banjo has to offer out.....Period!

When I got down to Chris' to pick up my banjo I couldn't believe how it sounded. Growly lows, sizzling highs, and nice even true tone all over the fingerboard. It's hard to describe to people what needs to be heard, in order to understand the caliper of work Chris puts out. But let me put it to you this way... I have multiple banjos and two out of the heard are Mr.Cioffi's work. They're the only two I play on a daily basis anymore. My other banjos just simply do not perform like those two do. The two banjos that are his work are the banjos this review is about. Which is a 28 tube and plate raised head, and the other is an oriole bracket shoe banjo that Chris built a neck for. The oriole still has its uncut rim and brass hoop in it. I have two flathead banjos that I never play... they sound like half the banjo that my tube and plate and the oriole are. "Gasps, screams, children crying and say it isn't so" he plays a raised head and a hoop banjo before a flathead!! lol. All joking aside my flatheads are good banjos, But they need a visit to Chris's shop for sure.

 There is one other thing that Chris does that sets him apart from others and that is pictures.. lots of detailed pictures. From the beginning of your project to the very end Chris sends you photo's. These are detailed pictures of how the progress of your banjo is coming along, and with the pictures usually follows a detailed email or a phone all explaining the pictures. You're never left in the dark or have to be nervous about your banjo being with Chris. He has no wool folks... and if he did he would never pull it over your eyes. Chris is a compassionate and honest person, that will never tell you something just because it's what you want to hear or because its monetarily lucrative for him. Chris is an amazing luthier with talent like no other, he is a great friend to many. And the only guy that I will have work on my banjos. Call Chris Cioffi today and your banjo will thank you!!

     - Marcel.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Lil Otter (see all reviews from this person) on 1/12/2019

Overall Comments

I sent Chris an underperforming Ome Grand Artist Megatone.  He did a yeoman’s job on it and it is outstanding now!  Throughout the period he worked on the banjo he kept close contact with me, reviewing his work and findings, including his detection and correction of a fault that the rim did not properly fit the tone ring.  The banjo has extensive engraved inlay and Chris exercised extra expertise to avoid damage as he installed new stainless steel frets.  He also provided me with an precise explanation and photographs of each step of his work.   I highly recommend Chris and his work.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by jakeworkman11 (see all reviews from this person) on 1/11/2019

Overall Comments

I just got my Huber VRB-3 back from Chris and I'm sincerely blown away.  Wow!  It's never sounded even close to this good, and it was still a great banjo before.  From first meeting Chris and then having a chance to communicate back and forth about my banjo I realized just how much of a perfectionist he is.  He cares so much about customer service and takes great pride in doing excellent work.  He gives thorough updates along the way as he's working on things and you never feel nervous in any way trusting him with your instrument.  I had new stainless frets put in ( so beautifully done), refitting/fixing of most parts within the pot assembly, a neck reset and a few other things.  Basically an overhaul of the entire banjo.  I'm so impressed and now so excited to play it more than I ever was.  What a nice guy and what an amazing gift he's got.  I've had plenty of experience with luthiers for various fixes along the way with all my instruments and none gave me the confidence that Chris does.  

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by kentmcl (see all reviews from this person) on 12/17/2018

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi took the banjo I had and gave me back the banjo I always wanted.  Crisp and punchy, deep and gutty.  Fat and full.  Every note literally pops – from open strings to the 22nd fret.  Clean, distinct separation between notes.  When you bear down it just gets louder – MUCH louder – without the tone degrading or hardening.  It has THE sound – that indescribable flathead tone we all want but very, very few banjos deliver.  Equally amazing is how it feels – the banjo vibrates so profoundly it feels alive when you play it – from the neck to the resonator this banjo lives and breathes.  The stainless-steel frets are silky-smooth and a joy to play.  The ONLY problem I’ve been able to find is that I can’t put it down.

To be sure, Chris had good materials to work with.  My banjo is a 1981 Gold Star JD Crowe model #810080 – the last one built.  I ordered it new after playing the demo banjo at the Gold Star booth at the ’81 NAMM Convention – that banjo really impressed me (and may very well be the same banjo Russ Carson plays today).  In those days I made my living with the banjo – taught around 70 students per week, played with pickup bands in bars at night, with my regular band at festivals on weekends, and anywhere else I could make a few bucks playing. 

But when the banjo I ordered arrived, I was disappointed.  It sounded ok but not very lively – somewhat muddy - and certainly didn’t compare to the banjo I’d played at the NAMM show.  I tinkered with it for years but was never really satisfied.  Eventually I moved onto a different career and pretty much lost interest – until I came across Russ Carson’s youtube channel and by extension, Chris Cioffi.

From what I can tell, Chris’ service is unique.  He doesn’t just “setup” your banjo, he effectively remanufactures it – the way it should have been manufactured in the first place.  He fits every component together with a fanatical precision that yields incredible results.  If you think about it, music is sound, sound is vibration, and if every single component of your instrument is not vibrating in unison, if the tone ring and flange are not perfectly fit to the rim, if the neck isn’t seated precisely against the pot assembly over exactly the required surfaces with exactly the right tension, if you’ve warped your rim with coordinator rod tension in order to get the action right, if the heel of your neck is too tight to the resonator notch, if there’s any delamination going on in your rim (common in many old banjos), if your frets aren’t seated optimally, and on and on and on and on, your banjo cannot perform to it’s potential.  Instead of a fine instrument you have a collection of fine parts bolted together and trying to work independently of one another.

We banjo players tend to obsess over those parts – this tone ring or that flange material or maple vs. mahogany, and so forth.  We endlessly swap parts in search of that elusive sound.  But that approach is doomed to failure without the precision build Chris brings to the equation.

When I dropped my banjo off at Chris’ shop, I got to play a different model and year Gold Star he had just finished up for another client.  That banjo was also superlative.  When I asked Chris what makes a great instrument he told me, “the number one ingredient is not prewar bell bronze or Brazilian rosewood or hide glue.  It's the mindset of the builder.”  Deep.  If true, that explains why Chris gets such astonishing results:  he not only has the skills, knowledge, and patience to get it right, he truly cares.

If you are a serious banjo player with a decent instrument and are not overjoyed with the sound you’re getting, do yourself a favor and contact Chris.  Make no mistake – it will take longer and cost more than a few hours with a “setup guru” but you will absolutely get the best results possible and be certain your banjo will be as good as it can be. 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Rainor (see all reviews from this person) on 10/12/2018

Overall Comments

It all started with the need for a fret job on my 1995 Rich & Taylor JD Crowe banjo.  There was no one locally (Edmonton, Alberta) that had banjo specific experience and, as timing would have it, we were planning a vacation to Nashville in January 2018.  So I researched banjo luthiers in Nashville and it didn’t take long before I started seeing many referrals to Chris Cioffi.  The more I read the more I was convinced that if I was going to take my R&T all the way to Nashville for Chris to redo the frets he might as well do a complete overhaul to get the absolute best out of my banjo.

If you want someone to rush through an overhaul and do what he can in the limited time available don’t bother contacting Chris.  Chris is a perfectionist to the highest degree and will not compromise the quality of his work for ANY reason.  Chris will do what he does (some call it “magic”!)  in the time that it takes him and he will not rush or settle for anything less than perfection!

Before I got to Chris’ shop he said to plan for 3-4 hours.  Huh, 3-4 hours to drop off my banjo?  Well, Chris likes to pull your banjo apart piece by piece in front of you commenting on what issues he sees and explains what should be done to make your banjo sound its absolute best.  It was a great learning experience for me and left me knowing exactly what and why he was going to do specific adjustments. 

What Chris did to my banjo…

  • Installed stainless steel frets.  Very smooth and will never wear out!
  • Moved lag bolt holes on the rim over about 1/8”.  It had caused the neck to be out of alignment.  Chris says every little thing matters!
  • New nut, 5th string pip, and railroad spikes.
  • Did a speed neck.  I wasn’t too keen on this but the neck needed refinishing and Chris guaranteed me I wouldn’t be disappointed.  He was right silky smooth and looks great!
  • Hand fitted the tone ring (Kulesh Big 10) to the rim.
  • Polished all metal parts as well as repairs to minor dings in the wood.  Looks like new!
  • Refitted the resonator.  

Aside from looking spectacular the sound is better than I could have expected.  Nice growl on the 4th and clear bell like all the way up the neck. 

A couple of months after getting the banjo back I contacted Chris about a tuning issue I was having.  He immediately gave me some things to try and very quickly we worked out a minor adjustment that fixed the problem.  Once you’re a customer of Chris’ you’re a lifetime customer and he will do whatever it takes to keep you happy.

Granted I don’t have any experience with other banjo luthiers but seeing, and hearing, the result of Chris’ work and getting to know him personally I highly recommend him.

Sorry for the long winded description but if you’re looking for someone to overhaul your banjo this is probably the information you want to know.  If you’re not looking for someone then congratulations for reading this far! J

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Haard (see all reviews from this person) on 6/3/2018

Overall Comments

I have always wanted a full flathead tone ring banjo but never found one with the depth and clarity that satisfied. Chris rebuilt a custom banjo with a major makers tone ring for me and while good it didn't have the punch and clarity I was looking for. Chris's work was damn near perfect as usual, the problem was me. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't get that I wanted in a full flathead banjo.Chris and I have spoken alot about tone and what different rims, flanges, tone rings and / or tone hoops have to offer. We rebuilt a 1954 RB-100 with the tone hoop and it has great clarity and a nice tight base response. We also did a TB-1 shoe and plate tone hoop banjo which is really clear and has great growl to it. However, I still coveted a one piece flange flathead style banjo with the right sound.

Russ Carson visited Chris and videoed a banjo that Chris had put together for his wife. It had a TB-00 thin rim, resonator and neck from Chris's days at Huber's shop. I was amazed by the tone that Russ got out of the banjo. I called Chris and we discussed the banjo. No tone ring, no tone hoop just the original 1/2" vintage rim with turned wood bead. I was sold.

I searched the 'net and found a pristine TB-00 at Intermountain Guitar and Banjo. The banjo didn't look like it had ever been out of the case. The finish was perfect and the flange was flat with no pull. I bought the banjo and had it dropped shipped to Chris. Then i had to notify Chris of our new project!!! He was gracious enough to take the job on. (I would suggest you call Chris first before sending a project, I took advantage of our friendship...a little).

Chris called one day and let me know that he had a lightly used Huber Workhorse Walnut neck become available. We decided to use that neck for this project. We also changed out the thin tension hoop to the pre was grooved version (still with flat hooks) and a Presto style tailpiece. 

Chris did his usual perfect job on the fit of all the banjo parts. He emailed me that I would be satisfied with the banjo. He had several professional musicians come up from Nashville and they were blown away by the banjo and couldn't believe that it had that tone without a tone ring.

I got the banjo in September and I do not know how I could be more satisfied. It seems that with every banjo Chris has done for me (and this makes the 4th) that he raises his "game" every time. This banjo has everything I have been looking for in a full flathead banjo. It has the "hollow deep" sound that flathead experts talk about that I never understood...until now. It's really responsive and punchy also. Chris commented that it turned out sounding better than his wife's banjo and it holds it's own.....tone ring or not.

I feel lucky to have run across Chris Cioffi and now have a long distance friend who happens to do some pretty awesome banjo work. 

Highly recommended.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Texican65 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/16/2018

Overall Comments

     I met Chris by chance, through a random WANT add that I had created on BHO, looking for an old Morrison banjo. He ended up selling me an old Morrison that he had had for years, at the same cost that he had payed for it, a very stand up thing to do. Throughout that interaction, Chris had been so pleasurable and easy to deal with, and happy to talk banjo and share knowledge on the instrument in general. Having never met him, I could still tell that he was highly dedicated to his work, not only as a respected professional, but in a recreational aspect also, he has a true love for anything banjo. And aside from the whole business perspective, I also made a friend through Chris, he is now somebody that I can talk with anytime about banjo, music in general, or really anything in life. He's a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and his steadfast attention to detail and dedication to perfection are what set his work ethics above other luthiers. So, as it turns out, with all this in mind, it came easy for me to select Chris out of a long list of luthiers for a challenging banjo restoration project that I have had for sometime. I wasnt comfortable enough with just "anybody" re-working this banjo, and after interacting with and then later researching Chris' qualifications and work history, I felt like he was the right man for the job.

     The banjo in question was a 1963 Earl Scruggs model Vega. They are quite rare, and although they bear Earl's name on the truss rod cover, they are also not the best designed/built banjo straight from the factory. I had had mine for 15+ years, and it was a COMPLETE DUD. ZERO volume, ZERO tone, hard to play, just downright embarassing, especially with Earl's name on it. Some of them are better than others, but many of them all suffer from the same flaws...mainly a poor neck heel to rim fit, which kills the tone. Mine, like several others, had a 1/4" gap at the bottom of the neck heel when attached to the rim. And there is a metal plate between the heel and rim that 2 allen screws butt up against that are used to adjust the neck left or right. Some argue that this is a good set-up, but most of us with these models, and who have had them re-worked, have seen the dramatic change in the instrument once the gap and metal plate are addressed. This banjo needed several other little things as well, but the neck fit was the main focus of the restore. 

     Since I live near Seattle, and Chris in Tennessee, I couldnt just walk onto his shop every weekend to discuss plans. But it did not hinder this project in the least sense, Chris dedicated many hours of conversation over the telephone and also through email. He took several hundred pictures throughout the project, of before and after, as well as current step by step detailed procedural photographs showing me just exactly what he was doing, and this was all free of charge. It was very convenient for me to be able to track and keep up on his progress. 

     The work he did to transform this banjo was phenominal. He completely disassembled, inspected, cleaned, polished the brightwork and wood finish, giving this instrument a sparkel it never knew. Sanded and polished the fretboard and fretmarkers to a luster never acheived before, the pearl went from a greyish white to a beautiful shiny silver with hints of red, blue, and yellow. Replaced the old frets with new stainless steel frets, which will not only last longer, but assist in better sound transfer through the neck. COMPLETELY rebuilt and had re-finished the neck heel, which allowed for a super flush/tight fitting result afterwards, no more gap and tone loss. Refit the tonering to the rim, and flange to the rim. He made several other slight alterations here and there for optimum performance. Rebuilt all 4 original Elton pancake tuners, and also installed a set of Hoppers cam D tuners in the peg-head. He had several other chrome parts re-chromed, where the chrome was damaged and flaking off, he installed anew arm rest per my request also. And top it all off with an expert set-up afterwards....VIOLA! 

     This instrument was transformed from an introvert into an ANIMAL! Before it was gutless and embarassing, where as now it has piercing tone and volume, and great playability and response. i'm very proud of it and the work Chris did. It sounds easy on paper, but it was not. This was a lengthy challenging project, but it did not deter Chris at all. He persevered and presented me with a very special banjo that I will always enjoy having in my posession and playing. Where it was shunned in its case under a bed before, it now will be proudly displayed and make music for people for years and years to come. Chris is a true genious in banjo restoration, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to work with him, and have him bring this banjo back to life, it was an honor. 

 

Dow Douthitt

Overall Rating: 10

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

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

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

Submitted by scooke (see all reviews from this person) on 12/28/2016

Overall Comments

My latest (and likely last) banjo project was an ill-conceived mating of a good, used Stew Mac pot assembly to a new Gold Tone H&F inlayed neck. (I had done one project a year or so earlier with a new StewMac pot and a a fine gibson copy neck with good results). With this second try I learned quickly that the Gold Tone neck was not notched at the heel for the tone rim one-piece flange.  Even so, I had worked on it and made a fit that was not acceptable to me, and knew that I needed to get some help for the proper allignment and fit. (A person really needs the right tools and work area (did I say know-how?) for such work which I no longer possess.) I had already put a about $1,250 into this effort and, even though I don't pick the banjo that much anymore, I felt that it should be properly fitted and  finished out for a keepsake probably for one of my sons or grandsons, after I pass over to leave these earthly things behind.  So, I went to BJ Hangout's luthier- listing for possible contacts. The good feedbacks I noted for Chris Cioffi caught my eye and I contacted him.  I  was also influenced by the fact that he himself is a picker.  After a few emails and telephone back-and-forth's I shipped him my "problem child". 

After receiving and examining, he replied listing his diagnosis and recommendations: The neck needed surgery at the heel to make a good and proper tight fit which involved removing and resetting the old lag screws and woodwork.  The heel cap needed re-work along with this. His resulting work on this was very good!   In connection he recommended re-fretting, trim repairs and did a neat Mastertone block inlay replacement for the plain pearl block I had installed.  After this - and allied work - he did a super clean-up and metal re-polishing of the chrome parts and full  re-assembly.  I have not adequately nor completely described all of his attention to detail but let me summarize by saying that he is a professional who is super-attentive to detail and obviously takes great pride in his work.  

I recommend Chris highly  and you will find he is a person with whom you can easily discuss your business 

Stacy Cooke

Houston, Tx

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by corcoran (see all reviews from this person) on 12/18/2016

Overall Comments

Robin Smith and Chris Cioffi divided up the labor on the project of making a new neck for my old model 6 Gibson flathead.  Rob acquired a neck blank of beautiful curly maple from Michigan (where the old maple Gibson necks came from).  Rob shaped the neck and did the perfect inlay work.  Then Chris did some further work on shaping the neck, trimming it down to an even more playable state, inserting stainless steel frets, and performing the neck set   He says the stainless steel frets will out-live me!

