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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: New Vntage - Variations on a Theme


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Ken LeVan - Posted - 01/31/2018:  16:06:13


I just finished 6 very different banjos - almost finished with a 7th, and I must admit it has been an interesting month - and-a-half.



When I conceived of the New Vintage banjo, the idea was that it would be handmade, but more or less standard, so that I could make them in an organized manner and establish a work-flow and make quantities of common parts which would enable me to sell them at an affordable price.  I posted the basic New Vintage on this forum and my website, and it turned out to be very popular.



The idea of the small production “standard model” hasn’t worked out that way, mostly because I can’t make them fast enough to put them upon the website and sell them “as is”.  I have been getting orders, and it seems everyone wants some special touches.  This is all well and good, because I am a custom banjo maker anyway, so I’m happy to do that,  and I am learning lots of things in a compressed time frame.



What has happened is that the orders I have gotten have led to me being able to expand the “product line” based on what people actually buy,  not market research - as a designer, I couldn’t ask for a better way of deciding what to make.



So, I thought it would be an interesting thing to show these latest 6 banjos, all using the basic NewVintage construction, but each having some difference or differences, some cosmetic, some constructional.  The first big change was an order for a 12 inch one, and it went out from there to special inlays, special details, fretless banjos, skin heads, nylon strings,  a skirted wooden tonering, and a short scale.



Since there’s a lot happening here, I’ll write this thread in “chapters” bit by bit, and it may become boring to some people, but I’ll share what I’ve learned to those who remain interested.



I plan to do comparative sound files, so the “chapter approach” will work best because I can’t insert a sound file into a certain point in the text like I can a picture, so it would get very confusing.



First of all, the wood for the necks- There is no cherry one in this batch, but I used 6 different approaches:



They all have the cross-banded laminations I use where the fret side-markers are integral to the fingerboard assembly.





On a banjo, the strings transfer their vibrations to the head,which is what makes the sound, but the strings also transmit their energy to the neck via the peghead (the neck is not energized by the rim or the connection thereof).

The neck, then, has some real contribution to the sound, in terms of the overall. You will not find that a walnut neck makes the banjo sound all that different than a cherry or maple one, but a more or less massive neck has some difference as does a neck that is not tightly fastened to the pot.  I think this effect is what has contributed to the erroneous idea that the neck is energized via the rim - It’s not - the rim can actually steal energy from the head and a loose connection can do the same.



The first banjos I’ll talk about are the 12“ ones.  These are interesting because one has a “normal” scale (26 1/4“ 22 fret is my “normal”) and the other one has a 24 1/2“  21 fret scale, which is the shortest I have ever done on a “G”  banjo, so this was new territory for me.

Here is the 26 1/4“ scale one with no scoop and 22 frets:



This has some nice details - a special inlay specified by the customer at the 5th fret, black binding on the fingerboard, a mahogany heel cap and rim cap, a special satin rubbed finish, a standard spaced bridge (I usually use Crowe), a brass Rudy rod bearing washer, which I now use across the board,and the lack of a scoop, which I mentioned before.

Here are details of the neck - it’s very hard to photograph the satin finish, but it feels really smooth and nice, and I will probably use it as my default in the future unless otherwise specified - it’s a little more difficult and unforgiving to do, but user-friendly, and I like it:



Here’s a shot of the mahogany heel cap and rim cap, which came out nice.



It’s only fair to say, that some of these details can cost a little more than the $1295 base price if they cause me to have to interrupt my work flow.



Here’s the 12” banjo with the 24 1/2“ scale, which has a walnut neck:



You can see the difference in proportion, and the 12”pot makes the neck look even shorter, but it’s  G banjo.  I posted a thread on this forum about how to string this, and got a lot of great responses, even a way to calculate gauge differences relative to vibrating string lengths, I call “Politzer’s ratio”.   The person I am making this banjo for is using 9-10-13-20-9 on a longer scale, so if I use 10-12-14-22-11, that will seem heavier - probably "normal" to him on the short scale, and I can go from there.  My reason for the 11 ga 5th string, which is "out of spec" is that he won't be fretting that one, so it doesn't hurt to have it on the heavy side to eliminate twanging.

