I play banjo in a band - we formerly were just a duo with no real rhythm section but we’ve now acquired a drummer (full rock drums) and bass player, so now amplification is more of a challenge. I got a Goldtone SMP, but it doesn’t have the percussive nature of the banjo that I love. I formerly used a K&K Big Shot and it works ok. Also have tried an SM57 duct taped in the pot and it gets a good sound on its own but in a recording of our first show seemed to be somewhat buried in the mix. I’m looking for a good, cutting sound. Currently looking at the Fishman Rare Earth, Schatten, and Hatfield Jones. I’ve heard the Fishman is great, but I’m wondering how much it cuts with a full band and if feedback would be too much of an issue. Schatten sounds great, but the sound samples on the website have pretty obvious pick squeals and I’m wondering if that’s an issue with it.
Long time lurker, first post - would greatly appreciate some input. Thanks!
Edited by - PastorOfMuppets on 02/13/2018 15:56:34
I have used fishman and schatten pickups and neither touch the sound that comes from the EMG. There is a great deal on a used one in the classifieds section now.
Thanks Paul - I’ll look that up. What did you think was better about the EMG?
I have Fishman Rare Earths kitten into both of my performance banjos, and like the sound. They are basically the same as the Jones, but with a preamp so they have a greater output. I tried the Shatten and didn't care at all for the harsh highs, ( ice-pick shrillness ). I have been happy with the Fishman but I also think that no matter which pickup you select, plan on running it through a DI ( direct box ) to give yourself the opportunity to shape the sound and to boost for your breaks.
PAUL,... I am very interested in the EMG, but a little frustrated that all of the sound bites, ( of Weed, Cavanaugh, etc. ) because they're using it for a very jazz, progressive sound. I'd love to hear straight ahead, honest bluegrass played through one without effects, etc. They sound like electric guitars to me but strongly suspect that because of the type of compositions being played, ( non-bluegrass) that the sound is loaded with effects and thats what they want.
Thanks PKM. Does the Fishman have feedback issues? I have to be able to get loud. And were there pick noise issues with the Schatten?
I use a Pickup the World banjo pickup. With all the tone-related controls on my LR Baggs Paracoustic DI box (not included) turned all the way down, I believe I get the kind of percussive and realistic banjo tone you describe. The pickup is currently $135 plus $30 for a Schatten-type L-bracket for the output jack. I highly recommend this bracket.
I heard a Fishman-amplified banjo at an outdoor festival this past September and thought it was the most authentic banjo sound I had ever heard in a PA system -- second only to microphone.
Here is a link of a live set that apparently was put on youtube from last year. I am using the EMG pickup and the sound in the video is coming straight from the mixing board. We have a lot of non-bluegrass stuff but the first song is pretty bluegrassy.
I like the consistency of the EMG more than the other pickups I have used. There have been no issues with feedback or anything like that. It has a 'rounder' sound than the schatten, which was pretty 'sharp' sounding to me. I also like the fact that it does not actually touch the head therefore it has less of an impact on the sound when it is not plugged in. That may be negligible but its a nice feature nonetheless.
Thanks Old Hickory. Paul, that video sounds good. Seems like it sounds more banjo-like than my SMP.
Thanks for the link. You guys are great and some very nice picking on your part. You're right, it has more rounded sound with a depth, and different, ( not necessarily better or worse, just different ) than my Fishman pickup.
PastorOfMuppets, ( I assume thats a family name going back generations ? ;-) No, I have never had feedback issues with the Fishman. I run it through a Radial Tonebone ( DI )
The Shatten didn't have what I'd call pick-noise. I just could not EQ it so that it didn't sound very thin and piercingly shrill. I had it off of my banjo after the first gig ! In fact, recently a friend of mine was convinced that he wanted to get a Shatten for his performance banjo. I loaned, and installed, mine on his banjo an hour before a big gig he was playing. I knew it was a mistake. Neither he, nor the pro-soundman, could get it to sound anywhere near decent.