Chris then went to work on the drum, to bring it back to the state of outstanding sound it was in when I purchased the banjo in 1967.  He concentrated on the state of the two-piece (tube and plate) flange.  Noting that the tube had never been removed from the plate since it left the factory and was very tight on the tone ring, he did a hand refit of the flange tube and tone ring.  Because the skirt on the ring had bottomed out on the rim, he also hand-fit the rim to the tone ring.  He reglued some minor rim delamination and performed a bunch of small general maintenance procedures.  Then he performed the final setup of the banjo.

The upshot is that the new neck is a magnificent sample of curly maple that plays like a dream.  Furthermore, after Chris’s tender ministrations, the banjo sounds terrific.  It is loud and possesses that pop characteristic of the best prewar flatheads.  The bass is appropriately growly and resonant, and the treble is clear and bell-like right up the neck.  The banjo has that indefinable something that sets the really good banjos apart from the more run-of-the-mill instruments.  It sounds like it did when I bought it almost 50 years ago, when it was the envy of a host of banjo players where I grew up.

I recommend Rob Smith and Chris Cioffi for construction of a new neck for your banjo or, especially in Chris’s case, for setup and fine-tuning of the instrument’s sound.  Chris Cioffi is truly the banjo whisperer.

Rating: 10

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by hawkaroo (see all reviews from this person) on 7/30/2016

Overall Comments

I can't recommend Chris highly enough. He has restored three 2 piece flange Gibson Mastertone banjos that I have owned since the 1980s. The first one he worked on is a 1925 ball bearing with a 1970s Gibson RB800 neck.  It was in sad shape, essentially used up and turned out to be missing a metal hoop that stabilizes the metal skirt on the rim.  This necessitated Chris developing and executing a solution, which he did, and it turned out fabulously. Not long after the banjo was restored I had the occasion to put it in Arthur Hatfield's hands.  He picked a short phrase, did a double take and said, "That is how a ball bearing is supposed to sound!"

Chris subsequently evaluated, repaired and set up my 1927 Granada and my 1928 TB-3.  They both have Frank Neat conversion necks from the '80s. The TB-3 has a Blaylock flathead conversion ring. The Granada remains an archtop. They also turned out way better sounding banjos than they were before.  In fact I've gotten a steady stream of comments on how good they sound from other banjo players.  The Granada sounds as good as any flathead you've heard.  My recommendation is that you take Chris' suggestions about what to do to improve your banjo.  He has a vision about how to realize the potential of a banjo that I have not encountered anywhere else.  And, he has the skills to achieve what he sets out to do.  Read the list of his reviews.  They describe the details of this process over and over.     And dealing with Chris has been a pleasure.  I would say we became friends over the time he worked on my banjos.                             

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Juggernaut626 (see all reviews from this person) on 7/13/2016

Overall Comments

     In late 2011, I bought a nearly mint, hardly played, 1980 ODE model C, and began using it as my main stage banjo. Four years and a few hundred shows later, I had worn deep canyons into many of my frets. At this point, the banjo was experiencing buzzing, intonation issues, and it was generally difficult to play.

     I spoke with a banjo buddy of mine about my struggles with the ODE, and he recommended that I send it to Chris Cioffi in Springfield, TN. My friend insisted that Cioffi was very knowledgeable of Ogsbury style banjos, and proceeded to show me his OME top tension that had recently been worked over by Chris. I was stunned...... the banjo rang with beautiful tone from top to bottom... The action was incredibly easy, but the part that really caught my attention was Chris' flawless stainless steel fretwork.... I WAS SOLD.

     I called Chris one afternoon, and inquired about having stainless steel frets installed on my ODE C. I also asked if he would do a general setup on the banjo. Mr Cioffi was very pleasant to speak to and said that he could fit me in after a few months.

     I sent my banjo to Chris on my birthday, and soon after, Chris sent me a quote for the work that I had requested, and also with a number of recommendations for additional work that needed to be done. I approved everything that he proposed.

Here's a shortlist of what he did:

Re-fretted w/ stainless steel frets --- re-glued delaminating rim --- neck set --- filled in and re-drilled holes for lagbolts in rim ---  new head --- new bone nut --- cleaned all metal hardware --- new 5/8 bridge --- refit tonering to rim/sand excess finish impeding contact between ring and rim --- re-glued loose neck binding --- cleaned/re-lubed all tuner pegs --- new 5th string capo spikes on 7, 8, 9, 10 --- Finish touch-ups on neck and resonator ---

     I found the price for this work to be very reasonable, especially for the high quality of work that I received.

     When I got the banjo back, I was blown away by the improvement. First of all, the banjo looks brand new! The metal parts, which had been dulled and dirtied by the Florida humidity and beachtown elements, shined more clearly than they had when I bought the instrument! The sound of the banjo improved DRAMATICALLY! The banjo's tone is now deeper and wider than it has ever been! Finally, for the first time EVER, the banjo is a dream to play... The fretwork is beautifully done, and I don't feel like my left hand is fighting with the ODE as before. I have received COUNTLESS compliments on this banjo since Chris has worked on it. It used to be a good banjo, now IT'S A MONSTER!!!   

BOTTOM LINE 

Chris Cioffi is an incredibly talented luthier. If you need any work done on your banjo, Chris will do it... and do it EXCEEDINGLY well! Speaking with Chris about banjo setup is like talking to a banjo scientist. I am thoroughly impressed by his staggering amount of banjo knowledge. Seriously, If someone said that Chris Cioffi graduated with his Ph.D. from the Harvard School of Banjo Studies, I'd buy it... 

I've been around, and I've met many people claiming to know banjo setup... claiming to be banjo experts... while yielding unimpressive to mediocre results. Chris Cioffi, on the other hand, is the REAL DEAL, people...

P.S. I've had the pleasure to play one of the few Cioffi banjos in existence. The one I played is owned by a friend of mine, and is a mahogany wreath raised-head banjo. It's everything that I've come to expect from Chris' fine work... Exquisite balanced tone, beautiful craftsmanship, and effortless playability...  

- Isaac Taylor

  

  

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by DRC (see all reviews from this person) on 4/10/2016

Overall Comments

I Recently purchase a 1929 PB 3  Chris Made a new neck for it, And completed several other things for this banjo including a neck set stainless frets . He is a master craftsman,all around good guy. With  several conversations as to what needed to be repaired it turned out like a new complete banjo.I am extremely grateful for the work he put into this banjo He is truly one of the best Luthiers out their.

Thank you Chris !

Dannie Cashwell

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Hotrodtruck (see all reviews from this person) on 2/20/2016

Overall Comments

Chris has done a second banjo for me now. The first one was a few years ago when he was getting his business off the ground. I was so impressed with the quality of his work that I contacted him about doing another of my banjos. It took six months to get on his schedule, mainly due to a couple of medical issues he had to deal with, but also because he has become known as one of the best in the business and the pros are lining up for his work. Chris has a different business model than some,. He won't take your banjo until he is ready to work on it right away. That way, you don't have to do without your banjo any longer than necessary. Also, when he tells you you banjo will be finished at a certain time, it is finished! No excuses. His fretwork, using stainless steel frets is exquisite! You will not find any better! His neck resets, tone ring fitting and cosmetic work are as good, or better, than any I have seen. If you have the time to wait to get on Chris's schedule, I recommend it and you will not be disappointed!

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by palc (see all reviews from this person) on 11/7/2015

Overall Comments


I purchased a 70’s era Baldwin Style D , ODE in 2013.  I grew up loving these banjos and finally got a chance to own one.   It had a few buzz spots on the neck, so I wanted to try to find someone familiar with these banjos, that could go through it and check it out.   I went to the Hangout and found Chris Cioffi was highly recommended for repair work with numerous excellent reviews.

I called Chris in late 2014, and happily found that he had quite a bit of experience working with ODE banjos and was very familiar with them, in addition to his expertise with Gibson style banjos.   We spoke a few times and I was fascinated with Chris’s passion about banjos, and paying attention to small details to achieve the best results on every project.

I found Chris to be a very nice guy, as well as very professional, and knew he was the right guy to send my “prized” ODE to.    I ended up driving to Nashville to drop off the banjo and meet Chris.   We had a great meeting, Chris went through the banjo with a quick once over, and identified some issues he saw.     

I left the banjo with Chris,  and he did a thorough evaluation of the banjo and defined a scope of work to bring this banjo , to basically as new or better condition,( including options to improve it cosmetically).  I agreed with his work scope which involved quite a few issues, including  plug and redrill lag holes ( which had been enlarged) to center the centerline of the neck to banjo which appeared to be a factory problem, re-glue and fill rim laminations ( rim was delaminated in spots) and refit rim to flange.  This process involved many more details  than I can go into, but Chris did an excellent job getting everything lined up correctly.  

In addition to this re-alignment, Chris planed the fingerboard for proper relief and refretted with stainless steel wire, new bone nut and fifth string nut, filled in old fifth string sliding capo holes on the neck, new capo spikes, and had the flange, tone ring, and tension hoop gold plated.  The platting had worn off, and this new platting really made the banjo pop.

This project turned into quite a job, and I am just happy I was able to find Chris to work through this repair.  I thought he was very reasonable on price, and timely on completing the work . 

Project is complete and I have the ODE back.  Needless to say, the banjo looks brand new, sounds great and very consistent.  It is now my main banjo, and I could not be more proud.   Having  a Baldwin ODE D that looks this good, plus excellent sound is a dream come true for me.

If you are looking for quality repair work on a Gibson, or other, I suggest you get in touch with Chris Cioffi.  You won’t be sorry.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Leon M (see all reviews from this person) on 10/31/2015

Overall Comments

I read the reviews about Chris Cioffi on the hangout and after talking with him on the phone decided to have him do a refret on my TB-2 Pyramid. He installed stainless steel frets and also did a full set up. The banjo was already good but when he was done it played and sounded better than it ever had.

 

I was also wanting a tone hoop banjo and had found a TB-1 on Craigslist. I told Chris I wanted the neck the same dimensions as the neck on my Hatfield Buck Creek. He said he wasn't building necks at this time but would check with Robin Smith about building the neck. Chris measured the Hatfield neck and gave the measurements to Robin. Robin built the neck and did the inlay, then Chris fretted it with stainless steel frets, fit the neck to the pot, made everything right with the pot, suggested and installed a Kerschner tailpiece, chose a bridge from his stock and put the banjo together. Then he, Russell Carson and Jeremy Stephens picked some tunes on it for the youtube.

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

Banjo #1 is my 1927 Gibson TB-1 conversion with stock pot. It has a 1/4 inch brass hoop. No tone ring! I was impressed!

He then sent the neck and resonator to Robin Smith and Robin finished the neck to match the resonator. Chris put everything back together and played it for a couple of weeks to get everything settled in. When I picked it up I was impressed again. It's really loud and I love the tone. It plays easy and looks great. It's my favorite banjo and the light weight is a good thing. I put some pictures on my home page but my camera skills are not good.

While dealing with Chris I have learned a lot about banjos. He has given me great advice regarding what to look for in old banjos. I was just lucky with my TB-1. I have found another old hex flanged Gibson and Chris has looked at pictures and pointed out things that could be good and bad. I bought the banjo and plan on Chris working his magic on it like he did the TB-1.

I live in Florida and it is several hours drive to Chris' shop but I've driven up to pick up both banjos he has worked on. It's a pleasure to spend a little time with Chris talking about banjos and other things. Plus I get to hear him pick my banjo and he can really pick! I'm looking forward to the next trip.

I forgot to mention that when he measured the Hatfield neck he sort of took the banjo apart, tightened and tweaked on it just a bit and it sounded better coming out than when it went in. No Charge!

Leon

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Lauck (see all reviews from this person) on 6/10/2015

Overall Comments

I met Chris Cioffi at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I teach.  He and Robin Smith came up to get our students' banjos set up at the beginning of the Fall semester.  Well, my own banjo had been played every day since 1981 with almost zero maintenance, and was in real need of TLC!  The metal in the tailpiece was so fatigued it was about to break off, and the frets and fingerboard were gouged out with years of wear. 

The banjo was made especially for me in my home town of Ithaca, NY by the late Doug Knowles. It was dubbed Ithaca #2, since we settled on Orpheum-style inlays, after I said dots would be fine if it sounded any good, and Doug wanted to go crazy with some kind of vines... I hadn't had any work done since, because I didn't know who I could trust with it.  Talking with Chris, I found someone with a deep understanding, and I let him take it home with him to Nashville.

Well, I'm late writing this because I've just been absorbed in playing it since I got it back :-)  It always was a pretty good banjo, but it came back great!  It plays really easily, notes true, looks great, and is so loud and responsive I'm having to learn to play all over again. Chris and I had several conversations about what was best to do while he had it. He listened carefully to what I was after while opening up vistas of understanding about banjos I had no idea even existed. These days I can proudly say that this banjo was made FOR ME by Doug Knowles AND Chris Cioffi.  I can't say enough about how much I esteem Chris's work - he is truly one of the very best.

Thank you Chris!!

Cheers,

Lauck Benson

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Al Shepherd (see all reviews from this person) on 6/1/2015

Overall Comments

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'd read here and other places, 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 it 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. He didn't say "I know best" and set it up his way.

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. I've got a second banjo (RB-250 Mastertone) that also needs some attention and there's no doubt where I'm going with it. Trust me on this. You will be forever grateful you chose Chris to do your banjo work.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by busterk (see all reviews from this person) on 4/1/2015

Overall Comments

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 done to make it better at the time althought over time it took its toll on sound etc.Now to the purpose of my comment, I took it to Chris (because of his excellent credentials and reputation) and the recommendation of Jeremy Stevens. First thing he did was dis-assemble & inspect.  Without going into detail..He gave an estimate of the work that needed to be done.  After he was 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...signed Buster Kendrick,  Shelby NC

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by busterk (see all reviews from this person) on 4/1/2015

Overall Comments

Overall Rating:

Submitted by jswkingsfield (see all reviews from this person) on 3/5/2015

Overall Comments

Abstract

Banjo players spend much time on the mythos of “set-up.” There is “set-up”: multiple rounds of bridge swapping, tailpiece configurations, trying out different string gauges, changing heads, muttering incantations in the name of Earl, etc.  

But then, there is “deep set-up”: a refit of the components for maximum performance. If you’ve found yourself saying your banjo doesn’t sound the way it used to, or have prime components that need proper assembly, I can recommend banjo whisperer Chris Cioffi (a/k/a “tubeandplate” on the BHO) to diagnose and cure your banjo.

Case Study:

I wanted to resurrect Sullivan R&D #4.  Sullivan R&D Sample #4 was the final prototype for the mahogany Sullivan Vintage 35.  December 2010, as the V35 series went into production, Tony Wray made a clip of #4:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3AgA5mxYqU

Two years later, #4’s first owner put it up for sale on the Hangout.  Alas, the neck suffered a heel break while in transit (if you’re curious, search on the BHO archives under “UPS Lied and Denied My Claim” for the sad tale).  The banjo was patched up, resold, and eventually parted out in June 2013. 

#4’s pot ended up with moi.  I previously had coveted the banjo, and the timing was right.  Collected a Huber-made Style 3 neck, plus a reskinned PW Gibson 00 resonator.  With help from my teacher, the pieces got plunked together.  The results were super promising, but there were visible fit and set-up issues.  My teacher noted that the pot was not true and straight in the first place.  The heel needed a reset.  The banjo threw off overtones up the neck.  Yet, even tossed together, the banjo was killer, but didn’t sound the way it did in 2010, and I knew “Fletcher” had more to give (yeah, I name my banjos). 

Numerous stories can be found on the Hangout about Chris Cioffi as a set-up wizard.  If anyone could cure Fletch’s problems, it would be Chris.

Chris’ method requires his taking in the banjo, get to know it, thoroughly go through it to diagnose its ills, and come up with a treatment plan.  I also chatted with Chris, by phone and several email exchanges, about what I hoped for the banjo.  To summarize, the components underwent a complete refit: rim trimmed for a slip fit and better ring seating, co-rods shortened, neck reset, installation of a Fults tailpiece, new 5th string tuner. I did stop short at Chris’ recommendation of a complete stainless steel refret and installation of a new nut, as the neck was nearly new and otherwise well above standard.  (Chris is a big believer in stainless steel frets and his fret installation methodology; I might try this after I beat through the current set of frets.)

The results were superb.  Here is what it sounded like in near final form, in Russ Carson’s hands:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ3JkhocisE

The final configuration is even more awesome, the sound has the grit and movement I wanted to preserve, yet clarity of note separation, and the hideous overtone problem is gone.  Several pros have commented on this banjo.  It was well worth the expense, plus the hassle of shipping the banjo from and back to Seattle, for Chris to take this banjo to beast mode.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Barnet in SoCal (see all reviews from this person) on 2/9/2015

Overall Comments

Honestly... I can't add anything to the long and detailed descriptions of Chris's impeccable work.

I'll just say this... Chris took my old Gibson conversion (to flathead and 5 string) and brought out its very, very best. We all know (and Chris agrees) that not all banjos are created equal, including prewars, both conversions and original flatheads. But if you know there's good stuff in there that's not coming out, Chris will dial it in. 

When I brought it in I handed it to Chris with a smile, because it's a good banjo for which I wanted a complete going-over to be confident that its full capacities would be expressed. He picked it for less than 10 seconds and said, "Well, it sounds a little pinched." I was floored. What? We tore it down completely. And guess what? The ring was too tight on the rim, as it wasn't able to move freely. I was floored. He heard that. In less than 10 seconds.

It helps, by the way, that Chris is an incredible banjo player. Holy cow, the man can pick. Yeah brother!

