Banjo and Banjolele Luthier M.L. Neal Banjos
 
  Open Back Banjos and Banjoleles
 

On This Page

Nicola Gordon's Latest Song, "I Settle Down" Written and Performed on an M.L. Neal Banjolele.


Hot Off the Bench:
Curly Maple and Claro Walnut 5-String Banjo


50 Sticks of Dynamite's Whitey Wingland Performs with an M.L. Neal Banjos Banjolele

My Latest Creation - A Banjo Uke!

More Music for the Schools

About M.L. Neal Banjos

M.L. Neal Banjos is an independant artisan luthier hand crafting open back banjos and banjo ukuleles (banjoleles) designed and built to have exceptional depth and clarity of tone and classic beauty. I collaborate with you to create instruments that support your unique voice and help your talents shine. I do this by focusing on timeless, elegant designs with clean lines and rich, ecologically harvested woods.

Each instrument we create is an all-out effort. Every instrument I design receives every characteristic we know to improve its sound, looks, and playability. All materials that go into my instruments have been carefully hand selected to be the absolute highest quality and best-performing available. The greatest care possible is taken with every detail of the construction of each instrument I build.

I am a craftsman and an engineer building hand-made professional-quality banjos and banjoleles that are meant to last many lifetimes and improve with age. I do not strive to mass manufacture instruments. I believe that as an independant craft-oriented workshop, M.L. Neal Banjos offers significant advantages to you the musician. Because my shop is small I can keep my overhead low, allowing me to offer you an individually made instrument at a price below factory made instruments of similar quality. And because I am an individual using time-honored hand craftsmanship, I do not have to compromise my designs or construction techniques to accommodate automation or other mass-manufacturing considerations. I have the freedom to always produce the best instrument possible.

As a result, my unique instruments are not only exceptionally beautiful but also have a vibrant voice with unsurpassed depth and resonance. Every detail of each of my banjos is designed to work together such that the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Not only do they sound and look outstanding but are also easy and fun to play. Every banjo I make is created from start to finish bymyself, an individual luthier who imbues the instrument with my creativity and spirit. The result is more than just a machine but a partner that works with you to bring out your unique voice and creativity to your audience and the world. In a word, our banjos and banjoleles have soul.


What's New at M.L. Neal Banjos


Nicola Gordon's Latest Song, "I Settle Down" Written and Performed on an M.L. Neal Banjolele.

Steven Johnson in his book, "Where Good Ideas Come From" writes of the "adjacent possible." It describes how when you place creative people and resources in close proximity to each other they serve to unlock doors to each other's creativity. I am hoping that by getting my instruments into the hands of singer-songwriters and musicians we can stimulate each other's creativity.

Nicola Gordon tells me that when she first started playing my banjolele it took some getting used to. So many banjoleles are antique instruments with short attack, little sustain, shallow tone, limited volume, and intonation that does not sound right to our modern ears. Now she was playing an instrument that has a rich, expansive tone and enough sustain to bend notes and make use of a greater dynamic range. It was the first time she had encountered a banjolele that was truely professional quality. But she quickly adjusted and explored the instrument. It sparked her creativity and very soon this new song came out. Nicola is truely a treasure who has written many, many beautiful, positive, and heartfelt songs. Check out her work at http://www.reverbnation.com/nicolag

M.L. Neal Banjos is more than just an instrument maker, but part of a supportive musical community. Let's explore how your creativity might be sparked by one of our handcrafted professional instruments.

 


Hot Off the Bench:
Curly Maple and Claro Walnut 5-String Banjo

Maple and Claro Walnut Open Back Banjo The latest design just completed is an 11" openback. The pot is constructed from curly maple with a curly walnut rim cap. The peghead is covered with Claro walnut burl for a rich, sophisticated look. The peghead cover and rim cap are underlain with dark walnut and thin black laminate trim elements that give this instrument a subtle deco-esque feel. With a 1.25" wide nut and low, subtly V-shaped neck profile it plays easily and sits comfortably in the left hand. The fingerboard is FSC certified Pau Ferro for a lifetime of service. With nickel plated Rickard hardware and a brass rod tone ring, this instrument looks, feels, and sounds great. For full specifications, click here.

