The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
 Search This Thread  Search This Forum  Search Reviews  Search Gear Database  Search Gear for sale  Search Gearslutz Go Advanced
AHHHH!!! What the hell is with the banjo?
Old 20th July 2011
  #1
Lives for gear
 
andrew montreal's Avatar
AHHHH!!! What the hell is with the banjo?

So I just spent a whole day with a banjo. I tried five different mics (u87, c414, mk012, sm58, r121, ev635a), three different rooms (large one both dry and wet as well as two smaller ones both pretty dry), and dozens of mic placements (infront, sides, above, below, up the neck, you name it) with each of the above. I even at times taped stuff to the resonator to cut some of the resonance.

I have to say I was never able to get something that I felt was professional sounding. Now admittedly this banjo most likely isn't a $2000 banjo but it doesn't sound bad in the room... s. I, my brain, and my ears are all exhausted.

Any thoughts?

***GO TO POST #70... I finally got the sound I was looking for.***
***GO TO POST #86 for a mix with acoustic guitar and bass.***
Old 20th July 2011
  #2
Gear Nut
 

ribbons.
Old 20th July 2011
  #3
Lives for gear
 
tmcconnell's Avatar
 

try an r84

r84 3 feet away pointed at the bridge.
Old 20th July 2011
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Jimbo's Avatar
Set the microphone three feet away, and point it at the head.
Old 20th July 2011
  #5
Lives for gear
 
PlugHead's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by zorf View Post
ribbons.
+1

4038 is one of my faves...

a bit of distance and aimed a bit away from the skin/towards the fretboard is a good starting place.
Old 20th July 2011
  #6
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew montreal View Post
So I just spent a whole day with a banjo. I tried five different mics (u87, c414, mk012, sm58, r121, ev635a), three different rooms (large one both dry and wet as well as two smaller ones both pretty dry), and dozens of mic placements (infront, sides, above, below, up the neck, you name it) with each of the above. I even at times taped stuff to the resonator to cut some of the resonance.

I have to say I was never able to get something that I felt was professional sounding. .
I tend to treat a banjo more like a drum than a guitar. It's just a snare drum turned on its side.

SM 57 or M 201 in close on the head and some condenser or ribbon "overhead" which of course means out front

Quote:
Now admittedly this banjo most likely isn't a $2000 banjo
Cheap banjos sound worse relative to good banjos than similarly cheap guitars sound to good guitars. You have a decent spread of mics, and seemed to have been fairly diligent about trying combos. Maybe before you tear your hair out, you should borrow a banjo you know is first-rate and see if the instrument itself is the culprit.


Quote:
but it doesn't sound bad in the room
put a mic where you were standing when you thought that!
Old 20th July 2011
  #7
Lives for gear
 
andrew montreal's Avatar
Thanks for the responses. I've decided to find myself a great banjo and see where it gets me. The issue I was having though is that seeing as the skin resonates when the instrument is being played, it's almost impossible to make the instrument sound in your face... it comes with it's own plate reverb. I should mention that I'm trying to get an in-your-face banjo sound... or at least not amphitheater.
Old 20th July 2011
  #8
Lives for gear
 
AllBread's Avatar
 

I feel your pain. Banjos are a horrible sounding instrument that are almost always used for evil purposes (you know, like unleashing more bluegrass to the world).

That being said, when forced to record, I've had good success with the following: sm 57 or, if you want a little more of the midrange honk, a 421. I've recorded one of the more renowned banjo players of our day who always insists on a 414. I complimented it with a beyer m160 and we were both quite happy with the results. M160 can be good by itself, but remember that that harsh topnend that we as engineers naturally tend to avoid is what, unfortunately, makes a banjo sound like a banjo.

As others have noted, distance from the source is key - no one as ever heard a banjo being played and thougt - "damn I'd like to be able to put my ear three inches from the strings!" Just remember, if it doesn't sound good then you're doing the right thing so don't over think it.

Did you hear the one about the banjo player who left his banjo in the car overnight and came back the next say to find his rear window had been smashed? Fearing the worst, he ran over to the car and looked in the backseat and someone had put six more banjos in with his!
Old 20th July 2011
  #9
Lives for gear
 
andrew montreal's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by AllBread View Post
As others have noted, distance from the source is key - no one as ever heard a banjo being played and thougt - "damn I'd like to be able to put my ear three inches from the strings!" Just remember, if it doesn't sound good then you're doing the right thing so don't over think it.
Brother (I'm assuming),

Thanks a million for the laugh this morning... it did me good. Indeed, distance is where I should be going.

I actually love the sound of the banjo. Interestingly enough though I went to check out Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise (an album who's sound I adore) and realized that the banjo never sounds stellar there as well. I think I'll just lay it down and move on to the next instrument. Thanks.
Old 20th July 2011
  #10
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew montreal View Post
I should mention that I'm trying to get an in-your-face banjo sound...
Man, something about this is just wrong.

