Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Greetings from Our Family to Yours

Chuck, Tammy, Tate, Bonnie, Johnny & Isaac.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Newfoundland Dog as Christmas Blessing

Chuck and his new best friend, Dakota! Bred by Brenda of Brenrich Newfoundlands. Brenda has a new web site although she in not new to the Newfy world at large.

His original owner has terminal health problems and she could no longer keep him. Dakota was ferried to Texas from Florida by Sharon Rompot of Sangar Newfouldlands. Sharon is part of the Florida Newfy Rescue efforts.

This sad event turns into a Blessing for Chuck. You see, Dakota, or Kota Bear, makes Chuck smile. How many pictures have you seen of Chuck smiling? He really is smiling. No, he really is, look closely.

Brenda calls him Chuck's "velcro" dog--I just say they're attached at the hip. Dakota is a gentleman and the ultimate companion.

Kota Bear's already the size of a small pony--just wait til that coat grows out--(it had to be clipped due to snarls in the hair as he spent the better part of this year outside and short on care).

Dakota loves to be in the banjo shop and is adjusting to the noise of the machinery. And we get a little extra exercise stepping over him.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Connie Garrett, Jeremy Garrett & Ned Luberecki

"Christmas Time's a Comin"
by Connie Garrett

“Christmas Time’s a Comin’!” is the song… Well it came early at the Garrett household. November 12th to be exact! That’s the day my Custom Chuck Lee Banjo arrived in Nashville, Tennessee all the way from Ovilla, Texas!

Rewind to the beginning of this year: my husband, Jeremy, made the suggestion to me, “Connie, I think you should try claw hammer banjo. I think you would really like it.” I was surprised by the suggestion. I had never considered banjo! Jeremy had taught me some guitar, which was so much fun compared to reading piano music! I was certainly willing to try his idea, so I mentioned it to our friend, Ned Luberecki. Ned was used to the Garrett fascination with banjos. A couple years prior, he had lent Jeremy a banjo to learn bluegrass style banjo. Ned suggested lending me his open back banjo, so I could give it a go.

Connie shown with Ned Luberecki

Well, with our busy schedules, it took us about a month to setup a time for my first lesson with Ned and his borrowed banjo. I had no idea what I was in for. I knew nothing about the banjo. And I mean nothing. “Aren’t all stringed instruments tuned the same?” I thought. No, sir! Ned showed me how to tune it to G-tuning, showed me my first C chord and D7 chord, and the basic claw hammer strum, and I was hooked! HOOKED! I tell you. Banjo in tow, I went home and practiced for two hours that night! I put my head in the banjo head to listen in amazement at all that sound inside. Even with my pitiful playing, it was music to my ears!

Well the year was swiftly flying by. Before I knew it, several months had passed, and I only had been able to arrange for a few lessons with Ned. My progress was slow, but I still thought the banjo was the coolest thing ever. This was more than just a one-night stand with the banjo. So, one evening, Jeremy and I were sitting at dinner when out of nowhere Jeremy says, “Connie, I have a secret that I can’t keep any longer.”

“What is it?!?!” I ask.

“I’ve been saving to have a banjo made for you!”

“WHOOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOO!” I about flipped out of my seat. When a professional musician gives you an instrument, it is true love. This is just as significant (maybe more) than a wedding ring with a big fat diamond on it!

So it was at this point that I got to be involved in on the “Build-A-Banjo-For-Connie-Mission”. Come to find out, Ned, and his wife, Kelley, were in on the secret. Jeremy had been getting Ned’s advice about where we should go for an open back banjo. There were lots of options, and I was getting confused in the haze of all this discussion of tone rings, heads, necks, tuners, gears, etc. etc. etc. I was still working on getting that D chord right, not the easy D7, mind you, the real D chord! How could I possibly make an intelligent decision on the subtle differences all these options would make in the banjo? Through the haze, there was one clear beacon: Ned was strongly urging me to check out Chuck Lee’s banjos, and when he talked about them, his eyes lit up, and he flat out said, “If I was to get an old-time banjo, I’d get a Chuck Lee Banjo.” Well once I saw how beautiful and elegant the Chuck Lee banjos were, and clearly saw how much Ned liked them, I knew. The decision was made. I was going to get a Chuck Lee Banjo!

