Banjo Pickup Guide and Review

Choosing a pickup for your banjo could be more difficult than it sounds. First you have to consider what type of pickup is right for you, then consider the tones of each pickup, and lastly your budget.

In this article we will look at the 3 types of banjo pickups: magnetic pickups, piezo pickups, and microphone pickups. I will discuss details of each type of pickup as well as provide my recommendation for the best banjo pickup in each class, along with other options.

banjo-pickup-guide-and-review-article

Magnetic Pickups for Banjo

Magnetic pickups for banjos function in a similar manner to electric guitar pickups, utilizing a magnet and a coil to convert the strings’ vibrations into an electrical signal. These pickups are commonly mounted on the banjo’s coordinator rod or affixed to the underside of the head, in close proximity to the bridge. Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of using magnetic pickups for banjos in detail.

Benefits of Magnetic Pickups for Banjo

Clear and bright sound: Magnetic pickups are known for delivering a clear and bright sound, capturing the crisp and articulate tones associated with banjo playing. This clarity is particularly beneficial for players who employ fingerpicking or intricate techniques, ensuring that each note is distinct and easily discernible.

Resistance to feedback: One of the major advantages of magnetic pickups is their resistance to feedback, which can be a common issue with microphones and other types of pickups. This resistance allows players to perform at higher volume levels without experiencing unwanted noise or feedback issues, making magnetic pickups an ideal choice for live performances or situations where amplification is necessary.

Easy to install and remove: Magnetic pickups are typically straightforward to install and remove. Many models designed for non-invasive installation that doesn’t require permanent modification to the instrument. This ease of installation allows players to experiment with different pickup options or switch between amplified and acoustic setups with minimal hassle.

Drawbacks of Magnetic Pickups

May not fully capture the banjo’s natural acoustic tone: While magnetic pickups excel in delivering a clear and bright sound, they may not accurately capture the full range of the banjo’s natural acoustic tone. Some players may find that the sound produced by magnetic pickups lacks the warmth and depth associated with traditional banjo tone, making them less suitable for those seeking an authentic acoustic sound.

Limited in capturing low-frequency tones: Magnetic pickups can struggle to accurately reproduce low-frequency tones, particularly when compared to piezo or microphone-based pickups. This limitation can result in a less balanced sound, with the lower strings potentially sounding less prominent or powerful than the higher strings. Players who desire a more balanced and even response across the entire frequency spectrum may prefer alternative pickup options.

Best Magnetic Pickup For Banjo

Best Magnetic Pickup For Banjo 
the Fishman Classic Series Banjo Pickup
Fishman Banjo Pickup

Fishman Classic Series Banjo Pickup

  • Quick rundown:
    • Price: $230
    • Easy installation with no drilling or permanent modifications
    • Humbucker design for low-noise, hum-free performance
    • Natural, transparent sound
    • Neodymium magnets for increased sensitivity
    • Compatible with both 4 and 5-string banjos

The Fishman Classic Series Banjo Pickup is known for its noise-free performance, thanks to its humbucking design. With adjustable pole pieces, this pickup ensures optimal string balance, and its easy installation requires no alterations to the banjo. It is compatible with both 4 and 5-string banjos, making it a versatile choice.

The sound quality is clear, warm, and balanced, accurately reproducing the banjo’s natural sound with excellent articulation and response. As a high-quality pickup from a trusted brand, it is suitable for both amateur and professional musicians, and its sound quality and reliability make it worth the investment.

Why its Our Top Pick for Best Magnetic Pickup for Banjo

Why its My Top Pick for Best Magnetic Pickup for Banjo

After considering all the factors, I have chosen the Fishman Classic Series Banjo Pickup as the top pick for the best magnetic banjo pickup. This pickup offers excellent sound quality, easy installation, and compatibility with a wide range of banjos. The Fishman Classic Series delivers a natural, warm, and full-bodied tone, capturing the essence of the banjo’s unique sound.

It’s passive design eliminates the need for batteries, making it a hassle-free and reliable option. Although it comes at a higher price point compared to some other options, the Fishman Classic Series is a worthy investment for those seeking the best in magnetic banjo pickups. See them in action below!

