Bradah T in Georgia asks:

We have started recording trying to listen to improve. What is a good mic for a banjo?


Dear T,

I use an AKG 414 in the studio, and also on stage with Flexigrass. It’s one of the most popular studio mics, large diaphragm condenser, and gets a good balanced tone with plenty of low and high end. On the banjo, we sometimes have to pull back some of the low frequencies (200-450) a bit to have it sound a little more clean and “transparent”. There are now various mics that are considered comparable to and a good bit less pricey than the 414 (about $1000 I think). I forget their names, but a good studio person would probably be happy to chat with you about that.

For stage work with Hot Rize, I use an industry standard mic, the Shure SM-57, an inexpensive (not much more than $100) dynamic mic that’s been around a long time, and which banjos tend to sound good through. They tend to be good at not feeding back, and almost every sound company carries them. They’re not “fine” for studio applications, but they’re indestructible and sound good. If you have Masters of the Five String, you’ll see a lot of players like them. Can’t go wrong having a few of those around, so many studios do.

Remember, if you play really good with good tone, it would take a pretty bad mic to mess that up. If you don’t play with good tone, there’s not much a mic can do to help. The percentage of “sound quality” that’s thanks to a mic is less than 10%, where the quality of the player is by far the biggest percentage, and the instrument’s quality is also important, but a smaller percentage. The instrument and the mic can be *bought*, the player has to *work* and listen, and work some more, for years. To me, there are a lot more really good mics and instruments in the world than really good players. They are not made in factories. Each one has to be carefully developed for many years.

It’s good you’ll be recording yourself and listening back. When a person is playing, they usually have to concentrate so hard, they can’t hear as much as when they’re just listening back. There’s a lot to learn.

One thing that’s always nice: Get the banjo right in tune and play something nice and easy, and make it sound extra good, as though it’s for the most beautiful person in the world. That’s a good way to get good tone!

Pete