50 Sticks of Dynamite's Whitey Wingland
Performs with an M.L. Neal Banjos Banjolele

Last night at Zoey's in Ventura, California, a beautiful, sweet tune by Ian McFadyen and 50 Sticks of Dynamite. And, best of all, the incomparable Whitey Wingland on an M.L. Neal Banjos banjolele.



My Latest Creation - A Banjo Uke!

I recently finished a new instrument that I am really excited about. It is a banjo uke and is built to be essentially a four-string miniature of the larger five-string banjos that I make. The sound is great with lots of volume and a good balance of plunk and resonance/sustain. It is easy to play with a nice low action and has planetary tuners and a Remo Renaissance head so it tunes easily and stays in tune well. There is so much music that sounds great on this banjo that it is fun just exploring and trying out different pieces. What has surprised me is how much I am drawn to play the old 1920s and 30s tin pan alley songs on this instrument. It has opened up a whole new body of songs to play on the uke. I did a short, impromptu demo with it that I am including below. Let me know what you think!

 


More Music for the Schools

A fun thing that I have been doing lately is playing banjo in local grade schools. I really like playing for classrooms because the benefits and smiles that it brings to everyone involved - the kids, their teacher, and me.

Playing for the first grade class.
Playing for the first grade class.

For example, kids are most open to learning if they are engaged and entertained. For our overworked teachers, to fill several hours a day, every day, with engaging and entertaining curriculum that not only imparts important life skills and values but also teaches standardized curriculum is a daunting task. When I come in and play for a class it offers the teacher a bit of help and respite, for which they have expressed a lot of gratitude. Also, when I see the looks on the kids' faces, I know they are getting a lot out of it. They are excited and entertained and it opens their horizons to forms of music and instruments that they otherwise might never encounter. Best of all it gets their imagination going. Standardized tests are fine, but the most powerful thing we can foster in our kids is a free and productive imagination. And, perhaps most of all, it helps me. If I want to reignite my passion for something, I teach it to kids. Their enthusiasm is positively infectious.

The session I am writing about was with a first grade class that was full of pleasant surprises. The teacher warned me that her class was challenging to manage and keep focused. She advised me that I would be doing well to hold them for fifteen minutes. You could feel the giddy excitement in the room build while the kids were taking their seats around me on the carpet.

Much to my surprise, they immediately launched into questions about everything. Their questions were remarkably astute, more so than any group of adults I have played for. As a group, they deconstructed virtually every important aspect of the design and construction of the banjo and how it all affects the sound. I loved that part because as a designer and builder of banjos, it is good to re-frame things in simple terms. It helps make clarify what sometimes can feel like a mass of complex details.

The kids and their teacher also loved the music. I sometimes think of old-time music, especially banjo and fiddle, as fairly esoteric and unknown these days. I forget that this form of music evolved to entertain and speak to families and communities, including kids. They were instantly and spontaneously clapping their hands and singing along.

Though in the beginning it seemed like it would be difficult to keep their attention for more than 15 minutes, we stopped after 45 minutes and the kids still wanted more. I also worked with their teacher to create some lesson ideas that she could spin off of the experience after I left the classroom. Their favorite song was, "Mole in the Ground." It has a fairly repetitive lyric structure and easy rhyming scheme so I suggested that perhaps she could have the kids make up their own lyrics and draw pictures to illustrate them. A couple of days later she presented me with a book of their lyrics, which were quite creative and cute. I have included a couple of pictures from the book below. These two read, "If I was a fish in a bowl, I would swim through a hole" and, "If I was a butterfly in a tree, I would hope the birds don't see me." They brought a smile to my heart and creating them was a lot of fun for the kids.

The fish lyric and picture.
The fish lyric and picture.

 

The butterfly lyric and picture.
The butterfly lyric and picture.

So, I encourage you all to get out there and bring your music to your community. For just an hour out of your day you can make the world a better place to live.



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Current Inventory (this page also has a lot of demo recordings and videos of our instruments. A must see.)


On This Site:

About M.L. Neal Banjos


News and What's Happening at M.L. Neal Banjos

Examples of My Instruments:

Maple and Madrone
5-String Banjo

Maple and Claro Walnut 5-String Banjo

Maple and Madrone Banjo Uke (Banjolele)

Maple and Claro Walnut Burl Banjo Uke (Banjolele)

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Design Options and Pricing

Current Inventory (this page also has a lot of demo recordings and videos of our instruments)

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