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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.

above: peghead made with spalted beech burl

The most common woods we use are:

  1.   The maples; red maple acer rubrum, and sugar maple acer saccharum

  2. Black cherry prunus seritina

  3.   Black walnut juglans nigra

  4.   Honduras mahogany swetenia macrophylla

  5.   American Beech fagus grandifolia

  6. Yellow birch  betula alleghenensis

  7.   kiln baked ipe  handroanthus spp.

We have a small sawmill and can mill our logs to whatever dimension and grain orientation we want. One type of board works best for finger-jointed rims, another for block rims, another for steam bent rims, another for laminated necks, another for single piece necks, and we can cut the boards the way we want. Plus, we can be very selective about which boards we use. 

Most logs wind up as firewood, but a special few are sawn for banjo use and set aside to season.

We have a wide variety of unusual wood species available for special projects.

red maple quarter sawn                 red maple flat sawn

Maple is the wood of the great violins of Cremona, and is the most widely used wood for banjo rims -it produces a lively, bright and expressive sound and is the benchmark by which all other banjo wood is judged.

Red maple is sometimes figured,called curly or fiddleback maple.

We use air-dry northern grown red maple, much of which is more than 30 years old.

We use red maple for rims,  necks and bridges. It is unexcelled for bridges.

      black cherry

Cherry is a beautiful wood, closed grain and dimensionally stable. It produces a strong, bright sound, slightly mellower than maple but similar.

We use cherry for rims and necks.

      black walnut

Walnut is darker than maple, and produces a slightly darker sound, a little more “mellow”.  We have some walnut that is 250 years old.

We use walnut for rims and necks.

Honduras mahogany

Our pattern mahogany is over 40 years old and is reclaimed from a foundry pattern shop. It is dimensionally stable and produces a bright but mellow sound.

We use it for rims and necks.

      black locust

Black locust is one of the densest and heaviest of North American hardwoods.

It has a metallic sound when used for bridges.

We use it for tone rings and splines in block rims.

      baked ipe

Ipe is a very dense wood, denser and heavier than ebony. When baked in a kiln or oven, it becomes as black as ebony.

We buy plantation grown certified wood, which is sustainable and not endangered.

We use it for fingerboards.

Amelanchier , “lancewood”

Asmall understory tree,it is extremely dense and was used by some native Americans to make body armor. It was also used to make fly rods before fiberglass.

We use it for fingerboards and trim.

      American beech

An extremely strong and flexible wood, which is underused and underappreciated. It is particularly good for steam bending.

We combine it with maple or cherry to make laminated “power rims”.

      yellow birch

A very strong wood which has a red heartwood resembling cherry.  It has been used for high-end block rims and is highly regarded.

We use it to make laminated rims, either alone or in combination with cherry, beech or maple.

We use only the best wood to build banjos, and what we use is northern grown, here in the mountains of Pennsylvania and carefully air dried over a long period of time. The black cherry from the forests north of I-80 in Pennsylvania is legendary.

Some of our wood is quite old and has gone through many seasons of expansion and contraction.