Anyway, it works great! - better than I had imagined it would, and I didn't find the strings to be overly slack, even with an action of a little over .100 at the 12th fret.  Most importantly, it sounds really good.  This is a 12" pot,which has more head motion, so I thought I might get some twanging or buzzing with a normal action, but I don't.



This banjo goes to Canada, so I have avoided all MOP or anything that would raise eyebrows of fish & wildlife inspectors - all the inlays are made of metal - magnesium, brass, and nickel silver.  I think it looks great, and would not hesitate to use the little brass and nickel silver dots on other banjos - they are more interesting than MOP dots:





Here are sound files of both these banjos - I am going to use a fingerpicked version of Soldiers Joy to compare sounds because for one, I am a crummy frailer, and two, I think you can hear the notes more clearly. Then I do a mercifully short sample of really bad clawhammer (I have been practicing for about 3 weeks) I think there is a slight difference you can hear from the shorter scale - not better or worse, just different. can you hear it?



Next will be the fretless “FretNaught” ones.



 


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 01/31/2018 16:20:40


mike gregory - Posted - 01/31/2018:  17:14:19


Pardon my drooling!

Hope your happiness is the result of a perfect balance between "Busy", Rich", and "Relaxed".

BNJOMAKR - Posted - 01/31/2018:  17:28:14


Beautiful! I'd like to see some pictures of The Raven.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 01/31/2018:  17:50:06


quote:

Originally posted by BNJOMAKR

Beautiful! I'd like to see some pictures of The Raven.






That will be the next thing I post - coming right up.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 01/31/2018:  18:42:35




 





Next, I will show pictures of  the two fretless ones, and I will be offering these designs ongoing as a New Vintage option.



One I call the Raven, and the other one “Night Sky”. Of course, I will make other motifs, I’m sure.

I am calling my fretless banjo the “FretNaught”.



There are some interesting elements in these, which I will explain.



Both of these are 12” ( I make them 11’ or 12”, and have a skirted wooden tonering I call the SuperWoodie, which, in this case, is made from ipe, one of the hardest woods on earth - harder and denser than Gaboon ebony, and I have it baked.  These tonerings have a brass skirt which fits the tonering onto the rim and increases the stiffness of the assembly considerably.



The pot then has a bracket band with ball-brackets silver soldered to the band, a unique feature I just figured out how to do after much experimentation.  All New Vintage banjos have a brazed bracket band, but this is the first with ball brackets, which are a little heavier and offset the woodie tone ring - the ones I make don‘t stick out as far as the normal ones, so the hooks don’t splay out at the bottom.



Here’s a pic of the inside of the Raven pot, and you can see how much the tone ring overhangs the top of the rim - the rim is 5/8“ thick and the pot is 3 1/8” deep, so it’s a pretty voluminous 12“ pot.



Here’s a closeup of the inside of the Night Sky one





First, the Raven.

It has flush fret markings inlaid in wood, 12” pot, mahogany neck, skin head and nylgut strings - a VERY plunky banjo.

This one has a Honduras mahogany neck from beautiful old pattern grade wood, with a 3-ply center stripe, in a low-key visual ode to vintage ODES,  but I would make it in cherry walnut or maple as well.



Then the Night Sky - a very different banjo; 12”,  it has an elite amber head, steel strings and no fret markings except for the side markings I always do in the fingerboard laminations.

Because of the very dark and smooth ipe, I decided to do a planets and stars motif, which I am very fond of, but in these fretless banjos, there is no need to “stay within the lines”.

It’s a powerful banjo with more volume and a different sound than the plunky nylgut one.  I just got a sound file in email from the person I made this for, and I’m sure he’ll post it.



In terms of the fingerboards, I wanted them to be very hard and very smooth because these are fretless, and you want to slide a note up or down the fingerboard. I decided at the git-go that I did not want to make brass fingerboards - I just can’t warm up to that even though I am an experienced metal worker.  I also wanted to be able to free myself from worrying about the relative hardness of the wood and inlays, and with a fretless, there is really no need to follow the fret positions in any way, so I was able to make the inlay on the fingerboards pretty graphic and free form. This meant I could use larger and more graphic inlays and wanted to have a uniform hardness and smoothness.



I went with a resin impregnation, which saturates into the pores of the wood, bonds everything together and after several applications creates a uniformly smooth and dent/scratch resistant surface harder and smoother than wood. I have knives with impregnated handles that have lasted for years and years without any deterioration, so this is how my fingerboards are made.

