Monday, May 17, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 111: Learning about electric banjos

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 4/11/2010 through 4/17/2010.
Banjo 662 hrs, TV 650 hours

I've been thinking about modifying one of my cheap acoustic banjos to make it electric so I can practice quietly. And maybe so I can connect it to a loop pedal.

Which is why I've been learning about electric banjos this week.

David, my banjo instructor, showed me how he outfits his acoustic banjo with a magnetic pickup (a Fishman Rare Earth Banjo Pickup) that goes inside the head, attached to the coordinator rod...

...which is paired with a metal shim placed on the other side of the drum head, under the bridge. The pickup detects the movement of the shim.

That's a good way to electrify a banjo if your goal is to perform on stage. But since I want to do quiet practice, that's not the way I'm going to do it.

Actually, that's not the way I'd do it even if I were planning on performing on stage with an electric banjo. If I were going to do that (and yes, I'll do that some day) I'd take advantage of the fact that I own a Nechville banjo and I'd purchase the Nechville Turbo Module...

Nechville Turbo Module

...which is a swappable replacement head that turns a Nechville acoustic banjo into an approximation of the Nechville Meteor electric banjo.

The Nechville Meteor uses two pickups: one piezoelectric pickup inside the head and one magnetic pickup (a humbucker) which you can see between the drum head and the fretboard. Unlike the magnetic pickup I described above, which detects the movement of the bridge, this magnetic pickup detects the movement of the strings.

Another pickup option is the Kavanjo Pickup System, which places two sets of five electromagnetic pickups right on the drum head.

Kavanjo Pickup System

I've got a lot more to learn about banjo pickups and such, but that's a start.

Also in the last week:

  • David showed me another quiet practice gimmick that he's got: banjo-muffling pillows.

  • I found some advice on stretching a new string to help keep in tune...

    ...which was written about an electric guitar but which would probably work as well for a banjo. I'll try this next time I change strings.

Update: I'd be remiss if I left out another electric banjo thing that David showed me – the 1976 jazz banjo album "Melting Pots"... Susie Monick.

Susie played several songs (including Wicked Witch Breakdown, a variation on Cripple Creek that David and I had previously discussed) on a solid-body electric banjo which you can see on the back of the album cover.

A solid-body banjo electric banjo doesn't have a drum to vibrate so there's no point in trying to detect the movement of the floating banjo bridge using a piezo pickup or a magnetic pickup with a metal shim under the bridge. It's got to be all about using magnetic pickups to capture string movement.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

1 comment:

Mary said...

The gap looks to be widening a bit. Yay!

PS Please approve my comment this time...