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May 19, 2024 - 10:04:36 AM
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15255 posts since 6/2/2008

Didn't want to hijack the other current discussion on pickups with my more narrow and specific question.

The subject line should be self-explanatory. But in case your experience with pickups has been different than mine, let me share.

Both pickups that I've used over the decades (Barcus Berry only in the 70s and now Pickup the World since around 2007) over-amplify the percussive effect of picking. It's as if I hear the sound of the bridge being struck.

I think part of this is because the recommended installation is directly under the bridge on the underside of the head. When I used the Barcus Berry way back when, I actually had it far away from the bridge, toward the neck, in an area outside the fifth string (under the head and under from where the thumb might attack the fifth string). When I needed amplification again earlier this century, I installed the Pickup the World pickup: a thin film transducer. It adheres directly in line under the bridge.

I sat in with some friends at a pizza parlor gig last night. I did not plug in. Playing through an SM58 didn't give me the volume or presence that it had in the past playing with these friends at other gigs. Both my friends' guitars were plugged-in acoustic electric. I'm thinking I might need to plug in should they call me again. But I'd rather do with something that gives me a more natural sound.

With the Pickup the World, I use an LR Baggs Para Acoustic DI, and I have to dial all the EQ and presence all the way back to get down to a basic signal to adjust with the PA's EQ. And it's still more percussive than playing through a mic.

The two times I've heard pickup sound so microphone-like I had to ask the players what they were using it was Fishman. One was in an RK-25 at a side stage at a festival; the other was in a Maple Blossom at a house concert seating 60.

If any of you recognize the sound I'm describing, how would you say your preferred pickup performs in that regard? Do you think it sounds like playing through a mic?

I'm also wondering if instead of a new pickup I should consider getting a ToneDexter modeling preamp that can learn the sound of a mic'd instrument and substitute that for the pickup sound. I wonder if that would ignore and eliminate the percussive aspect of the pickup.

May 19, 2024 - 11:22:04 AM
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65 posts since 9/1/2020

Again, I'll say Fishman.
The reason is that it actually makes your banjo head act as a microphone diaphragm. The sound is crystal clear, and I was surprised to find that hitting the head didn't seem to offer too much percussion.
Piezoelectric pickups have to be cranked up pretty high to get a good instrument sound, then you accidentally smack the thing and all of the sudden it's a bass drum.
I reckon the Fishman is delivering at about max to begin with, so hitting it only gives a percussive sound of equal measure to the strings.
We use the Fishman in three different instruments, including bass banjo.
Paired with the Fishman Platinum pre-amp, I don't have to use a mic.

May 19, 2024 - 7:58:18 PM
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296 posts since 12/21/2012

i have the pick up the world pickup on all 3 of the banjos i use live. i put it a little in front of the bridge. Rob Bishline, who installed it and turned me on to them, told me to play around with the position as it doesn’t need to be directly under the bridge. Just moving it forward should make it a little less percussive.

i’ve tried the fishman, good sound, but very feedback prone for me, and the guys i’ve seen use them live stuff their banjos with towels or something for that reason. Tried kavango....sounded like a guitar. Tried the cheaper piezos and didn’t care for them. Also i stuffed a Seymour Duncan Woody acoustic guitar pickup between the dowel stick and the head up by the neck on an open back and that sounds pretty good too.

The pick up the world was the closest thing for me, other than a mic, but i understand your feeling it’s too percussive and i agree. So….i bought a Tonedexter, gen 1, and i couldn’t be happier. It’s pricey and takes some time to get right, as it comes with zero sounds built in…. they should fix that…but, after playing with it for some time, i’ve got 3 or 4 sounds dialed in that i love. Also, being able to combine how much pick-up with how much modeled/mic sound is a great feature. Feedback was almost completely eliminated for me. i modeled my banjo, my banjola, and an acoustic guitar…..sometimes i’ll use my guitar model on my banjo and vice versa for a completely different sound. The other thing audio sprockets should have done is make it foot switchable from preset to preset. i use a Wingman knob to kinda get around that but it really should have been added as a button (or 2) instead of the so-so tuner.

Another really cool thing i’ve discovered is i can take an out from my DAW that has layered banjo (or other) sounds multitracked and feed it into the Dexter to model.

Trent Wagler from the Steel Wheels uses one live (as do many others) and his sound is amazing.

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