Best Active Pickup For Banjo

Best Active Pickup For Banjo the EMG ACB-5 Banjo Active Pickup
EMG ACB-5 Banjo Pickup

EMG ACB-5 Active Banjo Pickup

  • Quick rundown:
    • Price: $280
    • Active humbucker design with battery-powered preamp
    • Easy installation with no modifications needed
    • Clear, powerful sound with great dynamic range
    • Low-impedance output for noise-free performance

The EMG ACB-5 Banjo Active Pickup is a high-quality option for those who want a plump and clear sound with excellent dynamic range. This active humbucker pickup features a battery-powered preamp, which offers increased output and improved tonal clarity. The pickup also boasts a low-impedance output, ensuring noise-free performance and a clean signal.

Easy installation without the need for modifications is another one of ACB-5 benefits. Its clear, powerful sound is perfect for those who want to ensure their banjo cuts through the mix, while still maintaining the natural characteristics of their instrument. This is definitely the choice pickup if you prefer active over passive. I have included a Youtube video for you to check out the pickups.

How Long Do Batteries Last in an EMG Banjo Pickup?

The battery life of an EMG banjo pickup, which is an active pickup, can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of battery used, the playing habits of the musician, and the overall usage of the pickup. However, a general estimate can be provided to give you an idea of what to expect.

Typically, a 9-volt alkaline battery is used to power EMG banjo pickups. When used in conjunction with an active EMG banjo pickup, a high-quality alkaline battery can last for approximately 1,000 to 1,500 hours of playing time. This estimate is based on the assumption that the pickup is used under normal playing conditions and is not subjected to excessive temperature fluctuations or humidity levels.

It is essential to note that battery life can vary significantly depending on the individual’s playing habits. Players who perform more frequently or use their banjo for extended periods may find that their batteries need to be replaced more often. On the other hand, those who play less frequently may experience a longer battery life.

To ensure optimal performance and battery life, it is recommended to unplug the instrument cable from the banjo when it is not in use. This simple practice can help conserve battery power and prolong the life of the battery.

Active or Passive: Which is Better?

When deciding between active and passive pickups for your banjo, it’s essential to understand the differences and the implications for tone.

Active pickups have a built-in preamp powered by a battery, which results in a higher output and more headroom. This leads to a cleaner and more powerful sound with less noise interference. Active pickups, like the EMG ACB-5, are ideal for those seeking a punchy, articulate tone and professional performance. However, the need for a battery means more maintenance, and they typically come with a higher price tag.

Passive pickups, on the other hand, do not require a battery and are generally more straightforward to use. They tend to produce a warmer, more natural sound and are often more affordable. Passive pickups, like the Fishman Classic Series and the Gold Tone SMP+, are suitable for those who prefer a more traditional banjo tone and require less maintenance.

Ultimately, the choice between active and passive pickups will depend on your personal preferences, playing style, and budget. Both types have their unique benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consider what matters most to you as a musician before making your decision. In the next section I will introduce the next type of banjo pickup, the piezo.

Best Value Magnetic Pickup

Best Value Magnetic Pickup the Gold Tone SMP
Gold Tone Banjo Pickup

Gold Tone SMP+ Sliding Magnetic Pickup

  • Quick rundown:
    • Price: $130
    • Single Coil design
    • Sliding design for precise positioning and easy installation
    • Adjustable pole pieces for optimal string balance
    • Warm, well-rounded sound
    • Compatible with both 4-string and 5-string banjos

The Gold Tone SMP+ Sliding Magnetic Pickup is a versatile and affordable option for banjo players. Its sliding design allows for precise positioning and easy installation, making it a convenient choice for musicians who value flexibility. The pickup features adjustable pole pieces, which ensure optimal string balance and accurate sound reproduction. However, the fact that it is single coil, does not promise as much noise cancellation as its humbucking counterparts.

