Winston’s Leopard-wood frailing scoop

Instruments are an important enough part of many musicians lives that they become almost like members of their family. As such, they are often given names by their owners. Christina Wilson, of the Honey Whiskey Trio has just welcomed “Winston” into her family. I didn’t pry into the reason behind the name (but have some guesses!), but she has made it known that Winston is already well loved. 

This banjo had its beginnings when my wife and I took our son to a vocal workshop given by the Honey Whiskey Trio in town just over a year ago. I wasn’t going to do it, but my son convinced me I should go give Christina, their banjoist, a business card. Our conversation somehow turned into an order, and Winston was born. 

Christina was very open to whatever ideas I was interested in pursuing, with only a few requests. It was to be an open-back with a frailing scoop, something I had not done yet, so was excited to pursue. She did not need fancy woods or inlays. But left these choices to me.  

Using the flared rim was something that made sense to me for an open back, because the hooks and brackets are not exposed to have any chance of interfering or catching on clothing or anything. Also the beauty of the wooden pot is much more visible without metal hooks poking out all over. To keep things lightweight I went with the Port Orford Cedar neck and a wooden tone ring. Because the Leopard-wood ring I had made prior turned out so well, I used it again, also incorporating it for the frailing scoop and other trim as a nice contrast to the maple. 

The Winston Banjo

Shamisen style herring-bone pattern chip carving

While working on the pot I did decide to do one thing I had been itching to try for a few years, ever since I spent some time researching shamisen building on a trip to Japan. For those unfamiliar, the shamisen is basically a Japanese banjo (although they have been around much longer than their American kin), a 3-stringed instrument with a stretched head (cat, dog, or snake skin) on both the front and back of a square pot. High end shamisen often have an intricate herring-bone carving on the inside of the pot that is supposed to improve the sound. I saw some of these pots on unfinished instruments and couldn’t help but thinking how it was a pity that this beautiful carving would never be seen on the finished instrument. I had previously heard of other banjo builders doing something similar to create an uneven surface for sound to bounce off of on the  inside of banjo rims, for a less harsh sound. I never knew if that actually did anything or was just a gimmick, but after seeing these shamisen, I really wanted to try it out on a banjo, so I went for it. It certainly added a visual interest that set it apart, and while it is always difficult to pinpoint what one specific feature is doing to change any specific character of the sound, it is safe to say that the overall sound was very warm and pleasant to hear (especially when Christina played it!)

Another thing I came back with on that trip to Japan was an assortment of pure silk shamisen strings. I couldn’t afford the $3-500 cat or python skins to try my hand at stretching, especially when they told me that over half of the skins will tear, even by experienced stretchers, but the strings sounded safe! So I have more ideas for another banjo with shamisen strings and carving, a real hybrid instrument, but who knows when the time shows up for that one! 

In the meantime, for full specs and more photos of the Winston banjo, go to its gallery page here.

I did not write this myself!


I thought I would share an email that arrived yesterday regarding a banjo I recently built. I did not write this, nor did I even solicit the idea of writing a testimonial, but I couldn’t have written a more glowing review even if I tried! Thanks, Janice!

“Hi Jeffrey, I’ve been meaning to get back to you to let you know about the overwhelming response to my banjo.  My instructor, [well-known instructor with own signature model banjo for another banjo company], was very impressed with its “work of art” looks and incredible sound.  She played it for a bit and remarked about the ease of play and she especially loved the armrest/tailpiece design.  Yesterday was 3rd lesson with it and [Instructor] commented on how much more comfortable I seem with the banjo.

At the jam the banjo held its own and was a huge hit!  The sound was loud, punchy, and clear.  I’m still getting compliments about the design and sound almost a month later.

Jeffrey, I just want to thank you again for your outstanding craftsmanship.  I love every aspect of this banjo.  It’s light, comfortable, and sounds amazing.  I marvel at your ability to create my dream banjo from friendly conversation.  I am truly a Weitzel Banjo fan.

Best regards,

PS:  I’ll be attending Women’s Banjo Camp at the end of July.  If you get a chance, would mind sending me more business cards?”

Denuo 2


On this latest build I got a chance to modify and improve on the design of the Denuo. The customer loved the original, but I had some ideas in mind for how it could be better. I also did not have any more of the original cocobolo left, and stumbled upon some leopard wood, which had the perfect combination of density, strength and workability needed for a good tone ring. Oh, and it is stunning… So I also used it for the binding, head-stock, and armrest. I contrasted it with an ebony fret-board and simple inlays and finished it all off with a honey-amber finish that brought it all together without overpowering the woods natural color. The sound is what really impressed me though. It had a power beyond the original that I could not have foreseen. I’m not sure if it is the leopard wood, or if I’m just getting better at building! Probably a bit of both.

Full photos and details are on the Denuo page.



