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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!

6852 reviews in the archive.

Don Bryant - Thurman NC

Submitted by 5Twang on 2/11/2014

Overall Comments

Don Bryant recently did some beautiful touch-up work on an RB-3 mahogany resonator for me.

The resonator, and the banjo as a whole is in fine condition for it's age, but there was one outstanding blemish in the finish of the resonator.

Don did a gradual build-up of lacquer at the point of the blemish and then seamlessly blended the build-up area into the surrounding vintage finish.

The result is that the blemish is gone, but the resonator still retains the character of the rest of the banjo. There is nothing begs to be noticed in the area of the touch-up.

I am very pleased with all aspects of the work Don has done for me.

Overall Rating: 10

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by 5Twang 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

Capos: Perfect Pitch Capo

Submitted by 5Twang on 3/8/2012

Where Purchased: WWWPERFECTPITCHCAPO.COM

Overall Comments

I responded to an ad in Banjo Newsletter for the Ferguson "Perfect Pitch Capo".
In the ad several positive quotes were given from satisfied customers. So, I ordered one based on the demo video shown at the website.
Since receiving the Perfect Pitch Capo, I have played five shows and have never been more pleased with a banjo capo. I have not delayed one song with touch-up tuning after putting the capo on, or taking it off.
The inventor and builder, Al Ferguson, has made follow-up calls asking about my level of satisfaction and has been quite interested in my ideas about how to improve his product even more.
My on stage stress level has been dramatically reduced by this product.

Overall Rating: 10

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