Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I couldn’t be happier with my Chuck Lee experience.

It’s about five months since the beautiful banjo Chuck built for me arrived, and they’ve been the best five months I could imagine.

I told Chuck I wanted a banjo primarily set up for playing with Nylgut strings and asked him what would be his ideal design. With little hesitation he suggested the Chalk Mountain with a 3” deep rim and an ebony tone ring. Chuck told me he loves to work with walnut which I really like as well so we decided on an all walnut banjo. I told him that I liked the look of the Cottonwood peghead the best, and that I wanted the banjo to look as natural as possible to highlight the walnut instead of any inlay.

Working through the banjo design with Chuck was fun and efficient, and when my banjo arrived it was everything I could have hoped for and more. Simple, beautiful and very light to hold were my first impressions, but upon strumming across the strings that first time I realized that this banjo was different, clear, crisp and explosive notes rang out and with such warm tone. I was so pleased by the combination of Chuck’s work and the Nylgut strings that I knew immediately this was a special banjo, and one I’d have for life.

I recently decided to put Chuck’s preferred Elixir strings on to hear what they would sound like and was not surprised this time to hear how awesome that transformation was. Steel strings on that deep walnut rim and the ebony tone ring are just fantastic. I really feel like I have the best of both worlds, and I couldn’t be happier with my Chuck Lee experience.

Kurt Eichler

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's all about the great customers.

Wow, we love our banjo customers. The following was written by Devin Tower, who we have had the pleasure of getting to know as a Texan, a customer and a banjo player. He's just another example of what this business is all about--the end user!

"About 5 years ago I was fortunate enough to retire at an early age. Many friends asked me what I would do and I told them 'I used to play the banjo and wanted to do it again'. So I started practicing bluegrass three finger style and it came back to me.

Then one day I heard Mary Cox playing clawhammer style and loved her sound on her Chuck Lee. I started playing some clawhammer and it came pretty natural. So eventually after a lot of research .... I looked up Chuck and the next thing you know I was in his shop In Texas. I had quite a few bluegrass style banjos but my wife told me I could have another banjo if it had our cat inlaid on it (not really! well, sort of!).

Anyway, I showed Chuck pictures of "Billie the Cat" and we decided to build the Cat banjo.. it has Billie on the headstock longing for a bird and her fishing on the fingerboard...the inlay is a work of art but the inlay is the least of it. Its about the SOUND and the QUALITY! Chuck's instruments are world class. The tone is special . The workmanship is impeccable. All the care and love Chuck has for what he does is embodied into the instrument. This Cat banjo has a beautiful curly maple 12 inch pot with a wooden tone ring and a highly figured black walnut neck...and a wonderful tone.

So the story goes on... I was in Chuck's shop again after getting the Cat banjo and I played a banjo he was shipping out. It had an 11 inch rim and Chuck's Dobson style tone ring .WOW! Another great sounding instrument. So once again Chuck and I picked out the wood. Curly maple neck. curly maple rim, figured ebony fingerboard and with no inlays. You see its all about the SOUND. Another Chuck Lee masterpiece was soon in my hands. What a joy to play.

The most recent banjo Chuck built for me is a 13 inch pot, nylgut stringed, scrolled headstock banjo with a skin head. We call it the "Fretless Wonder". It's like an old southern gentleman with a low soft but clear voice. A beautiful voice that is wonderful but hard to describe.

Thank you Chuck for creating such masterpieces. Your instruments seem to have a soul, a voice that creates beautiful music that I have not heard in any other banjo. Anyone that is fortunate enough to own or play one of your instruments understands what I am talking about. And as I have said before IT IS ABOUT THE SOUND ! Your instruments have the sound."

Devin Tower

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dave and Doug Unplugged

Dave and Doug Unplugged consists of Doug Hullinger and Dave Hicks. They started playing together when their daughters were in 2H Horse and Pony Club. We like the same kind of music and with Dave’s unbelievable ability to harmonize so easily they started singing folk music, Americana, and soft rock.

