Posted tagged ‘String instrument’


June 19, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 16 Recording Woodwind

This week and next we will discuss recording Woodwind. Like the String family and the Brass or Horn group of instruments, the Woodwind family is extensive and varied. So, if we miss out one that you’re particularly interested in, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us by going to the TCM Music Group, Contact Page – leave us a message or call us.

The Woodwind Group Includes – Bassoon, Clarinet, Saxophone, English Horn, Oboe and Flute.

Not all Woodwind instruments are made of wood. Some are made from metal or plastic. This diverse group includes the single-reed instruments – namely Clarinet and Saxophone; the double-reed Oboe, the Cor Anglais (or English Horn) and Bassoon; the Bagpipe which can be single or double reed; and the reedless Flutes which include the Classical Flute and Recorder. You can also include the free reed aerophone instruments like Harmonica and Accordion.

Hohner Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes.

When it comes to the recording of some Woodwind instruments – for example the Saxophone and Clarinet – they produce sound over a much wider pattern than most Brass, because sound emanates from the bell end and the holes along the length of the instrument’s body. So you will need to think carefully where to place a mic or mics to capture a full sound. Flutes on the other hand produce most of their sound from the area around the mouth piece hole.

The Saxophone was discussed in an earlier blog, along with the Horns because it is popularly used in many modern Horn sections.

Detail Of A Clarinet…Showing Some Of The Keys.

At some point you will have the opportunity or the need to record Woodwind in your Home Music Studio. This group of instruments produce rich harmonic content and possess a large dynamic range but are not quite as loud as the Brass family. They generally sound best in a room that is lively rather than dead. If your room needs livening up a bit, use some reflective panels around the instrument.

Also the keys on these instruments, can be quite noisy sometimes. You may or may not like this added quality to the recorded sound, so play around with mic positions to take advantage or minimise this effect.

If you position a mic to capture just the bell end of Woodwind instruments you will capture a bright sound, but will miss out on a lot of the overall spectrum of sound produced. However, try it and compare the results with other miking positions. You may prefer it for the particular track you’re working on.

Sennheiser MD441 – Dynamic Super-Cardioid Mic.

Both the Clarinet and the Oboe benefit from using a mic with a good warm bottom end. If you’re recording them solo, place the mic 2-3 feet away, level with the head of the player aimed towards the middle of the instrument between the left and right hands. For the Clarinet try a nice bass sensitive cardioid condenser or a ribbon if you have one (eg. Beyer M130/160). The dynamic Sennheiser MD441 (see picture above) seems to work well on the Oboe.

An alternative would be to add another mic to pick up the bell end sound or place it underneath the instrument to pick up any reflected sounds from the reflective floor. At the risk of repeating myself, always check for phase problems when using multiple mics.

 Miking Is Similar For The Oboe And The Cor Anglais.

The English Horn or Cor Anglais having a similar shape to the Clarinet and Oboe can be recorded using similar techniques and mics. Try miking 3-6 feet away if the room will take it. But be prepared to experiment.

The size of the Bassoon and the angle that it’s played at, make it a little more difficult to record. Plus the bell end is at the top of the instrument. Good results should be possible by using a quality large diaphragm condenser about 5 feet distant and about 5 feet off the ground. Or try the Audix i5 dynamic directed towards the middle of the instrument.

The Bassoon – Large Woodwind With The Bell End At The Top.

If that doesn’t work for you, try using two mics. One to catch the upper part of the instrument and the other lower down. Listen to each mic separately and together, so that you can judge the best positions to place them. Record each to a separate track and check for phase issues.

There are some reasonably priced mics eg. AKG C3000, Rode NT-1, AT 4033 which should produce good results. But always use the best mic you have for the situation.

Of course if you’re recording these instruments along with other instruments in the same take, then you’ll have to employ closer mic techniques and maybe some separation panels.

EQ Plug In For Pro tools.

With any mic, you are likely to want to use some EQ. Don’t overdo it though. Remember, you can always use EQ in the mix. Your aim when recording should be to get as true a sound as possible of the instrument. Always actively listen with your ears to the instrument first, before you place any mic and apply any signal processing.

If you have the time and the mic selection available, it’s always worth experimenting with unusual choices. Just be sure to make notes on the results and how you rate a mic and instrument combination, so that you can use the information in the future.

