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Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo

27 Jun 00 - 04:33 PM (#248005)
Subject: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Jed at Work

Well, I've been back and forth on this issue, and solicited feed back from the Mudcat forum ... had lots of good advice pro and con, but I went ahead and installed a fishman banjo pick up yesterday, in my Vega.

I have been struggling with the lack of control, and occassionally presence, with the banjo mix. The band plays a variety of venues, and we often mix the sound from the stage - mics are the enemy! Sometimes, the sound is excellent with a mic - but too often it's just hard to tell ... so I read up on what Deering had to say (great comments on banjo pickups here, by the way - on their FAQs page). For a little more then $100 I bought the Fishman banjo pick up and installed easily myself yesterday. I played with it through an amp in the house and it sounded pretty true - not surprising; Fishman makes great guitar pick ups. I have not used a pre amp with yet (appears to be reccomended, though I did get a fairly strong signal from it), nor have I run it through the mixer but I'll get that chance this weekend. I'll come back to this thread with feedback on how it goes.

ANYWAY - the pick up itself is pretty interesting. It uses magnetic coils, like an electric guitar. It is mounted beneath the head, just north of the bridge inside the sound ring, on the truss rods - attached to the backside of the head, you tape a free standing steel plate (very thin, like tin foil, and perhaps 1/4" square). That plate vibrates with the head and moves inside the magnetic field created by the coiled pick up - inducing the electronic signal that coresponds to sound. It is a bit like combining the two different technologies of piezo eletronics (ie., most acoutic pick ups use sound pressure to pick up the signal from the instruments wood) and electro magenetics used by electric guitars (ie., an inductor - the string - moving inside a magnetic field induces a current representing the sound). Pretty ingenious, and very promising! I am hopeful that it will work well on stage.

Now; the same old problem of pick ups in my guitar; I am now playing an electric, and it is a bit of a different instrument!

27 Jun 00 - 04:44 PM (#248014)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Mark Clark


Before joining the Hee Haw cast, Buck Trent played electric banjo with Porter Wagoner's band for quite a while. Do you happen to know what he used for a pickup and how he set it up?

Thanks and good luck,

      - Mark

27 Jun 00 - 05:05 PM (#248033)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Jed at Work

Well I am pretty new to banjo playin' and I don't know much about what real banjo players have been using in the past. I do know that the technologies we use for pick ups these days, has matured a lot over the last 30 years or so since the fore runners of fishman and baggs have been on the market - and to the payers advantage. The stuff really works well, now-a-days!

It is still a compromise, and if it weren;t such a pain in the a*s to work with mics in the variety of acoustic settings I am forced to play - I wouldn;t be usig a pick up. Unlike the guitar, the banjo does mic pretty well, even in noisy environments, but the issues of presence (in the mix) and control, just pushed me over the top.

I must admit I found really intriguing stuff about electric banjos used by Bella Fleck and others - there are some wonderful instruments on the market. A bit beyond my price range, for an untried instrument, though! I knew the Vega would be beautiful, sight unseen (I bought it from Deering over the web).

As a guitar player, learning banjo, one of the challenges I've struggled with is that darn fifth string peg right in my way everytime I move up the neck!! My long neck helps out with keys like F, E (and I love the deeep 'baritone' qualities of the Vega) - but what the hell do you do in B and B flat??? chuckle. I guess I'm learning, but the banjos with the 5th string that tunnels through the neck up to the peg on the head really looked like a great idea to a guitarist like me, masquerading as a banjo player!

27 Jun 00 - 05:18 PM (#248039)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Crowhugger

Bookmarked for future reference, thanks, Jed.

27 Jun 00 - 05:53 PM (#248070)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Jed at Work

Crowhugger - while you're at bookmarking, please check out this site; look over what he's done with the fifth string, tunneling it up to the head, look over the electrics, and the acoustics. This guy is really innovative, and the sucecss he's had indicates he's done a pretty good job. I'd love to try on of his instruments.

27 Jun 00 - 05:58 PM (#248079)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Jed at Work

ooops! sorry, it's easier to click the blue clicky thing here and go to that website. Pretty cool site, too.

28 Jun 00 - 11:19 AM (#248518)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: Jed at Work

... just a bit more comment prior to the weekend's real use of the banjo pickup (live performance is always the true test)! I had intended to use a preamp, as recommended for such devises, but thought I'd consider the matter more, before I sunk any more money into this 'electric banjo' experiment. But encouraged by the great sound I was getting with the pick up by itself, and by some great reviews I'd heard and read about Fishman's new "Pro EQII" - I went ahead and bought one. I am glad I did.

One of the most important things for optimizing the quality of sound through the mixer is maximizing the input gain of the instrument, then there's controlling feedback, and tailoring EQ. This Pro EQ is a actually a DI (so I can come out of it with a balanced signal on an XLR connector, and plug it right into a snake or the mixer. The sound quality refining tools this box offers are excellent, still I have only played with it through a guitar amp in the house, but I can see already the unit was a good purchase. I'll get to try out this stuff over the weekend (Thurs, Fri and Sat) so I have three guinee pig audiences to work on - and three very different rooms and stage settings! Should be interesting, and I'll report back.

02 Jul 00 - 09:51 AM (#250553)
Subject: RE: Bit the bullet & put pick up in banjo
From: JedMarum

Following the first weekend of use, I have mixed results to report. The pick up worked out fine, in general and I got used to to it surprisingly quickly. I did find that the pre-amp (the Fishman Pro EQ) did not help me much; in fact I went straight into the mixer with the unboosted signal, and used the EQ on the channel - I found that worked pretty well. I got excellent sound. I had to cut the lows, and low mids quite a bit, to remove some of the low end ring, but the resulting sound was great. I had been concerned that the difference between picking (bare nailed) and brushing would be dramatic, but it worked out just fine. I do need to find a preamp, though. I had boosted the input at the mixer considerably, and was on the verge of a a feedback ring, from time to time. A warmer signal to the deck will help eliminate this problem.

By the way; I am not giving up on that Fishman preamp/DI. It worked wonders for the fiddle! So our fiddle player got an unexpected lift to her sound!

I am sure it'll take some time to sort out the finer points of working with a pick up, but I am very pleased with the results of this frst weekend, and look forward to learning more.

I'll report back to this thread as I learn, if their's interest in the subject.