Connie and her husband Jeremy Garrett

So, in September, Ned called Chuck to warn him that I was going to call. I was nervous to call Chuck. I told Chuck, “I don’t know anything about the technical stuff. I just know I love music and I love the banjo!” Chuck was very patient and intuitive. He got clues from our discussion about what kind of banjo he should make for me. We decided to go with the Ovilla model made with black curly walnut! So the process began. I eagerly waited for the banjo to be finished. It was rough for me not to bug Chuck about it. “When it will it be done???” “Be patient!” Jeremy insisted. A month and a half later, Chuck emailed me with news: “Your banjo is ready to go to the finishing room tomorrow. It should ship in two weeks!” I called Jeremy screaming with delight over the phone, “My banjo’s ready! My banjo’s ready! MY BANJO’S READY!!!!” My voice going up an octave with every yell!

Two weeks later, I was checking the UPS site every half hour to find out where my banjo was. I Google mapped the journey from Ovilla to Nashville to see the miles between me and my new banjo. I texted Ned, Kelley and Jeremy when it left Ovilla, arrived in Memphis and then finally in the Nashville UPS hub. Then on a rainy Wednesday the banjo arrived at my doorstep!

Unfortunately, Jeremy was on tour, so I waited one more day to open the box, so I could open it with Jeremy. With barely a hug and a kiss greeting upon Jeremy’s arrival home, I said, “Let’s open the banjo!!” We opened the box! The Ovilla Black Curly Walnut Banjo was even more beautiful than I had imagined. However, there was no time to sit around and admire it with Jeremy or even send Chuck a thank you email. I headed downtown Nashville to pick some tunes with my girlfriends: Kelley Luberecki, Julie Pennell and Myrna Talbot!

A couple nights later, we had Ned and Kelley out for dinner, and I learned my first pickin’ tune on the banjo: Angeline the Baker! This weekend, we got around to putting the Christmas tree up, and had Ned and Kelley out once again for some dinner and music: Go Tell It on the Mountain, Old Joe Clark, and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, or Frailin’ Around the Christmas Tree, as Ned would say.

Connie, Myrna Talbot and Kelley Luberecki

In a town filled with world-class musicians, I am humbled to own such a world-class instrument. So many folks here in Music City are much more qualified to play this instrument than I. Regardless, I am head over heels in love with my new Chuck Lee Banjo! Thank you so much to Jeremy, Ned, Kelley, and Chuck for helping a girl find her voice. I am looking forward to many-a-night strummin’ tunes on my ol’ banjo!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Linda Frank and Wes Canter

Meet the Bumpass One Boot Connection, of Bumpass Virginia. They're an awesome, dynamic mother/son duo and lots of fun! They both play Chuck Lee banjos.....An Ovilla and a Rose Hill.

These glowing words from Linda helped us walk a little taller:

" Chuck, I am still just stunned with the craftsmanship and sound of my Ovilla. Every detail is fashioned with such care and precision. It's an absolute joy to look at this instrument as well as to play it. Since the first time I picked it up, I've been so happy with it. There's no match for the deep resonant tones and the crisp clear highs of your banjos. I was concerned that being a "woody", it wouldn't deliver the volume and clarity needed to shine through when playing with other instruments, but what a surprise! It rings and cracks through any jam without being brassy or boomy. The longer I have it, the more I keep coming back to my Ovilla as my primary player. The sound of this banjo is as intresting and complex as any excellent handcrafted instrument.

As you know, I bought the Ovilla used, and when I discovered that there were some set-up issues with it, I wondered who to take it to who could give it the care that its maker had. That's when I learned that you're not only a top of the line banjo maker but also a gentleman of the highest order. You offered to have a look at it. You gave it the attention that it needed, and it's perfect now. It may sound old-fashioned, but I appreciate your way of doing business more than you can imagine. I really enjoyed chatting with you during the process and getting to know a little about your family as well. You clearly care about every single instrument that leaves your shop and I have this wonderful sense of connectedness to the craftsman who made the instrument that my music pours through. That matters, Chuck, and I'm grateful. I'm so proud to tell people about this instrument and about you.