When the band took a break, he came racing over,"get this POS out of my banjo !" ;-)) I didn't have time to do that, so we unplugged the Shatten and dialed in a SM58 for him to finish the gig. If I were you, I'd rule that one out, and it seems like a choice between the EMG or Fishman, in my opinion.
Ha, that’s wild about your friend’s show. Lots of people seem to like it, though, which is part of the reason this whole pickup conundrum is perplexing. I’m leaning toward the Fishman though. I’m looking for more “bite” than roundness. Heard a guy I know out here playing banjo with a full band and using a Fishman and thought it sounded awesome. But he told me he has feedback issues with it...
Yep, that’s an old family name that I’m sure my future wife will be proud to take. Hopefully she doesn’t want to go the hyphenated route
When I play in a loud band ( drums, bass and electric guitars). I use a twin dot JBJ and stuff tge head to cut down on overtones. I also use a LR Baggs paraacoustic DI to shape the sound and notch for help with feed back. I play both CH & 3 finger. We do a wide variety of music. A couple of times I use 8 foot of programmable rope lights with a clear head for the festive celebrations. Quite an attention getter. A fellow banjo picker asked “Do you have no shame?”
The Schatten is pretty good, but the tone needs to be modified. I too use the LR Baggs Para Acoustic D.I. box with it. These are my settings:
Low: 10 o'clock;
Notch: 1 o'clock and "B";
Mid: 12 o'clock and 1.2;
Pres: 9 o'clock;
Treb: 8 o'clock.
8 o'clock is almost nothing, since the knobs start at roughly 7 o'clock... Not much "Low" too, because with much low, it doesn't sound that banjo-like anymore.
Also nice is the LR Baggs Banjo Pickup, it doesn't need that much tweeking as the Schatten:
The Grover bridge I got with it, is great. Maybe just lucky, maybe hand-picked...?
Settings with the LR Baggs Para Acoustic D.I.:
Low: 10 o'clock;
Notch: 1 o'clock and "A";
Mid: 12 o'clock and .8;
Pres: 2 o'clock;
Treb: 12 o'clock.
I've tried a LOT of different things, including the EMG, Schatten (pickup/mic dual source), and a friend's with a Fishman. Tone-wise, the Schatten mic/pickup combo is my favorite, and is nice and punchy. Here's a video of me using it with a drummer, and it cuts pretty well (sorry the soundman was generous with the effects, so it's a little washed out):
I don't like the Schatten pickup by itself, but with the internal mic blended it's nice. I've used it on large, high-volume festival stages without any issues.
However!! I recently got something called a Tonedexter. I've only played it at one show, so the jury is still out. But I think it may be the best thing out there for high volume systems. It's like the Fishman Aura in that it's a digital modeler, but can be used for banjo. The accuracy of the tone is unbelievable. Expensive, but I've been very impressed so far.
Ben, Thanks for sharing the link to your video ! Great vibe you guys create. Your tone is NOTHING like what I've experienced with the Shatten by itself to be, and I can see how the internal mic proves it greatly.
I've read the description of the Tonedexter and that is quite a phenomenal claim they make !! I'd love to try it. It reads :
"ToneDexter is the new preamp for acoustic guitar, mandolin, violin, upright bass, and more that restores the missing body sound to an instrument’s ordinary piezo pickup.
Play for just a minute with both a mic and your pickup plugged in while ToneDexter learns the difference between your pickup sound and the mic sound. Then, put the mic away and smile! Say goodbye to that quacky, artificial, poorly balanced tone and say hello to your instrument’s true voice, only louder! "
BTW, this topic has probably been discussed at length on BHO, but I have to say that I'm finding this thread extremely interesting and helpful because the contributors are all performers, we've all tried a zillion pickups, we all recognize that we're searching for the lesser of evils since pickups always fall short of mic-ed banjos, and are all, most likely, playing very similar venues & volume levels.
Emiel, thanks for sharing your DI settings. I'm curious about your Baggs Bridge pickup - does it capture any of the percussive qualities of the banjo ?