Here are some close-ups of the two so you can get an idea. They are very very hard and smooth.  The large graphic elements, made from baked ipe, dyed sycamore, lacewood, magnesium, Corian and other resin materials of my own formulation are the full thickness of the fingerboard, so technically not inlays.  The abalone, and MOP, are inlayed in the usual way.

It’s nearly  impossible to photograph these so that you can see into the wood grain, but it’s there.



 





Of course, for those who want a plain Spartan instrument, appropriate for a fretless banjo, I can do this without any inlays at all, and because of the resin impregnation, I could use a number of different kinds of wood with complete impunity.



I tried various bridges on the skin head nylon one and wound up with a light maple 2-footed one, which is traditional for gut strung banjos.



 



You probably notice I am using moon bridges on these, which is not necessary for any intonation reason, but I like them and they resist falling over better than straight ones.



Here are some sound files. These are tough because, as said before, I am a crummy frailer, and  I have never played a fretless banjo, so bear with me.  I’m trying to get across the difference between the sound of the skin head / nylgut strings and the steel strings / elite amber head.  It’s a kind of funky verse of John Henry with a lot of sliding, ehich is what fretless banjos do- the foul notes are not because of the banjo, which has no frets - it’s because of my first shot at playing this kind of banjo.


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 01/31/2018 18:58:29


jamesinkster - Posted - 01/31/2018:  21:47:21


Beauties!
And I love the woodie wrapped in brass — I’ve been contemplating something similar on a woodie I’m building... mostly because I wanted to add the mass of the brass but leave the wood leading edge.

Great work as always.

Emiel - Posted - 02/01/2018:  02:18:44


LeVan banjos belong to the most amazing and most beautiful banjos built today...

FlyinEagle - Posted - 02/01/2018:  03:55:13


Ken,

You really are at the top of your game with this project. These banjos will live for 100 years after we’re all gone.

The 12” pots have a beautiful voice.

You were right, I absolutely love The Raven…love the tone too.

All of these fretless banjos are works of art…and FretNaught might be the best name ever.

I could keep going…

mikehalloran - Posted - 02/01/2018:  04:25:36


Wow!

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  06:00:43


quote:

Originally posted by jamesinkster

Beauties!

And I love the woodie wrapped in brass — I’ve been contemplating something similar on a woodie I’m building... mostly because I wanted to add the mass of the brass but leave the wood leading edge.



Great work as always.






Thanks!



I'll be posting an 11" one shortly with this same tonering along with a sound file so you can hear a direct comparison of it vs a brass Tone~Wave one of identical construction.  I've also made two other tonerings - teak and amelanchier, which I will test in order to see if the species makes any difference.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  06:09:20


quote:

Originally posted by FlyinEagle

Ken,



You really are at the top of your game with this project. These banjos will live for 100 years after we’re all gone.



The 12” pots have a beautiful voice.



You were right, I absolutely love The Raven…love the tone too.



All of these fretless banjos are works of art…and FretNaught might be the best name ever.



I could keep going…






I thought you would like it.  I am really a big admirer of the ravens inasmuch as we live among them here. They are the smartest birds.  They sometimes fly above me "talking to me" when I am out hiking in the woods with the dog.  Ravens have a symbiotic relationship with wolves - they act as "aerial reconnaissance" and then get to share the meal with the wolves.  They must think my German Shepherd is a wolf who is going to provide them with some big meal.

LakeMonster - Posted - 02/01/2018:  06:14:26


The photographs and detail are fantastic as always Ken. I love the thought process behind the "super woodie" tone ring, really interesting stuff!

Beardog - Posted - 02/01/2018:  07:00:29


I am brand new to a fretless banjo, and fairly new to learning how to play in the clawhammer style. So, I am most certainly not the best person to showcase one of Ken's banjos. But, setting aside my pride and self consciousness, here is my first attempt on the "FretNaught" Night Sky, recorded as soon as I opened the case. It's just in open, standard G tuning.


hardleydavidson - Posted - 02/01/2018:  07:21:45


Wow, simply wow

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 02/01/2018:  08:24:22


Hard not to like any of these banjos, even though all of them have their individual voices, differing in ways both subtle (short scale vs. long scale) and rather dramatic (nylon fretless vs. steel strung fretless).