My son Wes couldn't stop "borrowing" my Ovilla, so I bought one of your Rose Hill banjos for him. He's a no-frills guy and a powerful musician who wanted the Chuck Lee quality and sound without the inlay. He continues to be thrilled with his Rose Hill.

I wondered whether the two banjos would sound about the same. The specs aren't so different on the two. I have to say that each has its own voice, and that they are each unique. What is so exciting to Wes and me is that when we play together the rich, warm, bright voices of these two instruments are so beautiful together, yet quite distinct."

Listen to Linda and Wes play here

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Special Storyteller Banjo

Dan Gibson is a popular Texas storyteller. He has studied and prepared himself to be an excellent entertainer for schools, libraries, festivals and more. We were so delighted to build him a banjo recently! One unique feature is the large star in the peghead, made from Dogwood, at his request. He chose a Prairieview peghead shape and walnut rim. It was a delightful project which we hope will help entertain and educate lots of audiences.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marble Falls--Twin Sisters

These two curly walnut beauties are just as close to the same as we can get 'em. Custom built for Craig Evans of Singleton Street, he requested only one "alpha" is inlaid in the fingerboard of one, and an "omega" in the fingerboard of the other. Details? Select curly walnut necks, Bill Rickard tubaphone style tone rings on walnut rims with special burl walnut rim caps, marble falls peghead shape with Vintage Series inlay in pegheads.

So, while the rest of Texas has been worrying about hurricanes and floods, we were thankful for worst of them to bypass our area so we could complete this special order.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rolling Brass

Here Chuck is bending brass for a brass hoop to go under our Dobson style tone ring. The gadget he's using is called a Ring Roller. We do as many steps in-house that we can. The building process includes what seems like thousands of individual steps!

Chuck is pretty good at using his time--when he sets up for a task, he does several at once. This gives us a small element of factory- like efficiency even though each instrument is individually hand made.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Acoustic Music Camp

This cool three-day event is coming up soon! Acoustic Music Camp, here in the Dallas area, begins August 7th. There are workshops in many instruments and also one in songwriting. This is ACM's second year. It is well organized and non-stress. Gerald Jones, director, has included a great line-up of instructors. Check out the website and consider joining in! (Contact Gerald about space first).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You know it's a small family business when......

.....There are jigs for gluing dowel sticks in the shop bathroom
.....Children wander in and out of the shop on various missions
.....Family secrets and trade secrets are one and the same
.....When you need a model for a special inlay project, the kids come to mind first
.....When there's a Star Wars action figure behind a drill press
.....Toys are lined up on the work bench to be repaired for your kids and the kids next door
.....When the most creative planning work is done late at night in the bedroom

and when your EIGHT year old is put to work cleaning the hardware!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ovilla Vintage Inlay

My favorite inlays are the Ovilla ones---both of them. Shown here is our vintage Ovilla inlay, showing moon and stars. You may have seen our other inlay--a lady sitting in the moon, still available in the "Original" model. Both make me smile! Our Ovilla, wooden tone ring, model is named after our home town here in Texas. Ovilla is pronounced with the L's--Oh-vill-ah. It's mostly residential and quiet here. One small claim to fame is the town center was formerly the "on location" site for filming part of the TV show "Walker, Texas Ranger". Our Ovilla was the Indian Reservation.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Red Diamond Mandolin

Our Nate is selling his Red Diamond Mandolin--reluctantly. In case you've never seen one of these beauties built by Don MacRostie, here are the photos. His new custom five string fiddle has taken top spot and the mandolin has to go.

If you know of someone in the market, this one is available. They go up in value steadily and there is a waiting list for them.

Nate received good advice several years ago, when another luthier told him that these mandolins are a great value. How true. Soon this one will be in new hands!

Peghed (tm) Tuners

We interrupt Chuck Lee on assembly day to ask him a few important questions.

Tammy: Chuck, tell me, what kind of tuners are you installing?