PKM I agree, We're in a pretty good time right now because of all the options available. I still use a mic by itself at least half of the time, because as good as pickups are these days, a mic will still be the most representative sound for banjo. I'll try to upload some samples of the Tonedexter later if I get a chance. It's really, really impressive.
Thanks for the responses everyone. Ben, really liked the music.
Edited by - PastorOfMuppets on 02/14/2018 12:00:31
I have no experience of performing, playing in a band etc however I have been trying to record myself on a PC purely to listen to myself objectively.
I have a SoundLab tuner/metronome which has both an inbuilt microphone and a separate remote wired pick up which clips on to the neck of the banjo for tuning. The wire terminates with a 6.5 mm jack
I clipped the pickup to the bridge and played it through an amplifier. To my inexperienced ear it sounded great
I think I paid £15/ USD23 for the metronome/tuner against what seem to be much bigger numbers for regular banjo pick ups.
Is this something other people are aware of ?
When the band does not include drums and loud electric instruments and when the venue is not large and noisy, I don't think any pickup system beats a well-mic'ed setup. My former bluegrass band used only mics for everything except the upright bass and the sound was always great. One particular club (New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, Maryland) had house PA with a soundman who really knows his stuff.
For my Celtic/Americana band, separate mics for all the acoustic instruments is just not practical. We need to use pickups to get volume without feedback and to give us more room and flexibility on stage.
I think all the banjo pickups I've heard do an OK job and from what I've heard, even the the harshest or most shrill can be tamed with a good DI box. As I said above, I dial everything but volume all the way down and shape the tone at the mixer. Our fiddle player does the same.
For my money, the only acoustic guitar pickup system I've heard that truly sounds like an unamplified acoustic guitar through a mic is the Fishman "Blend" system that combines a humbucker pickup with an inside-the-guitar microphone.
I've been through the ringer with the amplification quest. I had the fancy EMG and it was a constant headache. Not a very sturdy piece of equipment. And I don't like the magnetic pickup sound.
My current rig, which I strongly endorse, is an SM57 in the resonator (velcro'd to the co-rods)and a Schatten, blended in a dual input pre-amp. Schatten is extremely sensitive to placement and I have no idea why they suggest putting it under the bridge (I thought it sounded terrible). You need to experiment with it but the sound can be good if you get the placement right. I use an xlr to 1/4 cable for the 57. I use a bit of foam in the resonator to cut the feedback. I can get it pretty dang loud. I also have electric guitar and drums in my band and this rig can compete, AND it has a very banjo-like sound. I may at some point add multi-band eq pedal to the rig...getting those mids and highs dialed in right makes a huge difference, and having more options that the typical 2 or 3 band eq would really help, I think.
Edited by - Joe the banjo guy on 02/17/2018 23:28:07
Thanks, Joe. Cool sound on the banjo. What do you think of the Schatten on its own? And what’s the dual input preamp you use? Been thinking of getting one
I think it can sound pretty good with careful placement and EQ. But I haven't used it that way live except early on when experimenting for placement and testing my blend, so I can't say for sure. Piezo pickups can have feedback issues, so I would give serious thought to stuffing the resonator if you can stand it. I basically have a live performance banjo and don't use it for much else, so I don't really mind. My DI/Preamp is the tonebone Pz-pre from Radial. Good piece of equipment but I know there are others that provide the same functionality.
Edited by - Joe the banjo guy on 02/19/2018 17:49:28
Joe the banjo guy , that's definitely one of the best live plugged in banjo sounds I've ever heard. Nice work.
I've attached a quick recording of my playing Fireball Mail. In order:
1. Condenser mic
2. Schatten pickup only
3. Schatten pickup/mic blender
4. Schatten into Tonedexter
The mic alone obviously wins here by a significant margin, but the Tonedexter's accuracy is still ridiculous. The signal going into it is the pickup ONLY. Still messing with it to get more high end definition, which I think will come. But when I have to play on those big rock stages, this will go around with me this summer.
Edited by - banjohood on 02/20/2018 14:17:09
Wow, very very impressed by the Tonedexter! That sounds fantastic.
'figuring out the key' 2 hrs