This pickup is compatible with both 4-string and 5-string banjos, making it a great option for players with multiple instruments. The warm, well-rounded sound of the SMP+ captures the rich tonal qualities of your banjo, offering a balanced and pleasing tone at an affordable price. This is what makes it the pick for Best Value, this price is unmatched in the group of Magnetic banjo pickups. Listen below.

Piezo Pickups for Banjo

Piezo pickups, frequently referred to as contact or transducer pickups, transform the vibrations emanating from the banjo’s head or bridge into an electrical signal. Typically positioned beneath the bridge or on the instrument’s head, they make direct contact with the vibrating surface. Lets take a look at the benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits of Piezo Pickups for Banjo

Captures a more natural and organic sound: One of the key strengths of piezo pickups is their ability to capture a more natural and organic sound, closely replicating the banjo’s acoustic characteristics. By responding to the vibrations directly from the head or bridge, these pickups provide a more authentic representation of the instrument’s tonality.

Sensitive to a wide range of frequencies: Piezo pickups are known for their sensitivity to a broad spectrum of frequencies, accurately reproducing both high and low notes with equal clarity. This responsiveness results in a well-balanced sound that captures the full range of the banjo’s tonal capabilities.

Versatile installation options: Piezo pickups offer flexibility in installation, with various mounting options available to suit different preferences and requirements. Some models can be installed under the bridge, while others are designed to attach directly to the banjo head. This versatility allows players to customize their setup according to their specific needs.

Drawbacks of Piezo Pickups

Prone to feedback at high volumes: One of the main drawbacks of piezo pickups is their susceptibility to feedback when played at high volumes. This can be particularly problematic in live performance situations, where stage monitors and amplification systems can exacerbate feedback issues. Players using piezo pickups may need to take additional measures to minimize feedback, such as using a feedback suppressor or adjusting their stage setup.

May require additional preamp for optimal performance: In some cases, piezo pickups may require the use of an external preamp to achieve optimal performance. A preamp can help to boost the signal, improve tonal balance, and provide further control over the sound. However, this additional component can add complexity and cost to the overall setup, which may be a consideration for some players.

Best Piezo Pickup for Banjo

Best Piezo Pickup for Banjo the LR Baggs Pre-wired 5-string Banjo Bridge Pickup
LR Baggs Banjo Pickup

LR Baggs Banjo Pickup

  • Quick rundown:
    • Price: $190
    • Pre-wired, ready-to-install maple bridge with built-in piezo pickup
    • Passive system for natural sound and low noise
    • Easy installation with minimal modifications
    • Excellent string-to-string balance and clarity

The LR Baggs Pre-wired 5-string Banjo Bridge Pickup is a unique and innovative option for banjo players. This pre-wired maple bridge features a built-in piezo pickup, offering a convenient all-in-one solution for players seeking an easy installation process with minimal modifications required. The passive system provides natural sound and low noise, ensuring a clean signal and authentic banjo tone. These are invaluable qualities when considering to amplify your banjo.

The LR Baggs pickup offers excellent string-to-string balance and clarity, capturing the nuances of your playing with precision. Its easy installation process and high-quality sound make it a popular choice for banjo players seeking a reliable and effective piezo pickup solution.

Why Its My Top Pick for Best Piezo Pickup for Banjo

The LR Baggs Pre-wired 5-string Banjo Bridge Pickup stands out as our top pick for the best piezo pickup for banjo due to several key factors. This pickup offers a convenient all-in-one solution, natural sound, and excellent string-to-string balance. Its easy installation process and high-quality performance make it the ideal choice for banjo players seeking a reliable and effective piezo pickup. All this at an amazing value. Being made by a reputable pickup company such as LR Baggs I am are confident in my recommendation. Check out this video comparison below.

