Niche Products: The Kavanjo

Taylor Swift was recently strumming one during a show at EnergySolutions Arena. It is the Kavanjo, a banjo that uses electronic pickups to help the sound carry above the drums and guitar, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Kavanaugh devised a way to add electronic “pickups” — similar to the magnets in an electric guitar, which catch the vibrations of the strings and transmit them to the amplifier — to a banjo, punching holes in the instrument’s tensioned drumhead.

There have been other electric banjos, Kavanaugh said, but “nobody had gone through the plane of the banjo head before.”

There is a trade-off, Kavanaugh said, because piercing the banjo’s drumhead reduces the acoustic resonance by about 5 percent. It’s unlikely the folks in the cheap seats at a stadium are going to notice.

The popularity of the “Kavanjo” has grown since 2009, Kavanaugh said, when Deering Banjos — a major seller of the instrument — put the electric add-on in its catalog. A “Kavanjo” drumhead goes for $299, while a banjo with the device factory-installed goes for $798.

Besides Swift, established stars like Keith Urban and John Mellencamp have a “Kavanjo” in their bands. And, Kavanaugh said, new independent rockers — such as Mumford & Sons and Avett Bros. — have incorporated the electric banjo into their sounds.

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