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New Banjo; Just Thinking Out Loud

Posted by JedMarum on Saturday, March 21, 2009

I own two beautiful guitars made by Larrivee and I use them in my music travels pretty extensively. I'll have to admit here and now, that I am a much better guitar player then I am a banjo player - but that comment does not negate the fact that I absolutely love the banjo. If I had my druthers I'd play the banjo all the time, but my banjos just can't handle rigors of the music world I live in - at least not as well as my guitars do - so they wind up playing a lesser role. That is a problem I intend to solve.


I do play banjo at home most days and I use it in my music work at concerts and some festivals; that is to say at those places where the "sound" environment is good and there's a pro-audio guy at the mixing console. But in the riskier sound environments, where time to set up is short, where there are noisy pub issues to solve or where I simply don't have faith in the guy at the mixer - I wind up leaving the banjo in the truck!

My guitars are modern, well built instruments with great electronics. I can plug 'em in and dial-up a pretty decent sound in moments. They tune well and quickly and and handle the hard playing of live performance. My banjos, on the other hand do not have good electronics. They have a weak signal from the pick-ups and require good electronics and skill at the console to get a good sound. They tune OK, but they don't stand up to the hard playing of live performance.

I know these problems are solvable. There are good pick-ups and mics out there and I can sort out the setup issues to suit my hard playing style better - but in truth, I need to solve my basic instrument issue first. I need to decide which banjo is going to be my "main squeeze" and then be sure it is set up for use in the music world I live in. For the last few years I've enjoyed experimenting with my:

  • Goldtone Banjola - a really pretty sounding hybrid blend of 5 sting banjo with a wooden, mandola body - plays like a banjo, sounds like a fat dulcimer


  • Deering Goodtime - strung with nylon strings. Tuned to G, has a real plunkity sound and works like magic with fiddle and mando for old-time fiddle tunes


  • Deering Goodtime - high strung with steel strings, tuned to A. It has a bright snap that works well for 3 fingered or thumb and finger brushing styles


For the last few years, I've enjoyed trying every banjo I come across at the music stores around the country and from other players I meet in my travels. I am amazed at how many beautiful banjos there are! But I've begun to realize that I have a definite sound I like and definite style banjo that suits my playing.


I've decided I am an open back guy. I also prefer the metal tone ring sound. I've played a few that I really like, but I have to say I love the Chuck Lee banjos I've played and set my sights on getting one in the next year or so. Then I need to solve the electronics and the set-up, but the good news is; banjos pick-up well with a mic or a pick-up so I have good choices in this matter. And set-up, well I'll trust Chuck Lee or my guitar repair guy to give me good advice here.

Now - all that's required is the funding! But that's a problem for another day!

1 comment on “New Banjo; Just Thinking Out Loud”

stanger Says:
Saturday, March 21, 2009 @4:08:20 PM

Hi, Jed... I suggest a McIntyre Feather piezo pickup, placed about an inch away from the bridge on the underside of the head in a straight line from the bass foot of the bridge. Run the McIntyre into a good pre-amp- I like the Fishman. For amplification, I found that a keyboard amp with a 15" woofer and a good short horn tweeter works the best. I used a Peavey KB300 for over 18 years until I quit playing in public. I EQ'd all the midrange out, kept the treble and bass flat. Tweak to your own ear. The KB300 weighs about 100 lb.- a hassle, but it never failed to deliver the goods, and I could play at the same level as an average electric guitar in any gig. I haven't tried a lot of the brand new acoustic amps, but I've found that the 15" speaker in any I've tried makes a big difference. I used the Peavey to amp my acoustic guitars, too, and sometimes used it as a 1-piece P.A.- it had 3 channels.

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