We saw that the work on the conversion neck (by an unknown luthier) was quite poor at the heel. There were all sorts of tiny issues throughout the banjo that I won't enumerate, but he showed every one of them to me.

Biggest modification was to the heel of the neck. Chris actually built it out with little blocks of beautiful mahogany and recarved the heel. It now fits perfectly. Neck set, new frets, lag bolts etc etc etc. And it took him some time, not only because he's backed up, but because he won't rush it. In fact, he keeps each banjo around after stringing it up at least a week, if not more, so that it can settle in just a little and have a final tweak. 

I picked it up while at SPBGMA a few days ago. Only change we decided to make was to try another bridge. 

I just can't tell you how thrilled I am. Man, this thing has that elusive "old" tone and resonance. I brought it back and everyone who played it was blown away within moments of the first strum. One guy who knows about these things pronounced it the best banjo he'd played all weekend, including numbers of the original flatheads that were there.

Well, all that's subjective, of course. So here's the thing:

If you want your banjo to be its very, very best, Chris Cioffi is the luthier for you. 

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Haard (see all reviews from this person) on 12/4/2014

Overall Comments

Hello All. I bought a 1954 Gibson RB-100 here on the BHO. After having Chris Cioffi work on a previous banjo, I knew that Chris was the person to do the restoration work and setup. As bought, he banjo was relatively stock with only a geared fifth tuner and 4 modern tuners added. I did end up finding the original "quick ratio" tuners. The banjo also had the stock tone hoop in the archtop configuration. I surprised Chris with the news that I had bought the banjo and was having it directly shipped to him. He was very gracious in accepting the work and was excited that I wanted to keep that banjo stock with the tone hoop. It ended up that we both thought that correctly setup, that these sub-Mastertone models have a lot to offer. Well, after 60 some years of life there were some issues with the banjo..a poorly installed geared 5th tuner (non original) and Gibson's oversized rim lag bolt holes were a issue, but this is no problem for Chris, the repairs are hardly noticable. Long story short...the banjo came out amazing. It's one of those banjos you play and say "Who needs a tonering?".It's strong, loud and clear with a huge, fat 4th string that rattles the whole banjo (that elusive "Dry Rattle" that I love). It seems to have a sustain that makes it addictive to play. Chris's stainless fretwork is damn near prefect as usual and along with his setup makes it a joy to play. Chris also worked on the original tuners to get them functioning after 60 years. Not many people would put the effort into these old tuners, but he knew I wanted a pretty original RB and went the extra mile. Chris's masterful hand work and a 60 year old banjo came together to make one great banjo. I highly recommend Chris Cioffi for any of your banjo work, Mastertone type, sub-Mastertone type or openback.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by SR65 (see all reviews from this person) on 10/10/2014

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by SR65 (see all reviews from this person) on 10/10/2014

Overall Comments

I highly recommend Chris Cioffi for any banjo repair work.  Briefly, here is my story:

I met Chris about 7 or 8 years ago when I lived in KY, having been introduced by a fellow musician and friend.  He performed repair work on my '93 Deering Standard which included a neck reset and a fret job.  After the work Chris did on my banjo, I had to admit the banjo sounded better than  ever.  I was completely satisfied with his expertise with the instrument.  The most compelling thing regarding Chris was his professionalism and dedication to customer service.   Subsequent to this I had purchased another instrument, a significant upgrade for me.  I had it for about 6 years and had  moved to  WA state in the interim.  Suffice it to say I found myself a long way away but had a serious banjo issue that needed to be addressed.  I had lost touch with Chris but re-established contact through the Hangout. Now mind you, there are instrument repair people where I live, but having worked with Chris, I had a huge amount of trust that he would take care of my 5-string as good as anyone anywhere.  He responded promptly to my concerns regarding my instrument.  I had scheduled a trip back to KY in the near future and he was kind enough to dedicate time on a weekend to evaluate my problem, and complete the repair on my instrument.  This was done over the course of about 2 days--unbelievable service in my experience.  He performed a complete diagnostic work up and put me at ease quickly.  He gave my banjo an overhaul ( I do not "tinker" much with my instruments,  having played it for about 6 years without doing anything but changing strings).  He was able to complete a  fret job along with other issues that he kindly pointed out needed to be done at some time. He was not high pressure, but informative.   Basically, he provided excellent, timely service and did it based on my schedule.  Now, after about 5 months my instrument is "right on" and continues to sound incredible (even in my hands!).  I am not a professional player but just an average picker who loves my instrument.  It is so refreshing to know someone who provides the level of service that I'm sure that many times only the "pros" get.  Thank you Chris for treating me so well and making me feel like a pro!!

In summary, I highly recommend Chris to anyone who may need instrument maintenance or repair.  From my experience, Chris has the chops to take care of whatever your problems are, and does it in a timely, professional manner with an extraordinary dedication to customer service.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by rminke (see all reviews from this person) on 6/30/2014

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi – Alchemist: The banjo is a mysterious assemblage of wood and metal that when properly fitted together suddenly becomes not only one of the most uniquely captivating musical instruments but a true work of art.

     Unfortunately there are many banjos out there that while they may be built with quality bits and pieces, they are assembled quickly in factory settings with little attention given to the proper fitting of the components, thus producing instruments that may range from good to so-so or worse with a few making it through with setups that truly allow the instrument to realize its full potential. There are also many banjos out there that over time have been modified, “tinkered with” or just plain played out to the point they have lost their optimal setup and fit and so do not have the true tone and playability they are capable of.

     I have a “94” Rb3 I purchased new right out of the Gibson shipping carton in 1994. While it has always sounded and played OK it has never been what I thought or expected it should be. Since it was more than a little disappointing over all I pretty much put it in the safe and didn’t play it much over the years and was really thinking about just selling it.

This is where the “Alchemist” - Chris Cioffi steps in.

     After reading so much about him on the “Hangout” I decided to give him a call and try to arrange a meeting the next time I was in the Nashville area. It couldn’t have been easier or more pleasant. We were in Bowling Green for a few days so Chris set up a time we {myself, my wife, her brother, and our English Cocker - Carrie} could drive down to his shop and get to know each other a bit a let him have a look at my Rb3. Now if you have read any of the reviews of Chris and his work you already know what a friendly, knowledgeable guy he is. We hit it off right away having many common interests and extracurricular activities which though banjo centric also include the art of flying and maintaining aircraft. Flying and maintaining any aircraft is a precise art/science that leaves absolutely no room for error and this is exactly the way Chris approaches the setup and building of our beloved instrument, the banjo. I call him the “Banjo Alchemist” because he can take this mysterious combination of wood and metal parts, mix them with his depth of knowledge and skill and turn them into Banjo gold.

     The list of the work he did on my Rb3 would probably fill the rest of the page but I will say that he left virtually nothing untouched! What I found when we returned to his shop was an instrument that I would never have recognized sonically as my old banjo and his incredible setup made it play as it never had before. Chris took this 20 year old banjo from mediocrity to greatness with the wave of his magic wand. I have been playing the strings off it ever since picking it up and I am sure my other instruments are feeling quite jealous by now.

     You can surely read through all of the other reviews here and see what he is capable of but I just wanted include my 2¢. If you own and play a banjo you need to know Chris. I am really and I mean really picky about whom I let work on any of my instruments and I can say without hesitation or reservation that Chris will be doing my banjo work from now on! Go visit him if you get the chance. You will find it worth your while and just plain fun to boot. He can turn you instrument into “Banjo Gold”!

Chris Cioffi – Alchemist - really interesting and all around nice guy!

                                                                                              

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by luther (see all reviews from this person) on 5/24/2014

Overall Comments

To whom it may concern:

I am the owner of an S.S. Stewart Special Thoroughbred that means the world to me.  It did, however, have several issues that made it less than enjoyable to play.  The 5th string pip had disintegrated with age ( as well as some of the fretboard surrounding it), the friction tuners were troublesome, and it generally sounded quite harsh with Nylguts on it.  I was referred to Chris as a luthier who had an interest in the old Stewarts.  Upon arriving at  Chris' shop, I discovered that he actually has a Thoroughbred that is a close relative to mine ( within 100 of the same serial number) and he does indeed have a passion for vintage open backs.

We spent majority of the day talking about the repairs my banjo needed as well as the sound I was looking for.  Since the "sound" is very subjective, he had me test drive other banjos he had and we tried a different bridge on mine, etc. until we both understood the target.  

With regard to the repairs and modifications I was requesting, I should point out that Chris feels a responsibility to care for these old banjos.  As a result, he will point out a more suitable course of action even though it means less money in his pocket.  For example, I was dead set on new planetary tuners, but he explained how he could rehab my original equipment and keep the banjo original.  This was a good decision.  He got them working smoothly and I no longer have tuner envy.

The work he performed to repair the fretboard  and replace the pip was well done and nearly invisible.  

Where Chris really shines is in setting up a banjo for the sound you want.  He installed a bone nut and rebuilt the material supporting the nut where it had degraded over time.  This allowed the string vibration to transfer more efficiently.  He also provided two custom bridges.  I don't know what the second bridge sounds like because the first one hit the mark!  I am very happy with the tone of my T-bred now....now sounding good is up to me!

I would definitely recommend Chris Cioffi's work.  He takes this banjo business very seriously and it shows.

Regards,

Troy Bucy

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Tom Robison (see all reviews from this person) on 5/20/2014

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi – Artistic Luthier

I've had the pleasure of knowing Chris for probably 4 years or more and he has worked on 3 of my banjos.  In fact I drove from California to his shop in Springfield, TN to meet him and drop off a special banjo on which he is currently working magic.  This review is for a Wreath banjo I own.  Here's a little background on my Wreath banjo and the work I had Chris do.

In August 2009 I purchased a wreath neck from Melvin Cumbee.   According to Melvin the neck was built by Arthur Hatfield and those of you who’ve had an opportunity to view or play Arthur’s banjos know his fine craftsmanship.  I was really impressed with the workmanship on this neck. It felt great in my hand; neither too wide or narrow.  One thing which bothered me, though, was the Mastertone block was at the 21st fret rather than the 15th.   I decided to build a banjo around this fine neck and sent it off to a “prominent” banjo builder to fit my hardware to one of their rims.  When I received the banjo I played it in my band for a number of months.   While it sounded good it was not as good as I thought it could sound.  Hmmm….I thought.  There’s got to be some other things with setup that could make this banjo sound great, so I started researching my options.

Around this time Chris Cioffi (Tubeandplate on BHO) began posting his banjo thoughts and philosophy in the Building forum of BHO as well as his blog on his BHO homepage.  Chris, having several decades of studied experience with banjo study and work, and who previously worked at Huber Banjos for 4-5 years because of that, had recently set out on his own journey into banjo setup when he opened his own shop business.  After reading his knowledgeable posts and blogs I really liked his banjo construction knowledge and his thoughts on set up which go way beyond just changing bridges, head tension or strings.  I gave him a call.  After an hour or so of talking about banjos, setup and other things I asked if he'd be able to move the inlay block to the 15th fret.  I guess he liked a challenge because, he said "Sure! I can do that."  With that assurance I shipped my banjo to him in April 2010 and he went to work.

While looking it over, Chris discovered a number of issues which he believes keeps a banjo from sounding its best. Foremost he feels the neck heel must fit tightly against the rim.  Mine didn’t, even after been fitted by a “prominent” banjo builder.  Another item which Chris feels makes banjos sound better is that the fretboard needs to be level with the tone ring.  To Chris, the great sounding pre-war banjos have one common characteristic which is the tonering and fretboard line up on the same plane.   If you look closely at many banjos you’ll see fretboard heights all over the map relative to the tone ring. Mine was probably a 1/8 inch higher than the tone ring, so a neckset was needed.  Chris also inspected the work of the previous rim installation and noted a number of problems. Chris pointed out, via pictures that because the existing neck lags were off just a bit the rim lag holes had been drilled oval rather than round so they would need to be filled and re-drilled.  And because the lags were off a bit they, too, would need to be removed, filled and properly re-drilled.  (Chris doesn’t drill out the oval holes with a larger drill bit and slam in a dowel.  He shapes a dowel to fit perfectly in the oval hole.  That process is time consuming but is also a reflection of his setup philosophy.)  The misaligned neck lags further reinforced the need of a neckset. 

Doing a neckset on the surface looks to be a straightforward operation but to Chris it has to be done just right.  He gives it the attention it deserves.  Angles and rim fit have to be perfect for proper tone.  With my banjo he achieved perfect mating which is reflected in the wonderful tone it produces. 

Moving the Mastertone inlay block was more of a challenge. Inlaying the block at the 15th fret is cake, but filling the vacated block space required that Chris find matching rosewood grain samples and cutting nearly a dozen small pieces to match the existing grain. The result was unbelievable!  (You can check photos out his work on my BHO homepage.) You have to look closely to see that a move had ever occurred.  This is the way it should be.  Bad work shouts aloud…artistic work makes nary a sound.  Chris’s work is that of an artist.

Another factor with moving the Mastertone block was Chris had to pull a number of frets for him to work.  The original frets were installed by Arthur Hatfield and they were very nice frets indeed.   Chris suggested and I agreed to refret the whole neck so they would match those he had to replace.  Chris’ frets differed from the original frets because he extends his further onto the binding, effectively providing more real estate for the strings.  I do recall occasionally pulling the 1st string off the fret during my playing.  With Chris’ fret work this no longer happens.  Having extended frets may seem a trivial thing but it’s the small things which go the distance in determining how well a banjo sounds.  I also point out that Chris’ fret work is flawless.  No high frets; no hidden tangs to “getcha” when you move up the neck.  When he was doing the fret work we discussed using stainless steel frets but he was just beginning to work with stainless and I decided to use standard fret wire.  When I see Chris in later summer 2014 he’ll be doing a stainless steel fret job on this banjo.  As I understand stainless steel frets, they may impact tone for the better.  You’ll have to pick Chris’ brain on this item.  

When Chris finished the work on my banjo he packed it perfectly and properly and shipped it via USPS.  It arrived with no problem. To say I am pleased with the work is an understatement. Chris' work is impeccably good.  There are people who claim to be setup experts that go to Chris for the heavy lifting and the technical stuff they are unable to do.   You can do no better than have him work on your banjo. There are luthiers and then there are banjo luthiers. Chris is the latter.  If you want your banjo to sound its best trust it to Chris Cioffi.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by greenbriar (see all reviews from this person) on 1/22/2014

Overall Comments

  I am lucky enough to now own 2 banjos that Chris Cioffi worked over.
I am a believer that details matter,  I feel that part of the frustration that keeps us on the hunt for our next instrument, is that it seems so hard to find one that has it all.  
   All it can say is that his knowledge is exemplary, the results in playability, tone and volume have made playing easier and a lot more fun.
       The first banjo that I sent to Chris, was a Goldstar reissue from 03. I liked the feel of the neck, the first 100 have Cox rims and resonators so, it had potential. The nuts are new, they fit properly and the slots are cut properly now. Janet Davis told me that many new Gibsons needed work on the nuts, many good banjos have had, seemed to have tight flanges and tone rings that fit wrong.    But, both of my banjos now have the heel cut perfectly. The fingerboards and frets are...perfect now.
Lags are very important, I have owned top drawer banjos where the lags were not installed parallel and true. Some were even bent. Now, mine are right. Proper coordinator rod and nut tensions, head tension, etc....all these things together must matter and they must be right on mine because I feel a powerful vibration against my chest from these banjos, they play easy, the tone and volume are excellent up and down the neck.
   I highly recommend Chris for delicate and intricate repairs. Also, he doesn't just pull out old frets and smack in new ones, have him explain what all he does with the fingerboard to improve intonation and playability.  The heel fit is crucial, there is a lot going on to have it perfect.
   The banjo he just finished is a 1981 Gold Star  J.D. Crowe. Wow, it is hard to put down.
But, the crazy thing is, that chinese 2003 GF 85 is every bit as good as the Crowe in playability, intonation, tone and volume. I feel that he transformed and maxed them out.   Now, I don't have to trade, buy the latest and greatest parts or  spend time to tinker. I am a very satisfied customer.  

Kurt Rhodes

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by tsavery (see all reviews from this person) on 12/15/2013

Overall Comments

I had Chris do a significant amount of work on my 1991 gibson earl scruggs deluxe recently including: new frets, new heel cut, proper fitting of the tone ring to rim, planing the fingerboard, new head, new wadsworth bridge, and complete setup.  Chris's attention to detail is absolutely amazing,,as is his attention to tonal attributes.

After the initial settling in period, today my Scruggs Deluxe sings in its most optimal voice,with an amazing ease of play.  I can highly recommend Chris for any and all banjo setup, maintenance and lutherie work.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by The Pope (see all reviews from this person) on 8/13/2013

Overall Comments

My review of Chris Cioffi:

I noticed that my Williams Kenny Ingram Spl. #9 was getting so it wouldn’t fret right & the capo wouldn’t even make a true note on the second fret so I proceeded to look for a luthier that I could trust to do a good job refretting my banjo. There is a guy in the Bay Area (Larry Cohea) who builds good necks, a couple luthiers in my area, Frank Ford in Palo Alto & a guy in LA (where I used to live) named Randy Broyles who I’ve never met but have heard good things about. I also read all the reviews on the BHO & finally decided on Chris Cioffi to do the work. First off, he only works on banjos, second, he’s not afraid of stainless steel frets & third, he has OCD, which for a luthier, I think that puts him one step ahead! He also worked for Steve Huber & Robin Smith, both well-known banjo people. (I have two Robin Smith necks & they are nice!)