Seriously, +1 for ribbons, or maybe a 57.

When I was little, my parents used to take us to this "pizza parlor" for a special treat. There was a banjo player there, he was awesome.. or maybe it was the pizza.

The banjo sounded GREAT when he was playing on this sort of hollow, wooden riser/stage, with wooden walls and ceiling. When he would step out of there to mingle with the patrons, it became a screwdriver in the ear. People would ignore him, probably to get him back up into that wood where it sounded right.
Old 20th July 2011
  #11
Lives for gear
 
badmark's Avatar
I recorded banjo last week with an old Shure 515 (beefed up by a Triton fethead) and a Rode nt4 stereo mic.

+ 1 on joeq's comments.
Old 20th July 2011
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Jimbo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew montreal View Post
it's almost impossible to make the instrument sound in your face... it comes with it's own plate reverb. I should mention that I'm trying to get an in-your-face banjo sound... or at least not amphitheater.
That "plate reverb" is the resonator (the back side of the banjo). You can remove this very easily to get rid of the reverberance, but the tone of the banjo will change as well. Once the resonator is off, you can move your mics closer to the instrument as well.
Old 20th July 2011
  #13
Lives for gear
 

was this a bluegrass banjo with a plastic head and resonator, or an old-time banjo with open back and skin head -- if the latter put a rag between the dowel stick and the head to kill some nasty overtones, then mic with something like a KM84 from behind and a U67 or good ribbon out front...

if it was the former, try a warm ribbon out front and a touch below angled in a bit where neck meets the pot... and try various, still warmish mics from the behind/to the right...
Old 20th July 2011
  #14
Lives for gear
 
andrew montreal's Avatar
It's a Remo skin head banjo (like a snare) with a wood back that is permanently attached to the neck. Unfortunately I can't take the back off. It's a Hondo Banjo.
Old 20th July 2011
  #15
Lives for gear
 
David R.'s Avatar
 

Banjo is a tough instrument to record. Same with the fiddle. I found it best to use a decent ribbon, 2 to 3 feet away, pointing between the bridge and the picking hand.

The first time mixing a song with banjo, I was trying to carve out the annoying frequencies , and the artist told me to go the other way, find the annoying frequencies and add more of them. It worked.
Old 20th July 2011
  #16
Lives for gear
 
Jimbo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew montreal View Post
It's a Remo skin head banjo (like a snare) with a wood back that is permanently attached to the neck. Unfortunately I can't take the back off. It's a Hondo Banjo.
I've never seen a banjo that didn't have a removable resonator.

Look for three or four screws along the flange -- the shiny metal thing that surrounds the body -- and unscrew them. The player should know how to do this.

I don't think you want to close-mic a Hondo anyway.
Old 20th July 2011
  #17
Lives for gear
 
Bob Ross's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew montreal View Post
Unfortunately I can't take the back off. It's a Hondo Banjo.
Sawz-all
Old 20th July 2011
  #18
Lives for gear
 
shortstory's Avatar
Ditto- ribbons
Old 20th July 2011
  #19
Lives for gear
 

Can't believe nobody mentioned mic preamps. Banjos have big dynamic range, rapid transients, and lots of harmonics. This combination is the acid test for a great mic preamp. When I saw Bela Fleck perform I got a look at the FOH setup and they were using a Digidesign live console, but Bela's banjo was going through a Midas XL42 channel strip.
Old 20th July 2011
  #20
Lives for gear
 
waxx's Avatar
 

i've recently recorded an very old banjo (open back) with a rather dark sounding RCA 77 to a api pre to ad with good results, but the mic was about 1.5m from the banjo, closer sounded horrible. The room was rather dead but not really treated (the livingroom of a wooden house in a quiet enviroment) and about 4x7m and 2.5m high. This was a (manouche)gypsy singer/banjonist doing some Django Reinhart-like music, for so i recorded his voice with a Beyer M130 to api pre and leakage was unavoidable... The beyer was pointed to avoid this as much as possbile, because it was close to the instrument (fig8 helps here).

But to conclude, dark ribbons and distance helps in my experience (i also had dynamics and condensors in my case)
Old 20th July 2011
  #21
Gear Addict
 
davidperetz's Avatar
 

Had excellent Banjo sound with two AT ATM450 on a stereo bar. (BTW this microphones are amazing and have yet to fail me on any source i put them). very modern, detailed and sparkly sound without being honky or scratchy, good for . beside that got lucky with a Neumann M49, very soft and present sound. good if you want to bury the banjo in the back of the mix.
other good results were the Violet Design Black finger in stereo mode ( like resonators, Nashville tuned guitar. mandolins, auto harp and other complex hi harmonic instrument I feel a good stereo recording with small diaphgram condensers is better in catching the whole instrument complexity ) they are sort of in between the AT and the Neumann.

