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How to mic a small acoustic ethnic ensemble
Old 15th June 2005
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autodidactic's Avatar

Question How to mic a small acoustic ethnic ensemble

I'm a musician that would like to do halfway decent recording of his music. I am going to be traveling in the fall and I thought I would get a real head start here by asking a few questions. I was wondering how I should mic a small acoustic group (what kind of mic and where it should be placed)?

The instruments would be:

Greek bowlback Bouzouki (think oversized mandolin)
Upright Bass
Nylon string guitar
Upright Piano

The biggest worry for me is not knowing how to mic the bouzouki properly. I'm looking for a closely mic-ed sound as the bouzouki is easily overpowered by the other instruments. My set up is based around a powerbook. I will be getting a new audio interface and some mics before I go so I will be making purchase decisions based on mic suggestions.

Thanks in advance

Old 17th June 2005
Super Moderator
Remoteness's Avatar
Welcome Mr. autodidactic:

I like when musicians show interest in their own recordings and productions.
So, I assume you want to multiple mic your small acoustic group. Right?

Most decent Bouzoukis have a pickup. I would DI the pick up and also place a mic just like you would mic an acoustic guitar. Wondering -- how many strings does this bouzouki have?

The Upright Bass would get the same treatment as per usual. DI the pickup; place a mic in the bridge or near the bridge.

The nylon string guitar should have a mic placed between the hole and bottom of the neck. Maybe you should also add a DI.

The Turkish Darbuka drum should be miked from above about six inches from the skin. You may want to add a second mic at the hole. Question -- Is this percussion instrument an old one or one of the newer varieties? The instrument was originally made using baked clay. Nowadays, I've seen them made from copper, aluminum, other metal compounds, even plaster, wood and glass fibers. But, synthetic materials seem to be used more often.

I hate mic'ing upright pianos. Try placing PZMs in it or on the sound board.

Does the violin have a pickup? If so, use that with an additional mic above the instrument.

I'm sure others will have additional ideas on mic'ing this setup. All thoughts and ideas are valid in my opinion. Try all options during one of your rehearsals. Setup up multiple mics and see which work best.

See what works best. You should have a better shot combining various performances if you DI and close mic everything. If you're looking for different sounds from each and every place you perform in -- open up the mic placement.

Believe it or not the biggest worry will not be mic'ing the bouzouki properly. IMO, that upright piano will be more of a challenge.

Oh, one more thing... I know, DIs suck but, they can help you when the mic picks up more of the band than the instrument you want to hear.

Please keep us posted on your developments and such.
Old 17th June 2005 | Show parent
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Ted Nightshade's Avatar

Different assumption- you want to keep it simple and catch the sounds of those instruments coming together in the air in that room.

So, first find a room where you like the way it sounds in there.

Then, get one of the mics where the mic picks up equally well from most directions. Some that come to mind: DPA 4060/4061 (less expensive), DPA 4011 (more expensive), Schoeps mk41/cmc6 (similar expense to 4011). Very small omnis like the Earthworks ought to work too, but I haven't tried the Earthworks.

My thought is one good mic costs about the same as half a dozen cheap mics, and is easier to operate and sounds better. Assuming the music sounds good in the room.

Place the mic in the middle of a circle of musicians, and perform and record. Play back, have everybody hear it, move around and adjust the performance accordingly. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then you get good.

Since the bouzouki is in danger of getting drowned out, place the mic closer to it, and point the mic at it if you are using a directional mic. Also, leave a hole for it in the arrangement! Other players need to play sensitively to it.

Good luck!
Old 27th June 2005 | Show parent
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autodidactic's Avatar

Hi there. Sorry about the late response but I was out of town for my honeymoon this past week.

I've read your posts and considered all things said. I don't think I'd want to go with the "band around a single mic" method because there is no way a bouzouki would be able to compete with the combined volume of all these players. My bouzouki has 8 strings but no pickup unforunately. I will make a point to get one though. I also wanted to mention that this will not be a public performance, I plan to do this at either my friend's apartment or after hours at a small jazz club in NYC. So I will be able to concentrate on getting a good recording without having to worry about any other stuff.

I have a follow up question. I was wondering exactly what kind of microphones I should use for each instrument (dynamic, condenser, uni or multi directional etc.). BTW, please go ahead and assume I know nothing about how to do these things. I know what the different components are but my only actual experience has been with my tascam us122 a mackie 1202 and a shure pg81 condenser in my sub basic studio at home. I'll upgrade my gear closer to the trip date but I want to know more about capturing the source well. This may make me sound like an antislut but I figure a little bit of knowledge will probably go farther than even millions of dollars in gear.

I look forward to your responses and thank you guys for letting me pick your brain about this.

Old 3rd July 2005 | Show parent
Super Moderator
Remoteness's Avatar
Hey, it’s never too late -- We are slow as molasses around the Remote Forum.

Congratulations to you and yours – Honeymoons should always take priority!

Wow, an 8 string Bouzouki. That must sound awesome. The love the tone of that instrument. You’ll be in a lot better shape once you get a DI for it. Try a few different pickups in the store before you make your final decision.

That's cool, you'll be able to fine tune your setup since it's not a public performance. Hey, if you decide to do it in a small jazz club in NYC and I’m available I would love to come by and check out your situation. PM or email me anytime.

At this point in time think of using cardioid mics. IMO, whether to use dynamic or condenser mics is more about what you have available for the session. Use what's in front of you first. If that doesn't work grab another one. Keep that going until you found what you like. What might be good for us may not work for you. Don't believe everything you hear.

Maybe we can get additional responses from the other folks on this forum…
Old 19th July 2005
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NetworkAudio's Avatar
Does the ensemble sound balanced when they play without amplification?
If they do, I would try a spaced pair of DPA4006/3 (omnis) or Schoeps cardoids in ORTF. I was in a bind once and ended up recording a chamber ensemble of Kancheli for french TV (incredibly soft, detailed and slow the whole time). The only mics available of any quality was two Rode NT1a which I used in ORTF and it actually came sounding surprisingly good. Later that week I had to record a finnish folkmusic group which was semi amplified and it sounded very good, but the balance was a little bit off. You can always fiddle with their posisioning relative to the mics to balance the group (if they will are up for it).

Kjetil Laukholm

just realized you wanted a close miced sound so this setup wouldn't do.
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