At Nechville Musical Products, we are happy to see the banjo reaching far beyond its original bluegrass roots. With added stage volume and new (sometimes electric) instruments being introduced into the mix, the challenge of providing banjo amplification solutions is also growing. We are currently and continually experimenting with solutions that meet today’s current challenges.
Our goal when electrifying banjos is simple- plug and play. We want no issues with feedback or strange sound, no matter how big the stage is or how many drums and guitars you have to compete with. We also want the acoustic sound to be easily retained or brought back for acoustic and studio sessions.
The signal from a banjo outfitted with a pickup is typically sent to a house PA system through a direct input (DI) box. The DI provides a low impedance signal via XLR cable so that the signal isn’t lost or degraded on the way to the engineer’s board. This can also be accomplished by plugging into an amplifier with the ability to send the sound to the house PA. This allows direct control over the tone and volume of the your amp, which acts as a monitor. However, it may complicate the feedback issue, depending on the features of your particular amp.
Amplifying acoustic banjos introduces a new set of challenges. There are many factors to consider. Will you need an expert repairman or luthier to install it? For most players, they would prefer to limit the time and expense and do the installation themselves.
Current solutions battle ease of installation with loss of acoustic sound. If your acoustic tone is lost or altered it is not a great solution. Mounting a magnetic pickup to the coordinator rods, or in the case of a Nechville banjo to a removable brace, is less intrusive to the acoustic tone. This does, however, often produces an amplified tone with too much of an electric guitar flavor.
A piezo pickup produces a signal with an amazing ability to create a natural, airy tone. It does a great job of capturing the essence of the banjo sound. A piezoelectric pickup carries a very high impedance signal and is most effective when properly buffered by a circuit placed as close to the signal as possible.
A piezo operates differently pressed up against the head of a banjo as opposed to under the bridge on an acoustic guitar. It can fail to capture the rich low-mids associated with the fullness of a banjo, and end of sounding thin or “tinny”.
The Meteor Electric banjo was designed in the 1990s with the aid of Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Eddie Adcock and others. It is truly a plug and play instrument. It allows the user to blend the best of the magnetic and piezo sound. The smaller head on the Meteor allows for an authentic banjo tone but limits the surface area of the vibrating membrane to reduce the chance of feedback.
Recent research and development at Nechville has currently led to an acoustic banjo pickup that utilizes the same dual pickup technology designed for the Meteor electric banjos. The combination of the warmth and balanced magnetic signal with the articulate and bright piezo signal is the solution that Nechville has built into their state-of-the-art dual pickup called the Acoustic Harness.
Special electronics have been pioneered that allow the vastly different signals from the piezo and magnetic pickups to be blended on board the instrument. Once an ideal balance is achieved at the source, there is no need to continually adjust it. You can be confident you are getting the source sound you’ve dialed in every time. Fine tuning, volume and EQ adjustments can be made by the sound engineer or through your own preamp or personal amp.
Installation of the Acoustic Harness is easy. There are at least two ways to mount it in a Nechville banjo. After optionally adhering one or two thin metal inductors to the head, the Harness drops into place and is held securely by the wedge fitting action of telescopic legs that rest in the gap between the tone ring and head. The pickup adjusts up and down and is fixable anywhere along the mounting legs. A jack body and bracket is provided that securely mounts to the outside of the Heli-Mount frame which can stay there even if the pickup is removed.
Contact Nechville to stay up to date on our latest offerings. We also provide custom installations ranging from MIDI/synth pickups to simple piezo or magnetic installations for many stringed instruments.