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".......