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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Qualities of a banjo that make the record better or sound live better

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Brian Murphy - Posted - 04/25/2020:  07:32:16

I have often heard the phrase "they record really well," sometimes in reference to Gibson RB-100s. Another phrase "it mics really well." I assume that when evaluating a banjo, volume is more important for someone who wants to "cut through" in a jam and play solely in unmic'd situations, but that volume is less important in a recording studio where the mics can do the work. Is the rest about overtones? Are there certain timbre characteristics that just don't record well? Or are these phrases just gibberish?

MacCruiskeen - Posted - 04/25/2020:  08:01:53

That must surely be gibberish. I mean, the only way that could be true is if the tonal range of the banjo was closer to the microphone’s particular response curve than other banjos, and that couldn’t be true for any arbitrary microphone.

Alex Z - Posted - 04/25/2020:  09:16:53

What the mic translates from vibrations in the air into electric signals is not always the same as what the human ear hears.  Different banjos can sound different.

For example, "cutting through" is not only about volume -- it's also about the balance of the banjo's frequency output.  Some banjos than sound nice, bright, and clear in an acoustic setting can sound harsh and tinny through a mic.  Others that sound about the same acoustically  and likewise can "cut through" can sound smoother and more chime-like through a mic.

I think the "mics well" comment -- most often applied to acoustic guitars -- means that there is overall balance of output of the banjo in the range of notes it can play, and there are not many "hot" notes or tonal areas that a microphone may exaggerate.  We have to keep in mind that the picker may well play a little differently if needing to be heard in a loud acoustic environment, as well as the human ear registering certain sound in the brain and ignoring others, in a complex acoustic environment.

My experience is that if the banjo sounds really nice -- rich and balanced --  when you're sitting alone in the kitchen playing at 70-80% of max volume, it's going to sound really nice when recording.

pasdimo - Posted - 04/25/2020:  17:15:12

All depends on the environment. Playing alone, just with a guitar, with a brass section, if there is a piano, a drum, etc... all that means different ways of playing, even different banjos. IMO there is no one best banjo nor best mic, depends on the situation

northernbelle - Posted - 04/26/2020:  14:36:30

Spent the '90s and early '20s in studios and producing acoustic/American CDs. Here's my take:

Combined tone/timbre of the "group" is what makes the largest difference for me.

In a band context, even if the individual players/instruments are multi-tracked singly and then combined, I feel the biggest factor in "which banjo to use" will be dependent on what the other instruments sound like.

Is the mandolin "brittle" sounding, sweet and woody sounding, etc. in general?

Is the fiddler using a lot of thicker sounds like double stops?

Is the bass thumps, swirling smoothness of low end filling cloudiness?


If you have several banjos (studio players often have an "arsenal") you might pick one that is mellow or less intrusive, one that has some cut through bite, one with medium or heavy strings to "pretend" to be a Celtic four string sound, etc. etc.

When I did bass guitar work, I'd use a variety of basses for what the artist or producer wanted.

But... ALL of those things can usually be accomplished merely by making set up adjustments on your existing quality banjo that are customized for THAT cut/tune/song.

Although any quality banjo can record well, there are so many studio variables, reverb, compression other effects, inherent in the process and even if the band or soloist is originally recorded solo and completely absent of effects- if the project is sent to a mixing person/service for a final mix, things will change some. If you mix it yourself the brand of board you own or mixing program on a computer will color things a bit.

I would say that the only super hard to control element is if your banjo has excessive overtones swirling around that get in the way. Tape on a head or bridge or towel stuffing can help.

Finally, choosing the correct mike for THAT tune makes the hugest difference. Even when doing vocals it was amazing how a different mic would sound SO much better on one tune and "meh" on others. An "arsenal" of mics doesn't hurt either :-0

Hope that's helpful.

Edited by - northernbelle on 04/26/2020 14:41:27

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