Good Luck
Old 20th July 2011
  #22
Gear Maniac
 
Bopkit's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew montreal View Post
Thanks for the responses. I've decided to find myself a great banjo and see where it gets me. The issue I was having though is that seeing as the skin resonates when the instrument is being played, it's almost impossible to make the instrument sound in your face... it comes with it's own plate reverb. I should mention that I'm trying to get an in-your-face banjo sound... or at least not amphitheater.
the banjo is not supposed to sound 'in your face' it's supposed to sound 'across the porch' or 'on the hay cart'.
the skin resonance (or built in reverb, if you will) is an integral part of the attributes of the instrument, and seeking a 'great banjo' is not going to change that. cheap banjos don't really sound drastically different from expensive ones, but may stay in tune better, and have better intonation.

i've always found the banjo an exceedingly easy instrument to record, usually a KM84 18-24 inches out in front of the player works great. a dynamic can work well too.. your EV635A should get a good sound, you can put it closer to bring the room ambience down. in fact, a very close omni is probably the best way to get that 'in your face' sound you desire.
do not use compression; or if you must, use a low ratio with very fast release or the tone will get seriously messed up.

trivia: i once recorded a banjo worth $75,000, in late 90's money.
Old 20th July 2011
  #23
Lives for gear
 

When I attended L.A. Recording Workshop in the 80's, one of the instructors told us the Beyer M160 was THE banjo mic. I haven't recorded one for quite awhile, but I was generally happy with the M160 on both bluegrass and folk banjos. You will likely want some distance with any resonator-equipped banjo since the complexity of the interaction between all the parts doesn't really coalesce until you get at least a couple of feet out. I would think if you're looking for that in-your-face sound, a folk banjo would be easier to close-mic. Or, as Jimbo recommended, remove the resonator. I'd trust anybody named jimbo with banjo matters. heh
Old 20th July 2011
  #24
Put up a nice ribbon mic. then throw the banjo out the window.

How is a banjo like an artillery shell? By the time you hear it, its too late.

(fiddle player here!)
Old 20th July 2011
  #25
Lives for gear
 
RKrizman's Avatar
 

414 TLII a foot and a half in front. Or anything, really, it's gonna sound like what it's gonna sound like.

-R
Old 20th July 2011
  #26
Harmless Wacko
 

What's the difference between a road accident scene involving a banjo player and one involving a Rattlesnake?

















There are skid marks leading up to the snakes body.










Dreadful. Dreadful instrument from hell.


I've always wanted to record a trio comprised of banjo, bagpipe and xylophone covering Slayer songs.

Lend new meaning to the term SATANIC.

SM.
Old 20th July 2011
  #27
Slip, I would buy that record.....easily......
Make sure you record it with the WORST Digital Audio you can find.....
Old 20th July 2011
  #28
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bopkit View Post
the banjo is not supposed to sound 'in your face' it's supposed to sound 'across the porch' or 'on the hay cart'.
the skin resonance (or built in reverb, if you will) is an integral part of the attributes of the instrument, and seeking a 'great banjo' is not going to change that. cheap banjos don't really sound drastically different from expensive ones, but may stay in tune better, and have better intonation.

i
I disagree with the last part. I am a professional banjo player. I have tried to play cheaper banjos. If you want it to sound like Bela Fleck or JD Crowe, you are going to be hard pressed to find a cheap (under $2k) banjo that will cut it, in my experience.
If you can't hear the difference in a $800 korean Fender and a $5000 Huber Banjo, well then I guess good for you. helps keep cost down.
unfortunately I can.

I knew it wouldn't take long for the banjo jokes to pop up. haters. whatever, more gigs for me.

and to answer the OP, I have been getting very good results on my banjo with a Beyer M160 and a Joly modded SDC, into a GR MP500 and a API 512c, respectively.
Old 20th July 2011
  #29
Gear Head
 

also, if you getting lots of overtones, check the head tuning.

folks that play mostly open and in G a lot usually have the head tuned to G# to cut back on resonance. might look into that.
Old 20th July 2011
  #30
Lives for gear
 
RKrizman's Avatar
 

You tell 'em Branjovi. I love the banjo and did some fun bluegrass recordings featuring Herb Pedersen on the instrument. The recordist used a 414TLII a foot or so off the front of the instrument, with a tube trap placed behind the mic. You can go here Catalog if you wish to hear it. Scroll down to the bluegrass montage.

-R
Post Reply

Welcome to the Gearslutz Pro Audio Community!

Registration benefits include:
  • The ability to reply to and create new discussions
  • Access to members-only giveaways & competitions
  • Interact with VIP industry experts in our guest Q&As
  • Access to members-only sub forum discussions
  • Access to members-only Chat Room
  • Get INSTANT ACCESS to the world's best private pro audio Classifieds for only USD $20/year
  • Promote your eBay auctions and Reverb.com listings for free
  • Remove this message!
You need an account to post a reply. Create a username and password below and an account will be created and your post entered.


 
 
Slide to join now Processing…
Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Forum Jump
Forum Jump