So I called him one weekend & we talked for 45 minutes about banjos in general & my KI specifically. I decided Chris was the luthier for me & I proceeded to make arrangements to go to Nashville & meet him. (I also have a good friend who’s a barbeque judge & the annual barbeque contest in Memphis was the weekend I was going; I knew I would eat well & plenty!)

I had a couple more e-mail conversations with Chris over the next weeks. On my appointment day, I spent about 6 hours with Chris. First, he showed me some banjos with SS frets he had just finished so I could give them a try before it was too late but each one was done well & he explained what was unique on each one, which also gave me confidence that he was extremely knowledgeable about resonator banjos in general.

I played my KI for him & then he played it himself. He didn’t say so explicitly but I could tell from his expression that he was not taken with its sound. Then we took it apart so he could tell how it was put together. Fretwork was not the only concern on my part: the fingerboard was butting up to the tension hoop & I was concerned about the tone ring fit.

So Chris took the reso & strings off & then proceeded to tear it down to parts. We noticed a couple things at this point: the coordinator rods were not parallel with each other, the holes in the rim were drilled improperly (which caused the coordinator rods to be off) and slightly elongated & Chris thought the neck was sitting too high on the pot. The tone ring fit was just right – it fell right off when we turned the rim over. However, the tone ring had moved so that it was sitting on the wood of the rim, probably because of tightening the head in the 6 years I had had it.

So what did Chris propose? Filling the holes in the rim & re-drilling them to fix the coordinator rods & also to lower the neck on the pot, a thorough refretting with stainless steel frets, steel coordinator rods, cutting the skirt on the rim down just a bit so the head wouldn’t bottom out when compressed by the tension hoop, new nut & pip & a new Huber head. (Chris likes using Huber’s because he put so many of them on when he worked there & is used to bringing them up to tension correctly.) The neck was about ¼” above the head & Chris said they should have the same height; this made me adjust my playing to avoid my thumbpick hitting the head. Haven’t quite accomplished this yet…

Chris has built a jig for refretting so that he can put the curve in the neck like it would be when strung up. A nice touch was that he sanded the fingerboard down to 2000 grit & it’s as smooth as a baby’s butt!

Chris warned me in advance that he likes to keep banjos for a while & would ship it back to me when it was finished. I had some concerns about shipping it but Chris did shipping for Steve & Robin for several years & I figured he would know what he was doing. (This was the first time I’d ever had a banjo shipped to me – I even went up Idaho & picked up the KI from Will Williams.)

He shipped in on Monday & it got here on Thursday. I had an afternoon gig that day so I didn’t get it ’til the next day at the manager’s office of my apartment. The box didn’t even look like it had been shipped. (Chris uses the USPS, not FedEx or UPS – I’ve had stuff come via those & they looked like apes had handled them!) It was also packed with lots of padding in the Calton case & more padding in the box itself.

So, how did it sound, Pope? Well, it was like getting a new banjo & I had to get used to it, mostly because of the neck re-setment. It sounded fabulous! It still had the bottom end that I liked from the get-go but now the volume was consistent from the open D string up to the last G position. You can feel the neck vibrating when you play it. My tuning problem got better as well; it stays in tune a lot better now, probably because it is put together better. My playing, once I got used to the banjo, has improved as well. I’ve found that I can now play stuff that I avoided (like the 10th fret choke from How Mountain Girls Can Love) & twister stuff like Flinthill Special. I used to put pencil lead or stuff like Lizard Spit or Slick Nutz on the bridge/nut but Chris recommended that I not do it because these things are sticky & will attract dust, etc., and end up not doing what I expect them to do, which is to make tuning and/or twisters work right (IOW, to come back to the correct note after tuning).

Ed Stacy (pipefitter61) quote:

Uhmmmm. I JUST played your banjo, Erik! One word: WOW!

I saw your case laying on the bench, and he obliged me by getting it out and showing me first hand some of the issues he had attended to. The frets looked fabulous. He picked on it, and offered it to me for a ride. The neck just hums inside your hand. Volume, and tone out the roof, dude. Effortless playability, and VERY responsive. I would play that banjo out ANYWHERE, against ANYTHING!

Anyone who’s been on the Banjo Hangout for any length of time know who pipefitter61 is and also knows that he knows his way ’round a banjo so I take that as a real complement!

I did spend more money than I had expected to but this was not Chris’s fault, it was that there were things that I hadn’t counted on repairing, such as moving the neck position. All in all, I was blown away by Chris’s knowledge of banjos & his way of doing things (like his fretting jig). He also communicated with me on every step of my banjos revitalization.

I’ll give him an 11!

Erik The Pope

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by CoalCreekBanjo (see all reviews from this person) on 8/7/2013

Overall Comments

I had collected all the parts (roughed out neck, unfinished rim, good tone ring, etc.) to build a nice walnut banjo, but between my day job and gigging, I never got around to working on this project... so everything set in a neat pile for several years. Finally getting tired of wiping the dust of the parts, I found Chris through his many positive reviews here on Banjo Hangout.

I have several banjos, so while I was looking forward to seeing the raw parts transformed into a nice instrument, I wasn't in a hurry, and I told Chris there was no rush. This was an ideal arrangement for both Chris and me - he spent a lot of time asking me questions about my preferences and explaining how he recommended we proceed. He wisely convinced me to upgrade the rim and a few other parts, but mostly used the components I originally sent him. He provided regular, detailed e-mail updates as the work progressed, and through numerous e-mail exchanges, I feel like he became a good friend as well as a trusted expert.

Chris sent the banjo to me in June - it was absolutely beautiful, exceptionally well packed, and the invoice was exactly what we discussed - no surprises. The tone is exceptional - it sure doesn't sound like a brand-new banjo!

I'm pretty picky about the sound I want to hear from a banjo, and this one has the tone and crack that I love - and I'm sure it will only get better as it settles in over the next several months.

The entire experience was a pleasure - I can 100% recommend Chris for his skill, attention to detail, and dedication to pleasing his customers.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Aladin (see all reviews from this person) on 7/7/2013

Overall Comments

As I was searching for a good banjo ukulele at a fair price (not an easy task these days), I had the bright idea to look at the Banjo Hangout classifieds, and found one about a Ludwig Wendell Hall.
I contacted directly the seller : Chris Cioffi.
After several mail exchanges in wich he really precisely described the instrument and sent me like 70 pictures of it, I decided to buy it.

I was ready to pay for the Ludwig as it was and then bring it to a luthier here in Belgium but he proposed me to work on it to put it in a playing condition, and with no extra costs ! An ukulele bridge had been glued to the skin long ago, Chris managed to take it back, cleaned the skin and remounted it. He cleaned all the instrument (aah, the metal parts look shiny now), made a new bone nut. He put on an old bridge and joined three other ones of different heights so I could choose the action I prefer. He also joined a new skin in case I was disappointed with the old one. And finally, he noticed the tuners buttons were a bit finicky so he joined 9 others.

He sent me mails every day with pictures and technical descriptions so I could follow his work, and give my thoughts about it.

He packed the banjo incredibly solidly (bulletproof I would say) and now that I have it in my hands, I can confirm he's made a really really beautiful and precise job. That's simple, I can't stop playing it. Hope my neighbours won't turn crazy.
Working on a 90 years old instrument is not an easy task, and I'm a bit meticulous but he fulfilled all my expectations .

He's also very friendly and had the patience to simplify his English so I could understand.
What was also great for me is that he's passionate about music and banjos. I learned a lot communicating with him and I've got just one regret : I'm living in Europe. If I was living in Usa, I know I would bring him my banjos to work on them, and chat about music and life with a good bottle of white wine.

Thank you Chris,

Alexandre

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by saltcreek (see all reviews from this person) on 6/20/2013

Overall Comments

Hello everyone , just wanted to give Chris a well deserved two thumbs up. I had a troublesome banjo that no matter what I did it didn't help, changed the tailpiece , head, bridges , it was just dead and after I saw Chris work his magic on my buddy Dicks prewar 2 I thought I'd see what he could do with this high end banjo that I knew had more to give but I couldn't get it out of it. Well he told me he wanted to spend a bit of time with it and just basically see what it is about. He really takes pride in his work and it shows, my banjo is a different animal, it absolutely blew me away, super great, don't hesitate to send him your Jo if you want it to give you it's maximum output, honestly I sent him a Ford and got back a Ferrari .

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by bhare5 (see all reviews from this person) on 3/14/2013

Overall Comments

Outstanding craftsmanship and tone; as close to perfection as is humanly possible. And I am speaking from personal experience. See the 2012 and 3/2013 review of the Wreath banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by uncle D (see all reviews from this person) on 3/13/2013

Overall Comments

Wandering the halls at SPBGMA, I found Chris working on banjo repairs. This being a rare sight in my area, I got him to revive my RK 80 from its dead state caused by a rim and tone ring problem; and he did so even with limited time and tools. (I brought the banjo to Nashville intending to sell.) I will keep it - it still plays as good as the day he fixed it. His attention to detail and precision work with an evident knowledge of Banjoism led me to declare him as the sole source for my RK and Stelling setups and repairs. Great work and a fair price. See you again, Chris!!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by rkane1 (see all reviews from this person) on 2/8/2013

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi did a amazing job on the set up on my RB 2 pre - war banjo , this was a free set up offered in Robin Smith suite at SPBGMA as a value added service .
Chris Cioffi is a very Talented luthier along with being a great person.
We all chase that Pre- War sound and i had it in my banjo and did not know it because the banjo needed work. I actually planned to sell this banjo. After the free set up this banjo woke up and the Pre-war sound came out ( I decided not to sell).
I can not explain in this review what Chris did to this banjo or the dramatic improvement in the sound.
All I can say is Chris Cioffi woke up a sleepy banjo and in turn woke up a sleepy banjo player .This taught me a lesson on the importance of a proper set and maintenance of your instruments.
Chris did an outstanding job and became a good friend.
Highly recommend.
Dick Kane

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by saltcreek (see all reviews from this person) on 2/3/2013

Overall Comments

Hi all, just real quick because I hate to type but I just witnessed something amazing, a friend and I just went down to the SPBGMA event in Nashville and one of the things we were hoping to do was sale his prewar 2 and although it was a decent banjo it didn't speak to him and he was going to sale it and pick up something else, I said lets stop by Robin Smiths suite and say hello and check out some of his banjos and there we met Chris and we decided to have him look it over and do some setup work, holy crap, it is a totally different banjo, a monster that we actually compared to a original flathead 18 that Robin had there and I could not believe it was the same banjo, just unbelievable, well he is keeping his banjo and although I take pride in my own setup work, Chris is on a different level he is a special guy that you can tell he loves what he does, I'm sending him one of my troublesome banjos this week, don't hesitate to give him a call, he knows magic . Tony Arcuri

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Haard (see all reviews from this person) on 12/28/2012

Overall Comments

Hello All. This review may get a little long and I appologize for that. A little background...I have played for about 35 years. I have owned both vintage and modern banjos. I gravitated to raised heads due to their resposiveness. I just couldn't find a flathead banjo a liked (and I tried and owned Gibsons, Deerings, Stellings, customs, etc.).

I had a mahogany RB-3/75 type parts banjo that sounded just like I remembered about flatheads...sort of dull sounding and not very responsive.

After much deliberation about what to do (sell/rebuild with a raised head/etc.) I contacted Chris Cioffi and we spoke about the banjo and banjo related issues. He suggested shipping the banjo to him for evaluation. I shipped the banjo and Chris promptly called me after looking over the banjo. He saw several issues that needed to be addressed (frets, neck heel set, parts assembly). I decided to proceed with the rebuild hoping it would make some difference, but frankly I was a little doubtful due to my previous experiences with flathead banjos.

When I got the banjo back, I hardly recognized it!!!! "Oh, this is what a flathead is SUPPOSED to sound like!!!!" Responsive, strong highs, growl on the D string, the flathead "pop" (which I really did not understand until now). All the workmanship was first class including the refinish by Andy (another Huber alumni).

I have waited a couple of months after getting the banjo to write this review to make sure it's not just the "honeymoon" symptom with a new banjo. This banjo is the real deal. It amazes me everytime I pick it up.

I now realize a good flathead is more than a assembly of parts. It is a selection of parts systematically mated and assembled in such a way to provide the best sound. And Chris Cioffi knows how to get the best sound out of a Mastertone style banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by dgoodnight (see all reviews from this person) on 12/22/2012

Overall Comments

This review is for the fourth banjo that Chris has re-built and set-up for me. The first banjo was my 1929 TB6 Checkerboard. The second banjo was my 1934 TB3. The third banjo was my mid-30s TB11. All turned out to be phenomenal banjos.

The fourth banjo is a "parts" banjo that has a history. I originally had a radius neck built because I had a Huber ring that I had and wanted to build a banjo around it. I sent the neck to Huber and asked him build a pot for the neck using his ring I sent to him. Interestingly, the pot was built by Chris Cioffi when he worked for Huber. As some of us banjos players get tempted to do, I wanted to try to get a different sound. I sold the Huber ring and replaced it with a 1990's era Granada ring. I never really liked the radius neck, so I commissioned a flat fingerboard neck for the banjo. Then I found a 1920's Oriole rim that I had put in the banjo. At the time the Oriole rim was installed, the other Luthier (not Chris) re-cut the neck heel in a way that I knew I would eventually have to have repaired. That is where Chris came in.

I sent the banjo to Chris for him to repair the heel so I could sell the banjo in good conscience. Once Chris saw the banjo, he suggested I let him completely re-work the instrument. Chris reshaped the neck to the same specs as my other banjos, re-fretted it with stainless steel frets, planed the fingerboard to get the correct relief, repaired the heel so well that you can't even tell, put a new nut in it and a new fifth string nut, filled the holes in the rim and re-drilled them to set the neck to prewar standards, re-turned the rim, refit the ring, had the neck refinished to match the neck and set it up.

I flew to Nashville in late November to play it and couldn't believe how it turned out. I also had the pleasure of having dinner with Chris and his wife Christy as they have become good friends of mine.

Now I will NEVER sell this banjo. It sounds as good, if not better, than my prewar banjos. As Chris says, I have a good problem in that I don't know which one to play; they are all great banjos.

I have one more banjo Chris is working on; an open back SS Stewart made by Slingerland in the mid-20s. He is resetting the neck so I can play it and I am sure it will turn out great.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; no one but Chris will EVER touch any of my banjos ever again.

Thanks Chris for being such a phenomenal luthier who never compromises on quality.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by DRC (see all reviews from this person) on 11/22/2012

Overall Comments

Banjo: 1984 Gibson-Earl Scruggs Model and vintage Granada. I previously had some work done on my banjo before contacting Chris Cioffi for new restorations. I was still having some issues with the banjo before I contacted Chris. A friend of mine and I went from North Carolina to Tennessee to spend the day with Chris at his shop. There we met him and his wife and they treated us like family. Chris did an excellent job restoring my banjo to impeccable condition. Chris rebuilt my "old" banjo unto a "new" banjo. He did a complete rebuild/restoration on it. Chris replaced a rim, resonator, gave it a new neck and added stainless steel frets. The banjo plays and sounds amazing now. I could not have asked for a better job to be done on my banjo. I have had lots of work performed on many instruments of mine in the past and he by far has done the best job of all. Chris is an excellent choice when choosing someone that takes the time, has the knowledge and the expertise in this business. Chris also did a neck reset on my vintage Granada, replaced the head, bridge, added a neck set, strings, and replaced a 5th string nut. When he completed this banjo as well, the sound, playability, and tone increased dramatically.
The character and integrity that Chris has for his craftsmanship are things that are hard to find these days. He displays interest and effort with whatever project that he is completing. Whether it be restoring a vintage banjo or correcting problems, he takes his time and puts forth effort that is hard to come by sometimes. He is never too busy to sit and answer questions about the instrument and to explain the work that he has completed. I encourage and recommend others to seek out Chris when in need of someone to work on their instruments.
At this time, he has my 1925 Gibson 3, he is in the process of building a new neck for the banjo. At the same time he is repairing everything that needs to be replaced to be in perfect playing condition once again. I trust him to do these things on my instruments. I hold my instruments very dear to my heart and he is the kind of individual that treats my instrument as I would. I have complete faith in Chris that he will restore my 1925 Gibson 3 banjo into working order just as he has already completed my 1984 Gibson –Earl Scruggs Model and vintage Granada.
I have read other previous reviews about Chris Cioffi and they are correct. A big thank you is in order for Chris and all of his hard work. Thank you for all of the time and effort you have put into all of my banjos. I give Chris a rating of an overall 10!
Dannie R. Cashwell
If you have any question please contact me on banjo hangout, user name DRC.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Bigbadbucksnort (see all reviews from this person) on 11/5/2012

Overall Comments

Banjo: Huber Lancaster (owned by two previous owners who had either had or done sub-par work on the banjo before selling it to me).

Work Done:
1) Neck set
2) Remove neck-heel lag screws, dowel holes, re-drill and re-insert lag screws
3) Neck adjustment for better seating
3) Plug and re-drill all some of the coordinator-rod holes in the rim, some of which had been ovalled out for some reason by previous owners
4) New head
5) New bridge (Wadsworth) hand-picked for this particular banjo
6) New nut
7) Various finish work (peghead, rim, etc.)
8) Lowered action for playability

There were several problems with this banjo, perhaps the most conspicuous of which was the fact that the neck wobbled unless extremely tightened against the pot. And while it was a decent banjo, it was one that you had to fight to get good tone and playability out of it. A session with this banjo would leave you thinking it had something, but it wore you out trying to get it to respond. During certain seasonal changes it was practically unplayable.

