(Tom Nechville | Photos Courtesy of Tom Nechville)
Tom Nechville, founder of Nechville Musical Products, began his renown banjo business in the late 1980s with a dream of creating a better banjo. Back then, he spent more time tweaking and setting up his banjo than actually playing it, he says, and he believed there was a way to improve upon the instrument. Then he says it hit him: He would create a banjo that held even tension all the way around the head, with a mason-jar-like tightening system.
This became Nechville’s patented Heli-Mount frame, which he says allows for easy, quick and simple adjustments. “The Heli-Mount frame has been the staple of Nechville’s product line for over 30 years,” he says. “The sound of a perfectly tensioned banjo head is remarkable: rich, deep and sweet. The time spent changing the head transformed from an all-afternoon event to a two-minute spin.”
Since that time more than 30 years ago, Nechville has made many other improvements to the banjo, including an adjustable and removable neck connection that negates the need for metal-stabilizing rods; a compensated bridge; beveled Comfort Armrest System; radiused fingerboards and tunneled 5th string. “These are modern conveniences not traditionally found on the instrument,” he says. “The result is cleaner sound and easier playability and adjustment.”
Nechville’s main factory is in Bloomington, Minnesota and employs nine people, and he recently opened Nechville West in Sisters, located at 411 E Main Avenue, which he says is dedicated to custom banjo design and tending to the specific needs of the growing number of individuals who want to play bluegrass and acoustic music. “Beyond the mere manufacturing of these quality instruments, Nechville West in Sisters is a place where the musicians can directly meet the maker to address their specific needs,” he says, adding that he strives to offer detailed custom-building services. “Musical instruments are highly personal objects that must be exactly right for each individual.” As a builder, Nechville says he hopes for Sisters to become a destination for banjo enthusiasts, where they can receive a tailor-made instrument while being supported with the service and mentoring essential to students of the banjo.
Over the years, Nechville says his biggest challenge in his business has been that his somewhat radical design ideas are not immediately accepted by traditionalists who dominate the banjo market. However, with dedication and belief in his cause, he says he has persevered through many lean years to now be regarded as a world leader in propelling the banjo ahead despite what he calls its “somewhat maligned history and reputation.” He adds, “The pandemic has stimulated the musical instrument business to the point that new Nechville banjos are hard to find, and the factory is full to capacity with orders.”
Tom spends most of his time in his Sisters shop and residence these days, he says, and welcomes visitors, although he requests appointments. Nechville says he is happy to provide clients with information about creating a custom instrument, repairs, lessons or “virtually any questions anyone has regarding ‘America’s Instrument,’ the banjo.”
The rest of Nechville’s time is dedicated to keeping the main factory running smoothly, with periodic trips to Minnesota. He says he also finds time to volunteer in the Sisters High School guitar-building classes.
Plans for Nechville West in the coming years include enhanced computer numerical control (CNC) machining facilities and a growing emphasis on custom building on the premises. “Nechville is in the early stages of expansion, with plans for a ground-floor production facility with living quarters above,” he says, adding that he imagines combining banjo creation and utilization in ways that will make a trip to Nechville West fun, convenient and rewarding.