July 10, 2005

#108: Banjo Pickups?

Scott writes:

A few months ago I wrote you asking for your recommendation on a microphone, which you kindly gave. Since that time, I have determined that a microphone isn't going to work. I play in a bar type setting with other musicians who all play plugged-in acoustic instruments. With a microphone I am simply underpowered, and any attempt to achieve the volume levels I need result in feedback. The other musicians refuse to turn down or go unplugged.

That said, is there a transducer mic you could recommend that makes a banjo sound like it should, and not like Buck Trent'? I currently own a "Jones Acoustic Plus" pickup, but I am not satisfied with the metallic sound it produces. Please let me know if you know of a better one. Also, any pointers you have would also be appreciated.

Thanks for the gift of your knowedge and your music!

Sorry to hear you are stuck in the situation banjo players sometimes get put in. I don't think there is any "good" sounding acoustic pickup. The Jones and similar types seem to come the closest, but I've not yet heard a banjo sound like a "good" banjo through one, regardless of how good the player and the banjo actually are.

The solutions people have tried produce mixed results, always trading off "real banjo sound" for volume. One possibility is to play to the *audience* with a microphone, and have the people on stage, yourself included, hear you through your pickup. That means at least the audience will hear your better sound, even if the people on stage don't. Less than satisfying, but a solution of sorts.

Then there is the solution of ear monitors, used by all on stage, where mics don't need to create feedback because all the monitoring is done by headphones the performers wear (this is getting increasingly common, even in bluegrass). Quite a project to do, and not everyone finds this the best solution, as wearing earphones on stage has definite disadvantages. I doubt your band would be much interested in this.

Pete

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Do you have a copy of this unique "banjo bible"?