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Banjos are most popular in folk, country and their subgenres.
These days, however, they’ve found their way into a variety of different styles of music.
Banjo can add a lot of flavor to just about any song, assuming the banjoist know what they’re doing.
In this guide, we’re going to look at electrifying your banjo with a pickup, which gives you even more flexibility.
Pickups are incredibly convenient and fun, as they allow you to amplify your instrument, put it through a PA system and even send it through effects pedals if you so desire.
Here are the best banjo pickups on the market.
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Myers Pickups The Feather Banjo Pickup With Flexible Microgoose-Neck
As its name would suggest, Myers Pickups’ The Feather is lightweight and compact pickup that amplifies the natural tone of your instrument.
This is a pro or con depending on what you’re looking for.
If you’re happy with the natural sound of your banjo and want your amplified sound to resemble its pure tone, you’ll prefer going with a pickup that gives you a true sound.
Meanwhile, some players may enjoy the versatility of having a different amplified sound.
One is not wrong and the other right.
This pickup comes with an internally powered active preamp to produce a rich sound.
The power-source is pre-installed and does not require phantom power to use.
Plus, it works with most wireless systems if you’d prefer to go cableless.
This is a great plug and play option, ready out of the box.
All mounting hardware is included.
Most customers agree – the Myers Pickups solution is a good one.
Its durability may be its only downside, so we suggest handling the unit with care.
Shure PGA98H-XLR Cardioid Condenser Gooseneck Instrument Microphone
Not exclusively for banjos but a great piece of gear nonetheless, the Shure PGA98H-XLR cardioid condenser gooseneck instrument microphone could be just what you're looking for.
Designed for clear reproduction of your instrument’s natural tone, the gooseneck allows you to position the pickup exactly where you want.
The integrated horn clamp makes it easy to mount, and the in-line preamp provides phantom power and direct XLR connection.
The cardioid polar pattern helps pick up audio from the source while eliminating unwanted extraneous noise.
Buyers are mostly satisfied with the pickup, while some indicated they would have liked a mute switch and others said they wish the clip was easier to remove.
Shure certainly knows what they’re doing when it comes to microphones, and we think this is another solid choice.
Schatten Design BJ-02 Player Series Banjo Pickup
The Schatten Design BJ-02 pickup has been designed to work with all banjos, including five-string, tenor, six string and even open backs.
The manufacturer claims the easy installation process should only take about 10 minutes – no drilling required.
This pickup includes a rail-mounted external jack and a two-year warranty.
It should be installed under the bass side bridge foot for optimal sound.
Reviewers are a little split on the Schatten Design pickup, with some claiming it’s the best pickup they’ve ever used, and some saying it’s a little overpriced and picks up all the sounds your instrument makes – even unwanted noise.
While it may not be for everyone, we think it’s worth checking out.
Fishman Classic Series Banjo Pickup
Fishman is a well-regarded pickup manufacturer, especially when it comes to guitars.
Their Classic Series banjo pickup features a quiet humbucking coil and powerful neodymium magnet assembly.
In case you don’t know, humbuckers generally produce higher output, less noise and offer a warmer tone compared to single-coil units.
The preamp has been designed specifically to preserve and boost the natural tone of your instrument.
It fits dual-coordinator rod banjos, but it can be modified to fit single-rod banjos as well (we suggest finding a qualified tech to help you with this).
To that end, the manufacturer recommends professional installation of this unit.
Again, this can be a pro or con depending on how you look at it.
It’s a pro in the sense that professionals know what they’re doing and can help you achieve optimal performance.
It’s a con because getting a tech to set it up for you will probably cost more, so you’ll want to budget for both the pickup and the tech’s labor.
But this Fishman is certainly another worthy entry on this list.
Luvay Piezo Contact Microphone Transducer Pickup
This pickup features a volume control knob, compact design, 10 ft. amplifier cable, clear sound and minimal feedback thanks to the brass plating plug.
It is also easy to install with reusable self-adhesive.
Most customers love how easy it is to use, but it probably shouldn’t be considered anything other than a starter solution.
SUNYIN Transducer Acoustic Guitar Pickup
Marketed as a low-cost, multipurpose pickup, the SUNYIN mini pickup can work for a variety of instruments, including acoustic guitar, violin, ukulele, mandolin, cello, kalimba and of course banjo.
Basically, it’s a direct competitor to the Luvay.
This self-adhesive piezo transducer pickup comes with volume control, a compact design, high output and easy installation.
The volume control is a nice feature, as it can help you find that “sweet” spot at every gig you play, and even cut down on feedback (if any), thanks to anti-interference.
Although the term “self-adhesive” can appear scary, manufacturer claims you can reuse the adhesive backing and it will not hurt your instruments.
You can also move it around to different positions on your instrument to find a tone you like.
Many customers love how the pickup preserves the natural tone of the instrument.