Mic Positioned Level With Player’s Head Pointing Towards The MouthPiece.

Most of the sound out of a Flute comes from the mouthpiece end of the instrument. That sound is produced by the player blowing across the top of the mouthpiece hole. You therefore have to be careful positioning your mic so that you get the right amount of breath sound in your recording.

Place your mic about a foot or so in front and above the player or at a level with the player’s head, pointing down to the mouthpiece area.

A Couple Of Mics On Flute.

If you place the mic directly in front of the mouthpiece, you will most likely experience problems with the players breath hitting the mic’s capsule causing an unpleasant noise or even popping.

Depending on what type of music you’re Flute is playing will determine which type of microphone to use. Of course there are no hard and fast rules but the characteristics of some mics can favour certain genres.

A condenser is well suited to Jazz. It will capture a lot of the harmonics and overtones resulting in a bright recording. Dynamic mics work well in a rock or R & B setting – they’re not as bright and if you use a cardioid, can give good separation from other instruments. And for a classical recording, ribbons are ideal, giving a fuller bottom end and slightly less top end…..a warmer sound.

Next week I’ll cover recording the Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes…..could you get three more diverse instruments…..and in the same family too!

Don’t forget, TCM Music are offering some fantastic ‘recording packages’ at the moment. But if you just have a question regarding the recording process, feel free to get in touch with us – click here. We’re here to help.

Editor’s Note: News that Clarence Clemons, Sax player extraordinaire, died in Florida Saturday night. From the early 1970’s, he was a huge influence on the E Street Band sound. And has played with many greats over the years from Jackson Browne to Aretha Franklin. Just recently he played on Lady Gaga’s album ‘Born This Way’. He will be sorely missed, our thoughts go out to his family.



May 30, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 13 Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

Thanks to those of you who are following the Home Music Studio series, we at TCM Mastering and Music Group really appreciate your interest. Don’t forget, if you have any questions on the recording process please get in touch…click here for contact details.

Today’s blog will complete our look at the challenges of recording stringed instruments by considering the Harp and String Ensembles. These two instrument groups may be a rarity in the Home Studio setting, but one or both will crop up at some time during your recording career. And they do add a definite touch of class to a recording.

Harpo Marx – An Accomplished Harp Player.

Recording Harp

The Harp presents several problems when recording. First, it is notoriously difficult to tune and then keep in tune. If it is a Harp with pedals you will have the added problem of noise from the pedal movements. Plus there will be resonances in the lower strings which aren’t always pleasant and the smaller Celtic Harp poses challenges of its own.

So where do you place a mic or mics?

In some respects, you can treat the Harp like a Grand Piano on its end. It has the same basic string shape to a Grand, so you could try using some of the techniques mentioned for Piano in this earlier blog.

Dynamic mics do not have a flat enough response and tend to be used close up (accentuating the bass-proximity effect). Which means specific strings will be favoured over others. So the recording would be coloured and unbalanced to say the least.

Single Mic On Harp In A Large Live Room.

Condensers or Ribbons are your best choice. Try placing a condenser a few feet from the striking point. Angle the mic slightly so that it’s not pointing directly at the hands to reduce the percussive sounds produced. The picture above shows one mic in this position. You can achieve a good stereo recording by placing another mic in the same position on the other side of the Harp.

Harp With Multiple Stereo Mic Setups.

The picture above shows several mics in different positions. If you have a good selection of mics, this is a great time saver. Set up different pairs, feed each mic to a separate track on your DAW or recorder and monitor each pair separately. This way you can quickly compare each pair’s sound to see which you like best for recording…..consider this same technique when recording any acoustic instrument.

A favoured method of recording a Harp is to use a Blumlein pair of mics. It’s like the X-Y technique (see Part 6 Mic Technique Blog) but with two figure-8 mics set at 90 degrees to each other in a column arrangement. See the diagram below, which also shows the two overlapping polarity patterns.

Place the two mics so that the capsules are at the same level as the hands about 2 feet from the Harp. This method really requires a quiet, good sounding room to produce the best results.