Chuck: Well, my dear, these are patented, 4:1 geared planetary Peghed tuners (! Similar to the Knilling Perfection tuners used on violin family instruments.

Tammy: Oh! Are they difficult to install?

Chuck: No more difficult than others. As long as I don't get carried away with this reamer! I ream the hole to the proper size and thread the tuners in. They come in LH threads and RH threads.

Tammy: So, why do so many of our customers prefer Peghed tuners?

Chuck: Because they're easy to tune with and they have that old-timey violin peg appearance.

Tammy: So, if a customer wants Peghed tuners as opposed to Waverly planetary geared tuners, what should they ask for?

Chuck: They should buy or order a "Vintage" Chuck Lee banjo as they come with Peghed tuners .

Tammy: What if a customer wants Pegheds on a banjo which has another kind of tuners? What options do they have?

Chuck: They can contact Chuck Herin at as he has tuners in several sizes. Peghed tuners can be used on guitars and other stringed instruments. He makes a cool 5th string tuner for banjos as well. Chuck Herin is the designer and patent holder on all the Peghed and Perfection tuners.

Tammy: This concludes this interview. Thanks Chuck! You look a little tired. Maybe you should take a day off :).

Chuck: I think I just used up my words for the day.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chuck Lee Guitar Company. Who knows?

Chuck Lee guitars? Well, I hope so! I've been suggesting to Chuck that he should build some guitars for several years. And he has been pondering.

When a few weeks ago he started staying up most of the night studying guitars, and talking mysteriously of variations of "braces", "carbon graphite", and new and wondrous jigs, I knew it was getting closer. When he spent his 51st birthday, April 15th, fully immersed in the project, he was clearly "all over the top of it".

This picture shows two of the jigs he has labored over; they're for an OM sized guitar.

Would you believe he already has 6 or 8 people wanting one? Chuck says, "Let's see how the first one comes out". I believed in the banjos and I'm believing in the guitars as well.

James Reed & his Chuck Lee Cottonwood Banjo

This distinguished gentleman is James Reed, of Waco, Texas. James wanted something a little different, so here's his custom Cottonwood Vintage with mesquite fingerboard and peghead overlay. What beautiful wood! The neck and rim are made from Cherry. The hardware is all brass.

We've known James a long time. We first met him over 10 years ago, when he made "house calls" to give some of our family members music lessons. He was the first to inspire our Nate to play the mandolin.

We always enjoy a visit from James, who can play a number of instruments and also teaches and plays with various bands when not busy with his "day job" or family. He has taught several of us lessons. We are pleased that he now owns two Chuck Lee Banjos.

What's next? He has expressed interest in adding a Chuck Lee 17 fret Irish Tenor with resonator to his collection.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Time to ship banjos

This image in the shop tells us it's time to ship banjos! Our banjos ship to any of 12 U.S. music dealers, or to a customer who has ordered a custom. We love to have visitors in our shop, but unless they arrive on a day like the one shown above, they may be disappointed to find very few banjos to hold and see. However, at any time, there are 50 or more banjos in progress to be seen.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Left-handed custom Chuck Lee banjo

This delightful lady arrived at our doorstep a few months ago, desiring a left-handed banjo. Sharon Mullins is a Texan who frequents Old-time and music festivals, and she wanted a new banjo.

They're a little tricky to build when you're working "backwards". As a luthier, you have to resist your instincts and overcome habit to accurately build in reverse. But no mistakes here, everything went smoothly, and we were pleased with the result.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Chuck Lee 19 fret Tenor up close

Here is my Tenor, the prototype, up close and personal. It has the Chautauqua peghead shape and Vintage inlay, but not our Vintage tuners (peghed brand), instead it has Waverly planetary tuners, with ivoroid buttons. The fret wire is the smaller vintage banjo/mandolin style wire. Neck and pot are walnut, but the rim has a double rim cap of ebony then walnut---really sharp looking! This is a 19 fret Tenor. I can't wait to try the next Tenor in process, a 17 fret. Chuck thinks I may like it even better than this one.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cottonwood Vintage Banjo with Dobson Tone Ring

Lee Thomas, shown above with Chuck, came over last week to help us out for a magazine photo shoot. While he was here, he tried out the prototype of our new Cottonwood Model! This one is a Vintage, and like all future Cottonwoods, has a Dobson tone ring.

