The LeVan No.1 is the cover shot on the 2016 Banjo Calendar

Ken LeVan has been invited to talk and show banjos at the Woodworker’s Showcase in Saratoga Springs, April 2&3, 2016, at the Saratoga Springs City Center and the Saratoga Springs Hilton Hotel.  A large part of this woodworkers’ symposium will be devoted to handmade musical instruments.

Woodworker’s showcase

Saratoga Springs

April 2-3 2016

David Politzer writes several important scientific papers about banjo acoustics

We recently had the honor of Having David Politzer the Nobel Laureate theoretical Physicist from Cal Tech as a guest in our studio for several days, discussing and playing banjos, and performing some experiments.  David has been playing the banjo since his youth in New York City, and has conducted some very interesting experiments with banjos and written papers about his findings, bringing a much-needed objective scientific approach to banjo design;  He wrote a paper about rim depths, showing how the proportions of a cylindrical rim can alter the sound.  Here you can hear a radio interview with him:


Later on he wrote a paper about the resonator, and how it operates, giving a banjo a “crack” as he calls it.  David used sound files made with a LeVan banjo with-and-without a resonator to illustrate his point.

Most recently he has been working on the idea of what a bridge does, and how the weight and species of wood affects (or doesn’t affect) the sound. He didn’t want the playing or the banjo itself to be a factor, which would lead to subjective judgements, so he masked off all the parts of the banjo except for the bridge and energized the bridge directly through a piezo disc driven mechanically through a range of frequencies and recorded the sound, which shows what the bridge is actually transmitting to the head.

His setup looked like this:

Then, on the subjective side, he is using a series of picking sound files you can listen to, made with a LeVan banjo using the various bridges, which include heavy and light red maple bridges, walnut, spruce, bamboo and mahogany.

I think this kind of investigation, done by someone operating at the scientific level of David, is tremendously important to understanding how banjos work and the future of banjo design.


It’s a real honor to have some small part in this, and I will continue to provide any support I can.

The LeVan TurboPot banjo, a totally different kind of construction, not using a conventional cylindrical rim, was chosen as the cover of the 2016 banjo calendar.  It also the banjo for May.

Completely experimental, it employs a series of radial fins, not unlike a water-wheel to support a brass tone ring.  The entire construction is energized by the vibrating head, and sound waves emanate from the sides of the pot, instead of through the bottom.

Visit to Brevard, NC

We had the opportunity to take a trip to Brevard, NC to visit close friends.

Years back, I made a banjo for a person on the Banjo Hangout who lived in Chautauqua, NY, which is near Buffalo. He had a 60‘s ODE pot/neck marriage that needed a dowel reset, which I did, and there is a whole story to that.

He really didn’t like the ODE, played in an Irish folk band and wanted a particular kind of banjo with a particular sound (he had a vintage Tubaphone but was looking for something that sounded more like Dave Guard, John Stewart and Tommy Makem on recordings).

I had just started into the idea of new kinds of rim construction and handmade tone rings at the time, and I made three prototypes in order to better understand what kind of sound he was after. We met at a State Park in upstate New York, and he played  all three, and decided he liked one best and that was the sound he was after, which he referred to the “Capitol Recordings subterranean recording studio from the 60s sound”.

I made him a banjo, and a powerful friendship grew out of that. Since then, I have made him two others including a lightweight longneck,which made it easier to play in hot pub settings.

Brevard is a wonderful place, and my friend plays with a bunch of other guys in a downtown bakery on Saturdays, and they are called “The Bakery Boys” with a loyal audience and they play a wide variety of tunes from bluegrass to the Carter Family and beyond.

As I was listening to them, I wanted to jump up and play along.

I truly wish there was a place like that here in Shunk,PA.

He recently got together with David Holt and showed all the banjos I made for him to David, who played them all, and apparently liked the aluminum / spalted maple one particularly.

John Miller, who I also made a banjo for, likes that construction too, and says it is “Poppy”. Here’s John playing Willie Moore on its close cousin Al.