recording old-time banjo

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recording old-time banjo

Post by ribbongirl » Thu Jun 26, 2003 2:43 pm


I want to record my friend's uncle who plays old-time string band music on open-back banjo (NOT bluegrass-style with the resonator).

Can anyone suggest a mic setup or strategy that will help get some of the lower tones from the banjo and less of the harsh/tinny plinky-plinky-plink. I want to minimize harsh string-snapping and get some of the lower sounds.

I know that prob sounds funny, considering that the banjo is normally thought of as having higher-pitched tones. However, old-time banjos with open backs have a mellower sound than your typical bluegrass banjo.

I have tried a few mics in different positions around the banjo, but i seem to be having a tough time when i compare my recording to well known player's recordings.

Surely there is a way to do this other than just fiddling with the EQ... How should the mics be positioned relative to the banjo head? I can borrow a variety of large or small diaphram mics for this. Any help or suggestions will be appreciated!!


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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by PatrickBrown » Thu Jun 26, 2003 3:30 pm

Hi Rachel,
I've done this alot. The two banjos used were a Wildwood Troubador, which I've since sold to the player, and my Vega/Fairbanks 1919 Tubaphone conversion. They are both old time open backs, and my friend is an excellent frailer.
I used a Marshall MXL600, through a cheap table top ART Tube MP Studio into an ART Levelar Tube Compressor, and got great results with both instruments. The Wildwood has a Fibreskyn head, and the Vega an old Joseph Rogers skin head. I put the mike,,a small diaphragm, 12 to 15 inches from the top center of the head. Stellar response, I thought. I set the Levelar on auto, so it took care of itself, pretty much.
Before I got the Marshall, I even ran him straight into a Tascam 788 with a Fender P51 Dynamic mike, and got good sounds.
This guy's a heck of a player, and with him, it seems hard to get a bad sound.
I was fiddling into an SM57 when I used the P51, and later, into a Rode NT3, when I used the Marshall on the banjo.
I find large diaphragms work well too(Rode NT1 in my case), but I'd get abit further back with it. After I got the Marshall, I never used anything else when he was playing. Haven't recorded with him in over a year though.

I haven't tried more than one mike, but I'm sure you'll hear that,(using more than one mike) for advice, and I bet it'll work nicely.

PS In this case, I used no EQ when recording, though I do that, some, these days. Both these banjos sounded good enough to need little, if any, EQ in the mix.
Last edited by PatrickBrown on Thu Jun 26, 2003 7:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by Randall » Thu Jun 26, 2003 6:00 pm

I recently got a hold of an sony C-74, {$1200.00 list piad 200.00)originaly I believe intended for motion picture work,,but this baby almost wont go wrong on any acoustic instrument,especially any with strings,,nekt I'm going to try it as a drum overhead havent had opportunity yet though

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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by @?,*???&? » Thu Jun 26, 2003 7:45 pm

I'd go with a Neumann M62 or Neumann KM84 on the banjo through a Neve 1073 or 1063 if it's an option. Even a modified 1272 would give you the same result. Perhaps some light limiting with an 1176. Miked facing the body of the instrument coming in from the neck side at an angle. Probably close baffle the player too to eliminate the room.

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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by AnalogElectric » Thu Jun 26, 2003 8:56 pm

A nice ribbon would work well. I like an RCA 44BX or an RCA BK-5B on a banjo. Both on the banjo would be ideal. The 44BX a bit further away resonates lower frequencies quite nicely. Ribbon mics on stringed instruments sound natural with a little mid growl.

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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by cgarges » Thu Jun 26, 2003 9:05 pm

I agree, a ribbon mic will probably give you the best blend of a smooth top and a nice, rich low end. I'd probably go for a Beyer M160 first, as they tend to be a little brighter than most other ribbon mics. Be very aware of proximity effect and use it to your advantage. Good luck!

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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by clodock » Fri Jun 27, 2003 8:11 am

hi rachel,

I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and suggest your namesake mic as well. I've had good luck with a royer r121, but not on banjo yet. I've also had good luck with a blue baby bottle, which I ordinarily can't stand on acoustic instruments, but on an open back banjo it was really nice.

you can hear the open back -> baby bottle -> avalon 737sp here:

at the bottom of the page there is a cover of grand canyon with banjo, and for-the-rest of my life and as-bad-as it seems also have that set-up on them. for the rest of my life probably sounds the best. I haven't had a chance to do banjo with the r121 yet, but since it knocked the baby bottle out of guitar amp duties, I wouldn't be surprised if the same things happen with banjo.

good luck.

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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by soundguy » Fri Jun 27, 2003 11:58 am

everyone beat me to the good advice. I dont like condensers on banjo much, it tends to get very clinkly, but that could be the desired effect. If you can scout out a royer SF1, it will be a lot smoother on the mids than the somewhat gritty sounding 121.


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Re: recording old-time banjo

Post by ribbongirl » Mon Jul 07, 2003 10:54 am

Thanks to everyone for all the great advice! I'm trying several of these suggestions out next weekend when i go visit him and some of his music buddies.

I appreciate the ribbon suggestions, unfortunately my RCA 77 is getting re-ribboned, but hopefully i will have it back in time.

thanks again everyone,



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