For this neck Chuck chose select curly walnut, and a walnut rim. What does the Cottonwood sound like? It sounds great! It looks pretty cool, too! This very Cottonwood is scheduled to be in the hands of Zepp Country Music today.

Lee is a wonderful banjo player, and he, his wife and son, are all part of the talented and friendly Old-time band, Salt Rock Rounders,of Fort Worth.

Lee is also our consulting attorney and doesn't even mind lawyer jokes! If he looks familiar, you may have seen him featured in the Chuck Lee Banjo episode of Texas Country Reporter. Lee is pretty handy himself with Banjo assembly and setup, and owns 3 Chuck Lee banjos. (He tells me his favorite is his Custom A-scale with wood tone ring).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Four String, 19 Fret Tenor Banjo by Chuck Lee

Well, if we're not blogging, at least we've been building! This week we finished several orders, including a left-handed custom, the new Cottonwood, and my new Tenor! Watch for blogs of all of these during the next week.

Here is my new Tenor, which I have been pestering Chuck to work on for two years. I figured since I can play a few mandolin tunes, I can do them on the tenor as well. I just love it! The sound is incredible. It is the prototype, it turned out nicely.

We'll have more close-ups and technical detail in a blog to follow. Meanwhile, I'll be getting in touch with my Irish side.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Banjo Maker at Work

Chuck spent a lot of yesterday fretting. (no, not worrying...putting in the frets!) We are working on a group of banjos which will hit their boxes for shipping very soon! We've spent a lot of time, months really, working with these pieces of wood from block to completed banjo. It's a great reward to see them finished and ready for new homes. After so many hours of care taken, it's a pleasure to have them completed, yet I sometimes feel reluctant to part with them. Chuck is generally ready to them to get into the players' hands. For Chuck, it's the joy of the player and the beauty of the music that keeps him making banjos.

This group we're building has two new model prototypes --the Cottonwood 11", with Dobson tone ring, and the first Tenor, a Chautauqua 11", with a Silver Bell tone ring (it is so petite and cute!). Watch this space and our website for pictures to come.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Newfoundland Dog and the Alpha Dog

Charlie and Chuck just hangin' out.

Okay, guys, time to get up and go build banjos!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rich O'Brien and the Badger Banjo-Guitar

Rich O'Brien , musician and producer, is the man who inspired our Badger. (His nickname among musicians is "The Badger". ) We spent some time with him last Friday, while he tested the performance of three different guitar-banjo configurations. He made them all sound wonderful, but he wants his personal instrument to be our shorter scale (22 7/8"), like Zoo's, shown above. Also, he is helping us design a special badger inlay, and experiment with different woods and configurations for the best Chuck Lee banjo-guitar to date.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Banjo Company History 2

This photo shows the Banjo shop in the very beginning stages of renovation. To start building banjos, Chuck needed a place to put all the tools. So out goes the plumbing storage area and in goes the climate and humidity controlled weather tight building. Along with a bunch of tools, I wanted a strong dust collection system. I did not want anyone in the family to experience illness from inhaling wood dust.

The old building originally appeared to be a smaller house. It served as an uncooled or heated garage type of thing before we bought the place. It leaned in two directions and had many gaps in the wood. We removed the large doors, added windows and rebuilt the walls. (The rafters and foundation are almost the only original parts of the building left).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mary Z. Cox

Mary Z. Cox is such a delightful banjo player and customer. Chuck enjoyed making this special inlay for her, in which the girl in the moon (you might recognize Mary!) sports pink shortalls. Mary's beloved basset hound sits in the clouds below the moon.
Mary told us recently, "I love my 12" Chuck Lee Custom Banjo and can play it for hours on end. The wood, the construction, the tone, and the lovely inlay are all heirloom quality. I bet my grandchildren will fight over who gets this banjo. :)"

Check out all sorts of banjos at Mary's banjo blog.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Banjo Company History 1

This photo of Chuck and Bonnie playing banjo is about ten years old.