I'm not a huge fan of choosing banjos for their tone. I believe in pre-war tone, and it sounds great, but I've both had and played banjos that sound great but are way too hard to play. I have therefore always chosen playability and volume over tone. I sent the banjo to Chris not asking for anything but playability and volume from whatever work he did. I told him what I thought of as the ideal banjo tone. It goes like this: imagine you have twins who can mimic each others' playing identically and perfectly. Imagine one of them picking a real fat, bottom-end, firecracker-in-a-washtub type banjo. Imagine the other picking not a sharp, but a bright, splattery, wet, crunchy sort of banjo. Imagine both pickers picking the same song at the same time, every note picked at the exact same time. My ideal, I told him, was for a banjo to sound like those two banjos simultaneously, producing both that bottom-end and that sparkle-bell at the same time. I threw this out there only after really impressing on him that the playability was what I was really after--experience had taught me not to hope for much more in the tone department.

What I got back from him was EXACTLY what I had been looking for, in terms of playability, volume, AND tone. I couldn't believe it. Given the subjective nature of these descriptions (of all banjo-tone descriptions), he nevertheless hit the nail right on the head. I've got a banjo now that sounds like those two banjos playing simultaneously. And I say this as someone who doesn't normally give a flip about "dude, listen to the tone of my banjo"--these things mean nothing to me if the banjo can't be played. I'm about as jaded towards tone as anyone could be. I think it wastes a lot of people's time. But what I've got in my hands now has re-awoken that love of tone I used to have, and it's something I can do now because I've got a banjo that both responds to my input and produces good tone no matter what the input is.

The tone up the neck is crazy clear and sweet and good--as sweet as a fresh nut at Christmas time. EASY easy playing up the neck now.

Furthermore, he did what I would have considered impossible, and that is accomplish this with a relatively wimpy action. I'm just below 1/8" at the twelfth fret, but you'd swear the strings were 1/4" high as far as volume and tone goes. As for playability, the strings feel closer to 1/16"-1/32".

Just an incredible job all the way around. I have never enjoyed playing the banjo as much as I do now. Low action at the nut; good action up the neck, a stable feeling to the banjo--holding the neck now is like holding onto a lawnmower. Tremendous projection out into the room. Bang, bang, bang. He killed it.

As any conversation with him will make manifest, Chris is pulling from a very wide and extensive knowledge of banjos to bring to the table many options for his customers to get what they want out of their banjos. He makes it clear he's not a magician; but whatever exists within the limitations of a given instrument, he will find it and bring it out.

One final note: the only thing I'm disappointed about is the fact that, after hearing me complain (unjustly I'll admit) that hearts-and-flowers inlays remind me of Care Bears, I was sorely disappointed to find that not one of my inlays had been replaced with something metal or hardcore to offset my discomfort with girly accoutrements on the banjo. ;)

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by rrager (see all reviews from this person) on 11/1/2012

Overall Comments

Simply The Best
I think there might even be a song entitled Simply The Best. I’ve always wondered how would anybody ever knows who is the best at whatever. There is no way, as an example, that you would ever even be able to sample all the different Chili recipes to know which one is the best or to know who is the best mechanic in the world or who knows the most about American History and so on. However I think I may have found a person who knows more about banjos than anyone else. Now that’s a profound statement and I realize that. How would I know if he is the best in the world, I don’t even know all the banjo experts in the world. You remember the old adage though, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck. Well that’s kinda where I am with this. Chris Cioffi in my opinion is Simply The Best when it comes to banjos. He not only knows the history behind the banjo better than anybody I have ever talked to, he also knows all the intricate details that are involved in making a banjo sound the way a banjo was supposed to sound. Oh, I forgot to mention that he is also one of the best banjo players I have ever heard. Wow that’s a lot to swallow. I met Chris about 7 years ago when I started taking banjo lessons from him. He and I kinda hit it off and not only was I taking lesson from him but he would occasionally play a gig with me. I always enjoyed playing when Chris was on the banjo. Long story short Chris built me a banjo that is Simply The Best. I have been to the Ryman, Station Inn and so on and have listened to all the great pickers and so far I wouldn’t trade the way my banjo sounds and plays for anything I have heard. This banjo is amazing. I have took it to really good pickers and have let them play it just to get feedback and to watch their facial expressions as they play this Chris Cioffi made banjo. It’s always the same: Where did you get this, This thing is unbelievable, If you ever want to sell this banjo, and so on. When I have played other banjo’s since I have owned this one it’s not the same. I have even looked down to make sure that the mute wasn’t left on the banjo I was playing. That’s the truth!! If you want the best, in my opinion, look no further than this guy. He can take your banjo and turn it into the best that it can be. It’s like taking your car to the garage and putting it on the machine that identifies the problem. Chris is the guy that can listen to your banjo and he is the machine that knows exactly what it takes to turn your banjo into the best banjo that it can be. I got lucky, he actually built me one. If you are disappointed and are wondering if your banjo is set up exactly right to get the most out of it. Look no further, this is your guy. Oh and if you are lucky enough to talk him into building you one from the ground up you will be writing a review like me. I have never written a letter of recommendation before for anybody but I felt strong enough about this to let you know about this amazing Luthier.


Rocky Rager
Elkton, Ky.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by 5Twang (see all reviews from this person) on 9/14/2012

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi Review


I made the decision a few years ago to get all the 15 to 20 banjos in my collection in perfect condition. I’ve accumulated these banjos the 40 plus years I’ve been involved with the banjo as a player, teacher, store owner, concert promoter and builder/set-up/repairman. I’ve had the good fortune to own, examine and study dozens of pre-war banjos and all makes of the post war and modern era banjos.
Some of the work I did myself. A few of the banjos needed procedures beyond my current facility, equipment and skill capabilities. Most of the work was accomplished in a satisfactory manner by some of the well known figures in the banjo repair business.
There was one banjo in my collection I felt was more special than any other I owned. I knew I had to find precisely the right person, for this banjo, before I would be comfortable surrendering it for the work it needed. Chris Cioffi turned out to be precisely the right person and will tell you why in the following paragraphs.

What banjo am I talking about?

The banjo is a 1931 style 3, 40 hole archtop, two-piece flange, Gibson plectrum. Some years before I acquired the banjo, the original plectrum neck had been beautifully converted to a five string neck. The conversion work is almost undetectable. This banjo represents the closest possibility I have of owning an original five string pre-war Gibson Mastertone. The metal hardware and the condition of the original woodwork is quite nice. The sound of the banjo as I acquired it was very good. As many would say, “ For a two-piece flange, 40 - hole archtop, that ain’t a bad banjer! ”

What did I want to have done?

The PB-3, after it’s conversion to five string, had been fretted with the small mandolin fret wire, which would have been appropriate in 1931, but not really what we have become accustomed to in recent years; the fretboard had become slightly grooved after 80 years of playing; the fit of the heel to the pot was in noticeable need of improvement.

Why did I choose Chris Cioffi?

I had been aware of Chris for many years due to his excellent reputation as a banjo player. I met him on one occasion at a vintage instrument show in the Nashville area and I had seen him on another occasion when he was a key figure in the shop of a well-known banjo manufacturer. We corresponded a few times relative to banjo parts and components he offered for sale, at various banjo related sites. What gave me the idea to contact Chris about my very special banjo was his use of the screen name “ tubeandplate “. I figured a fellow secure enough in his banjo masculinity to identify himself with a two-piece flange might view my banjo in a different light than many in the banjo world.

When I called Chris and described my banjo and the issues I wanted addressed, I was treated to an enthusiastic and lengthy conversation that revealed a depth of knowledge and love for vintage banjos, tube and plate archtops, one piece flange flatheads, and makers other than Gibson, that was stunning and refreshing. He anticipated other issues that might be discovered once he personally examined my banjo and speculated about how the historical and vintage aspects of the instrument could be preserved while bringing this banjo in line with modern playability and tonal expectations. Never did Chris minimize the difficulty of what he might need to do and even detailed operations he had performed on other banjos that I found astounding.

There were other indicators in our conversation that I was communicating with someone on a different level than anyone else I had dealt with in banjo restoration and construction. For example, Chris stated that he likes to use vintage handtools and pre-war era lathes and fixtures whenever possible; he spoke of using finely sharpened chisels when accomplishing critical neck sets and fitting; he spoke of shifting to a sculptor’s mindset when shaping necks and pegheads; and he has an obsession with the centerline of the banjo. I thought I was the only person with the centerline obsession. I’ve had a neck built with the peghead leaning to one side of the neck shaft; the whole neck leaning to one side relative to the pot; and coordinator rod holes drilled at an angle in the rim. All of these off the centerline efforts were the work of well-known banjo specialty shops.

After this telephone conversation with Chris and viewing the astonishing online photographs of his work, which also revealed his orderly, organized, clean, well equipped shop, I knew that I had indeed found precisely the right person to restore the PB-3.

What did Chris do to the PB-3 conversion?

Chris determined that the fingerboard of this banjo, is slightly thinner than the 1/8” dimension that is expected on a pre-war Gibson. For this reason, he recommended a filling procedure rather than planing. Also, given the thinness and the age of this fingerboard, Chris recommended the use of stainless steel frets, so that the likelihood of this fingerboard having to be traumatized in the future is minimized. This reasoning was sound to me. Why not use a modern product to add longevity to a vintage treasure?

On more than one occasion, while keeping me updated on the progress with my banjo, Chris uttered the phrase, “I want to think about it a little longer.” This reminded me of my father’s approach to the woodworking projects we worked on in my childhood. I learned early on to appreciate a cautious mindset in woodworking.

Usually Chris was saying this relative to how the fit of the heel to the pot was going to be corrected. He had already told me he would probably have to graft more wood into the heel area to do the neck set correctly. I had seen the impressive photographs of how Chris did this to a style 6 Gibson conversion neck.

In order to create sufficient wood mass to allow Chris to properly profile the heel, to comply with the bridge height and playing action I specified, the grafting procedure was agreed upon and masterfully accomplished. Chris did the grafting in such a manner that should a future neck set be necessary, to use a higher bridge or change the action, there will be enough wood mass for this to be done.

As challenging as this grafting procedure was, bringing the new wood into a marriage with the vintage heel, Chris took the procedure to a higher level by preserving the original tube channel that had been cut in Kalamazoo, in 1931.

Once the grafting process was completed, Chris had to shift from the structural engineer mindset to the sculptor mindset. All the excess wood had to be painstakingly shaped and blended into the surrounding vintage heel. Along with his artistically impressive shaping of the heel, the contact area of the heel to the pot could not possibly be more perfectly accomplished.

I encourage all readers to view the ongoing pictorial update Chris provided, during this grafting procedure, at my Banjo Hangout Homepage: Mike Mason/5Twang.

Concurrent with the work on the fingerboard and the heel grafting, Chris explored the status and health of the rim and the overall fit of the tone ring. He identified no major structural issues, but did take some preemptive measures to ensure no problems arise. This involved seeping glue into some areas of the rim and securely clamping them. The rim had understandably swollen since leaving the factory, so Chris properly adjusted the fit.
Also, Chris determined that the tube was a little tight on the outside of the rim. He modified the fit so that just the right amount of pressure was detected when the tube was snapped into place.

All of this fitting was accomplished with no cosmetic disturbing of the external finish of the rim.

Additionally, a pre-war style, aged bone fifth string pip was created, as was an aged bone nut. Also, a very nice, period correct Mastertone block was inlayed.

Conclusion and Summary

My foregoing statements and descriptions no doubt convey to the reader my utmost admiration for Chris Cioffi’s knowledge and skill relative to banjo restoration. But, there are character, work ethic qualities and a striving for excellence and perfection that are almost a throw back to a bygone era in American craftsmanship. He displays the same interest and puts forth the same effort, whether restoring a vintage banjo, or correcting problems and improving a modern production banjo.

My PB-3 conversion, now has the proper heel contact to the pot; modern gauge stainless steel frets; new nut and fifth string pip; rut free fingerboard; properly fitted tone ring and flange tube. The all important playability and tone results Chris achieved are beyond meaningful superlatives. It has to be experienced to be believed. When he first received my banjo, I got a call from him saying that there was something tonally about my PB-3, that haunting tone and feeling that some banjos have and some never will. Then he added, “But, I’m sure I can make it even better.” This was not an idle statement on his part. I assure you the performance of my banjo, the excellence of the workmanship and the overall experience with Chris Cioffi during the process is at a level beyond any expectation I could have wished for.

I encourage all readers to view the ongoing pictorial update Chris provided, during all stages of his work, at my Banjo Hangout Homepage: Mike Mason/5Twang.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by PaulB (see all reviews from this person) on 9/3/2012

Overall Comments

what can i say other than what other people have said. chris has done a outstanding job for me on my banjo. i had purchased an rk-80 a few year,s back , after playing this banjo for awhile and i was leraning what to listen for in a banjo as far as quailty goes, i started to hear small changes in this banjo. small rattlling noises buzzes fretting and non frrtting. the frets were starting to get bad as well. so rather than try to fix it my self i thought i would give chris a call. one night when i was listening to banjo talk dave had cliff fitch on the show talking about set up and repair, so the next day i called cliff and asked him about a set up and having some work done, that,s when he told me that he going out of the banjo business and he told me that chris was the man i should talk to. so after a while i called chris and talked to him about the problems i was having with my rk. chris explaned to me what could be going on with my banjo. i sent my banjo to chris to have him check it over . i agreed to have chris tear my banjo down and check it over. chris called me bavk about a week later to let me know what he had found. i knew it had problems so i had chris do the work he had recomeded. i opted for the stainless steel frets. also had him install a cox rim, chris did a complete set up and pepair. hand fit the tone ring to the new rim,new huber head,a complete neck rest ,level the finger board. new bone nut because the one on the banjo was plastic. bone fith string nut. reset L-bracket,s and put hubber screws in them. polish pearl and fret board. polish all the metal part,s as well. after the work was done chris did a complete set up on the banjo. what can i say . i am vary happy with chris,s work he kept me informed every step of the way. let me know the what where and why the parts that need to be replaced . here is the best part, after i got my banjo back from chris it looked better than new and after about three weeks i was noticing some changes going on with my banjo. when i got my banjo back the sound was the cleanest i have heard in a long time. the notes were to me extra chrisp and clean no buzzing no rattles just the tone was as it should be. last week i was playing cripple creek and this banjo just woke up so to speak. i was so excited i called chris jus to let him know what had happened, chris had told me that as thing,s settle in it will just get better. i know this to be true because my brother had bought a guitar back in the late sixties hollow body that,s what we called them then. and after all the year,s that thing is as mellow as can be. the more you play the mellower it get,s. it,s all in the wood and a good set up to begin with. so in closing if you are looking for some one to repair and setup your banjo give chris a call. paulb.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Rich C (see all reviews from this person) on 6/4/2012

Overall Comments

4 June 2012
I do not know where to start, after reading all the reviews/pedigree of Chris Cioffi, I cannot say much more than what has already been said. I wanted more out of my banjo! I could tell there was potential in it. I made some adjustments tinkered with it, and did get some improvement, but something was still missing. So I started here on BHO looking at all the luthier reviews, one name stood out, Chris Cioffi. So I contacted him we talked about an hour, when it was all said and done, I wanted him to work on my banjo. It just happened that I was going to Knoxville Tn. to see the Punch Brothers; so on my way back swing by Chris’s let him check out my banjo, a Recording King RK87. He had a lot of good things to say about the components of the RK’s, we went over the things he found that could be improved; we agreed on a course of action, and a quote of work to be done, talked about the poly finish being tricky to work around, and some other things. I decided to take it a little further than you might with an instrument that is barely a year old, I went with a stainless steel fret job; the frets on the banjo had already shown a LOT of wear I practice every day. I had put a Tony Pass Thin Skirt rim on it, so he did a neck set installed a bone nut, a new 5th string bone nut; a pre-war sculpted/turned style, ( looks Great ) hand fit the tone ring, the flange was excessively tight. He communicated with me through the whole time on the progress, found a couple things that were not discovered until he had taken the banjo apart, which I understand being a mechanical guy all my life.
So now for the results….. I drove back down to his shop to pick it up ( I live 5 hours away ) after some chat, I got to see my banjo after 6 weeks, it was done in about 3 ½ weeks, I could not get down there due to my work. First thing I noticed was the fret board was stunning, the polished stainless frets, polished finger board and pearl were incredible, looked like a different neck, the whole banjo kinda glowed, action was perfect not the same banjo. So I had Chris pick it for me so I could hear it, when playing an instrument you don’t quite hear what everyone else does. When he started playing I was looking for the patch cord to the amp…: ) some of the notes he dug into made me wince, I almost couldn’t stand in front of it, very clean, lots of punch when you wanted it, everywhere on the board. So after playing it for a couple minutes we went over the things he felt it lacked, it was nothing major they were problems that were inherent of my banjo. I believe Chris got everything that my particular instrument could produce, with the components I have. He is very personable, passionate about his work and loves the banjo. I believe his exposure to dozens of prewar banjos, contact with many professional players, and years of experience add to his gift, and ear for what is right. Take the time… to read all the reviews. There is a lot to be said about a properly set up instrument, he really brought out Greg Rich’s work behind the Recording King Banjos. I think you will agree that all of Chris’s reviews say the same thing, one great Banjo Luthier.
Rich Collins

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by greenbriar (see all reviews from this person) on 5/6/2012

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by greenbriar (see all reviews from this person) on 5/6/2012

Overall Comments

Chris transformed a banjo for me. He is a detail person, he is a banjo player, he has extensive experience. His fret job and work to the fingerboard made it so much easier to play.
After he recut the neck to better fit the pot, the banjo came alive so to speak. One detail that he fixed on this banjo, I had not thought of.
The lag screws are often installed closer to the fingerboard than is ideal. He plugged and reset them, for the best profile. The neck is now at a better position against the rim. He explained that if the neck is mounted higher or lower against the rim, the tone is affected.
Now, the neck and resonator resonate like no other banjo I have played.
Chris maximizes a banjo.
He takes what you send him and perfects the fit and tone.
One aspect that I notice, is that this banjo is so stable.
It is much easier and faster to play. The fingerboard is greatly improved and I am always surprised at how good it sounds and plays. I don't want to adjust anything, I seem to hear what I hear on good recordings. I forgot to mention that the tone up the neck is now noticeably better than ever.
I was able to understand and justify the money I spent to get a quality banjo or components. I knew that set up is very important. I
now think that most any banjo can be improved greatly.
One great banjo is all I want or need.
If I get a different banjo, I believe that Chris will take it to the next level.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Rian Adams (see all reviews from this person) on 4/18/2012

Overall Comments

A very special thank you to Chris Cioffi

I own (and never plan to part with) a 98’ Gibson RB-3. My grandfather bought me the banjo new in 98 and I played it quite a bit over the years through college and graduate school. Needless to say it was showing a little wear, especially on the frets. All that time the banjo seemed to be missing “something” that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, no matter how much I tried to “tweak” it myself. So, like so many banjo players before me, I took the plunge and bought a Huber tone ring hoping that would help push it over the edge. It didn’t. The honest truth is there wasn’t a difference in the banjo after I bought the tone ring than before. I even let a friend of mine who of was a self-proclaimed “set-up genius” work on it. Everything I did and everything he did didn’t bring out the depth and roundness of tone that I knew was missing. Us banjo players are a weird bunch, we will fork out HUNDREDS on a tone ring but will fight tooth and nail to avoid sending the banjo to a professional set-up artist because it’s so “expensive.”

