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Meet Your Texas Maker: Chuck Lee Banjo Co.

Ovilla plumber strikes a chord
Written by Clayton Maxwell. Photographs by Will van Overbeek.

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You can’t play a sad song on a banjo, says Chuck Lee. Which is a big part of why this banjo-pickin’ father of seven and plumber by trade decided to use his retirement savings to convert his backyard shed into a banjo workshop.

ChuckLeeBanjoTagWith the help of his wife, Tamara, and the rest of his family, Chuck Lee and his custom-made Texas banjos are helping people across the country play more happy songs.

“My older brother called me one day and said he was going to give up on music, it just wasn’t there,” says Lee, an engaging raconteur who looks so much like Santa Claus that he plays the role each Christmas. “And I said, ‘I need to send you a banjo.’ He asked why and I said, ‘Because you can’t be sad playing a banjo.’ So I sent him one, and it sparked his whole passion for music again.”

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Over the past 12 years, Lee has built 660 banjos by hand. Banjo aficionados say you can tell the strum of a Chuck Lee banjo from across the room—the tones are clear, distinctive, and clean. Lee is also known for his personalized inlays on the fingerboard: a girl in a cowboy hat sitting on a crescent moon, a beloved basset hound, an angel. Lee still falls in love with each instrument he makes.

“Even now, before I pack a banjo up to send it off to a customer, I’ll hang it on the wall,” he says. “Every single one, I’m just wowed that I made it and that it turned out so nicely.”

Call 972/617-5576, www.chuckleebanjos.com. Workshop tours offered by appointment.

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