I particularly like the approach to inlay on the fretless models. The large graphics lend a dramatic and more artistic element to those fingerboards than the usual centered dots, stars, feathers, or what-have-you. Were I a banjo maker, it's the direction I would certainly take.

flatline - Posted - 02/01/2018:  11:20:53


Ken, I said it before : you make awsome banjos;
the preparations "before" you start, like the sidedots beïng part of the laminations ... I adore your work !
F

dpgetman - Posted - 02/01/2018:  11:43:04


Thanks for the update Ken, these are simply gorgeous.

I'd love to hear more about the resin impregnated finger board process. Do you do that with your fretted boards as well?

David

OldPappy - Posted - 02/01/2018:  12:12:10


Wow Ken!

As always very beautiful banjos, and they all sound great!

Personally I like the difference in tone a 12" rim offers. I build more 12" than 11" and more short scale (23 1/2" and 24 1/2") than I do "standard scale". I don't build Bluegrass banjos, so I am talking about frailers.

The 11" rims I build have a slightly more articulated, or sharper tone, the 12" are slightly softer in tone. A little more bass response on the 12", and a little more on the other end for the 11".

I hear similar differences in your sound clips, and all of your banjos do sound great.

I doubt anyone else could produce something as nice as these in that price range, and I know I couldn't build that many in a month and a half, so you must have some real good production methods I haven't quite figured out yet.

Good Job!

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  12:13:11


quote:

Originally posted by dpgetman

Thanks for the update Ken, these are simply gorgeous.



I'd love to hear more about the resin impregnated finger board process. Do you do that with your fretted boards as well?



David






At this point, it's a proprietary process, and after considerable experimentation, I have developed several ways to do it.



It's an outgrowth of my watching more and more kinds of wood go "out of circulation" because of their overuse and endangerment, and my frustration in trying to find North American hardwoods that can be used to make fingerboards.  Ditto MOP and inlay materials.



Rather than complaining about it, this has resulted in my efforts to do something different that meets my aesthetic goals, doesn't look like a poor compromise, and is sustainable in the long term, turning a frustration into an advantage.



My intention is to impregnate all my fingerboards, which creates a kind of composite material, but real wood as opposed to some synthetic material used to make bowling balls.  I think I can do this and cut fret slots in the normal way, I also think I can do the "bold graphics" on a blank (which could be made of some wood like walnut, cherry, whatever, since I don't have to worry about the hardness), impregnate it, and then fret the fingerboard, creating a new look.



 

FlyinEagle - Posted - 02/01/2018:  12:45:57


Ken, I have to ask...the magnesium inlays are so intricate. Are you cutting these yourself? I don't have any concept of what that material is like to work with...hardness, etc.

Certainly seems to provide more liberty in design and accuracy in execution than MOP.

Dan Drabek - Posted - 02/01/2018:  12:47:27


Great stuff Ken. I not only admire your skills, but I admire your energy. A banjo a year is about all I can handle.

My favorite one is the scoop-less maple banjo. Love that fifth fret inlay.

DD

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 02/01/2018:  12:52:24


One thing to consider about your impregnated fingerboards might be to patent the process. It might be possible to then license it to others for a small price.

I, too, do not like the fact that so many woods are becoming endangered, and hate to see those woods wasted on some of the garbage banjos and guitars being produced today. If other makers had access to this process and could utilize more common (and inexpensive) woods for their instruments, some of those exotic ebonies and rosewoods might recover a little bit.

rickhayes - Posted - 02/01/2018:  12:57:23


I'm not really a person afflicted with BAS, but, damn...yesyesyes

OldPappy - Posted - 02/01/2018:  13:16:23


Be careful!

BAS syndrome appears to be incurable, and Ken's banjos are certainly a catalyst for the affliction.

I have a neighbor, 30 miles up the road, who has one of these banjos and has promised to bring it with him on his next visit. I look forward to giving it a try.

dpgetman - Posted - 02/01/2018:  13:26:58


quote:

Originally posted by Ken LeVan





At this point, it's a proprietary process...



 






I can respect that, Ken :).  

blazo - Posted - 02/01/2018:  14:56:55


Ken, these are incredible. You are making it exceedingly difficult for me to resist buying another Levan. The 12" fretless really has my interest.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  15:55:27


quote:

Originally posted by FlyinEagle

Ken, I have to ask...the magnesium inlays are so intricate. Are you cutting these yourself? I don't have any concept of what that material is like to work with...hardness, etc.