Well, after months of consideration, I sent by Gibson -3 to Chris to let him look over it and make some recommendations. When we talked Chris was a little backed up (which was a great sign to me) but was certainly willing to take on the project. From the beginning I got the feeling that Chris was a good ole’ boy who was trust worthy and extremely thorough. I felt like he would treat my banjo as if it were his, which was more than enough to persuade me to send it to him. When the banjo arrived at his place in TN Chris called me back, we went over all his recommendations and I said “do whatever she needs.” During the process we ran into a speed bump or two and Chris was quick to call me to make sure I approved of any changes before he made them.

I am a Military Chaplain and I told Chris I was planning on taking the banjo with me to Afghanistan. We did quite a bit to the banjo;
Replaced all the frets
New bone nut
New coordinator rods
Neck Set
Speed neck
Tone ring & flange fitting
Installed 5th string spikes
Speed Neck
Change worn out tuners
New tail piece (I bent the old one learning how NOT to set a banjo up)
New head
Total set-up

There is probably more stuff that I’m forgetting. All of this came with what I considered a reasonable price. Much cheaper than a boutique tone ring! Chris shipped the banjo back to me and when I opened it up I honestly thought he had sent me the wrong banjo. He, at no additional fee, had cleaned the whole thing and polished all the metal. The banjo looked BRAND new. But I was really dumfounded when I took it out of the case and played it. Not only did he bring out what I felt was “missing” but he added a new element in the banjo’s tone. It’s richer, more precise and twice as loud.

I took the banjo with me to Afghanistan and thankfully it was fortunate enough to survive (thankfully I did too…). Through the countless THOUSANDS of air miles and all the rocket blasts the banjo never needed ANY kind of adjustments. It’s been over two years since I got this banjo back from Chris and I haven’t even tightened the head and the frets show no signs of wear. From this point on Chris alone will do the work on my banjos. I did a video review on youtube about Chris’ work, it can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0R-SUxeZC0

Chris made a HUGE difference in my banjo and through it all I gained a friend. I think he has some kind of magic wand he uses on banjos; I just hope he keeps it under lock and key. If you’re like me and only the best will do then don’t hesitate to give Chris a call, he’s in the business of turning an ordinary banjo into a masterpiece that’s sure to be a family heirloom. My banjo has found a home for life, I hope to pass it on to my son one day thanks to Chris!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Chadwich (see all reviews from this person) on 4/5/2012

Overall Comments

I am fortunate enough to live about 30 minutes from Chris so I've spent a lot of time at his shop in the last few months and have gotten to know him fairly well. He's very knowledgeable on all things banjo and actually knows how they are suppose to fit together.

I have a 1926 TB3 with a Huber conversion ring in it that I just got back from him. I actually quit playing for about 7 years because the banjo just didn't feel good playing it and the tone was just so so. Let me tell ya folks, I can't put it down now. Chris knows what he's doing because in the 12 years that I have owned this banjo it has never sounded or played like it does now. The tone is absolute perfection, it has gobs of volume you wouldn't believe and it just feels like a banjo now. It's got the deepest growl of any banjo I've ever heard. I'm amazed at how much better it is. Within 10 seconds of playing it I could tell that he really "opened" the sound of if up. Hard to explain unless you actually experience it but it's clearer, louder and just has an openess to the sound I've never heard from the banjo before. When I went to pick it up on sunday it sounded amazing sitting there listen to Chris pick it. And yes he can pick and quite well I might add (really good with the Reno stuff) unlike some luthiers who don't even play the banjo!

This man is an absolute perfectionist, I've seen it with my own eyes. You just can't find this type of workmanship nowadays in any field of work. I usually do most everything myself because you just can't find people that care about their work nowadays but I have no problem letting him work on my other banjo. He actually thinks about his work instead of being a get in get out type of service provider. I had the privilege of seeing some other banjos he was repairing and setting up and the painstaking detail he goes thru to make sure it is right amazes me. I got to pick 3 other banjos he had just finished up also and they all were excellent banjos.

On my banjo he started with re-carving the neck because it was a fairly hefty piece of wood. He allowed me to come to the shop during the process and get a feel of the neck and see if it suited me. If it didn't he would continue carving until I was satisfied with it.

After that I wanted to add some inlay in between the 14th and 15th fret which looks better than any piece of inlay that was already on the neck. We decided on stainless frets which will probably outlast me playing the banjo and I'm glad we did. The frets and fingerboard are smooth as silk, there's no scratchy feeling when doing chokes or pull offs like there is with traditional fret wire. I also went with a speed neck which is smooth as a baby butt now, the neck feels great compared to the big chunk of wood it was before.

I arrived at his shop at about 2 sunday afternoon after he had called me to let me know it was ready, I left at 1:30 monday morning. That's how dedicated he is in making sure it's just like you want it. We picked it as is with the huber ring for a while and then I had a special tone ring I had made that I wanted to try out so right there on the spot he changed the ring for me and we picked it with that ring for awhile changing bridges and messing with head tension and action making sure we got everything out of that banjo we could. You just don't get service like that everyday.

Almost forget, the neck was nowhere near being inline with the tailpiece or co rods when I took it to him. I had to shove the tailpiece all the way over to one side just to get it to sort of line up with the neck. It's kinda sad the workmanship (or lack thereof) that went into this neck from a different luthier when I first got it. After Chris worked his magic on it I can sight down the neck from the tailpiece and the third string is straight as an arrow now all thanks to his neckset with out any need to shove the tailpiece one way or the other. I've partially witnessed his neckset process and I don't know how he has the patience to do it but it's second to none.

Overall you just can't ask for better workmanship and you can't ask for someone to go to any more trouble than he did of making sure it was done right and the end result is the way you want it.

Dare I call him a mad scientist of banjo repair and setup? Experience his wok for yourself and you'll see what I'm talking about it!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by banjodr (see all reviews from this person) on 3/26/2012

Overall Comments

I have known Chris many years now dating back to the days he worked at Huber Banjos. Chris, Steve, and myself spent a lot of time "slappin down" different banjos and setups. I trusted Chris with the neck set on my new neck that Steve built for my Gibson PB-3 serial number 9524 series (the Ebay banjo). It was dead on. Steve actually played that banjo on several gigs with Kenny and Amanda Smith. Then I was fortunate enough to purchase an arch top one piece flange Gibson Granada from Wyatt Fawley. It was in pretty rough shape and after I purchased a gold style 18 original Flathead ring and it was installed along with a new neck constructed and once again Chris rose to the occasion on the setup. There were many different Huber models I purchased or traded for during that period that I had him match the setup on also. I remember a 20's style 4 arch top 2 piece flange chrome banjo that Chris set up and Steve and I both thought it was as good as any flat head banjo we'd played in a while at that time. There were several more arch tops that he set up that I played and the were all great. I dubbed him the master of arch top setup. I would highly recommend Chris for any I mean ANY type of repair, setup, new construction on your banjo. Feel free to contact me also for an individual recommendation for Chris. I would trust him with my banjo even if I was Earl!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by bhare5 (see all reviews from this person) on 12/31/2011

Overall Comments

Greetings to all my fellow 5-string enthusiasts and afficionados. I am intending to write a review on Chris Cioffi, of whom I have been acquainted since Nov. 1982. Some background : we met on one of my visits to Florida to visit with family, and I was rather astonished at the knowledge Chris had already amassed, even at the age of 15. I had been playing about 7 years, and thought I was knowledgeable about banjos, but talking to Chris, I realized he was really a banjophile, esp. on the pre-wars. Anyway, we became good friends and fellow pickers in the area, and I saw his rapid advancement on the 5-string, and his study of the banjo as well. After his re-location to Tennessee around 1990, we hadn't been too close in communication, but I knew he was still quite taken by the banjo. Some time later, we talked and shared some stories, I had been playing thumbstyle guitar as well as 5-string, and we kept in touch. Well about Sept. 2009, Chris called to announce his opening of a banjo shop, to mainly set-up, repair, and restore 5-string banjos. I was excited, knowing his attention to detail and respect for the Craftsmen of the old days. When talking about future banjos, I mentioned that I would someday like to have Style 3 banjo, mahogany, but I'd never be able to afford any of the pre-wars. Well, the subject of raised-head tone rings came up, and we decided to plan a banjo built around a pre-war Mastertone raised-head tone ring, with the standard dimensions and materials of the old 3s. Being a patient man, and already having 2 fine flatheads, I told Chris to take his time, no hurries, no worries. We did talk frequently as the "Wreath" was coming about. On Wed. Nov. 9 2011 the completed Wreath arrived, having been expertly packaged for shipping, and I was very excited to check it out. I knew of Chris' reputation as a luthier, and I knew he and I both liked the same tonal qualities of the ideal banjo sound, but when I picked up that banjo and played a few notes, I was blown away by the sound. Mind you, this instrument had only been assembled for a couple weeks, and had only had a couple hours play time, so I was not expecting a powerhouse right away...but it was. Crisp, clear tones, sweet spots from near the bridge right up to the fingerboard! I was shaking from the sound!!! And the inlay, binding, finish are flawless. I wanted to go with the subdued look, nothing too fancy, but the elegance is obvious when you see this banjo. Needless to say, it came out even more exqusite than I expected. (And I had really high expectations on this banjo!) And most satisfying, in addition to the sound, is the playability and feel of the instrument----I find myself doing the right and left-hand licks so effortlessly on this banjo---and I have owned several top-notch flatheads too--but this Wreath plays like a dream. Oh, and to squelch a myth about raised-heads and bass response-----not so. This banjo has full bass and great balanced tone all over the neck. So I guess it has to do with the set-up. This is my review of Chris---he did an outstanding job on this banjo, and if you would like to have one of the best work on your 5-string, you better get in line- my nest project for Chris will be frets on my 04 OME top-tension flathead ( and a super set-up too). Thanks Chris, you made a fine banjo for me. I'll post some photos when I am not spending my spare time playing this wonderful banjo ! Sincerely, Bill Hare 12/31/11. ******************* Update 3/14/2013 ******************** Well it's been an exciting 16 monts since the Wreath arrived................I have been playing and performing in a multitude of venues since last November 2011, and I am overwhelmed by this banjo's development.........not only in the tone and sweet spots, but the range of volume and depth............the guys in my group have asked me to step back even further form the mike in our gigs........this banjo projects well over 6 feet into a Shure dynamic mike.......Beta SM57A ( a great instrumen mike by the way) and for back up and chordal playing it is. well, I know the term is overused these days, but AWESOME is the word that comes to mind......EPIC is another good term ------- if you want to hear a live recording or two, checl out "Blue Cypress Bluegrass" on Youtube. Look for the banjo tunes..... I think you will get the total feeling of the instrument....If you want some top quality banjo set-up, repair , restoration, of if you want a custom-built instrument, check with Chris. He is not real fast, but I can tell you, when it's done, it will be done right!!!!!!!!!!!! Check some of his other reviews. Well, back to the banjo......and I'll let you know how things work out on my '04 OME toptension. Can't wait for that one to get the Royal Treatment. Best regards to all the 5-string players out there.,Bill Hare.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by booper (see all reviews from this person) on 9/22/2011

Overall Comments

I would like to HIGHLY recommend Chris Cioffi as a luthier. He recently did a lot of work on my 1980 (ish) Gibson RB250. OH MY GOODNESS! It has now GOT to be one of the best sounding RB250's of that era around. He had to replace the two-piece flange with a one-piece flange and in the process had to rebuild the heel. Absolutely beautiful work! I had him put stainless steel frets on it and replace other parts as well. I would suggest that anyone using Chris as a luthier go with his recommendations. He is so very knowledgeable and can tell you exactly what your banjo needs, but he will always leave the choice up to you. During the whole repair process, Chris made sure to keep me very well informed and always gave me every opportunity for any input.
I feel very grateful that my banjo ended up in his workshop. Not only is he a perfectionist but integrity is very important to him.
He's just the "king of luthiers!" And I also feel that, even though I have never met him in person, that I have a new friend.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by mtilghman (see all reviews from this person) on 8/28/2011

Overall Comments


I wanted to express my appreciation for some work Chris Cioffi did for me recently, and thought perhaps a review would be appropriate.

A few years back I picked up a brand new reissue Gold Star GF-100 pretty cheap. It was a nice looker, but I did not play it much because of some construction issues that needed addressing by someone with the appropriate tools and knowledge. I thought it might have some potential, and I had read some of the comments posted here, so I called Chris and spoke with him about it for quite a while.

I didn't expect a miracle, but I didn't have a fortune invested in the instrument and so I thought I wouldn't mind spending some money to get these problems resolved. I figured if nothing else it should play much better, but more than anything I was curious what could be done with what seemed to be some fairly decent parts whose original factory fit (in this particular case) left much to be desired. I don't live near Chris, so after a couple of more phone conversations I did my best to pack it up (per his excellent and very detailed packing instructions) and ship it to him.

A while later I got an update via email with the whole 411. Although it was not a pleasant surprise (more problems than I had realized) his analysis was extremely detailed and it was apparent that a considerable amount of time and effort had been invested in the evaluation. After several conversations via email and phone, we decided to go ahead and shoot the works. I got regular updates from Chris on the progress of the project and he continued to check with me to make sure we were headed in the direction I was intending.

So, after the major portion of the work was completed and I had responded to a few more emails asking my preferences on this and that, a bit of time to settle in, and some final tweaking, it was shipped back to me. In short, I was truly amazed with the final product - in fact it was several hours after I initially unboxed it before I could make myself put it down. I would only compare it to other banjos I have held and played, but I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference (by feel and sound) between this banjo and an '05 Lancaster I sold a couple of years ago (which I immediately regretted selling and continued to lament until I picked up my Cioffi'd Gold Star).

I guess I'm as skeptical as anyone about written descriptions of a banjo's sound qualities, but since this is a review I'll try to share just a few of the things that impressed me the most.

- The neck now plays comperable to the neck on my Staghorn, which I've always thought was the easiest playing neck I'd ever encountered.
- There is now a nice growl, subtle but growing consistently more prominent, where there was none before.
- I often mistakenly think I hear the phone ringing in the next room (although we only have cell phones now and they don't exactly "ring" - I've only ever experienced that with the Lancaster)

I've had the banjo back a few months now. I've been blessed to own some really nice banjos, of which I still have a few, and yet this is consistently the one I am picking up to play. Time will tell, but unless something changes I'm guessing that will continue to be the case.

One more exceptional point to note - during the entire process (from the time Chris began the evaluation until he returned the banjo, and then for several weeks afterwards while I continued to ask questions and report results) we were in regular communication about my expectations, his observations and suggestions, how things were progressing, and then eventually my observations on the results, Chris' advice on any tweaking I might want to do, and so forth. I think that in itself speaks volumes to the dedication that Chris has to getting it right, and making sure that the customer's expectations are met or exceeded (far exceeded in my case). Couple that with some pretty amazing results and I just don't see how you could go wrong sending your instrument to Chris Cioffi.

That was my attempt at a straight up review and I hope it proves helpful to someone.

On the lighter side, I suppose it would not suprise me to eventually discover:

- That Chris hired the magical elves away from the shoemaker
- He gained access to the alien technology in Area 51
- That one or more of the instruments he has worked on has become self-aware
- Or perhaps he swallowed the blue pill and learned how to manipulate the Matrix

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by dgoodnight (see all reviews from this person) on 8/5/2011

Overall Comments

Chris Cioffi has completely gone through and sensitively restored and set up my three prewar Gibson banjos over the last year and a half. In that time, I have become familiar with Chris’s work, the results he can coax out of a banjo, and had time to reflect on his results with my banjos as well as what it has been like to get to know him.

