RIMS          WOODS         TONE RINGS         NECKS         ACCESSORIES           FINISHES

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


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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, Contrary to some popular wisdom, the amount of glue surface has no great significance, given tight-fitting joints. Despite method of construction and glue, if the wood rims are made from is the same, and they are of the same geometry,  they will weigh the same and have “tap-tones” at about the same pitch.

I make another unusual 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:

You can read about this and here a sound file on the “custom banjos” page

While I normally do not sell parts or components. I will, on a special order basis.time permitting, 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.


A proper set-up can produce a profound improvement the sound of many banjos.

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

The inner laminations are selected for stiffness and strength.

The outer layer and inner lamination determine the “look”, and normally, I use yellow birch, red maple, or black cherry for the outer lamination, depending on the finish and color it will have.

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  vertical joint “stave” rims, which lack circumferential stiffness - the grain in these runs horizontally around the rim exactly as in laminated ones.


Here is a splined cherry block rim, with ipe splines.  The splines become a decorative element

While the splines help hold the end grain joints together, it’s really the brick-fashion layup that gives a block rim its strength.

A block rim can be used to make thick rims and can be turned to any outer configuration, such as the Stelling rim, which is its strongest point, in my opinion. 

It is also useful for the cores of veneered inside-and-outside rims.

One construction, which is unique to me, and I have used over the years, 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 physical characteristics (weight, density, strength) desired and another to be used inside for cosmetic reasons such as matching the neck.

Several benefits of this method are: (1) The wood does not have to be steamed, so it’s possible to make a rim from wood that is not suitable for bending. (2) there are no internal stresses or danger of shear failure as in block rims, (3) the small pieces of wood required allow me to be very selective in terms of grain orientation.

My normal core is either northern grown red maple or some 250 year old walnut I have, although I have used many others.  Below is a maple one with a cherry inner lamination.

This method is also ideal for rims that have decorative veneers that are difficult to bend, such as figured wood, spalted wood, curly maple, etc. on both inside and outside.  This is a good construction for thick rims.


3-ply rim, birch / maple / beech with curly maple inner veneer, which matches neck, rim rod sleeve, and armrest.  The rim cap covers the lamination lines

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.


My primary rim construction method is three-ply laminated with an inner veneer.  I also use several other construction methods, dimensions, and wood species if the particular project requires it.

Some of these are shown below.