View Full Version : Pickups and microphones - advice on amplifying the banjo

Apr-10-2016, 11:50pm
I've been playing banjo for about a year now and have some general questions related to playing and amplifying the banjo in a live band setting (first gig coming up soon). It's my understanding that micing is preferable to using pickups if you can get away with it due to the quality of the tone and sound, however in a louder setting with amplified instruments, it may not be possible to amplify a banjo to the level needed with just a microphone. So the questions that I have are:

1. When playing a gig that requires the volume that a pickup can provide, would you ideally run 2 channels (1 mic and 1 pickup), and max out the mic to the point just before feedback utilizing the pickup channel to "make up the difference" in volume?
2. What pickups have you all had successes/failures with?
3. Do you have any experience with clip on condenser mics, and do you find that they work well both alone and with a pickup?

I realize that a lot of this is very subjective and I'm sure I'll learn a lot just by messing around on my own. I do appreciate any incite you all can provide from your own personal experiences. Cheers!

Apr-11-2016, 9:04pm
Hi Banjoeric,

There are different types of pickups that are available. Goldtone makes the ABS Microphone that retails for $261 or the Sliding Mag Pickup (SMP) for $189. Nechville makes the Acoustic Harness that retails for $540. There are also Piezo Contact Microphones for $7.00 on Amazon. Most of the reliable pickups run between $175 and $300. I've never used any of these, so I don't know what they sound like.

Your plan to use two channels allows you to move in and out of the mic so you can get dynamics and volume changes where the pickup only would require some type of volume pedal. I've used a Sennheisser E604 drum mic clipped to my Nechville banjo with a volume pedal and it works well in a very loud environment. I ran the mic into a Bose T1 Tone Match on channel 1 and out to the volume pedal then back in to channel 2 then out from the T1 to a Bose L1 Compact I was using for my personal amp and out from there to front of house. I also had an acoustic electric guitar going into channel 3 of the T1 so I could switch instruments.

Other choices for a mics that I like are the AKG C1000 small diaphragm condenser and the Audio Technical AT-PRO 37, also a SDC. Both require phantom power but that's supplied by my T1 or other board. If the venue is quieter, I like using a single large diaphragm condenser like the AKG C3000, AKG C414, of Audio Technical 4033CL for both instrument and vocals. That allows me to move in and out from the mic and no cables or mics directly on the instrument.

Hope that helps.

A fellow Las Vegas banjo player.


P.S. Do you know about the Southern Nevada Bluegrass Music Society? SNBMS.org

Dan Hulse
Apr-11-2016, 9:52pm
Hi banjoeric, amplification of acoustic instruments is always a a compromise. The answer really depends on where, how loud and how much can you afford. While I always mic up to record, it would never work in a noisy crowded bar where my Irish folk band usually plays. For several years I have been using either a K&K or JJB transducer mounted on the underside of the head just below the bridge, run into a K&K Pure preamp mounted on my mic stand. I also play mandolin & bouzouki, so it enables me to switch instruments and EQ on the fly. I still sounds like a banjo.

Apr-15-2016, 7:41am
I'll echo Dan's advice. I've used JJB pickups on over a dozen instruments ranging from fiddle to upright bass. A preamp or DI is used more for impedance match to eliminate the dreaded piezo quack than to boost the signal. Preamp/DI is not needed if you will always plug in to a high impedance (~1 to 10 Megohm) input. The K&K pickups are good but no better than JJB (i've used both).

There are many good preamps, I currently use the Redeye but the K&K pure has worked very well for me too. I haven't tried the JJB preamp.





Martin Ohrt
Apr-15-2016, 10:01am
Hello banjoeric,
I have no experience with pickups and banjos, but I always got nice results using the AKG C1000 with a cheap acoustic tube amp.
I use this setup sometimes when my jazzband plays at larger venues, so that my Vega Vox doesn't cut through unplugged as it ususally does.