If you have to record the Harp alongside other instruments at the same time, try this method. Wrap a KM 84/184 or something similar in some foam rubber (except for the capsule part, obviously) and wedge it into the upper sound hole. Secure it in position with some surgical type tape. This will hopefully keep the mic fixed (preventing rattles and knocks) without damaging the instrument. The resultant sound might not be perfect but will give you good isolation from other instruments.

You could also try a stereo pair with one mic registering the lower end and another aimed toward the upper strings. Careful placement should result in a good balanced spectrum of sound.

And remember, always check for phasing problems whenever you use more than one mic.

If you need further ideas for recording the Harp, check out this article.

Recording a String Ensemble

For most Home Studio setups, it would be extremely difficult to record a String Ensemble at home. But the members of the Ensemble probably practice in a Hall, Church or School so you could always take your DAW and mics to them.

When having to deal with a ‘foreign’ recording location it’s always wise to arrive well before the musicians so that you can get set up and test mic cables, headphones and all the other sundry items that need checking.

Will you be providing a click track or backing track for the musicians to play along to? Will you provide music for them to read from? Have they had time to rehearse?

Royer SF-24 Stereo Ribbon Mic Placed Above Conductor, With All String Sections Spot Miked.

How do you group and position the various players? The same instruments should be grouped together, obviously. That is, all Double Basses in one group, Cellos in another group etc. You may need to set up a separate solo mic for a Violin.

You will also want to check out the room. If it’s long and thin, which way do you position the players? Use your ears to determine the best position and direction the players need to face. If there is time you can do a test, positioning the players one way and then another.

Sound Engineer James Stone, Recording String Quartet for UK band fiN

Using distant miking techniques means that you’re going to need to choose sensitive, quiet mics and quiet mic preamps. Either high output Condenser mics or Ribbons (eg. AEA R84) will work well. Both types have a good, wide frequency range and respond quickly to transients.

However, it’s probably wise to avoid capacitor mics as they tend to emphasise the presence peaks which can sound unpleasant on Violins especially. The smooth, resonance free top end of a Ribbon mic works very well.

The easiest and possibly best way of recording an Ensemble is to employ a stereo pair of mics placed between 10 and 20 feet away. Some engineers like to use omnidirectional and small diaphragm mics for strings.

X-Y or Coincident Pair Technique.

There are several stereo techniques. One which has been mentioned already is the X-Y or Coincident pair technique (see diagram above). This employs two identical directional mics angled apart with their capsules almost touching. The resultant stereo image can be narrow, but it provides good mono compatibility.

Spaced Pair Technique. 

The above diagram shows a Spaced pair setup (not to scale). This method uses two mics spaced apart and pointing straight ahead. Phase problems are inherent with this approach, but can be reduced to a minimum by using the 3:1 rule. Place the mics three times farther from each other than they are from the source. However, use your ears to determine the optimum mic positions. It’s also possible to introduce a third mic in the middle to help fill out the stereo spread.

Near-Coincident Pair Technique.

The Near-Coincident pair technique, above, uses two directional mics spaced and angled with their capsules apart horizontally. The greater the angle or spacing the bigger the stereo effect. Again this tends not to be very mono compatible, but play around with positions until you get the best possible compromise.

There are many stereo methods you could try. See Home Music Studio Part 6 Mic Techniques for more ideas.

Next week we will move onto the Horn section.

If you have any questions or comments you’d like to raise, get in touch with us through the TCM Music Group Contact Page.


May 23, 2011

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.


May 15, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 11 Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

This week and next, I’ll be discussing miking and recording stringed instruments in general.

The previous blog post in the TCM Home Music Studio series – recording Acoustic Guitar went into some detail for that particular instrument. I chose the acoustic guitar because of its popularity in the Home Studio setting, but it will also prove useful to refer to it as many of the techniques discussed there can be used for several other stringed instruments.

Dobro, Harp and Violin.

Whatever stringed instrument you have to record… Sitar, Mandolin, Dobro, Dulcimer, Harp or Violin, there will be certain basic similarities in the miking techniques despite this family of instruments having a huge variation in appearance and sound quality…..the piano (a stringed instrument) has already been discussed in an earlier blog post.

This family of instruments have certain common characteristics. They all have a box or chamber that resonates and amplifies the sound produced by the strings.

Bouzouki, Ukulele, Koto and Hammered Dulcimer.

The main differences will lie in the choice and type of microphones to use for each particular instrument.

