The Banjo Maker

Patrick Heavner: The Banjo Maker
Patrick Heavner: The Banjo Maker

Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music that has its roots in a variety of cultures.  Encompassing ballads and other folk songs, old-time Appalachian music was influenced by Welsh, Scottish, English, Irish immigrants, and Africans. The mountain dulcimer, fiddle, and banjo are the primary instruments enhanced by other homemade mountain instruments. The banjo is of African origin, and with its unusual lilt added an interesting sound to the mix.

Located in the Fairview Valley, just outside Asheville, NC in western Appalachia is the Pisgah Banjo Company.  Originally started by Patrick Heavner, the company has grown to include artisan/musician Adam Sacora, a Kentucky native, and Topher Stephens who hails from Sylva, NC.  As a young man growing up in Morganton, NC, Heavner had  “woodworking experience working with his father.”  While attending Appalachian State and playing old-time music, he decided to build a banjo over Thanksgiving and Christmas break.  After visiting several banjo builders around western NC, he met a man named Charlie Glenn who inspired him to make his own rather than buy one.  Glenn’s first task was to teach Heavner how to make a banjo rim.  His lesson didn’t stop there. Heavner went back several more times for further instruction and advice, eventually succeeding in building his first banjo. Since that day, he hasn’t looked back; it’s been 10 years.

Banjos in Heavner's shop
Banjos in Heavner’s shop

Before opening the Pisgah Banjo Company, Heavner worked in the solar industry as a maintenance technician and quality controller.  He developed deeper roots in folk culture and music along the way as a musician, a host at the John Campbell Folk School, and by hiking the Appalachian Trail.  It was after this that Heavner decided to open the Pisgah Banjo Company with a specific mission in mind.  Running the company is a full time endeavor; however, Heavner has also started another business called Balsam Banjoworks which designs and manufactures reproduction banjo hardware. “All of the hardware is made in the USA and is the first comprehensive source for affordable, quality, made in the USA banjo parts. The online store will be up and running this fall.”

 

Creating a sustainable company was a priority.  With his past experience in solar energy Heavner succeeded in building a company that is powered by 100% sun.  By using all native hardwoods – persimmon, maple, walnut, and cherry – Heavner is hoping to lessen the demand for exotic woods by producing an instrument that not only produces a beautiful and distinctive sound, but is also made from the native woods of Appalachia.  What better way to continue the folk heritage and rich musical culture of the south than by creating a stunning 5 string open back style old time banjo handcrafted of “tone woods” sourced from “local and regional saw mills and suppliers!”  

High musical quality and affordability is a prerequisite. “Each banjo we build is handmade so an attention-to-detail and quality is inherent in this kind of work.  We are able to control the environment in which they are made.  The use and quality of materials is also a huge difference between us and a factory shop. We only use parts made in the USA and are not interested in importing anything from China.”  According to Heavner, any instrument that was invented and played in the USA should only have materials and parts that come from the USA.

Patrick Heavner
Patrick Heavner

Predominantly a self-taught banjo maker, Heavner’s technique of banjo making has changed since the beginning.  “First and foremost, a love and respect for the music is key.  If you don’t play the instrument you are building, you will have no idea how it should feel or sound…I am happy to play any model we build, and I am constantly testing the new banjos that we come out with.  Since starting Pisgah, I have never built a banjo for myself…this allows me to always test our products not only on myself but for who ever I might meet at a jam.”

“The beauty about old-time music is that it’s for everyone.” Simple folk gather together and play foot tapping music handed down through the ages, singing ballads new and old.  The Pisgah Banjo Company is proud to produce beautiful handcrafted banjos; its main purpose is to carry on the authenticity of the great Appalachian folk culture. For further information or to purchase a custom instrument visit Patrick Heavner and Pisgah Banjo Company online at www.pisgahbanjos.com.