Once you’ve started to master the banjo or when you’ve been playing for a while, you’ll want to record your music. In fact, you might want to record after a few weeks of learning to compare to when you’re a few months or years into your craft. This will give you the chance to look back to see your progress on the banjo. Everyone who plays an instrument will improve over time, but it can be hard to see if you don’t record and periodically check your aptitude.
At some point, you’ll want to play for an audience or in a live situation. It can be tough to record the banjo if you’ve never learned to mic a live playing situation before. First, you’ll need to determine the kind of music you’re going to record then you’ll consider reverb and the sound you’d like to get from the banjo when it’s recorded. Placement makes a huge difference in the sound.
What Are You Recording?
This is a two-fold question. You’ll ask yourself what kind of banjo you’ll be recording – an open back or resonator banjo. Another question is the kind of music you’ll want to record. Folk music, Dixieland, and Jazz all lend themselves to different banjo sounds. Some are thumpier while others have more steel and twang to them. This will influence the banjo to be used as well as the sound you’d like to capture.
Dynamic or Condenser Microphones
A condenser microphone is usually good for a recording that has vocals as well as instruments. If you plan on recording a live session, it’s likely that you’ll have other instruments as well as someone singing.
If the person is singing a solo while playing the banjo, a microphone should be directed at the singer with another set low for the banjo. If you don’t have two microphones, the person singing will play while vocals are recorded. The singing will take precedence.
For a banjo as part of the band or solo without singing, a dynamic microphone is a good choice. The banjo is a high frequency sound that will benefit from the diaphragm of a dynamic mic.
The open back banjo will have a reverb that includes bouncing around behind the player and giving more of a laid-back sound. That should be kept in mind during the mic choice as well as distance choice when you’re recording.
A resonator banjo directs that high dynamic sound directly forward towards the audience. You’ll want to mic in front of the player at the right angle to capture that sound correctly. A microphone with a dynamic diaphragm can handle the frequency of the banjo beautifully.
Omnidirectional or Cardioid
The omnidirectional microphone would work very well for an open back banjo since you’ll be able to capture the sounds as it’s represented quite naturally. The waves will bounce and move around everything in the room before being captured in the microphone itself and recorded.
The cardioid microphone is a good choice for a microphone that will stand directly in front of the banjo and capture the waves of sound before they bounce around the room. This allows the sound to come directly into the space in front of the mic. You’ll have more control over the music being recorded.
Position and Placement of the Mic for Live Recording
This is one of the most important considerations for your banjo recording. There are pickup microphones that you can clip directly to the banjo drum itself. There are also microphones that you can place on a stand at an angle to the banjo and the player.
The mic directly attached to the drum is mostly used for banjos that have an open back. It’s easier to attach as well as providing a clearer recording for instruments that might have too much reverb for their intended recording.
When a microphone is placed at a distance, you’ll want to play a bit of the song, record the result, and decide where the position should be. You might have to move it a few times to get the right tone of the instrument during recordings.
If you place the microphone 3 inches from the middle of the banjo, you’ll get a sound that more bass and a bit dark compared to a microphone that is 6 inches from the banjo. The sound is warmer with a bit less bass. You’ll need to decide what you want to hear in the song.
There are more than a few decisions to make when you’re trying to mic a banjo for a live recording. Much of it is personal preference and experimentation. If you have two kinds of microphones, you can experiment with each. If you are trying to purchase your first microphone for recording, you can get one that works in almost every scenario with stringed instruments. That microphone would be a dynamic one over a condenser.