This article is the beginning of a series on how we got "here" from "there". "Here" being herein described as "actually believing we can make a living building banjos" as opposed to "there", in which we ran a stable, but boring, plumbing company.

Chuck became a Master Plumber as a fairly young man, which provides a decent income for a growing family. He is still a strong believer in the value of the trades and the potential there for a hard worker to benefit society and make an "honest day's wages".

The waves of life brought us to Texas and to eventually starting our own plumbing business. It was here Chuck acquired his first banjo to play--a trade for some plumbing work to a music store owner! He was addicted, and learned to play it (while I slept in bed, pregnant! I am fortunate to be a person who can sleep through anything. I enjoyed it, and I think that particular son was born dancing to banjo music--he turned his head to listen to it when only a few hours old).

As his banjo interest progressed, for the next few years, Chuck enjoyed that well known pastime of buying/selling/taking apart/tinkering with/changing around/adjusting and even occasionally playing his, I've lost count of how many, banjos. I think it was then that he started to be on a first name basis with the UPS man and Donald Zepp.

Soon after, the mail began to be loaded with lutherie catalogs and teaching videos. I wasn't especially surprised when Chuck told me, "I think I can build one of these".......

Monday, January 28, 2008

Craig Evans CD review

Craig Evans of Singleton Street owns three Chuck Lee Banjos --all Marble Falls Tubaphone models. Recently he sent us his CD "Wingin' It, by Singleton Street, which he recorded using our banjo. The first time Chuck and I popped it in our player, we were traveling to Fort Worth. Together we enjoyed singing along to some great gospel favorites, with a definite "live, you are there" sort of experience.
And I sure love the artwork--what a treat to the eyes! Way to go Craig and Company!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Meet Chuck's new buddy, Charlie

This is Charlie, our Newfoundland. We are adopting him from Brenda Matheny of Brenrich Newfoundlands. (Shown above with Chuck).

Isn't he beautiful? He is 120 pounds of slobbery love and his parents were both from fine bloodlines!

He has seen hard days (neglect/life-worn) and needed a gentle home.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

We Didn't Build Any Banjos,,,,,,

.....But Chuck did help our Scouts build two nice rockets (plus a third for a friend) and one knock-out derby car.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nate Lee, Musician

Well, here's his picture , so let the bragging begin!

Fiddle, mandolin, guitar, Chuck Lee Banjo, and more. Nate is such a natural with a musical instrument. Since he was 11 years old, he has worked hard and become a wonderful player. Currently, he plays with two bands, The Alan Munde Gazette, and Steve Smith's Hard Road.

He has "played well with others", for years, and taking him to jams and fiddle contests has been among the "button-busting proud" highlights of parenting.

His Chuck Lee Banjo is nicknamed the "Blue Dragon". It's the only banjo with a blue neck and rim which we've built. The peghead inlay has Smog, the dragon, flying over Laketown.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


This Badger, with wooden tone ring and all cherry wood, is for Johnny's Guitar teacher, nicknamed "Zoo". Patrick DeZeeuw surprised me at Johnny's first lesson--he told Johnny that a good student should never practice guitar! After the shock wore off, he continued to say, "practice is dull, we don't practice what we love, we PLAY. Lots!" I just have to agree with that approach. Zoo often surprises me; when he plays electric with Johnny, they play it LOUD, 'cos "that's how electric guitar is meant to be played". He is a gifted teacher who cares about his students with great depth.
In addition to being an excellent musician and song writer, Zoo is also an artist and landscape designer. Hope he enjoys his one-of-a-kind banjo.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Wayne Shrubsall

This Prairieville is on its way to Wayne Shrubsall. Wayne is a favorite of ours, a kind and helpful person and a fantastic banjo player. We think of him as a true " gentleman and scholar".

His Prairieville Vintage 12" is all walnut, with the standard brass hoop tone ring. It features Vintage peghead inlay and Peghed (tm) planetary geared tuners.

This is Wayne's second Chuck Lee Banjo.