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.

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