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

http://www.folkways.si.edu/conversations-with-north-american-banjo-builders-vol-4-more-north-american-banjo-builders-dvd/old-time/video/smithsonian


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I make several kinds of rims in various construction methods, dimensions, and wood species according to what components will be used and kind of banjo a customer wants.

My own construction, and my favorite for some things is the LeVan Interlock™ rim, which is a very strong and stiff finger-jointed construction with an inner lamination. This allows one kind of wood to be used for the core, based on the sound quality and another to be used inside for cosmetic reasons.

The small pieces of wood required allow me to be very selective in terms of grain orientation.

My normal core is northern grown red maple, although I have used many others.  Below is a maple one with a cherry inner lamina

Each type of rim construction has a different amount of glue surface; a 3-ply laminated rim has 24 times as much glue as a finger-jointed one, and 10 times as much as a 3-tier block rim. Other than that, if the wood they are made from is the same, and they are of like dimension,  they weigh the same and have “tap-tones” at about the same pitch.

Much has been said and written about rims, and it is a subject of great interest. I make another kind of rim,which I call the  Turbo™.This is not really a “rim” per se, but a support for a tone ring and structure allowing the head to be tightened.  Here’s the way it looks:

While I normally do not sell parts or components. I will, on a special order basis, make a new rim for an existing banjo.  This requires the entire banjo to be sent to my shop, so that once the new rim is made, the banjo can be set up properly.

The set-up is part of the service.

 

This can produce a profound improvement the sound of many banjos.

The most straightforward method of making banjo rims, and the way I normally make them is steam bent laminated, and this is probably the most common rim construction method historically.  Slats of wood are steamed, then bent into circles and glued together in order to make a cylinder.

This can be done in different ways; Vintage Fairbanks Vega rims had 7 plies and Vintage Gibson rims had three. The number of plies is not particularly significant as long as the wood is in the proper orientation and the plies are tightly glued together with the joints staggered.


My rims are normally 3 ply with a heavy birch outer lamination which gets turned down in order to accept the bracket band and tonering, 2 American beech inner laminations and a “veneer” on the inside which matches the neck.














Above is a rim with a curly maple veneer on the inside and a mahogany rim cap, which covers the lamination lines.



I make a laminated rim I call the “power rim” which has 2 vertical beech laminations, which act as a kind of 3-dimensional cross-banding  and allow holes drilled through the rim to be threaded.  A variant of his kind of rim was used on Vega Pete Seeger banjos,which had set-screws in the rim to adjust the action.  This is a very stiff and lively rim.

In this rim, the outer lamination and the inner “veneer” are made from cherry, and the inner two laminations are made from beech.

Normally, I would use yellow birch for the outer lamination

The third method,shown below is the block rim type, which, as the name implies is laid up brick-fashion. This is a very common method, popular with home-builders because of the ease with which it is made, and works best for heavy rims.

I seldom make block rims, but it is useful in some cases, such as in the use of unusual woods that can’t be easily steamed or for unusual diameters, particularly inner rim profiles with changing diameters, and can be constructed in interesting ways, such as splined.

A red maple finger-jointed blank with the pieces quarter-cut, showing the distinctive flake on the top surface.  These rim cores have a minimum of glue and  are very strong.  These are not “stave” rims - the grain runs horizontallt around the rim exactly as in laminated ones.

The rim of a banjo is a kind of skeletal structure that provides an anchor point for the various pieces of hardware that tension the head.

It is where the tone ring sits and receives the vibratory impulses from the head.

Think of it like the sides of a guitar; the top is what produces the sound, but the sides are the structure that holds it in place.

While the rim itself is not the primary sound producer in a banjo - the head does that, the size and geometry of the rim are especially important as it can either allow the head to produce sound, or rob sound from it by flexing and vibrating too much.


The rims I make are designed to provide the maximum amount of circumferential stiffness in various depth and diameters.  Different construction methods are used to allow different kinds of tone rings, bracket bands and other components to be happily fitted.

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