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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!

7120 reviews in the archive.

Chris Cioffi

Submitted by Bigbadbucksnort 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

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