First, Chris has a deep respect of pre-war banjos and he goes to great lengths to do "non-invasive" things to restore their originality and maintain their value.

I first sent my 1929 Gibson TB-6 to Chris for A LOT of work. I've had the banjo since 1981 and it was in need of repair; basically, a total restoration.

He planed the fingerboard, did a fret job, new spikes, repaired the neck binding, fit the original raised head tone ring, new tuning pegs, restoration of original prewar Pearl buttons, on and on…..

He had to plug/re-drill the original rim. Over the years the holes had become oval in shape. He actually hand fit plugs to existing holes instead of just drilling them out. He also asked me to send him the original tenor neck so he could make sure it still fit well as it was intended to when he re-set the 5 string neck. He had to re-carve the neck to trim mass and position the neck on pot for best sound, feel, etc... He also had to relocate the flange cutout and flesh hoop relief, cut the heel shorter to prewar dimension and he had to rebuild/re-install the heelcap. And a very important thing to me, he was able to bring back the original gold plating when it looked so bad that we were both resigned to re-plating it. It turned out beautiful. He suggested I replace the original tailpiece and he re-plated it to try to make it all look right.

And best of all, he convinced me to put it back as an original raised head; I've always had a flathead conversion ring in it. I've never really appreciated a raised head banjo, but I really like this banjo now. It has punch, definition of notes, incredible tone. It sounds great and I will leave it an archtop. It's beautiful and plays like a dream.

This last September I took it with me to Winfield. It was the only banjo I took with me. I have always been a diehard flathead guy and was a little reluctant to show up at my usual camp with an archtop. The camp is usually full of great banjos, even some original prewar flatheads. Well, it couldn't have gone better. Everyone loved the sound of it. I haven't had that many compliments about the sound of a banjo since I've been playing. I even had the chance to hear Kurt Stephenson, who won 1st in the National Banjo Championship, Jake Workman, who won 2nd, and Jeremy Stephens, who won 3rd sit directly across from me and play many songs on it. That was some treat and it was before the contest. What are the odds? They all loved it.

Thanks to Chris' incredible work and setup, that banjo had suddenly become my favorite banjo. I am a true archtop convert. Not a bad result given my original intent was to have Chris spruce this banjo up so I could sell it since I had not really liked the sound of it much since I bought it in 1981.
I decided to name her "The Grand Old Lady". She is truly a classic from the Golden Age of banjos.

You can see pictures of this banjo at: http://www.banjohangout.org/myhangout/photos.asp?id=16740&albumid=496

And pictures of its restoration by Chris at: http://www.banjohangout.org/topic/152453/4

The next banjo I sent the 11 to Chris to "work his magic" on was my TB11. He came through again. I picked up my TB11 in January and it is not the same banjo I left with him; it sounds fantastic. He re-carved the neck for the same reasons he did for the TB-6 neck, and then had it refinished to a perfect match to the original blue resonator, leveled the fingerboard, complete fret job, plugged and re-drilled the holes in the pot since they had been filed out too large years ago, reset the neck to the pot like a prewar, adjusted the fit of the tone ring (Dannick no hole flathead), and performed a complete setup, etc.

The third banjo I sent to Chris is my main banjo, a 1934 TB3, that I had purchased from Jim Mills several years ago. It has a five string conversion neck and a Dannick Long Skirt 20-hole flathead ring. It is a great banjo.

Even so, I took it to Chris knowing he could make it better. I picked it up from Chris this past May. On my TB3, he leveled the fingerboard, did a fret job with stainless steel frets, re-fit and reset the neck for a .656 Huber bridge and set it up with a new Huber head. I can’t believe the difference; it is a completely different sounding banjo and is getting better all the time. I only thought it was good before. He brought out all the sound this banjo has to offer. I couldn’t be happier.

If anyone is considering repair work, I can't recommend Chris any higher. No one but Chris will ever touch my banjos from now on. If you haven't had the pleasure of getting to know Chris and working with him, you are missing out. After experiencing his work on 3 of my banjos, I am convinced that the only banjo he can't make better is one he has already worked on.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by potluckpicker (see all reviews from this person) on 8/2/2011

Overall Comments

We had Chris completely rework our RB 250. Purchased 5-6 yrs. ago, we thought with time the wood and top had moved and settled into the natural form it was going to take. The banjo was disassembled, cleaned, neck reset, new stainless steel fret job, replaced and/or lubricated tuners, and had spikes installed for capoing. As with the other reviews, Chris does fine work, looks better than new. The Gibson hung on the music store wall for 2 years before we purchased it (2003 manuf.).
The sound is old timey, a sweet bell like tone, not at all harsh-definitely different to the ear and has good volume. The drum head and bridge are new and of high quality, and the stainless frets (a must have) all have to do with this much improved sound.
Your banjo should be decent quality to begin with as this work and shipping costs a few bucks, but if you like your instrument and want to keep it properly maintained you will not be disappointed. Age and condition not a problem for Chris and restoration would be the thought here. With us it wasn't easy to send our only banjo cross-country to someone we didn't know, but rest assured, Chris will keep you posted on the progress and get it back to you quickly.
We live in the north woods of PA and take a several hour drive to Martin Guitar once a year to have them work on our Martin guitars (only they touch them), as we are fussy and I can vouch that Chris will treat your banjo well - he is as fussy as we are. No one else will ever work on "the Gibson" - thank you Chris. Potluckpicker

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Hotrodtruck (see all reviews from this person) on 5/7/2011

Overall Comments

I had been looking for a banjo-oriented luthier to do some work on one of my banjos, but had not found anyone near me that I felt comfortable with. A number of guitar repairmen probably could have done the basics adequately, but I wanted someone who knows banjos. I was first made aware of Chris from several threads on the Banjo Hangout forums. I did some more checking on him and read the comments from people who had used his services for their banjos. After I felt comfortable that Chris had the background and experience for what I wanted, I began corresponding with him. We exchanged several emails, and then had a couple of telephone conversations. I began to believe that he was the person I was looking for. Also, I found out that Chris does ONLY banjos right now. Perfect!

The banjo in question is one I have had for about 30 years. It had been played until the frets were worn out and significant divots were developing in the fret board. I initially wanted Chris to fix the fret board and do a fret job. After talking with him I learned that he will not limit his work to partial repairs. Also, he does a complete setup on all banjos that he works on. He advised me that he would inspect my banjo and then give me a proposal for the work and cost, based on what he found. Chris told me that he operated this way because the banjo would “have his name” on it when he sent it back. I respected that and began to feel even more comfortable about using his services. I agreed to send the banjo to him with the understanding that I could have it returned, for the cost of shipping, if I refused his proposal. Within a few days of receiving my banjo, Chris sent me a proposal.

My banjo needed a few more things to put it back into shape than I thought, and there were some optional items that Chris felt would enhance the sound and playability. Not only did it need the work I initially asked for, but a few other things needed doing:

The neck needed lowering on the rim, using larger lag screws and Gibson coordinator rods (the factory ones on my banjo were a little crooked and smaller than Chris felt they should be). Chris plugged the old lag bolt holes, drilled new ones and installed the larger lag bolts and coordinator rods. The neck was set for perfect mating with the rim.

While the neck was off, Chris filled the divots, planed the fret board, re-glued part of the headstock veneer that was separating, and installed stainless steel frets (really nice!). He also replaced the nut with a nice bone piece.

The tailpiece had been broken years ago and been brazed back together. It was holding, but Chris recommended a replacement, giving me a choice of two pieces of better quality.

The head was at least 30 years old and the frosting was worn away, making the banjo ugly. I had planned on replacing it myself, but agreed for Chris to do it while the banjo was apart, since he was doing a setup. He recommended a Huber head, but agreed to use one of my choosing if I had another preference.

While the banjo was apart, Chris cleaned and buffed all parts and checked the fit of the tone ring. He polished the pearl inlays too. Each of the tuners was cleaned and lubricated and the fifth string tuner was “clocked” and reset in the neck with a bit of epoxy, to keep it tight.

During the whole process, Chris corresponded with me, letting me know what progress he was making and how thing were shaping up.

After getting the banjo back together and strung up, Chris kept it for about ten days (one of his requirements, barring other circumstances), played it and watched how the banjo settled in. During that time, he experimented with bridges, tailpiece adjustment and head tension.

Now the good part: I got my banjo back, along with a detailed set of notes on the setup, what I could expect the banjo to do (physically and tone-wise) for a few weeks, and what I should monitor during that time. I really did not know what to expect when I played it for the first time. I had always like the sound and volume of the banjo and wondered if it was changed much. As I tuned it, I was delighted to hear a sound that I knew the banjo was capable of but had never been able to achieve. It rang loud and clear, with the kind of tone I had heard snatches of from time to time, but never completely captured.

Chris had informed me of what note the head was tensioned to- that he had found produced the best volume, tone and projection. After a few days of playing, the head had stretched a bit and I could hear the changes in sound. I brought it back up to tension and it has stabilized for now. I am completely happy with the work and the sound. I am particularly pleased with the fret work, and look forward to many years service from the stainless steel. In essence, I have a new banjo. It is beautiful.

Finally, working with Chris has been a real pleasure. I have been able to correspond with him throughout the whole process. He has been very clear about the work my banjo needed and what the cost would be. He never came across as condescending or impatient with my questions. Chris is also very personable and it isn’t long before you think you have known him for a longer time. It is not very often these days that transactions go much beyond the cold, heartless business aspects.

My banjo is a 1977 Ibanez Artist archtop. Some people may consider it to be a lesser banjo than some others. Chris does not. He is very knowledgeable on the vintage Japanese banjos and understands what makes them tick. Chris was very sensitive about some of the cost that I would incur, perhaps feeling that I would be hesitant to spend much on a banjo with its current market value. I told him that I understand that I have a banjo that may be worth less on the market than I will have invested in it, but that I look at it like this: I had a banjo that was at the point of being unplayable and damage to the fret board was developing. My choices were to have it fixed, or put in the closet. I have looked at what is out there in the market for the price I am paying, and I know that there are some entry-level new and used banjos in that price range. However, I do not believe they are a better quality instrument, nor will they be set up and tweaked like my Ibanez would be. Besides, it is an old friend (my baby, as I told Chris).

If you are looking around to see who might be qualified to do some work on a banjo you care about, I highly recommend Chris. You will get back a banjo that is as pretty as it can be, put together better than it came from the factory, and set up for optimum tone and playability. He will answer your emails and phone calls too!

Mike Hatfield

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Banjotones (see all reviews from this person) on 4/10/2011

Overall Comments

Magic fingers or whatelse make my banjo sound so good?

The most significant at the beginning: whatever you have to repair or adjust on your banjo, Chris Cioffi is the man!

Iam a banjoplayer from switzerland and had the great opportunity to get in contact with -I think- one of the greatest banjorepairman on this planet.

I play a 30 year old (young) banjo made from an unknown banjoluthier in Franfurt Germany.
Still I got this banjo I never found an equal or better banjo in sound. During the past I unfortunatly gave my banjo to some guitarrepairman to make some repair and adjustments. But now I know what it means to give it to a highly specialised banjoluthier and repairman. Out there - special in europe- are a lot of guitarrepairman who think they could understand the nature of the banjo but until I met Chris I realised, that they are all wrong!!

Im doing a lot of concerts, writing own stuff in different styles and be still in the process of recording now. So three weeks before I went to Chris I realised, that something is wrong with my banjo. After a few hours it was always going out of tune, the sound was realy getting dead and I got panic cause I had to do the recording session in april and may. My other highclassbanjo was no alternative cause I like the sound of this one most.

I had a lot of guitarbuilder and repairman but NO banjorepairman close to my home with a lot of experiance. So I decided to look for a repairman in the US.

Via Rob Smith who at this time was in hollidays and is doing all the banjoworks for Bela Fleck – I got the adress of Chris Cioffi.

Never knowing what will happen to my banjo I was on the one hand glad to have an adress of a repairman to do the job I wanted to be done but on the otherhand you never now what you will get when you know nothing about the luthier. You have to trust your intuition.

After 30 minutes talking to Chris, I realized, that here is a banjoplayer AND repairman who LOVES to repair banjos and knows what it needs to make the best out of it. He is a builder with a lot of passion AND he is very ambitious to himself. He dont want to do a job only to make money. He is trying to make the best. He want to do a great job and want to make feel the customer absolutly satisfied.
So he has great ambitions to himself and the way he works. That impressed me a lot.

I spent only two weeks in Nashville and Chris told me from the beginning, that there is a lot work on my instrument to do: adjust, make new frets, bridge, saddle, neckrepairwork and, and, and….

and that he wasnt shure to manage all this in this short period. I had no other joyce and had to trust my feeling of beeing in front of a very human, wellprepared craftman. I told him that everything will be ok what he can do for me in my situation. I trusted him.

During our conversation I had the opportunity to play some of his still repaired highclassbanjos. And here is another thing that impresses me. He can make factory build banjos sound better than before. He was able to make a middleclass banjo sound a lot better than before . I own the same (but I dont use it) and when I compared it with the highclassbanjos he had in his repairroom I was so surprised cause it sounded so great and unbelievible, that I realised this could only made by his knowledge and passion to put the right spices together.


After a week I got his call and was ready to get my old – no, now new !! banjo. I could nt believe what I heard: It was so rich in tone, sound, the fingerboard was like a new one, I could play all notes till the last fret and they sounded right!! AND GREAT!

Today Im back in switzerland and three weeks are gone since I left a warmhearted Chris Cioffi in his craftmansshop and Im still happy about two things: one thing is, I have a great banjo that impresses me evryday and a lot of critical listeners. And the otherthing is, that I now know
if I ever will be in trouble again with any banjo I play I will give it to Chris.

At least: There is so much stupid advertisment in this world of what you should buy or dont…. If you want to have quality, go to chris, talk to him and Im sure you will meet a person who is interested in your needs, your banjo and will critical do the best for your content and the sound of your banjo.

I read all the other reviews about him and I can undersign:
they are right
Thank you Chris!!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Beardog (see all reviews from this person) on 4/9/2011

Overall Comments

Chris has done extensive work on three of my banjos.

All three of these banjos are now absolutely stunning instruments to play, hear, and see.

Chris is not just a "set-up" man. When he agrees to take a banjo in for repairs/restoration, his goal is not to tweak it and get it back to you. He treats every banjo as one that he would be proud to have you play on stage in a professional setting after completing his restoration. Each banjo is like an empty canvas, and he starts from the very beginning, working carefully with you throughout the process. Once he understands what it is that you as a player desire in your banjo, he goes to work.

All three of my banjos were completely taken apart, and all parts were cleaned to sparkling condition. He re-fretted each neck, reset the necks, turned and repaired the rims, installed the rings (one gold Sullivan arch top ring, a gold no-hole Dannick, and a gold Granada "mystery" ring), installed new nuts, repaired any defects in the fingerboards (perfectly), repaired the tuners, replaced tail pieces and other hardware as necessary, installed new bridges and heads, and made a speed neck for me on one of the banjos. Each time, I was stunned with the transformation upon opening the case for the first time. Everything gleamed, and the wood looked pristine. The banjos all have perfect intonation up and down the neck. The whole banjo vibrates in your hands while playing.

Two of my banjos are Gibsons, an RB5 archtop, and an RB250 "Bow tie". The third banjo that he reworked for me is a mid 1970's Aria Pro II. All three banjos are of professional, stage worthy quality now. Just the parts and labor in my Aria are worth about $1200.00, but I wouldn't take three times that for the banjo.

Chris is honest and cares about each and every banjo (and it's owner) that he takes in. When he finishes a banjo, you feel as if you have made a friend for life.

I have owned many high end banjos. I have never had a banjo in my hands that is as good as anything that I have had Chris rework for me. In addition, I have played several other banjos that he has reworked. They are all fantastic banjos.

Finally, here is my advice to anyone wanting to have their banjo repaired or brought up to it's maximum potential: Call Chris and tell him what you have, and where you would like to go with your banjo. LISTEN to his advice. If you are shopping for a banjo, get his advice on what to get for the money that you have to spend. Then, send your banjo to him, or better yet, take it to him and see his shop (you can literally eat off the floor, it is so clean). Everything is perfectly arranged in shelves, and his undivided attention is on the one banjo that he is working on at the time. Once he has played your banjo and evaluated it, LISTEN to him again, regarding what he recommends doing to the banjo. Trust Chris to do what he knows needs to done to your banjo, and you will be glad that you did.

I am presently keeping my eye out for a Stelling banjo (I will know it when it finds me!). When I make a trade for it, or purchase it outright, the banjo will go directly to Chris for a complete overhaul before it comes home with me. I am 100% confident that whatever needs to be done will get done above and beyond what I would expect, and when he is done working on it, the banjo will be better than new.

If you have any questions, or would like to visit off-line, please feel welcome to contact me!

Sam Vallery (Beardog)

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by robinsmith (see all reviews from this person) on 4/6/2011

Overall Comments

This is is a repost from 10.26.2009
I have been playing mando and dobro in bluegrass bands for about 40 years. Recently I decided to start playing banjo. I started reading forums on BHO a few months ago and asked Chris to advise me on banjos, their pricing and Calton cases.

After looking at a few banjos online and based on Chris’ counsel I chose on ebay a 1996 Gibson RB4 that looked pretty grungy and played a lot but the price seemed right. He had advised me on others that were overpriced and I chose not to purchase them.