Runner Up Piezo Pickup

Runner Up Piezo Pickup Realist Copperhead Banjo Pickup
Realist Copperhead Banjo Pickup

Realist Copperhead Banjo Pickup

  • Quick rundown:
    • Price: $250
    • Copper element for enhanced sensitivity and tonal accuracy
    • Installs easily under the banjo bridge
    • Passive system for a natural sound
    • Delivers a rich, warm tone with excellent note definition

The Realist Copperhead Banjo Pickup is a premium option for banjo players who want top-quality sound and performance. This pickup features a copper element that enhances sensitivity and tonal accuracy, ensuring that every detail of your playing is captured faithfully. The passive system delivers a natural sound, making it ideal for players who want to maintain the authentic tone of their instrument.

The Copperhead installs easily under the banjo bridge, making it a convenient choice for musicians who value non-invasive installation. Its rich, warm tone and excellent note definition make this pickup a standout option for those seeking exceptional sound quality. These qualities is what makes it a great runner up option, but its high price tag may be a negative factor for some.

Best Value Piezo Pickup

KNA BP-1 Piezo Banjo Pickup

Best Value Piezo the KNA BP-1 Portable Piezo Banjo Pickup
KNA Portable Banjo Pickup
  • Quick rundown:
    • Price: $80
    • Portable, non-invasive design
    • Easy installation with no modifications required
    • Passive system for a natural, organic sound
    • Compatible with most banjos

The KNA BP-1 Portable Piezo Banjo Pickup is an excellent option for banjo players who want a portable and non-invasive pickup solution. This pickup features a passive system that delivers a natural, organic sound, capturing the true essence of your banjo’s tone. Its easy installation process requires no modifications to your instrument, making it a popular choice for musicians who value simplicity and ease of use.

The BP-1 is compatible with most banjos, offering versatility for players with multiple instruments. Its affordable price point also makes it an attractive option for those on a budget. This is why it is the Best Value Piezo pick. Lets now look at the last category of banjo pickups in detail, the microphone pickups. Check out the demo youtube video below.

Microphone Pickups for Banjo

Microphone pickups are just microphones used to amplify the banjos sound. They are usually small, high-quality microphones placed inside or near the banjo’s body to capture its genuine acoustic sound. The mics can be mounted on a gooseneck attached to the banjo or placed inside the resonator. Lets take a closer look.

Benefits of Microphone Pickups for Banjo

Excellent reproduction of the banjo’s true acoustic sound: Microphone pickups excel at accurately reproducing the banjo’s authentic acoustic sound. By capturing the instrument’s natural resonances and nuances, these pickups provide a faithful representation of the banjo’s tonal qualities, ensuring an organic listening experience. Use of microphones is a common practice in the live performance setting.

Adjustable positioning for customized sound: One of the advantages of microphone pickups is their adjustable positioning, which allows players to customize their sound to their liking. By experimenting with the placement and angle of the microphone, musicians can achieve their desired tonal balance and projection, making these pickups a versatile option for various playing styles and preferences.

Natural sound with minimal feedback issues: Microphone pickups are known for their natural sound and minimal feedback problems, particularly when compared to other pickup types. Due to their design, these pickups are less prone to feedback, ensuring a cleaner, more focused sound even at higher volumes.

Drawbacks of Microphone Pickups

Can be more difficult to install: One of the potential drawbacks of microphone pickups is their more complex installation process. This added complexity can be a deterrent for some players.

May pick up unwanted noise from the environment: Microphone pickups can be sensitive to ambient noise, which may result in unwanted sounds being picked up during performances or recordings. This sensitivity can be particularly problematic in noisy environments, where background noise may interfere with the banjo’s signal. Players using microphone pickups may need to take additional measures to minimize environmental noise, such as using directional microphones or isolating the performance space.

Best Microphone Pickup For Banjo

Audio-Technica PRO 35 Cardioid Condenser

Audio-Technica PRO 35 Cardioid the Best Microphone Pickup For Banjo
AT Pro 35 Microphone

Quick rundown:

  • Price: $149
  • Cardioid condenser clip-on microphone
  • UniMount clip for secure attachment to the banjo
  • Wide frequency response for clear and natural sound
  • 6-foot (1.8 m) permanently attached miniature cable with XLR connector
  • High SPL handling and wide dynamic range
  • Lightweight design for minimal impact on instrument balance

The Audio-Technica PRO 35 is a cardioid condenser clip-on microphone designed for use with various instruments, including the banjo. Its UniMount clip ensures secure attachment to the banjo without causing damage, while the wide frequency response provides clear and natural sound reproduction. The 6-foot (1.8 m) permanently attached miniature cable features an XLR connector, making it compatible with professional audio equipment.

