Bringing people together with music
Last updated 6/7/2022 at Noon
Tom Nechville is renowned among instrument makers for his innovative banjo design, creating a line of banjos that are aesthetically pleasing, play well, and — most of all — sound wonderful. They are found in the hands of some of the finest professional players in American music.
While his main factory remains in Minnesota, he and his partner, Linda Leavitt, a talented bluegrass and folk musician, have located Banjos West at 411 E. Main Ave. in Sisters. They plan a lot of activity around bluegrass jams at their retail shop.
“This new phase of my life is more oriented around the hands-on dealing with the people of the community,” Nechville said.
That new phase kicks off like a brisk bluegrass tune on Saturday, June 11, as Nechville welcomes the community to an open house at the shop. Visitors can tour the small shop and enjoy music from musicians joining in informal jam sessions. There will be coffee, tea, and baked treats to enjoy as you listen — or participate.
“It’s a good opportunity to walk through the door and take a look at some of our instruments,” Nechville said.
The Nechville banjo is a classic example of ingenuity and innovation growing out of a desire to make something great better. As a player, Nechville felt the frustration that virtually all banjo players experience: You can spend as much time trying to get the instrument set up right as you do playing it.
Nechville’s solution was to create what became his patented Heli-Mount Frame, which operates similarly to a mason jar lid, creating even tension all around the instrument’s head. Adjustment is easy and takes minutes. Other innovations include adjustable action, comfortable wooden armrests, and a radiused neck that makes the banjo comfortable and easy to play. Nechville banjos also tend to be considerably lighter than many others.
It’s all in the service of making the beloved instrument more accessible.
“My passion was really about the instrument being more popularized,” Nechville told The Nugget. “We’re true to the sound and tradition of the banjo, but we’ve come up with different ways of making the sound that are more practical.”
Nechville banjos ring out on international stages, played by the likes of Emily Strayer of The Chicks, the legendary Bela Fleck — and Billy Failing, who plays with Billy Strings, possibly the highest-profile performer in the bluegrass (and jam band) scene these days. Billy Strings plays a Sisters-built Preston Thompson guitar and Failing plays a Nechville banjo, putting Sisters at the epicenter of a genuine musical phenomenon.
There’s always been a bit of tension between tradition and innovation in the bluegrass world.
“There’s different schools of bluegrass,” Leavitt notes.
The West Coast has always tended to be a little more on the freewheeling side, and Nechville acknowledges that his innovations have had their best reception in the West — specifically in this region. That influenced his decision to move out here.
“We had a sales guy here named Al Price, in Seattle, who retired,” Nechville said. “I wanted to begin my retirement from everyday building in the shop to expanding our presence in the part of the country that has been most accepting of (the Nechville banjo) — and that’s the Pacific Northwest.”
Nechville’s father had lived in Bend, and the family visited Sisters.
“I always remembered Sisters,” he said.
When seeking a spot to land, Sisters stood out to them as being centrally located, offering everything he and Leavitt value.
“It’s the best of country and city life, and we’re close to nature,” he said.
And there’s already a thriving music scene here that he and Leavitt can contribute to. The shop itself is part of that contribution — a resource for local acoustic musicians.
“It’s not a full-line music store,” Nechville notes. “We’re really specializing in banjos and we spill over into other bluegrass instruments.”
They’ll do repair work, and they offer strings, tuners, and sound reinforcement equipment. And, of course, banjos.
Nechville and Leavitt will also consult with musicians on equipment and instrument needs.
“We can help people decide what they need and either source it for them or order it for them,” Nechville said.
And the shop will serve as a hub for jams and lessons and workshops.
“We really value this community idea,” Nechville said. “We’re kind of promoting a lifestyle of music being one of the major social vehicles to connect and bring people together.”
Visit www.nechville.com for more information.
04/25/2023, 9:56 pm
04/25/2023, 9:56 pm