Certainly seems to provide more liberty in design and accuracy in execution than MOP.






Magnesium is much easier to cut intricate shapes from and engrave than MOP, and doesn't break or break your jeweler's saw blades as frequently. It was once used in the printing industry to make plates in the letterpress era, but it's gone the way of Kodalith film, rubylith, transfer type, Xacto knives, and wax machines in the graphic design biz - one of those crafts you learn about in art school like film photography. Fortunately, I have an old source and I've been using it for years - the peghead inlays on most New Vintage banjos are magnesium.  I like it because as MOP gets harder and harder and requires permits to ship anywhere outside the country, metal is always legal and even the dumbest customs inspector can tell the difference between metal and MOP.



Here's a magnesium feather inlay:



Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  16:01:12


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Drabek

Great stuff Ken. I not only admire your skills, but I admire your energy. A banjo a year is about all I can handle.



My favorite one is the scoop-less maple banjo. Love that fifth fret inlay.



DD






Thanks, Dan - that was the idea of the customer, and I really like it, too  Some of my best ideas come as a result of a customer requesting something special, and then I have to figure out how to do it.



That, by the way, is the first scoop-less New Vintage I've made.  I have two other fingerboards already finished - an 11" and a 12", in the event someone else requests one.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  16:05:43


quote:

Originally posted by blazo

Ken, these are incredible. You are making it exceedingly difficult for me to resist buying another Levan. The 12" fretless really has my interest.






I was surprised at how much fun they are to play, and there is great latitude in action height because there's nothing to buzz.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/01/2018:  17:29:49


Finally, I’ll talk about  the 11”  birds-and-feathers and the 11” SuperWoodie.  The cosmetic details notwithstanding, these are identical in terms of the rim dimensions, pot construction and scale length. The difference is in the tone rings.



Here’s the birds-and feathers banjo, which has some very interesting details - Made for a person interested in ornithology and familiar with the PA northern Appalachians, the inlaid neck is the result of a series of conversations with the person I made this for, and the maple, oak, walnut, cherry and apple wood used to make the banjo is all local to this area.  It has a brass Tone~Wave tonering and a curly maple neck as you can see. I did my best to match the color of the faux tortoise rim and heel caps with the curly maple.



This one has a more polished finish on the maple than the 12” one shown earlier.  Some interesting details besides the bird-and feather motif are the scoop and truss rod cover, which are made from resin impregnated burl like the fingerboards on the FretNaughts.  The peghead veneer here is made from bookmatched applewood, same as the raven FretNaught and also features a raven.  I wish I had more of this applewood, but the old apple trees from long abandoned orchards around here are usually hollow and it's practically impossible to get a piece of log large enough to saw into lumber, so it remains something precious for details and small parts  If I could get large enough pieces, I would make necks -I'm always on the lookout for one that blows down in a storm.



The last banjo is a standard NewVintage with a walnut neck and a SuperWoodie  tonering, which is the first one I have done on a fretted 11" banjo.



I talked about this on the section about the FretNaughts and another thread - the “SuperWoodie” is my version of a skirted wooden tonering. It this case, it extends out horizontally like a Bacon or Dobson tonering, adding stiffness to the rim, much like metal tonerings and is detachable.

For the first run of these, I made five - two 12” baked ipe ones, used on the FretNaughts described previously,  and three 11” ones with skirts the same thickness as a Mastertone skirt, thinking they could be interchanged with a Mastertone tonering with no modification to the rim. I might try one on my ‘27 Granada to see what happens.

One is baked ipe, one teak and the third is amelanchier laevis, a small North American tree with a very dense hard  wood, which is baked, and strangely, it didn’t change color.   I will test these to see if there is any difference in sound between the three, which I think will be subtle at best.  Here’s a picture of the three rings:



 This whole assembly is very rigid, but lighter than a cast tonering.  It produces a similar sound, but with its own accent.

Here’s what it looks like from the top - you can see through the head a little bit, and the dots add a nice graphic element.



Here are pics of the pots of a standard Tone~Wave and a SuperWoodie looking up from the bottom. You can see that they are the same except for the tone rings.  One thing interesting about these six banjos;  after years of experimentation, I have finally found a patina formula I really like, and I am getting some great color (of course it makes my fingers turn black for a day or so).



