LeVan Custom Banjos

Peghead Designs

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.

Head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

If you want something unusual, like a longneck, or a 6-string, or a conversion of a great vintage pot, or a banjo with a special scale, special wood, special inlays, or some combination of these things, I make custom instruments to specification— In fact that’s how I started in banjo making— the first custom banjo I ever made was a longneck conversion of a Faribanks Electric.

Always wanted a special banjo?  much is possible and you can virtually “build your own banjo” .

As you can imagine, prices of custom projects are based on the scale and complexity.

below: some custom elements and ideas that can be incorporated into one of my banjos

CannonBell banjo

with  special inlays based on Hobo symbols written with chalk in the “Wabash Cannonball” era. The peghead is “Chessie the cat” from the C&O railroad

top-tension TuBaTone bluegrass banjo with mahogany neck, sapele resonator and cardinal marquetry made from resin impregnated padauk, baked ipe, and yellowheart wood

12”  “Featherlight” lightweight banjo,

with teak SuperWoodie tonering, patinated aluminum metal parts and turquoise inlay

half-fretless, 12”

Greene& Greene Arts & Crafts style,

with ipe SuperWoodie tonering, curly oak neck, chestnut oak rim

wood inlaid fingerboard with California Poppies

32” scale longneck with elaborate multi color MOP and abalone inlay, scoop, polished brass finish and CannonBell tonering

6-string banjo, 14”

one of a pair,

with TuBaTone bronze tone ring. slotted peghead,

resin impregnated marquetry fingerboard

picturing elephants and Mt Kilimanjaro

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12” fretless

with skin head, nylon strings, and

resin impregnated marquetry fingerboard made from black locust and baked ipe

picturing ravens, and a magnesium engraved

raven’s nest

When I was doing industrial design, if we got a project where we were allowed to go outside the box,

we called it “blue sky”.

bluegrass banjo, CannonBell with a triple-radiused fingerboard, asymmetrical ergonomic neck profile, custom flange design, and an

“If I had a Hammer”

inlay motif

For years I was frustrated by the tailpieces I could buy—I considered them to be somewhere in between flimsy rattle-traps

that would buzz and break, and over-engineered-contraptions that were way more complicated than they needed to be.

I want something to be simple, easy to string, have some mass, and apply down-pressure to the strings.

My favorite armrests are wooden ones—they are lighter weight,

non-allergenic (nickel is the most common allergen)

and can be made in any woods to match the neck and the rim.

I now make laminated ones, an evolution from my “Tapio” design.

They are very flat and comfortable.

A banjo bridge is the conduit of vibration

from the strings to the head.

LeVan bridges follow the classical form of 

Roman and Syrian arches from the ancient world,

they carry the energy of the strings directly to the head

like the load path of a structural arch.


I make necks from a variety of woods—the most common are curly maple, black walnut, black cherry, and Honduras mahogany


I cut all the inlays by hand, so I’m not constrained by what’s available from suppliers.

One important historical feature of banjos is that they have traditionally had more elaborate fingerboard designs

than other instruments such as guitars and mandolins.

I’ve done a lot of different designs with a variety of materials.


I make all the metal parts—sometimes 88 in one banjo. Every banjo I make has a bracket band, regardless of the style.

I make different kinds of bracket shoes,and with the exception of the aluminum ones. they are brazed on to the bracket band,

creating a monolithic, ringing assembly  I am the only banjo builder who does that, and it’s a signature part of my practice.

Because of the brazed construction, I don’t have to use “L” brackets or brackets designed to withstand upward rotation.

Bracket bands don’t rotate up..