Checking in with Chris Pandolfi

Chris PandolfiI had a chance to speak with Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters today, and he caught me up on a couple of projects he is working on going into the Fall. The band is heading into the studio next week, and Chris has a brand new banjo he’s planning to use when they start recording.

He is really excited about the banjo, a soon-to-be-released Chris Pandolfi signature model Huber. It will differ from the rest of the Huber line in that it employs a mahogany rather than a maple rim. The fingerboard is also fairly stark by modern standards, using dot inlays with a winged emblem at the 5th fret and Chris’ signature at the 21st fret.

Chris worked with Steve Huber to design the banjo, and is delighted with the result.

Chris Pandolfi signature model Huber banjo“I’ve been playing it around the clock for the past couple weeks and it’s really sounding great. It’s been a long process, and Steve has been really gracious with his time to make sure we get this right.

It has a very big dynamic range, which I think comes from the mahogany rim, allowing for a wider range of tone and dynamics – especially away from the bridge.

My goal all along with this banjo was to find something that suits my playing – a more modern as opposed to traditional approach. I still love to play grass, and I prefer a typical bluegrass set up, which I find more responsive.

Chris Pandolfi signature on his new Huber artist model banjoYou can set this banjo up with lighter strings and lower action, and the rim (to my ear) serves to mellow out the tone with a normal bluegrassy set up. But it doesn’t sacrifice anything when it comes to bluegrass playing.

Noam Pikelny (of Punch Brothers) came by the other day with his old pre war, and we got all the banjos out for some side-by-sides. He had his flathead and I had my two Hubers – the new one and my Lancaster – plus my Robin Smith banjo. Especially comparing the two Hubers, you could hear the difference that comes from the mahogany rim.

Noam really dug the new Huber too.”

Chris and the rest of the ‘Dusters will be packing it up and heading to Charlottesville, VA next week to record their next album for Sugar Hill Records. They will be recording at Haunted Hollow, the private studio of the Dave Matthews Band.

“Our manager works with their management on some things, and he hooked us up with this place. The Dave Matthews Band built it with the label advance for one of their projects a few years ago, and it is awesome.

We’ll all be living in a big house for nine days out in the woods, adjacent to the studio. Their gear list is amazing, and the rooms are beautiful. We decided to do it there to get out of Nashville to record, do something different, and explore the various sorts of music the Stringdusters can do.”

Gary Pacsoza will be engineering, along with Brandon Bell. Chris said that Pacsoza will be producing, along with the band.

“We have already done pre-production ourselves, and will share the producer credit with Gary. Most of the material was written by band members, a lot of it in group writing sessions. We’ve been leaving Nashville for 3-4 days at a time to write and work on new material as a band, and it has really paid off.

With six guys – all serious writers and players – the arranging is as important as the writing. Just trying to find an effective way to use six instrumental voices is a challenge in itself. It can be tricky with so many writers and musicians working together that we have a clear understanding and mutual respect for each other. It makes it easier to loosen your own artistic grasp and work as a group without so much ego involvement. I try to never take for granted what a great situation we have with the Stringdusters.”

The guys will finish recording at the end of the month and plan to make it to IBMA by Wednesday (9/30). We’ll try to get some feedback on how the recording went when we see them in Nashville.

I tried to get Chris to categorize the new material and the sound they are going for on this new project, but he deferred.

“I hesitate to try and describe the musical direction of this new record. For us, we don’t try to have many discussions about what we do, or what we should do – we just try to approach the songs and the arrangements as musically as we can as a group. It reflects what we’ve learned as a band over the years, and how we each now write material tailored to the band sound.

I guess I can say that it will be the most in depth exploration yet of what we do as a band, without setting stylistic expectations. It will be our most current musical statement.”

You can take that to the bank!

In addition to playing banjo with The Infamous Stringdusters, Pandolfi is also their official videographer. Here is his latest effort, a promo for the band’s upcoming November tour.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.