When I initially received it in a rather dilapidated original case I decided to purchase a Calton case and Chris pointed me at George Gruhn. Now I had a case in which I was comfortable shipping it to Chris in.
My first impression of the banjo was that it was played a lot and very dirty. The up the neck sounds were not consistent with what I thought a banjo of this quality should be. It looked OK. There were no major cosmetic issues. It was just very dirty. In further conversation on the phone and via email I decided to send it to him for set up.

After Chris got it and evaluated it we talked further and decided he would do the following; a complete fret job/level the fretboard ,new bon e nuts, a neckset involving moving the neck's position, clean up, speed neck, some minor lacquer touch up and repair around the truss rod cover screws, and general set up with all work geared towards maximum tone and playability.

What I got back after three weeks with Chris I was blown away. It looked like a brand new banjo and the sound far exceeds my expectations. His work is truly masterful, thorough and shows he is a complete nut job perfectionist.

His advice on packing it for shipment was very thorough and based on his experience of shipping many banjos when he worked with Steve Huber. I followed his advice on shipping it to him and got it back so well packed I think it could have been dropped out of an airplane and would have survived the hit.

At any rate I highly recommend Chris for any work on your banjo and I am happy to discuss it anytime.

Ps The banjo has been in my hands since Oct 2009 and it is phenomenal. Settled in, it is even better than the first blush. Thanks Chris!

Robin Smith

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by benjo75 (see all reviews from this person) on 4/6/2011

Overall Comments

I sent my RB4 To Chris a couple months back. I wasn't unhappy with the tone, but it needed new frets and a proffesional setup. Chris talked to me several months before and was interested in how I played and how I wanted my banjo to sound.

I met him at his shop and played several banjos that he had worked over and it wasn't until hearing and playing those and mine back to back that I realized how bad off mine was. He still wanted to know how I played and wanted to listen to me play . I finally figured out that he wanted my banjo to sound how I wanted it too rather than how he wanted it too.

I went with stainless steel frets because of how much I play. That was the best decision ever. Chris done a neck set, stainless steel frets, leveled the neck and filled in some holes in the neck. He added a bone nut and bone fifth string nut. He also did a speed neck too. I couldn't ever go back to regular neck again.

He hand fitted the rim to the tone ring and installed Huber coordinator rods, head and bridge. He also installed a Kirschner tailpiece. He talked me into going with light strings and after two months I'm really liking them.

Chris called during the process to ask questions about how I would like some things and shipped it back to me in record time. He has called periodically since to check up on things and make sure I'm happy.

I couldn't believe my ears when I got it back and played it. It plays and sounds so much better that I ever could have imagined. He had polishe all of the parts until I wasn't sure it was my banjo. It shines brighter than a new one. Chris done a wonderful job and was prompt in returning it undamaged.

No problems whatsoever. And for how much work went into my banjo, the price was more than fair.

I had the pleasure to meet Chris and his wife at SPBGMA this year and he showed up at our room with a pizza and played a little bit.

It was a pleasure meeting Chris and doing business with him. As an owner of a small business myself, I know how important it is too do the job right as well as making sure the customer is happy. Chris went above and beyond making sure all of my needs were met.

I even got my banjo back with a bag of different bridges to experiment with. I know that if I ever need any work on any of my current of future banjos, that Chris is the man for the job.

I would definately recommend anyone who is going to have some work done on their banjo to give Chris a call and let him work his magic on your banjo. You won't be disappointed.

Ben Cardin (benjo75)

There are songs on my homepage that were recorded before and after sending it to Chris. Feel free to listen for yourself and hear the difference. The songs that are after are labeled as so.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by don wiseman (see all reviews from this person) on 3/28/2011

Overall Comments

Chris recently did a transformation on my 2007 RB250. I bought the banjo used and while it sounded ok, it had a small rattle and just didn't seem right. I sent it to Chris for a setup based on comments on BHO and my telephone calls with him. After he inspected it and he took it apart, I agreed with his recommendations and had him do a neck reset, redoing the neck to achieve the proper relief and range of adjustment of the truss rod (a big job), a complete refret (got rid of that cheesy plastic look binding material on the ends of the frets), a new Huber ring properly fitted to the rim to replace the ill-fitted "mystery" ring, a new nut and pip, drop-filling a small nick, and a general cleaning and set up. This banjo looked almost new when I sent it to him and now it not only looks better but it sounds like it should and plays easily. Not only was the workmanship meticulous, what I really liked about Chris was the communication, complete with photos. Can't recommend him highly enough.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by samfrsails (see all reviews from this person) on 3/28/2011

Overall Comments

Accolades abound for Chris Cioffi. He knows music and he knows banjos. You needn't talk to him long before you become very aware of it. As a matter of fact, he's well versed on many subjects.......pick one.


Chris has worked on a couple of banjos for me, including a Huber Roanoke and a Washburn Sonny Smith Artist Model, with two more that are in the works; an Ibanez Artist and a collector's piece 1930's Gibson RB-1.



After a very informative discussion with Chris about the basics of "setup", we decided on an identical bridge height for them all and I left the rest up to Chris. Two have been returned, one by one in timely fashion, with great action and much ease of playability. Not a buzz could be heard.



I had a particular problem with one, because of big fingers, shortage of talent and whatever else, of rolling the first string off the bottom of the neck. After a brief discussion of the problem, he designed a nut that used the neck to better advantage and took care of my concerns. The banjo plays beautifully.



Check Chris out if you need a good luthier. You won't be disappointed.





A very satisfied customer,

Sam Spicer



PS: To allay any concerns, he does an excellent job of packing and shipping.



Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by WesBrown (see all reviews from this person) on 3/27/2011

Overall Comments

I would like to offer a recommendation to anyone needing some banjo work to look into the work of Chris Cioffi.

My banjo needed some new frets, had some isolated string buzzes and just plain poor quality tone at certain frets, and in general did not meet my expectations for that elusive banjo “sound”.

I chose Chris because after some initial conversations he impressed me as a person who was driven to perfection on set-up and getting the result as best as he knew how, as opposed to just doing the repair work and sending me a bill.

Chris always discussed the options with me before proceeding and we talked about what would be involved regarding time, costs, and expected results. The decisions on how to proceed were left up to me.

I elected to have my radius fingerboard planed, and stainless steel frets installed. We talked about a new neck, but Chris felt he could make the original neck work. I also elected to have a new rim and Huber tone ring installed as a best option to improve the sound quality. Chris fine-tuned the set up until he felt the results measured up to his standards, and then he shipped it back.

What a wonderful surprise. I was and still am, months later, immensely satisfied with the results. The neck plays very well, the buzzes are gone, and the tonal quality is consistent and pleasant up and down the neck. I am very pleased with the stainless steel frets, they sound great and are well worth the extra effort.

If you already have a banjo that feels good in your hands, and is comfortable to play, my very strong recommendation is to let Chris have a chance to see if set-up improvements can make you happy before you run out and try to buy just another banjo.

And if your present banjo is just a clunker you have outgrown, check with Chris before you buy for his recommendations and advice.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by BanjerKen (see all reviews from this person) on 3/27/2011

Overall Comments

I would not recommend sending a banjo to Chris Cioffi if you would rather tinker with it than play it because when you get it back there won't be any need to tinker with it.

I am on the growing list of Chris's happy customers. I shipped him my Gibson ESS and a couple of weeks later drove over and picked up a much better banjo. I enjoyed visiting with Chris in his shop and seeing how he does his magic.

I bought my Gibson when I barely knew which end of the banjo to hold but thought with the brand name it would have to be good. Well as I learned more about banjos I was not happy with the way it played and sounded so I decided to see if it couldn't be improved. It would be an understatement to call what he did a setup because he did a fret job, new nut, neck set lowering the neck on the pot, and turned the rim to get a proper fit with the tone ring along with buffing out all the parts to look like new and installing a new head, bridge, and strings.

One advantage Chris has is he is a good player as well as a technician. He set the banjo up with light strings and I just couldn't play it with the light strings but he could make it sound great so I knew it was me and not the banjo. He encouraged me to work with the light strings for awhile and see if I could make them work. He said if I could develope the light touch required it would take my playing to the next level. Well I have been doing that and am pleased with the progress.

I had a professional banjo player play it after Chris worked on it and he thought it was the best sounding Gibson Scruggs Standard he had ever played.

If you need banjo work done this is the guy:

Chris Cioffi
Springfield, TN
615-382-1376

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by TN_Picker (see all reviews from this person) on 3/26/2011

Overall Comments

Chris and I discussed some things I wanted done to my banjo and came to agreement on the things I knew I wanted and he said he would take a look at everything once he received it from the brown truck.

This big thing that prompted he & I talking was the fit on my Yates v33 ring. This Cox rim was cut for the Burlile that was originally in this pot and the new Yates ring had a larger ID, which made for a very sloppy fit. The easy, but naturally more expensive thing to do is simply get a new rim, but I hate doing stuff like this if something can be saved and the outcome be as good. Chris built the rim up by laminating some maple and then turned this down to fit the new ring, he also turned the rim so that the flange had a better fit.

He did a neck reset for me which got rid of the 11/16” bridge that was necessary at the time to keep buzzing away, with that, he recut the resonator notch and put in new felt. I like a lower bridge than an 11/16” as, to me; I think they sound better overall with more texture and bottom end. I also got Chris to make a new bone nut & pip for this neck.

To finish things up he did a complete setup including a new head and picked a bridge that brought out what he thought was the best sound with this combination.

I got the banjo back this morning and am extremely pleased with the results. I would believe that the ring & flange fitment would have the most impact on the sound but it is more likely everything involved. This banjo has an awesome 3rd & 4th string and still sounds brilliant in the highs.

If you have any doubts or are hesitant in sending a banjo to Chris for work please feel free to stop by and pick on mine and witness what he can accomplish as the end result.

Chris will definitely make a good impact on our little community!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by humphammer (see all reviews from this person) on 3/10/2011

Overall Comments

I would have done this a long time ago if I had known it was available.

Chris has done several banjos for me over the last couple of years. His work has always been magnificent, and he has never failed to go above and beyond the issue that brings the banjo to the shop.

EVERY INSTRUMENT HE HAS WORKED ON FOR ME HAS COME BACK IN BETTER THAN NEW CONDITION--EVERY TIME.

He just completed a job on an old RB-100 that I souped up a few years back with a Huber tone ring, new hoop, and several other things. It has been played a lot and needed some love so Chris worked it over.

The fret job and neck work he did are exceptional. The 100 is not the easiest instrument to do a good looking fret job on, with it's unbound fingerboard, but once again Chris handed it back over to me in better than new condition. Neck, frets, action, and especially the basic fit up is all superb.

AND THE SOUND IS JUST PERFECT!

I could NOT be more pleased.

I have several instruments, and Chris took a ragged-out Vega Scruggs model of mine (Boston) and when I came back to get it I could not believe it was the same instrument. It played magnificently (MUCH better than ever before) and looked better than it played. It has only gotten better with time. Once again, the difference in the action and especially the sound are incredible.

If you can talk him into it, he is the best rim stick guy in the business. He has done work on an old Fairbanks for me, plus a pre-fire White Layde. I wish he had more time for this type of work, but the bluegrass folks keep him busy.

I do not recommend people for jobs easily, but I have absolutely no hesitation in giving my highest marks to Chris Cioffi. HE IS THE BEST!!

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by corcoran (see all reviews from this person) on 3/3/2011

Overall Comments

I visited Steve Huber's shop in June 2003, when Chris was working at Huber Banjos, and spent a lot of time with Chris, picking, talking banjos, and learning from him as he went about his tasks in the shop. Chris is a real pro and an expert on construction, setup, and maintenance of banjos. Plus he is very enthusiastic and likes to share his knowledge and experience. Oh, and he is one hell of a picker too.

Chris and Steve pulled apart and then reassembled my prewar Gibson, and I learned a lot from that experience. Near the close of my visit, I decided to order a Lexington from Steve, and Chris was the luthier who ended up assembling it. He did a great job, and he is one of perhaps three craftspeople (including Steve Huber, of course) who I trust with my banjos.

I recommend Chris enthusiastically for any work that needs to be done on a banjo.

Michael Corcoran

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by garfield55 (see all reviews from this person) on 2/26/2011

Overall Comments

I am very pleased to offer this review of the superb and much-needed work done on my banjo by Chris Cioffi. This was the only time that my banjo had undergone such a thorough and complete inspection and service since it was manufactured. My parents bought me this banjo new in 1955.

After reading comments posted on Chris Cioffi’s thread (http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=152453&whichpage=1) by BHO members who had their banjo worked on by Chris, and my follow up conversations with Chris (partly noted in the paragraph immediately below), I was convinced that he was the luthier for me.

I had a few introductory and fact-finding phone conversations with Chris to learn more about his banjo-repair philosophy and approach. It became quite clear to me that he takes special interest and pride in each banjo that he works on. Although I highlighted the kind of things that I’d like for him to address, I told him that he had my carte blanche approval to do whatever was needed to get the “best” out of my banjo. He appreciated that but added that if he found other things that needed attention, he would call me to discuss them and get my ok before doing the work.

Later, after getting pointers from Chris on how to package my banjo for shipping, I purchased a shipping box, packaged the ole 1955 Gibson, RB 250 Archtop (Bowtie) banjo and went to the USPS to send it to him. A few days later, after receiving my banjo, he sent me an email letting me know that it had arrived safely. From that time on, Chris kept me informed as to what he was doing with my banjo via email and phone.

Recently, after completing his disassembly, reassembly, set up and much-needed work on my banjo, Chris shipped the banjo back to me. When I opened the case and removed the banjo, I recognized right away that it looked new—but still really 55 years old!). The fingerboard was clean and free of ruts and pearl inlay was polished; and all metal parts, neck and resonator were buffed. There is a new bone nut; a new 5-string nut; new capo spikes at the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th frets; 22 newly installed stainless steel frets; a new Huber head; and a new Huber bridge (.657 [21/32] ). Three tuning buttons were added to match closely the ones that came with the already installed Keith D Tuners.

Also, Chris plugged and reinstalled lag bolts to mount the neck in proper position on the pot. Neck set was needed to fix a crooked neck. He custom-fit new resonator L brackets to existing screw holes with original screws. He did other things that I simply don’t recall at this moment.

If I viewed the work that Chris did on my banjo, one by one and collectively, it would reflect absolutely superior workmanship! His attention to detail, combined with his desire to bring out the sound and tone quality “hidden” inside my banjo, exceeded my expectations—which was high already.

Now I am eager to pick up and play my “new” banjo for a few hours or more each day. When I play notes both up and down the neck they ring true and loud. The quality of my playing (for my skill level) is noticeably apparent to me.

If it hadn’t been for conversations with Chris, I might have given up playing my banjo and sending it to one of my sons as a keepsake. He suggested, however that I hold off considering that until after I get the banjo back from him. I’m glad that I had waited. The banjo looks and sounds great!

I’m sure there are many fine luthiers who are members of the BHO or elsewhere. Yet, IMHO, I believe there are but a few luthiers who are of the caliber of Chris Cioffi. Aside from his knowledge and craftsmanship, Chris was very approachable, cordial and interested in what I wanted in my banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by trad.dig.experience (see all reviews from this person) on 7/12/2010

Overall Comments

Nothing can be more frustrating than not having your banjo sound right. After scouring the forum looking for solutions to problems I was having with my RK-80 and after trying all the "do-it-yourself" adjustments I learned over the years, I realized I was out of my league and needed expert help.

After searching the forum again for banjo repairmen I found a rising star in the BHO chronicles - Chris Cioffi. "Rising Star" is a bit of a misnomer as he has been a luthier for 20 to 30 years working with the best banjo builders and luthiers in the business. It was only recently he announced in the forum his full time banjo restoration services in the BHO. (You can read his bio in the members section.) After a preliminary email to him, I knew I was talking to someone with extensive knowledge and experience. This was confirmed after our first phone call. Besides his friendly open manner he exhibited a wealth of knowledge and ideas on banjo sound.

Anyway, what he did to my RK-80 is nothing short of remarkable. My only instructions were to lower the action, fix intonation problems up the neck, and make my banjo sound the best it can be. What I got back was a banjo sound with incredible "pop". Every note pops with energy, from the very lowest note on the fingerboard to the highest. A truly unique hard-to-get sound that reminded me of the banjos of some great players I admire, like Craig Smith, Tom Adams, and Earl Scruggs "and his banjo too". And all that from a stock Recording King RK-80 (except for the tailpiece I had replaced earlier.)

What he did. He refit the neck and made the tone ring fit better on the rim. He explained options as he went along, what was needed, and even emailed pictures as he went along with the repair process. That was a nice touch, both informative and thoughtful. He also did a lot of little things along the way to make the banjo outstanding. He smoothed out the fret ends, fixed some railroad spike problems, installed bone nuts and improved the overall playability of the instrument. All told, he exceeded my expectations and I think, even his own with the unexpected sound that came from reassembled banjo. Thanks Chris.

I never want to change a thing on my banjo, which is a relief in itself, and highly recommend Chris for anyone needing a banjo set-up beyond the basics. He loves his work and it shows. He not only is my luthier for life but welcomes any questions or concerns I may have in the future. He genuinely is in business to help and make friends along the way. Great going.

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by bowfinger (see all reviews from this person) on 11/19/2009

Overall Comments

(kinda like coffee) anyway! Chris did a magnificent job on my parts banjo. Installed frets perfectly. Did a neck reset/recut. filled and re-set the co-rods. Buffed out the new lacquer for me. Made sure every thing fit rightl, set it up and sent it back in record time. Chris used to work for Huber and knows what he is doing. He can really do a great job. I'm sold. Chris is the man to go to. He's in middle Tenn. if that matters to you.

Overall Rating: 10

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