Turning Things Upside-Down

upside-down-denuo-pot-2 upside-down-denuo-pot-1

I had some time to do an experiment over the recent  break that I’ve been itching to try.  I’ve noticed a very different sound coming out of the back end of open-back banjos when they are played. It sounds louder, but also of a different character. Not better, not worse, but different.  What would happen if I made a banjo with the head on the other side so that the listener and not the players bellybutton could be the recipient of that sound? I took up the experiment with my Denuo banjo, not really being sure if it would work without permanent modifications, which I did not want to make. Flipping the neck around on the pot was pretty easy and it fit without issues other than the fretboard being an inch higher than the pot, which I would just have to deal with. There were a few other challenges to overcome, however. The obvious one was a VERY tall bridge. It ended up at 4″ tall.  Then I needed an alternate way to connect the tailpiece without new holes drilled. I managed to make a little bronze adapter piece that screwed on with one of the resonator brackets. It then technically played, but was difficult without a head to rest my finger on. So I made a fingerboard, archtop guitar style, and made it pressure fit to the rim. This was easier to play, but the remaining problem was that the head was held against my body while playing, which dampened it. So the only thing left after that was to see if I could connect the resonator to it. In order to do so I needed to put some extra spacers in the adjustment brackets and a longer screw so that there would be adequate space between the head and the resonator.

But it worked! And even though it is almost exactly the same banjo components as before, it has a completely different sound – much more guitar-like. This could be a good or a bad thing depending on your taste. The sustain is incredible and lends itself more to chords or slower playing, as the individual notes of bluegrass picking can get quite muddled in all of that sound reverberating. But I actually really like it.

Does it have a future? I can’t see it taking the place of the traditional banjo sound, so likely it will remain a fun experiment. But who knows who out there will find it to be just what they were looking for?

Here’s a sound file that somewhat captures the tone it has. (It’s me playing with my very limited abilities, so listen to the tone, not the playing ability!)



Introducing the Stevie B!

It’s been way too long since I last posted, but I hope this one is worth the wait as I want to share the most recent banjo I’ve completed.  This is another unique banjo which doesn’t fall into any neat categories.  From its flared rim and internally concealed brackets to the low profile mini-resonator to its pegbox fitted with Schecter tuners, this is a hybrid instrument that breaks all the rules in one elegantly designed package. Its full, rich tonal range plays well up the neck thanks to a cast bronze tone ring, yet it weighs in at under 8 lbs. For more info and photos and full specs check out the gallery!

Steve with the Stevie B Banjo

Steve with the Stevie B Banjo


Jeffrey Weitzel

The “Lukes”

So I just finished up a couple more ukuleles in the same style as the last two, and a started to realize that they have a very lute-like appearance.  Of course the perfect name for a Lute/Uke hybrid would be “Luke”, so there you are.

This pair is not just two more of same, however; one is a lefty and the other a baritone, going to sisters-in-law who play in a ukulele chorus at church!

Here are some photos – Enjoy luking at them! (more have been added to the Ukulele gallery, too).


The Redbird Banjo is born!

Redbird-Inlay-top Redbird-pot-3-quarter-L Redbird-neck-carving

The Redbird banjo has flown into existence over this past week, and it is different from what I’ve done in many ways. It is a smaller, C-Scale instrument (same scale length as a baritone Ukulele, 19.5″) and it is my first banjo to be purely open-back. It features intricate inlays and neck and heel carving that accentuate one another. Like my banjolele, it also features a flared rim design, and like all of my banjos, it has an adjustable neck to rim connection.

It has a sweet tone that keeps me playing it, so I keep having a hard time handing it over to my son, whom it was built for! But he is enthusiastic about it now and I’m trying to teach him a few chords and a basic roll (otherwise known as everything I know!)

Click on any of the images to see the full gallery and specifications.


Here it is – the Banjolele! This was a fun instrument to build I’m excited with how well it turned out.  My experimenting with a flared rim design was a success – a clean, less cluttered look and it’s more comfortable to play!  Back in the 1930’s when Weymann Instruments was making a similar design they called it “Megaphonic”.  I haven’t gotten to hear those instruments in person, but this little banjo can sure put out some sound; with the same strings as my regular ukes (Nylguts), it has a least double the volume. No hiding in the back of the room on your uke jam night!

Check out more photos and specs on its gallery page – HERE


Banjolele13 Banjolele04Banjolele11

Sneak peak at mini banjos


I’ve been working lately on a couple of small banjos.  One is a banjolele, or ukulele banjo with a 13 7/8″ scale length, and the other is a C-scale banjo which has the same scale length as a baritone ukulele (19 5/8″), which will be for my 7-year-old son, Hinoki.  They are getting closer to completion. I have been hoping to get them both done by the end of October, but Hinoki and I have come up with some pretty ambitious inlay ideas, so his may get a bit delayed while I focus on getting the banjolele done…. But enjoy these in-progress photos!

They both feature  a flared rim, which I have recently learned is quite similar to those made by the Weymann stringed instrument company in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Weymann made incredible instruments, so that is a compliment I suppose! They called their rims “megaphonic”.  We’ll see how accurate that is after I get them strung up! If you are interested, check out some of the Weymann banjos here –

These first photos are the Banjolele:

And these are Hinoki’s C-Scale


New Ukes completed

I started building an (almost) matched pair of ukuleles while the Eichler banjo was in the “add a coat of lacquer and wait for it to dry for a day; repeat for 1-2 weeks, then wait for another 2-3 weeks until you can use it” stage. They were mostly complete by the time the Eichler was ready to string up. Then they entered their own “finish and wait” stage. But they are now done as well. Take a look on the new Ukulele gallery page! (While their own finish was drying, I’ve started on a pair of mini banjo’s – stay tuned!)