David writes:

I’ve started using the banjo in my recordings. I’m a multi-instrumentalist and know many of the “sweet spots” in those instruments in regards to EQ and allowing them to lay in the mix rather than squash it. The banjo has been one of the hardest for me to get a handle on.

I know for instance the acoustic guitar can often benefit from a good boost or cut in certain frequencies in the aural spectrum when laying in a mix. Often times I can remove the “cheap” sound of a lower quality guitar by cutting around -3db at 800 mhz for instance. Or a boost of around +3-6 db around the 200 mhz range can add some fullness to the bottom, etc.

What about the banjo? Any sweet spots or trouble spots when mixing? I want the instrument to lay in the mix more than stand out like a sore thumb. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


This is a reasonable enough question, but I don’t know of any across-the-board EQ tricks for banjo. When I record my own banjo (1988 Gibson Granada, using AKG 414 large diaphragm condenser mic), a small cut between 200-400 mhz helps make things sound a bit clearer. But this is specific to my banjo and that mic, when I’m playing in a full band context.

Note that you said you like to boost the 200 range for a guitar, and I said I like to cut it for my setup. What if we both liked to boost 200? It would overload that part of the listener’s ear, you could say. It’s sometimes helpful to think of equalization as shelves. Best not to load up one shelf too much and leave others relatively empty. Good mixers try to distribute frequencies for the listener to enable each instrument to be heard clearly without being in competetion for the “same shelf” in the ear, if you follow the analogy.

Choice of mic is quite important. The banjo’s quick response and strong high end, plus definite voice in the low-mids, is a combination not all mics handle well. For stage, the SM-57 Shure, an inexpensive dynamic mic, seems to do about as well as any. In the studio, a lot of people recommend large diaphragm condensers, to make sure to get a sweet low end, while still getting a good high end.

I recommend experimenting with mics: Record several tracks simultaneously on different mics, and compare the tracks on playback. Once you know what mic you like, mic placement is another factor. I place the 414 about 8 inches from the center of the banjo head. Other people prefer other placements. As with mic selection, the way to arrive at the best placement is to position identical mics in different places, record some playing on separate tracks simultaneously, and decide which track sounds best (make sure you keep track of which recorded track is which placement!).

As with a lot of music, art, or cooking, “season to taste”. The key word here is “taste”, which of course may vary from person to person. In this case, it’s *your* taste which should dictate. That underscores why I wouldn’t offer a suggestion as though “this is what works” but more: “Here’s what I like, with my banjo and my particular taste.”

As with many questions of “how to sound good”, it’s important to be aware that each person has their own taste, and you can arrive at your favorite choice by experimentation.