So, is there a downside to this multiuse pickup?
Well, critical reviewers say it shouldn’t be used for live performance, and others say it is kind of cheap.
But if you’re just looking to have some fun, we think the SUNYIN is a good place to start.
K&K Sound Systems Banjo Twin Dual Head Transducer Pickup
The moderately priced K&K Sound Systems transducer pickup is a dual senor passive pickup system with a dual mount internal/external TRSS stereo jack.
The pickup is easy to install, does not require the use of batteries and is manufactured in the USA.
The manufacturer claims the pickup was designed specifically to reproduce the true banjo sound with a natural tone quality.
You will not be required to make any alterations to your instrument during installation, as the components are meant to be installed with double sided tape or self-adhesive fasteners that won’t harm the finish of your instrument.
Passive mode works well with acoustic amps.
Customers say this sensitive pickup offers a good, natural tone.
Some weren’t happy with the sound offered, but the speaker you put your instrument through could be a significant factor here.
Overall, the K&K Sound pickup is another good option.
Gold Tone SMP+ Sliding Magnetic Pickup for Banjo
The Gold Tone SMP+ magnetic pickup comes with slotted bracket, two screws and wing nuts.
It also comes with one output jack with mounting plate, two screws and nuts, and finally, one accessory kit containing three stick wire clamps and one hex wrench.
This pickup does not require soldering, and you won’t need to drill a hole through your instrument’s rim during installation either.
It’s intended to be installed onto the coordinator rods, which gives you the flexibility of sliding it to any position between the neck and bridge.
That’s a nice feature, as you can keep adjusting until you’re fully satisfied with your tone.
The discrete pickup offers a clear and mellow tone, which is great for a variety of purposes.
The moderately priced pickup system has plenty going for it, and many buyers say they are satisfied with their purchase.
Although there are some buyers who say the pickup makes their banjo sound like a guitar, they are in the minority to be sure.
Overall, the Gold Tone is another great solution, especially since it offers you flexibility and control over your tone.
Imelod Contact Microphone Piezo Pickup
The Imelod contact microphone piezo pickup is another multipurpose budget option suited to guitar, cello, ukulele, mandolin and of course banjo.
As the name would suggest, this sensitive pickup works by being in direct contact with the instrument, which can help eliminate external sound interference.
This pickup comes with double sided tape and self-adhesive Velcro for multiple mounting options and a female socket and 6.35mm male plug.
The pickup system is compact and easy to use.
Many musicians report good results with the pickup, though some certainly feel it could be better.
While it may not be for everyone, if you don’t intend to spend a lot on a pickup, you’ll likely enjoy the Imelod system.
What Should I Look For In A Banjo Pickup?
We know you’re looking for the perfect banjo pickup.
But what might be perfect for one isn’t necessarily perfect for another.
There are many factors that must be weighed, whether it’s the sound the pickup produces, how easy it is to install, its overall durability and so on.
So, it’s important that we consider all these issues when we’re thinking about buying a pickup for our instrument.
Here are the main criteria we’ve boiled it down to:
One That Has A Great Sound
It would be a shame to get worked up about turning your acoustic instrument into an acoustic-electric one, only to end up with a pickup that’s low output, high feedback and lacking in pleasing tonal characteristics (which can mean different things to different people).
If you’re starting with a great instrument, there’s a better chance you will get a better sound from your pickup.
This factor is sometimes overlooked, but if you've never stopped to listen to your instrument's natural sound before, that's a good idea.
But it's also true that pickups aren’t created equally, and they don’t all sound the same.
Usually, the variance is small.
But as you can imagine, spending more can often get you a better-quality pickup, while spending less will often get you a pickup that just doesn’t sound that great.
As much as possible, it’s important to seek out a pickup that offers a good amount of projection, doesn’t produce excessive feedback and has a sound that you like.
If you have some control over the pickup (e.g. volume knob), that can also be helpful.
Tone is subjective, since everybody enjoys different aspects of tone.
So, to that extent, you will need to do your research and perhaps even try out a few pickups before you choose one.
But generally, we feel it’s important to find a pickup that sounds good to you.
That way, you can always play with confidence, regardless of where you might be performing.
One That Keeps Feedback To A Minimum
This goes hand in hand with the last point, and to an extent, we’ve already covered it.
Feedback is a squealing or ringing noise sometimes heard through sound systems.
It is unpleasant, and if it gets too loud, it has a way of shocking and annoying the audience, who will quickly cover their ears and maybe even run the other way.
The culprit of feedback, in most instances, is a microphone, but that isn’t to say there aren’t other causes.
It’s a bit technical, but feedback happens when there’s a signal that travels in a continuous loop.
So, the reason microphones are often at the root of the problem is because whatever is picked up by a microphone is sent through the PA system.
Then, feedback happens when the microphone picks up the sound coming out of the speakers on a loop.
Banjo pickups come in a few configurations, which is something I’ll be talking about more later.
