Friday, March 23, 2012

Stereo Banjo

Recording setup for stereo banjo, 3/22/12

When I recorded my banjo back in the 1980's, I always went with whatever the engineer or producer had in mind, which was the standard approach, putting the microphone out front. As I learned more about recording and paid attention to how a banjo sounds, I started notice that the richest sound came out of the back. This is why I prefer the open-back banjo sound, and put the soundhole of my gourd banjo facing me (earlier posts...). So, when I went back to recording the banjo in the last few years, I wanted to try to record the back, which did indeed sound much richer, and from there I got the bright idea to put two small-diaphragm condenser mics (here, two Neumann KM184s) in the configuration you see above, one in front and one behind, panned into a fairly-wide stereo. The first time I tried it in an official session was on Paul Ander's banjo on this track of the Steptoe project. Both his banjo and mine above have a rag stuffed in them, too. I love this stereo banjo sound, how it is somehow three-dimensional in the mix without being in the way of anything else. Now that I think of it, the Steptoe project wasn't the first time; I used it on my great-grandfather's 1893 Fairbanks banjo when I recorded Lullaby on Handmade. There it is in the background, but it has that same 3-D effect.

The banjo here is a c.1918 Bacon Blue Ribbon (it has the proto-flathead tone ring of the later Bacon & Day banjos and a weird detachable cover for the back that anticipates their later resonators, which I just leave off), with a neck I made for it in 1985, and a real skin head. Recording Shiloh's CD gives me a few opportunities for trying my banjo sound out on a new audience.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Russ Rosenbalm's drums, ready for recording, 1/25/12

So, I was right on the cusp. A couple of parts to score and record in my musical recording project. Ready to start recording with the new gourd banjo. Then, I disappeared!

Dona saw it coming, when we scheduled Russ to come down to record, she said, "Could you finish that shelf in the bedroom, maybe..?" Too late. But I had points for finishing her room from last year (earlier post), so I'm OK.

I have had several of these interventions in my long-term plan, which explains a lot, but they have always been great projects to do, and this one was now or never. Shiloh Sharrard is a local (Moscow, ID) singer, who I first heard when she was 11 (and was already a great country singer...), and later recorded when she was almost 15. She is really good. Now it's four years later and she and her dad are going to Nashville, and they need a new CD for a thousand reasons, but this meant a whole production from the ground up. I knew a great drummer who had just moved to Spokane. How could I not do this?

Anyway, this kind of thing takes over your life. Another month, I'll be making the shelf.