how to record open back banjo

Discussion in 'Guitars' started by GentleG, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    Hi all,

    I'll have to record a new instrument to me.
    It's an open back banjo
    (metal strings and metal fingered)

    Most of the sound comes out the back i am told,
    so I'm assuming 0.5 meters from te back would be a good position
    I think a dynamic like the 421 would be a good starting point.

    Anyone any other suggestions?
    Should I also record the front?
    I fear the front will be very harsh, due to all the metal.
    Maybe a beta52 on front?

    He'll be playing in a bar, mostly pop, (irish) folk type of music.
    I'll probably also have to feed the PA mixer...

  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    I think you'll find that with the already semi-metallic sound of this particular banjo, you won't want a microphone like the MD421, with its already built in presence rise. I would think a modern ribbon microphone would be much more appropriate choice with an instrument such as this? A little warmth along with greater transient articulation over any dynamic microphone or even condenser microphone. I don't even think I would want to use any kind of condenser microphone on that instrument? That would just intensify its already metallic sound.

    Could I interest you in a glass trumpet?
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  3. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    Thanks Remy,

    My only Ribbon is a Beyer M260N

    I'll try that one
    And also the beta52a on the back only

  4. JPAllen

    JPAllen Active Member

    Jul 17, 2006
    Hi GentleG. I've been playing bluegrass banjo for 8 years, and am very familiar with recording and live work with this instrument.

    Normally, open-back banjos aren't played with metal finger picks -- or finger picks at all. I only mention this, because you might want to double check to make sure this is the situation. The finger picks will produce "pick-noise" that is like a high-pitched squeek. There are ways to get around this -- more in a bit.

    There is plenty of sound that comes out of the back of a banjo. However, the banjo is a drum, and, like a drum, is setup to create the best sound coming out of the front. Also, in most cases the banjo is in the lap of the player, so getting a mic back there isn't going to work. So, you should focus on selecting and placing the proper mic out front.

    If the banjo isn't setup properly, then it will sound harsh. Otherwise, you should try to capture the true sound of the instrument.

    There are three types of mics that you should try:
    SDC: This will provide the most natural sound. To avoid pick-noise, just keep moving the mic back. You shouldn't need to go any farther than 3 feet. The timbre of the signal will change dramatically as you move the microphone around. When it is pointing directly at the center of the head from the front, it will have the most attack, and quickest decay. As you move away from this position (pivoting left/right), the attack will soften, and the decay will lengthen a bit, producing a more diffuse sound. This is especially true with resonator banjos.

    LDC: You'll want to look here first. The LDC will produce a fuller sound than the SDC. If the banjo is the only instrument on stage, or one of few instruments you'll want the rounder sound of the LDC. The same positioning advice applies as with the SDC. Solo banjos can sometimes sound thin with a SDC.

    Ribbon: As Remy mentioned, the Ribbon will attenuate the pick-noise even when close into the banjo. This will also help with bleed from the player's vocals. However, I don't think that ribbons do a great job capturing the fundamental timbre of the banjo. Banjo's usually have mylar heads, and I feel like a mylar membrane (condenser mic) seems to grab the timbre of the banjo better than other mics. On the other hand, if this person doesn't spend much time setting-up his banjo, and as a result it doesn't sound very good, the ribbon might help smooth-out a bad tone.

    Good luck,

    - Jim
  5. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    Hi Jim

    Thank you very much for your detailed reply.

    I should have mentioned this before:
    It's a small solo gig in a (Irish) bar (in NL)
    Vocal + Banjo / sometimes accoustic guitar.
    He has some small injuries on his fingertips,
    so he'll have to do it with metal picks.
    Nothing too serious, but it will be a good promotion opportunity for me
    He already knows the folks there.
    My mics will also be used / split for PA

    I think I'm trying to keep this simple:
    1 mic stand with boom towards mouth / vocals (58 or 421 II)
    1 mic attached to stand pointing to where the skin meets the neck of the banjo / guitar (I'll start with a NT1A)

    My only LDC's are 2 NT1A
    My SDC's are 4 MK012 (all capsules)
    My ribbon is a Beyer M260N
    Dynamics: 3x57, 58, beta52a, 421 II, 2xakg D224

    More then probably I'll be able to do a short check a few days before 8)

  6. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    I've just had a chance to try some mics on the open back banjo.

    First of all I noticed it's very comparable with a regular banjo,
    only less volume and resonance.

    We got the best sound by using a mk012 card almost 1 metre (3 feet) infront. The NT1A was too hyped. We'll probably use this setup for a studio/home demo cd later this year or so.

    Unfortunately, the mic would also be used as live reinforcement. So I started looking for a close mic alternative. The best compromise between not-too-thin and still some intimacy turned out to be the MD421. the 57 was too dark / undefined, the condensers too unnatural.

    For the recording I think I will also add a mk012 card/hypercard? almost a metre in front, maybe crowd noise will be acceptable, so I can (maybe) add a little of this one for a more natural sound (on the live cd).
    And also a room mic, mk012 card (on the live cd).

    For his vocals we decided on the simple 58 (also to be amplified).
    The NT1A will probably be used on the studio/home demo cd later on.

    The live recording will be in about 2 weeks time.

  7. GentleG

    GentleG Guest


    Excuse me. I've taken my fee... one at a time
    It was fun, no questions asked

    To put it short,
    the open back banjo went fine...

    So It was a serious singer (beyer M99) + banjo / guitar (MD421-II)
    Bass (DI)+ singer...(sm58)
    Keys (DI)
    Solo Guitar (sm57) + singing.... (sennh ...)
    [and a room mic]

    recording and pa at once is a no-no
    spent countless hours splitting and buying the splitter.
    the pa mixer is 40 feet to the left
    no way to hear what's in front of the group...

    recording levels are ok
    pa is...
    during testing a channel on the mixer broke down (fader full of dust/nicotine)
    ok, still enough channels, enough, no prob....


    Another channel gone....


    ok switch the bass DI, no prob

    check, check, whaaahhhhk


    4 pa channels left, probaly due to cheap snake, recording is fine

    bar-owner is getting ...(fill in)

    no prob, just turn the guitar cab towards the audience

    ok, 4 pa channels left, euh
    no matter guitar singer can't sing anyway

    and all the while the recording is going fine ;) unbelievable

    keep on passing those Ales

    everybody's drinking (heavily)


    late at night, right now, listening at hone,
    sounds ok in a pop kind of way

    sorry for this post

    I just had to ventilate

    The Jazz gig a few days ago went fine...

    Paul likes this.

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