The PRO 35 is capable of handling high sound pressure levels and offers a wide dynamic range, allowing it to capture the full spectrum of banjo sounds. Its lightweight design minimizes any impact on the instrument’s balance, ensuring comfortable playing during performances. This versatile and reliable clip-on microphone is an excellent choice for banjo players looking to amplify their instrument with minimal fuss.

Audio-Technica PRO 35 Cardioid Condenser with case and clip

Why it’s My Top Pick for Best Microphone Pickup for Banjo

The Audio-Technica PRO 35 earns the top spot as my favorite microphone pickup for banjo due to its clear and natural sound, UniMount clip for secure attachment, and wide frequency response. The lightweight design and compatibility with professional audio equipment make it an excellent choice for banjo players looking for a high-quality microphone pickup that delivers both in performance and practicality. Check out the comparison of two types of Audio-Technica clip on mics, including the Pro35, below.

Runner Up Microphone Pickup

Shure SM137 Cardioid Condenser

Shure SM137 Cardioid Instrument Condenser the Runner Up Microphone Pickup

Quick rundown:

  • Price: $179
  • Cardioid condenser microphone with a flat frequency response
  • Ultra-thin diaphragm for detailed sound capture
  • 15dB pad for handling high sound pressure levels
  • Durable construction for long-lasting performance
  • Low self-noise for a clean audio signal

The Shure SM137 is a cardioid condenser microphone that delivers a flat frequency response for accurate sound reproduction. Its ultra-thin diaphragm captures detailed and nuanced banjo sound, while the 15dB pad enables it to handle high sound pressure levels, making it suitable for both live and studio applications. With its durable construction, this microphone is built to last and provide consistent performance. The low self-noise ensures a clean audio signal, free from unwanted background noise. This microphone is definitely packed with amazing features, but its higher price tag bring it to a close second place, for best pickup.

Best Value Microphone Pickup for Banjo

Shure PGA98H-XLR Condenser

Shure PGA98H Condenser Microphone the Best Value Microphone Pickup

Quick rundown:

  • Price: $129
  • Cardioid condenser microphone designed for instruments
  • Flexible gooseneck design for easy positioning
  • Integrated preamp for strong output signal
  • Tailored frequency response for optimal banjo sound
  • XLR connection for professional audio setups
  • Lightweight and portable design

The Shure PGA98H-XLR is a high-quality, cardioid condenser microphone designed specifically for instruments, including the banjo. Its flexible gooseneck design allows for easy positioning and precise placement, ensuring optimal sound capture. The integrated preamp delivers a strong output signal, making it ideal for professional audio setups. The tailored frequency response ensures that the banjo’s natural sound is accurately reproduced, capturing the full range of tonal nuances. This pickup is the more affordable of the bunch. Its a very popular pickup for banjo players due to its price tag and quality.

The youtube video below by Audio-Technica does a great job detailing how to record Banjo using microphone pickup type system. You will find it very helpful if you are thinking of recording your banjo with the use of a microphone such as the AT PRO35 and Shure models above.

The Verdict: Banjo Pickups

Finding the perfect banjo pickup can significantly enhance your playing experience and help you achieve your desired sound. Throughout this article, we’ve explored various types of banjo pickups, including magnetic, piezo, and microphone pickups, and highlighted some of the best options in each category. I’ve also provided guidance on how to choose the right pickup for your specific needs and preferences.

Remember that the best banjo pickup for you will depend on your individual requirements, such as sound quality, ease of installation, and budget. Take the time to carefully consider the options I’ve presented in this article and weigh the pros and cons of each before making a decision. By choosing the right pickup, you’ll be able to elevate your banjo playing to new heights and enjoy a richer, more fulfilling musical experience.

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