TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 12 Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

At TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group, we’ve recorded, mixed, produced and mastered virtually every genre of music over the years. So, if you have a music project that needs some TLC, give us a call. We have facilities in the UK and USA and are offering some great recording packages at the moment.

Last week in the Home Music Studio blog we discussed recording stringed instruments in general…..and touched on Mandolin, Banjo, Dobro and Lap Steel in particular.

We saw that many of these stringed instruments can be recorded using similar mic techniques, whilst we also mentioned the importance of considering the acoustics of the room you record in.

This week we’ll continue with more of the string family…..Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass.

Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass.

More and more producers are employing classical instruments to add an air of sophistication to their music tracks.

As tempting as it is to simply turn on your synthesiser or keyboard and click on that String Ensemble or Solo Violin sample, many people can hear the difference and prefer the real thing.

In fact the use of classical instruments and musicians has been used to great effect on many non-classical tracks over the years…..listen to I Am The Walrus and Eleanor Rigby – the Beatles, Five Bridges – The Nice, Spain – Chick Corea, Secret Story – Pat Metheny to name a few.

Music genres are constantly being influenced by new ideas. At one time, it was probably safe to say that classical and rock music were not great bedfellows. Today there is lots of crossover between the different genres and classical artists are now being given the same adulation that rock superstars garner which makes it difficult sometimes, to draw the line between one style of music and another.

Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass

Always consider the acoustics of the room before recording acoustic instruments. If you’re main recording room at home has its limitations, try running a mic cable into another room or the garage.  Maybe you can ‘borrow’ a school concert hall for a few hours.

Ideally, a room with a bit of space for the instrument to breathe is what you want. You can always deaden the acoustics with well placed acoustic screens, if the room is too live.

Multiple Mic Setup On Solo Violin. Note The Hardwood Floor And The Use Of Acoustic Panels Surrounding The Player.

If you have a good sounding room you won’t have to use a close mic technique. You can place a good condenser or ribbon mic a few feet away from the instrument which gives the sound some space to develop. Try a small diaphragm condenser for Violin or Viola placed about 2 feet above the instrument, pointing down towards the pluck or bowing area.

You could try adding a second mic underneath the instrument (you may have to phase reverse this) to add some warmth and depth to the sound…..but remember to record each mic on its own track, so that you can control the proportions of them in the mix.

If possible try recording on a hard surface (no carpet), so that the sound emanating from the bottom of the instrument gets reflected back up. If you’re main recording room is carpeted, you could try miking the instrument in a bathroom or kitchen. Just be aware that any natural echo or reverb recorded with the instrument cannot be easily removed in the mix if you decide there’s too much at that stage.

Lavalier Or Clip On Mic – DPA IMK4061, Mounted Behind The Violin Bridge.

There are also mics on the market which can clip on to an instrument. The DPA IMK4061 (shown above) being one such mic. It’s an omnidirectional condenser which offers a clean and natural sound quality as well as allowing the player to move around whilst performing.

There’s nothing in the rule book which says which mic to use. So try a large diaphragm condenser if you like. A dynamic will require you to move in closer to the instrument, which will then increase the bass (proximity) effect…..but it could be the effect you want for the track you’re recording.


Headway’s The Band – Pickup For Acoustic Violin. Positioned Between The Bridge And The Tailpiece, Clear Of The f-holes.

Headway make a product called ‘The Band’ for Violin, Viola and Cello. It’s basically a pick-up which straps around the instrument (see above). You can then plug into an amp or mixer. It works best with a high impedance input. For players who find it hard to keep still and on mic, this is a good option without the need for an Electric Violin.


Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic On Cello.

The Cello (above) can be treated the same as the Violin and Viola, with the mic a foot or so out in front of the bridge and f-holes. With a larger instrument like the Cello having a lower tonal range, you might want to try a large diaphragm condenser.

As Cello players tend to sit down with the instrument between their legs, their playing position does not change much. Which means the problem of the instrument going off mic during a performance should not be an issue.

The Double Bass however, can pose a few problems. Is the instrument going to be primarily plucked (Jazz style) or bowed (Classical style)?

This instrument is large and therefore presents a lot of surface area for the sound to emanate from. So experimenting with different mics in various positions will produce quite remarkable variations in sound quality.

Double Bass Plucked (Left, Centre), Bowed (Right).

You will need a mic with an extended low-frequency response. A large diaphragm condenser like the Neumann U87 or AKG C414 can produce great results if placed 6 inches or so from the bridge, pointing towards the strings. The Sennheiser MKH range (small diaphragm condensers) also do a good job.

Dynamic mics are not the best choice and if used close will emphasise the bass (proximity) effect. So, if that is the only type of mic available you will need to try several positions before finding a good spot to record.

And with any mic that you use, you may need to roll off some of the bass (80-100Hz, or even 200-300Hz) to prevent it sounding thick and muddy.

Mics Attached To And Through The Bridge.

Using a pick-up or clip on mic can give you alternative options. Place the clip on mic in an f-hole, on or through the bridge or near the tail-piece. Just make sure the pick-up or mic and lead are well secured to the instrument to prevent rattles, scrapes and knocks.

Providing your room sounds good, you could mic the Cello and the Double Bass from a distance of 4-8 feet. Point the mic towards the f-hole. To reduce the effect of the room, place some panels around the mic.

This is by no means an exhaustive discussion on recording stringed instruments, but use these ideas as starting points and try a few ideas of your own. Recording any instrument is more an art than a science. So have fun and experiment until you get the sound you like.

Next week we’ll finish discussing the string family by covering the Harp and String Ensembles.

If you have any questions about recording, mixing or mastering don’t hesitate to contact us.

At TCM Mastering we’re always happy to answer any questions you may have.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Artists, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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