So, here are sound files comparing the two - same song - some treble notes in an intro and a funky verse of John Henry in the low register.  Both of these have no dead spots and are clear from top to bottom.



 


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 02/01/2018 17:42:23


Dan Drabek - Posted - 02/01/2018:  19:02:02


Ken, I agree. That patina is perfect. The crispness and color of the metal work compliments the wood. The overall effect is extremely pleasing. Like a fine antique. I wouldn't change a thing. I see you've made some refinements to the armrest, and I like it a lot. Solid but graceful. The whole package is really tasteful and the banjo is easy to fall in love with. To me, that's important.

Both banjos sound great. Warm and rich. I think the metal ring has a bit more sustain, but plenty of pop. Both are very musical.

DD

OldInTheNewWay - Posted - 02/01/2018:  22:25:27


So many more beautiful brother and sister banjos(I own a LeVan)! I love it!

We need to chat soon Ken. I'm in the market for a 12 inch half fret-less, and your pricing on these are outrageously low.

You still got that oak?

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/02/2018:  05:18:32


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Drabek

Ken, I agree. That patina is perfect. The crispness and color of the metal work compliments the wood. The overall effect is extremely pleasing. Like a fine antique. I wouldn't change a thing. I see you've made some refinements to the armrest, and I like it a lot. Solid but graceful. The whole package is really tasteful and the banjo is easy to fall in love with. To me, that's important.



Both banjos sound great. Warm and rich. I think the metal ring has a bit more sustain, but plenty of pop. Both are very musical.



DD






Thanks,Dan.



That patina is used by sculptors and people who make large outdoor statuary.  The thing I like about it is that  it's not easily controllable, so you have to work fast and you get a palette color that blooms quickly into coppery, bronzy and even some blue notes- slightly different every time but always the same range of color.  It reacts differently to cartridge brass, free machining brass, and even the silver brazing rod residue.  It also patinates nickel, which is handy,because it would work on nickel silver or nickel plating.  I think it would be a nice complement to the bronze you used on your crow banjo.



As for the armrest, there is a glue joint between the top and skirt, which makes a perfect place to insert a little piece of veneer.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/02/2018:  05:22:13


quote:

Originally posted by OldInTheNewWay

So many more beautiful brother and sister banjos(I own a LeVan)! I love it! We need to chat soon Ken. I'm in the market for a 12 inch half fret-less, and your pricing on these are outrageously low. You still got that oak?






Thanks, Garrett,



I do still have some of that curly oak - also some quarter sawn chestnut oak with a nice flake, which would be a great touch for a rim.  I could see the graphics working with an oak motif as a brother or sister to your banjo.

FlyinEagle - Posted - 02/02/2018:  05:40:06


Very interesting. There are definite differences between the cast ring and the woodie, but a lot more subtle than I expected. I think the brightness and sustain of the brass ring really comes through on the top end. This side by side really demonstrates how a banjo’s tone is the sum of the parts, not drastically influenced by any single component.

The patina on the metal works in perfect harmony with finish of the wood. The dots on the woodie and the patina on the brass ring are incredible details.

All of these banjos are works of art, in my opinion. And all 6 of them sound beautiful. And very impressive you produced them in the span of a couple months.

You have truly hit your stride, and I’m incredibly proud to call one my own. I’d like to thank you for your patience throughout the design phase, and especially thank you for exceeding my expectations!

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/05/2018:  05:25:50


quote:

Originally posted by FlyinEagle

Very interesting. There are definite differences between the cast ring and the woodie, but a lot more subtle than I expected. I think the brightness and sustain of the brass ring really comes through on the top end. This side by side really demonstrates how a banjo’s tone is the sum of the parts, not drastically influenced by any single component.



The patina on the metal works in perfect harmony with finish of the wood. The dots on the woodie and the patina on the brass ring are incredible details.



All of these banjos are works of art, in my opinion. And all 6 of them sound beautiful. And very impressive you produced them in the span of a couple months.



You have truly hit your stride, and I’m incredibly proud to call one my own. I’d like to thank you for your patience throughout the design phase, and especially thank you for exceeding my expectations!