But suffice it to say specific types of pickups are more prone to feedback than others.
If the pickup comes with EQ options, notch filters or other anti-feedback mechanisms, this can be easily prevented.
If you’re working with a skilled sound tech, they, too, can help you dial the screech out of your tone.
But all things being equal, we think it best to work with a pickup that doesn’t produce much feedback naturally.
One That’s Easy To Install
We like pickups that aren’t difficult to install and don’t require you to make any alterations to your instrument.
Pickups that are harder to install generally require more of a commitment, as you may not even be able to remove them after they've been set up with your instrument.
With most pickups, this shouldn’t be necessary, but with some, you may need to assemble the mounting mechanism, and with others, you may even need to drill holes.
This isn’t the end of the world, as you can always take your instrument to a qualified tech to get your pickup installed.
If you’re in love with the pickup you’ve selected, and it's harder to install, then this is likely your best bet.
Otherwise, it’s better to buy a pickup that’s easy to install out of the box, so you can start having fun with it straight away.
One That’s Practical
This factor is easy to overlook but there are a few things to consider here.
I've put together some questions you can ask yourself as you're looking to figure out whether the pickup you've selected is practical:
- If you’re planning to remove the pickup from your banjo (e.g. if you want to use it with some of your other instruments), is it easy to remove and attach? If you’re planning to use it with multiple instruments live, the easier it is to transfer from one instrument to another, the better.
- Will your banjo still fit in your case after the pickup has been installed? If not, you may need to remove it every time you put your instrument back in your case or find a new case entirely.
- Is the pickup heavy? If so, it can add weight to what can already be a heavy instrument. Not to say that lightweight is best but slinging a heavy instrument around your shoulder for longer stretches of time isn’t as comfortable as it might seem. If you don’t believe me, talk to my friends who’ve developed back problems, scoliosis or even hernias.
The more practical the pickup, the less thought you will need to put into any of these questions.
One That’s Built To Last
Durability can certainly be an important factor with pickups.
We don’t recommend putting your gear under undue stress to begin with, but we also don’t want your pickup breaking on you the moment someone sneezes in its general direction.
Pickups are generally small and lightweight and even if some of its components are durable, there’s typically at least one vulnerable part too.
Again, it’s important to be careful with your gear.
But if you can find a pickup that stands up to some abuse, you’ll thank me later (especially if you intend to tour with it).
One That Isn’t Too Expensive
You can spend as much or as little as you like, assuming you aren’t going into debt to do it.
We recommend spending responsibly whenever you're looking to make a purchase like this.
Pickups generally aren’t as expensive as instruments, but you can still spend several hundred dollars per unit.
So, determine what your budget is and spend wisely.
Low-cost solutions are generally great for beginners, hobbyists, and maybe the occasional live performance or open mic.
More expensive pickups are going to be better for live performance, recording and other professional applications.
So, consider how you’re going to be using the pickup as well.
What Types Of Pickups Are There?
Although there are several types of pickups available, the main ones are piezo, magnetic and microphone pickups.
A piezo pickup is often considered great for beginners, because its overall cost, which is typically low.
This type of pickup is designed to pick up the physical vibration of the instrument, therefore giving you an authentic sound.
It creates a signal by creating a magnetic field, so it works primarily with steel-stringed instruments.
And, technically, piezo pickups are a type of microphone.
Magnetic pickups are thought to offer a higher quality sound overall and are less prone to feeding back.
Without getting too technical, a magnetic pickup is a coil wound around a magnetized probe.
Finally, the microphone pickup tends to offer the most versatility and control over your sound.
A microphone pickup isn’t a pickup at all, but rather a microphone.
As with any mic, they convert your instrument’s sound into an electrical signal, which you can then amplify.
With this information in hand, you should be better equipped to make an informed purchase decision.
If you’re curious, or if you need some additional information, we recommend reading up on these topics in more depth.
But be forewarned – pickups can be a technical and confusing topic at times.
Final Thoughts: The Best Banjo Pickups For Tenor, Clawhammer And Other Banjo Brands
There are a variety of settings in which an electric banjo can be a cool thing.
Traditionally, banjos have been played acoustically or with a microphone.
But with a pickup, you can plug your banjo into anything you please – a PA system, DI with EQ, a group of guitar effects pedals and even guitar amps.
As you can imagine, you can pull a lot of tones out of a banjo you wouldn’t normally be able to.
If you’re playing larger venues or outdoor venues, a pickup can come in quite handy and allow more flexibility, since you can move around instead of having to stand still in front of a mic.
An open mic is a good place to have a pickup with you too, since hosts may not want to mic up your instrument for a variety of reasons, including feedback, the lack of a secondary microphone or the amount of time it takes to set up (open mics feature many performers in one night, leaving little time for setup and tear down).
And, electric banjos can be a lot of fun to mess around with too.