Dave played a classic guitar, and a 12 string. Doug was a Pete Seeger fan, and admires Pete's "folks songs are to be shared and enjoyed" philosophy, and has had no lessons except for Seeger's "How to play the Five String Banjo".

Doug bought a Chuck Lee Chautauqua with the Silver Bell tone ring (shown above) so he could be heard. They play a couple times a month at coffee houses and small festivals or other simple gigs, and enjoy sharing music with others.

As for the second banjo, Dave tells us:

"I saved enough money to get another Chuck Lee banjo. This one I wanted to be more traditional, no tone ring.

I did want something special so I contacted Chuck and we came to the conclusion that a custom banjo with a figure sitting fishing would be what I wanted. I live on a small lake, and play outside a lot during the summer.

I had no idea what a tremendous instrument would come to my house. It has a great true sound, the artistic work is completely unique, and it is always something people in the audience ask about every time we play. The sound is incredible. "

Monday, July 4, 2011

American Craftsman, American Dream, American Banjo, Happy 4th of July

Well, it's been over a week since the banjo arrived and I've had a chance to play it, and hear it played, enough to form an overall impression. In case you're short on time, here's the short version: This is a fine, fine banjo.

Here's the longer version:

First, I had to resist (as much as is possible, anyway) forming opinions influenced by how the banjo looks. It is absolutely flat-out beautiful. I really can't get over how pleasing it is to the eye and to the touch. I love the subtle, understated beauty of the unadorned headstock and fingerboard as much as I admire the artistry that produced the fit and finish of the components. I find myself now wishing that all of my banjos - including the bluegrass banjos - could be similarly bling-free.

The first thing I noticed in running through a few tunes was the instrument's overall tonal balance. I frequently play up the neck and was pleased to discover no loss in the strength or character of the notes in the banjo's upper register. As important, the volume remains constant as one progresses from the lower to the higher positions on the neck. These characteristics do not change when you step on the gas; the more forceful the attack, the louder the banjo gets. Very nice.

After playing it daily for the past week, I believe that I've found the sweet spot(s), become familiar with its idiosyncrasies, and have a handle on how to elicit the banjo's optimum response. (And respond it does. We had a jam session last Wednesday evening - banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and bass. In a group setting, just as when playing it by myself, the banjo sounds sublime - full, round notes, beautiful separation, excellent volume. Golly.)

The day before the jam, Ori came over and brought his Chuck Lee banjo. We spent several hours playing, passing the instruments back and forth. The sound from my new banjo, listening from the 'business side', was every bit as impressive, and perhaps even more, than when I play it (of course, Ori's fine playing may have helped a bit). I also noticed that the banjo has a really broad sweet spot - no matter where you place your right hand, it maintains its strength and tonal character. Simply put, it sounds great.

So in summary, Chuck, I am very pleased with this terrific banjo. And I'm more grateful than I can say to have chosen you to build it. I have no doubt that, as long as I'm able to play, my satisfaction with it will remain undiminished.

All the best,

Jim Evans

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Local Artist Contributes to Special Projects

We had a special local artist, Rebekah Alexander, collaborate with us for this wonderful banjo.

A little history: Rebekah is the wife of James Alexander.

James and his family have been long time family friends. As a high school student, James contributed many hours in an apprenticeship relationship here in our banjo shop.

He was a huge help as we developed our business, and continues to be interested in lutherie.

He is also a skilled musician as well as busy clock repairman. His wife Rebekah showed artistic talent at a young age, and now teaches art students in their home.

Rebekah has been a contributing artist on several banjo inlays.

So far, she has collaborated with Chuck in drawing a whimsical cat fishing, a mastiff and a cat playing with a fish.

Her next project will be a golden retriever for a custom on order.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One heart, one song, one life touches another....an unfading gift.

