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Ken LeVan and LeVan banjos is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways series “North American Banjo Builders”


© LeVan Banjos  email ken@levandesign.com

LeVan Banjos are made in the USA from sustainable, non endangered materials.


The body of the banjo, known as the “pot” in banjo jargon is the core of the instrument

and it’s construction consists of a rim,which is the “chassis”, a tone ring that the head stretches over,

all the hardware that allows the head to be tightened, and the head itself, which is what produces

the distinctive sound of the banjo.

There are different ways to design the pot, and I have two basic styles.


Probably no other part of the banjo has been the subject of more theories, widely held beliefs, anecdotal oral tradition,

folklore, and “conventional wisdom” than the rim—you’d think it was the “sounding board”of a banjo.

In actual fact, the “sounding board” of the banjo is not the rim, but the sound is created almost entirely by the head,

which acts like the sounding board of a violin or guitar— the banjo rim is more like the sides of a guitar than the top. 

In order for the sounding board of any instrument to be able to vibrate to its fullest, it must be held rigidly in place.

The rim, then, is like the foundation of a building, which doesn’t move, and firmly supports the rest of the structure.

Its two functions on a banjo are to hold the head rigidly and to allow it to vibrate with none of its energy being dissipated or stolen by

vibrations and motion of other parts and to be the terra firma where both the hardware that tensions the head and the neck are attached.


The tone ring is the “gatekeeper” of energy transmitted by the head into the pot.  much subtlety of tone comes from the tone ring,

which is why they are called “tone rings”. The shape, weight, and type of material are all important, but most of all,

there has to be a happy marriage between the rim and the tone ring.

All LeVan metal tone-rings are hand-made from various alloys of brass, bronze, nickel silver, aircraft aluminum.

I also make a skirted woodie from woods with a high Q value, and aluminum skirted carbon fiber matrix.

I believe I may be the only banjo maker making tone rings in this way.

Over the years I have developed 7 kinds of tone rings in different materials and configurations,

Currently, I am producing four different styles with different weights and characteristics


My necks are multi laminated and engineered  for maximum stability.

Each one is made up of roughly 40 parts and glued together with several kinds of adhesives

The wood I use is from the upper elevations in northern Pennsylvania—the cherry and maple are sawn on my own sawmill.

It has been properly seasoned outdoors through the seasonal and climatic changes,

some of it is very old.  I bring it into the shop to acclimate several months before making it into a neck.

I believe I am the only builder who makes engineered fingerboard assemblies the way I do it.

I do not use endangered or CITES listed species for anything