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

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What’s a custom banjo?

It could be an off-the-shelf mass produced instrument with a couple of different inlays or a different color stain. Maybe even a builder’s personal standard  inlay design, which they make large numbers of, but is  unique to them - many people call that “custom-made”.

My definition is quite a bit different.  Every banjo I make that I call a custom banjo is made to the specifications of the person who commissions it - whatever they want in terms of design and features, as long as I can make it.  You can go to the “anatomy” page of this site and see various elements that can be specified.

When I make a banjo for someone, it is their banjo, made especially for them.



As a custom banjo maker, it’s tough to explain everything that’s possible, because it changes with each one I make. Many times I make a banjo for someone, and they come up with ideas I haven’t thought of.

I’ve made a lot of banjos of different kinds, designs, sizes and uses for different people all over the world,

and I learn something every time.



If I could  line a bunch of them up  it would make an interesting photo.  When I make a banjo for someone,

I take pictures of what I’m doing and send these work-in-progress images to the customer,

including a picture of the banjo when it’s all done, so I have a lot of pictures.


Below is  “virtual” representation of some custom instruments I’ve made - not all of them by any means, and there are conversions and restorations not shown here, but here’s a fun composite picture that can give you a bit of an idea of the variety.  Bluegrass banjos, frailing banjos, longnecks ( I have made a lot of those), all-purpose banjos, folk instruments, banjo lutes, even a Child’s A scale banjo.

LeVan banjos are made by hand, one at a time and no two are exactly alike.   My primary practice is designing custom banjos for individual customers. I’m not a mass-producer.  The closest I come to that is the NewVintage openback, which is made in small batches of 4 to 8 - even those are not all exactly the same.   Because of some of the special features and hand work, my banjos are not designed for mass production.


LeVan banjos are built from the ground up. It’s what’s called “vertical integration”;  I do not merely assemble them from parts purchased from other suppliers - I make most of the parts by hand in the shop. 

Every LeVan Banjo has a unique personality in both sound and appearance.