Jeff,



Should I start working on the Philadelphia Eagles banjo right away?  ha ha

FlyinEagle - Posted - 02/05/2018:  07:42:12


quote:

Originally posted by Ken LeVan

quote:

Originally posted by FlyinEagle

Very interesting. There are definite differences between the cast ring and the woodie, but a lot more subtle than I expected. I think the brightness and sustain of the brass ring really comes through on the top end. This side by side really demonstrates how a banjo’s tone is the sum of the parts, not drastically influenced by any single component.



The patina on the metal works in perfect harmony with finish of the wood. The dots on the woodie and the patina on the brass ring are incredible details.



All of these banjos are works of art, in my opinion. And all 6 of them sound beautiful. And very impressive you produced them in the span of a couple months.



You have truly hit your stride, and I’m incredibly proud to call one my own. I’d like to thank you for your patience throughout the design phase, and especially thank you for exceeding my expectations!






Jeff,



Should I start working on the Philadelphia Eagles banjo right away?  ha ha






Hmm.  How about an Eagles FretNaught?

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/05/2018:  12:06:06


quote:

Originally posted by FlyinEagle

quote:

Originally posted by Ken LeVan

quote:

Originally posted by FlyinEagle

Very interesting. There are definite differences between the cast ring and the woodie, but a lot more subtle than I expected. I think the brightness and sustain of the brass ring really comes through on the top end. This side by side really demonstrates how a banjo’s tone is the sum of the parts, not drastically influenced by any single component.



The patina on the metal works in perfect harmony with finish of the wood. The dots on the woodie and the patina on the brass ring are incredible details.



All of these banjos are works of art, in my opinion. And all 6 of them sound beautiful. And very impressive you produced them in the span of a couple months.



You have truly hit your stride, and I’m incredibly proud to call one my own. I’d like to thank you for your patience throughout the design phase, and especially thank you for exceeding my expectations!






Jeff,



Should I start working on the Philadelphia Eagles banjo right away?  ha ha






Hmm.  How about an Eagles FretNaught?






That would be pretty cool!

lab_dad - Posted - 02/06/2018:  17:48:18


My New Vintage arrived today at 1:37 pm
I left work(early) shortly after it arriving.
I played it for about an hour before taking it to the weekly workshop.
Everyone went bonkers over it.
Amazed it was completely built by hand and one man.
The banjo is beyond my dreams.
It looks, sounds and feels just like I dreamed.
The experience with Ken was seamless, and beyond friendly and professional.
I ordered my banjo just after a Thanksgiving less than 3 months ago.
I can highly recommend Ken for any banjo build you might be thinking or even dreaming of!

By the way mine is the one with the satin finish (man the neck is fast!).
And the angel wings - for my dad.

Martin

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/07/2018:  11:51:22


quote:

Originally posted by lab_dad

My New Vintage arrived today at 1:37 pm

I left work(early) shortly after it arriving.

I played it for about an hour before taking it to the weekly workshop.

Everyone went bonkers over it.

Amazed it was completely built by hand and one man.

The banjo is beyond my dreams.

It looks, sounds and feels just like I dreamed.

The experience with Ken was seamless, and beyond friendly and professional.

I ordered my banjo just after a Thanksgiving less than 3 months ago.

I can highly recommend Ken for any banjo build you might be thinking or even dreaming of!



By the way mine is the one with the satin finish (man the neck is fast!).

And the angel wings - for my dad.



Martin






Thanks, Marty, I really appreciate that.



You were a pleasure to work with and some of your ideas will become standard practice.  I really thought that finish came out nice myself, and I'm sure I will be doing more like that in the future.



Ken

lab_dad - Posted - 02/08/2018:  17:23:44


If anyone is curious (I was) my banjo weighs 8.75 pounds.
I'd guessed wrong!
I know I'm nuts.....
Martin

Beardog - Posted - 02/10/2018:  11:57:00


I played around with my "Fretnaught" today. I tuned it to open G and capped it up to A. I then put on my Regan 5th string capo at the "A" position. The banjo performed fairly well capoed. I was under the impression that a capo couldn't be used on a fretless banjo, but that isn't true in this case. I did a recording of Cumberland Gap (I am trying to learn it in old time style, which is significantly different from the Sruggs style version that I learned a long time ago). This is just recorded with my laptop computer and the built in microphone, so it sounds a little bit "tinny", for lack of a better description.


heavy5 - Posted - 02/10/2018:  13:23:15


I'm a BG picker but find it darn near impossible to resist wanting to buy one of your beautiful banjos as I would love to learn claw hammer . Your craftsmanship reminds me of the Ode banjos where my first good banjo came from in the 60's .

