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

© LeVan Banjos • LeVan Banjos is a division of LeVan Design, Shunk Pennsylvania

CannonBell™, Kone11™, SteepCreek™ , ZipNut™, Turbo Pot™ , Tone~Wave™ and Eclectic™ are trademarks of LeVan Design     

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

The LeVan New Vintage™ is a limited production banjo  with many features of our more expensive custom instruments, but at a more affordable price. 

This is a result of several years of planning, design development and experimentation backed by 50 years of banjo building and design experience.

Inspired by the great vintage instruments of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the New Vintage is a premier openback for folk, frailing and clawhammer.

I will make a limited number of these each year as time permits, and while they will follow a fairly standard design,

each one will be different in some way so that each one is unique in it’s own right.



BANJO LUTESbanjo_lutes.html
BUY & ORDEROrdering.html
  1. Handmade from air-dry Pennsylvania cherry,

walnut or red maple.

•Laminated 3-ply rim with inner 1/8” veneer lamination and faux tortoise cap

• Brass 1” bracket band with 24 bracket shoes, silver brazed

  1. Special design Tone~Wave™ tone ring

• Metal parts solid brass, entirely hand made and patinated

• Plantation grown baked ipe fingerboard - harder than ebony

• Inlaid peghead veneer and fingerboard

• Laminated book-matched neck with 3-ply center stripe and dart volute

• Cross banded laminations under fingerboard and peghead veneer

• 2 way truss rod

• Faux tortoise or faux ivory binding on fingerboard

• Handmade brass hooks and ball- end nuts

• 2-band planetary tuners

• Rudy rod neck attachment with steel tension rod, 6061 aluminum heel anchor, second bolt, and washer plate

• LeVan ZipNut™ zero fret nut

• LeVan arched mountain maple moon bridge

Standard features of the New Vintage™

available in 11” or 12”

Pete Seeger inspired “harpoon” peghead has engraved magnesium inlays.

The ZipNut™integrated zero fret nut, developed in 2012 and is standard on all LeVan banjos.

Faux tortoise truss rod cover

The rim  is 3-ply laminated yellow birch and American beech with an inner 1/8” veneer that matches the neck wood. The inside laminations are American beech, which provides extra stiffness and gives a “snap” to the sound.

I have been using beech as an inner lamination for 4 years, and it has stood the test of time. The rim has a faux tortoise cap.

The Tone~Wave™ tone ring is a self skirted construction with a heavy skirt and a heavier undulating wave-like inner section,which contacts the rim at 18 points, and is partially supported by a band on the rim.  This tone ring weighs about 2 pounds, rings like a bell, and produces a very strong and expressive sound in combination with the rim.

The bracket band, invented by David Day, of Vega Fairbanks in 1901, was first used on the revolutionary Whyte Laydie, and the bracket shoes were bolted onto the band.

The New Vintage band has 24 shoes brazed on, so it becomes a monolithic construction, which rings like the tone ring, and is an important sound producing part of the instrument, adding mass to the center of the pot and eliminating the necessity for holes to be drilled through the rim for shoes.

Together, the combination of the rim, tone ring and bracket band are a happy marriage and make a solid, clear sound, all up and down the neck with no dead spots.

The bookmatched neck  has a 3-piece center stripe contrasting woods.

The dart volute, a vintage feature, along with the laminations, adds strength to the vulnerable neck-to-peghead juncture.


The metal parts are patinated to a bronzy color and lightly buffed on the edges.


On banjos with frailing scoops, the scoop has a generous ogee-shape, going from below the 13th fret to beyond the 18th, giving plenty of thumb room. The high “A” of the 19th fret can be sounded in tune by fretting the string against the far edge of the fingerboard as it falls to the scoop. 

The 5th string edge of the scoop is eased and rounded where the thumb might hit it. This is based on examination of the wear on old banjos with scoops.

The ball-end nuts and brass hooks are hand made. The hooks are heat-forged at the tip during the annealing process to increase the toughness and strength.


You can see the faux tortoise rim cap and heel cap.

The Neck attachment is a Rudy rod with a steel tension rod and a second bolt below the rod, both screw into a 6061 aluminum anchor in the heel below the heel cap. The tightening ball on the tension rod is the tailpiece lug.


The ergonomic wood armrest is made from the same wood that the neck is made from.

It has a generous radius where the arm hits it, and tapers down beyond a break angle.  It does not extend over the head. There is another break angle on the bottom skirt.

I call it the “Tapio”, because it was inspired by the work of the great Finnish industrial designer Tapio Wirkkala, whose designs, including knife handles, employ precise curved surfaces and shadow lines caused by break angles.

This is an extremely lightweight armrest and does not rattle or buzz.

I also make a Tapio Wirkkala inspired neck profile.

There are 78 hand-made metal parts in each New Vintage banjo


11” model in

red maple




The tailpiece is a specially designed brass model for this banjo, a lighter and shorter the LeVan Prestissimo tailpiece used on bluegrass banjos and longnecks

The bridge is an arched LeVan moon bridge made from either acer spicatum or acer pennsylvanicum, small closely related species of maple, in the red maple “family” growing in the dark forest understory and locally referred to as “mountain maple”.  Slow growing, the sapwood sometimes has 40 or 50 annual rings.

While this tree is too small to be of any commercial value, the wood makes especially good banjo bridges.


The string space of the tension hoop is gradually tapered up to the top surface and the hook on either side is shortened - a detail suggested by Glenn Carson.  This precludes hitting your fingernail on the shoulder of the string space of the tension hoop.

cherry with

maple and walnut center stripe

Special details, such as inlays on the scoop and variations in finish can be provided on a special order basis for a modest up-charge

CUSTOM BANJOSCustom_Banjos.html