#MadeInRVA: Banjo maker crafting one-of-a-kind instruments

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — From his home workshop in Henrico County, Tyler Burke carefully crafts banjos. He makes the one-of-a-kind instruments by hand.

PHOTO: Tyler Burke / Renan Banjos
PHOTO: Tyler Burke / Renan Banjos

Burke started by playing guitar then picked up the banjo 10 years ago. He decided to create one about two years ago.

“I love music and I love woodwork,” he said. “I was like, let’s make a banjo and see what happens.”

He kept with it — and today, he runs the business Renan Banjos.

He often uses re-purposed or recycled wood from Virginia to make the bespoke, open-back banjos.

For one banjo, he used wood from a tree that fell on a church 50 years ago in Matthews County. For another, it was wood that was in a Goochland County barn for 10 years.

Burke shows Evanne Armour how to pick
Burke shows Evanne Armour how to pick

He says they can take anywhere from one to three months to make.

“There’s such joy in the music and there’s joy in sharing that music with other people. There’s also joy in making the banjo as well.”

Though he’s only been at it for two years, Burke has been surrounded by craftsmen his whole life. rb-1

“My dad had a commercial millwork business in D.C. and there was a woodshop in our basement, so I was always kind of a tinkerer,” he said.

While in college at the Art Institute of Chicago, he fell in love with sculpture and interior architecture.

When he moved back to Richmond, he took jobs working with furniture makers and millworkers.

“They had that passion of making stuff from nothing,” said Burke. “It really energized me.”

Burke posts about the process of making banjos on his Instagram @renanbanjos.

Burke first picked up the banjo 10 years ago
Burke first picked up the banjo 10 years ago

He uses hashtags to reach out to other makers or people interested in the instrument.

“I’ve sold banjos through Instagram, I’ve met friends through Instagram and have been to events where I’ve met people through Instagram,” he said. “It’s a sharing community.”

Quotes and positive messages line the walls of his work space
Quotes and positive messages line the walls of his work space

His advice for someone wanting to pick up the craft? It’s all about taking the leap.

“Just go out there and just start making things. Because it’s very empowering and it’s very confidence building.”

To learn more about Burke or Renan Banjos, click HERE.

8News is taking a closer look at some of the ideas products and innovations being #MadeInRVA. If you know of something we should check out, email us at iReport8@wric.com.

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