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Tips & Techniques:Miking complex ethnic stringed instruments...

I've had the opportunity to record several hundred instruments many of you have never ever heard of... when faced with a new, complex instrument, I have a few tricks that help me get a good sound quicker.

With instruments like the oud, sitar, tanbur, and other bowl-resonator lutes, often the desired sound is a combination of the resonance projected out of the resonator and other sounds which may project different directions or may not project well at all. For some stringed instruments, the sound of the pick, or the sound of fingers striking the face while using the pick, needs to be accentuated well beyond what you might expect. I consider these instruments complex ethnic stringed instruments (though, often, classical guitar and other "non-ethnic" instruments" might fall into the same category). For others, you don't want to hear the pick at all, but may want to hear sound coming off the fingerboard.

Once I've determined what qualities I want to capture (say, picking sound and the main bowl resonance), I determine which mics might excel for each aspect of the sound. For example, a Neumann KM184 is thoroughly lousy for capturing the warm midrange of an instrument or its subharmonics, but can be excellent for capturing just the picking sound, or other very high noise frequencies. Likewise, a ribbon microphone will provide a nice round midrange, but most will underaccentuate the high frequency attack and other noise sounds.

I rarely record complex ethnic stringed instruments with 1 mic. However, I don't use stereo pairs, but instead, two different types of mic (say, ribbon+small diaphragm condensor, dynamic+large diaphragm condensor), with the capsules close to each other (to minimize phase cancellations), pointing different directions. Experimenting with positioning is very important, and in fact is key once you have an idea of what kinds of mics you might want to try.

So you track the Khorzemian tanbur with a large diaphragm condensor and a ribbon... now what? I tend to keep the two tracks discrete mono, though I will pan them depending on whether I want the instrument to act like a point source or as a stereo spread. I also never have the two tracks at the same level in the mix. The ribbon might be at -10 compared to the large diaphragm. I might eq each (chop bass out of one, roll off the highs off the other). There's a lot to play with here, a huge range of colors.

Created by oudplayer, 8th January 2008 at 06:13 AM
Last edited by mw, 27th March 2012 at 03:05 PM
Last comment by billgennaro on 10th January 2008 at 10:27 PM
3 Comments, 7,988 Views



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Old 9th January 2008
  #1
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i will be trying to record a solo octave mandolin soon (maybe with some vocals overdubbed later on). it will be recorded in a small bedroom but i think i can close mic this instrument without too much problem. its a pretty instrument (weber bridger) and i'd like to capture the full tonal range it. i was thinking an sdc (schoeps) up on the neck and a ribbon (r84) back by the bridge or over the shoulder to capture some of the warmth of the instrument. what do you think? any other suggestions? recommendations would be quite welcome.

thanks in advance,
bill gennaro
Old 10th January 2008
  #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billgennaro View Post
i will be trying to record a solo octave mandolin soon (maybe with some vocals overdubbed later on). it will be recorded in a small bedroom but i think i can close mic this instrument without too much problem. its a pretty instrument (weber bridger) and i'd like to capture the full tonal range it. i was thinking an sdc (schoeps) up on the neck and a ribbon (r84) back by the bridge or over the shoulder to capture some of the warmth of the instrument. what do you think? any other suggestions? recommendations would be quite welcome.

thanks in advance,
bill gennaro
You can definitely get a nice tone between those two microphones... mandolin placement and mic placement will be everything, small room home recordings become tricky, as there are substantial null points. I find, with the laud (a southern Spanish instrument very similar to an octave mandolin) that sitting with the back of the chair very close to a wall but not centered in the room tends to be the best starting point for the player - you'll get more bass projection. But don't mic too close - I'd start at 2 feet away, no closer than 1 foot, perhaps even 3 feet distance would sound good.
Old 10th January 2008
  #3
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thank you very much. i will try your suggestions and see how it goes. much appreciated.

bill
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