With these types of acoustic instruments, the room you use plays an important contributing factor towards the ultimate sound you record. So as much consideration should be given to the room sound as the mic choice.

This next point may seem obvious but I think it’s worth mentioning and it applies to any acoustic instrument…..if you have a truly beautiful sounding instrument that has cost several thousand pounds, you are not going to do it justice by using a cheap $50 microphone to record it. However, you don’t have to use really expensive mics to capture a great sound or have an instrument that cost thousands. But simply put, a cheap mic will not get the best results. So always go for the best you can afford.

Use your judgement and where possible always try a few different mic choices before deciding on a particular one. You may be lucky and get a good result that you’re happy with using a cheap mic, but ultimately, you get what you pay for.

And always listen to the instrument you’re going to record, from various angles with your ears before setting up any mics. That way, you will hopefully determine the best spot to place your mic.

Mandolin and Banjo

In many respects the Mandolin and Banjo can both be treated like the Acoustic Guitar.


A collection of vintage Gibson Mandolins.

You can therefore utilise the same mic techniques and positions described in the previous blog post for Acoustic Guitar. But experiment until you find the sound you like. As with all stringed instruments the tone can vary quite dramatically from one instrument to the other even between the same make and model.

Remember, to get the best out of an acoustic instrument don’t mic it too close. Allow the sound to emanate. This usually means a mic distance of a few feet, as long as the room acoustics are good enough. Small diaphragm condensers work well for capturing the brightness of these instruments.

Plectrum Banjo.

An alternative tried by some Banjo players is to attach a miniature microphone clipped to the tailpiece aimed at the bridge, which allows movement.

It’s important to consider the player in any given situation. If the player is used to performing live he/she may not like keeping still when performing and might find it difficult to record in a static position. So you always have to be prepared to be flexible in your approach.

Dobro and Lap Steel Guitar

Here’s a little bit of trivia for you…..the Dopyera Brothers started the Dobro manufacturing company in 1928. And in 1993 Gibson acquired the name.

The Dobro and Lap Steel type guitars present a unique set of problems when recording. The Dobro can be played upright (against the body like you would play an acoustic or classical guitar) or flat on your lap like the Lap Steel. And this group of instruments can be plucked, but tend to be played with a metal or glass slide over the strings, which can produce an  unusual amount of unwanted string noise.


Microphone position for Dobro or Lap Steel Guitar.

Using the mic position A (above) the string noise can be reduced to an acceptable level with a bit of tweaking… angling the mic towards the body and away from the strings. Some players dampen the strings behind the slide with their little finger, which helps reduce the sound of the strings between the slide and the nut.

Good results can be achieved with a dynamic Shure SM57. Or try the Neumann KM185 condenser…expensive but gives a great sound. Fitting a pick-up can often give good results, or using a combination setup of mic and pick-up.

Always remember to record each mic or pick-up to a separate track on your DAW (for greater flexibility in the mix) and if you use more than one mic, check for phasing problems.


Bridge Over Troubled Water – Producer Roy Halee. 

Music Producer Roy Halee basically distilled down the recording process to five instructions…..I couldn’t put it any better.

This ‘mantra’ is especially important when recording instruments which are unfamiliar to you, because you will have little experience of what they are supposed to sound like.

Most Home Studios may not have a separate control room like the pros, but if you can get the same sound coming out of the speaker monitors that you hear coming directly from the instrument, you can then do anything with signal processing to get the effect you want.

Some people comment that you can get brilliant samples of all the acoustic instruments I’ve discussed over the last few weeks, so why bother going to the trouble of recording the real thing?


There are indeed some amazing samples of acoustic instruments these days, but you really need to be able to play them like the instrument you’re imitating if it’s going to sound real.  There’s certainly a place for sampled music and we’ll discuss that whole subject along with MIDI in a future blog.

Many musicians just love the process of capturing a performance and an instrument in a recording. And if done well, it can sound totally unique unlike anyone else’s sound…..there’s the satisfaction.

If you need recording, production, mixing or mastering services check out the TCM Music Group website for details of what we can offer. There are packages available for any budget.

Next week and the week after, I’ll continue with the Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass as well as the Harp and String Ensembles for those of you who may want to add a touch of class to your recordings.