Bruce writes:

Pete, I’m looking to mic my banjo and would ideally like a dynamic mic -like a Shure SM-57 sound — but smaller and clipped on to my banjo. I was looking on-line at the Audio Technica Pro 35AX Microphone for example; it seems like most of the small clip-on mics are condenser mics. Have you tried any of them and can you recommend one?

I’m playing bluegrass and want to reproduce the unplugged sound as much as possible and would like to be able to go into an amplifier. As far as amps, I was thinking of trying a friends little Squire bass amp since it’s a full range amp and sounds pretty good.

-thanks, Bruce

Sorry, Bruce, I have no experience with the small clip-on mics at all, and don’t even know which ones are condensers, etc. Béla uses a Shure of some kind, I think, and Dave Johnston of Yonder Mt. String Band uses one, but I don’t know what it is.

I haven’t been tempted too much to use a clip on, though it certainly has its advantages. You can get pretty loud with a 57, even in monitors blasting at you. But you have to hug it pretty close, as straying tends to cause feedback. For my higher volume and “wandering” type situations (rare) I use my Prucha Elban, also prone to feedback, but a pretty convincing sound, other than the 4th which sounds fake by itself, but credible when part of a roll. It sounds more like a good banjo than any plug-in I’ve heard coming through an amp. And I like how when I want it OFF, as for tuning I have onboard control. A floor on/off stomp button would also work, but more gear is not my thing.

I did some careful shopping for amps, and the hands-down winner even over some leading “acoustic sound” amps was the Centaur Acoustic PA, a reasonably compact and light box with 3 inputs. This was also Jaroslav Prucha’s amp of choice when I first heard the Elban I now have. It’s a good ‘un, and not terribly pricey (though more than a Squire, I imagine). I like where you say “the Squire sounds pretty good.” Hey, this is all new technology for banjo players, and who knows, maybe you made a breakthrough. I have never heard or heard of anyone playing banjo through a Squire. As I like to say, if it sounds good, it must be good.

I don’t tend to like using any setup where I can’t modulate my volume by distance from the mic. Yes, the alternative is just lightening up/bearing down, but with most loud bands, lightening up fully loses you in the mix. Or working your onboard volume knob, which I still can do pretty well from my steel guitar days, when I did it while playing. For me, the “working the mic” is part of my banjo-playing internal system, you might say, and it certainly works, except in rare (volume or need to wander) situations. I’m just so used to it after over 40 years of performing!

Best of luck, and if you come upon something that’s just right for you, please share the info.

Thanks for writing,

Pete Wernick