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/12/2018:  07:57:38


quote:

Originally posted by Beardog

I played around with my "Fretnaught" today. I tuned it to open G and capped it up to A. I then put on my Regan 5th string capo at the "A" position. The banjo performed fairly well capoed. I was under the impression that a capo couldn't be used on a fretless banjo, but that isn't true in this case. I did a recording of Cumberland Gap (I am trying to learn it in old time style, which is significantly different from the Sruggs style version that I learned a long time ago). This is just recorded with my laptop computer and the built in microphone, so it sounds a little bit "tinny", for lack of a better description.






Sam,



Thanks!!



That sounds great, and putting a capo on it seems to have caused no problems at all. 

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/12/2018:  08:13:37


quote:

Originally posted by heavy5

I'm a BG picker but find it darn near impossible to resist wanting to buy one of your beautiful banjos as I would love to learn claw hammer . Your craftsmanship reminds me of the Ode banjos where my first good banjo came from in the 60's .






Thanks!



I have a good supply of old pattern grade mahogany for necks. The ODEs were made from "Peruvian mahogany", and I put that in quotes because it's an elusive wood, probably not actually mahogany.  Mine is Honduras - actually mahogany (swietenia), but it's very similar in appearance to the old ODES, and a top-of-the-line kind of wood for banjo necks.

heavy5 - Posted - 02/12/2018:  10:46:27


I definitely like the Super Woodie over the brass --a richer non metallic sound w/ a little less sustain .

Ken LeVan - Posted - 02/12/2018:  11:16:36


quote:

Originally posted by heavy5

I definitely like the Super Woodie over the brass --a richer non metallic sound w/ a little less sustain .






I like the SuperWoodie more and more every day - I have a walnut neck one here that's the only NewVintage that hasn't yet been sold, so that's the one I play every day.



part of my thinking when I used a .080 skirt was that I could make tone rings that were interchangeable with Mastertone ones.  I am about to make an archtop - to - flathead SuperWoodie for my '27 Granada and see what the difference is and make comparative sound files.  Based on the three SuperWoodies I haver made so far, I think it might be really great and almost two pounds lighter.

Emiel - Posted - 02/12/2018:  12:03:30


quote:

Originally posted by heavy5

I'm a BG picker but find it darn near impossible to resist wanting to buy one of your beautiful banjos as I would love to learn claw hammer . Your craftsmanship reminds me of the Ode banjos where my first good banjo came from in the 60's .






Clawhammer is very nice to learn and play. Please, do so. But you don't need to clawhammer on Ken's new banjos, you can play three-finger picking to great effect too, I'm sure... (Ken does so himself...)

heavy5 - Posted - 02/12/2018:  12:38:39


quote:

Originally posted by Emiel

quote:

Originally posted by heavy5

I'm a BG picker but find it darn near impossible to resist wanting to buy one of your beautiful banjos as I would love to learn claw hammer . Your craftsmanship reminds me of the Ode banjos where my first good banjo came from in the 60's .






Clawhammer is very nice to learn and play. Please, do so. But you don't need to clawhammer on Ken's new banjos, you can play three-finger picking to great effect too, I'm sure... (Ken does so himself...)






Thanks Emiel ,



I so much appreciate unique craftsmanship , especially in banjos , owning one of Kens banjos w/ the woodie tone ring would be a proud endeavor to accomplish while increasing my ambition to learn claw hammer . Thanks for your comments .



Bob



     

FlyinEagle - Posted - 02/12/2018:  13:24:02


 




Thanks Emiel ,



I so much appreciate unique craftsmanship , especially in banjos , owning one of Kens banjos w/ the woodie tone ring would be a proud endeavor to accomplish while increasing my ambition to learn claw hammer . Thanks for your comments .



Bob



     






Bob,



I’m a Scruggs picker too. I bought my New Vintage with the intention of playing 3 finger on it while I take my time learning clawhammer.  I think the tonal voice of Ken’s banjos sound great with either style.  Can’t wait to pick it up.

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