It was March 7, 2009, and I was eating lunch under the big tent at the bluegrass festival in Argyle, Texas, when I noticed a gentleman playing banjo at the end of a long row of tables. I could hear his playing only faintly, but it was not the banjo sound I was used to hearing. It was mellow and melodic and rhythmic and mesmerizing. I moved closer, introduced myself, and began to ask questions. He was gracious and patient, answering all my questions and demonstrating techniques by playing tunes as we spoke, and essentially giving me my first clawhammer banjo lesson.

I also couldn’t help but admire his instrument. It made a sound unlike any banjo I had ever heard – deep, woody and tuneful. It was also beautiful and organic, with a cherry neck and pot and a figured mesquite fingerboard and headstock. That was the first time I heard the name Chuck Lee. By the time I returned home from the festival, I had decided I needed to learn how to play clawhammer, and I had to have a Chuck Lee banjo. Soon after, I called Chuck to place an order and a few months later, I took delivery of my first banjo – a walnut Lone Star Deluxe – at Chuck’s shop.

One day, while browsing Chuck’s website, I saw this blog post, and I learned that James Reed, the gentleman that had been so willing to share his enthusiasm for clawhammer and his Chuck Lee banjo with me, had passed away. I spent less than two hours with James that day, so it’s hard to say I knew him, but learning that he was gone affected me. Last year, I began to talk to Chuck about building another banjo inspired by the one that James played the day I met him. We finally settled on something that would be a tribute to the original while still having its own unique identity.

I’m now playing that banjo, the custom Cottonwood pictured here, and it’s special in every way. It looks and sounds exactly as I had hoped, and it really captures the spirit of the original. I play it every chance I get. It’s my way of saying thanks – to James Reed for introducing me to the joys of clawhammer banjo, and to Chuck Lee for the care and craftsmanship that he puts into every instrument.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's all about the customer, the process and the product.

When I decided to upgrade to a very good banjo I had few options nearby so I had to do research on the internet. I was impressed by the fact that I could find nothing but glowing comments about Chuck and his banjos. He was professed to be a master craftsman and a wonderful individual to work with in terms of listening to what sort of sound and feel you want, what kind of woods and materials would lend themselves to that, and creating a final product that exceeded expectations.

The only complaint I have about my new Chuck Lee Custom Ovilla is that my playing level in no way extracts the potential of the banjo. Chuck exceeded expectations for the banjo and advice and service after the sale (I needed a little help with adjusting the action and was afraid I'd ruin it. He patiently walked me through the process and it was easy).

This particular banjo has a cherry neck and rim, renaissance head and heavy Moon bridge. It has a very nice tone with just enough plunk to arrive at the sound I was looking for.

I do not know why anyone would need look any further for a premium banjo than talking with Chuck. I assure you, you'll not be disappointed.

Jim Crumpley

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Custom 13" Chuck Lee Banjo.

Here's a fun project. Curly Maple neck, Scroll peg head, Pegheds tuners and a 13" x 3.5" x .25" Cherry rim. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, here's a little over 6000 words to say how much I liked this project.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Livin' a Dream & Makin' the world a better place, one Chuck Lee banjo at a time.

I recently traveled to Ovilla, Texas to pick up my Chuck Lee banjo, which was the culmination of a 45 year love affair with the 5 string banjo that began the first time I heard Earl Scruggs playing "Cumberland Gap". A store bought banjo served me well through college and Dental school as I enjoyed my efforts to sound like Scruggs and look like John Stewart. Then there was the 40 year gap of raising four kids and fixin' teeth, during which time I promised myself that one day I would treat myself to a "real" musical instrument . That day came by surprise in a magazine article about Chuck and his wonderful banjos. The deal was sealed for me when I learned that Bela Fleck chose Chuck to make a banjo for him. Dealing with Chuck has been a wonderful build up to finally getting the banjo in my hands, and to begin to play again. The process of selecting the woods and various components was a personalization process that led to an incredible product of "old world" craftsmanship that will undoubtedly be a family heirloom. Chuck is living the dream of enjoying his passion, and sharing the fruits of his amazing skill with others. Having a "Chuck Lee Banjo" is a source of tremendous pride for me.

Dr. C. D. "Mac" Taylor
Friendswood, Texas