Community member Audrey Martinovich has been an audio engineer since 2010. Since then she has switched to studio and on-location recording mostly. She owns Audio for the Arts with her business partners Buzz Kemper and Steve Gotcher and they specialise in classical music, acoustic instruments, and are highly sought after for corporate recording. in this article, she is going to share her experiences and techniques for recording a variety of stringed instruments. Over to you Audrey...
The last 6 years of my career have been spent recording a wide range of classical musicians and instruments. Whether it’s a full blown orchestra, a string quartet, a solo performer, in the studio or in a different venue, I’ve recorded it. While in the studio, I’ve found myself favouring certain microphones and miking techniques for full bodied instruments such as cello or bass, and something completely different for instruments like the ukulele or acoustic guitar. In this article, I am going to take you through a couple of the most popular techniques complete with photos of mic placement and one-minute audio clips for you to compare. These photos and clips feature upright bass, cello, guitar, violin, ukulele, and mandolin. These clips have no EQ, compression, or other processing to allow you to compare mic technique rather than mix, however, I’ve also included a basic mix of my preferred mics for each instrument just for funsies.
For most of these instruments, I used the setup shown above. In the foreground are 2 Neumann KM184’s in XY, which have a bright sound. It’s quite common to use small capsule condensers in XY especially for acoustic guitar. They yield a good stereo image and pick up a nice combination of body and fret sound. Of course, there are times when you might prefer a mono recording depending on what else is going on in your mix. For that reason, in the middle, we have the Shure KSM44, which for me is a true sounding mic that isn’t too bright or too dark. In the background, we have an AEA R88 SN 44 ribbon microphone which features two ribbons mounted 90 degrees to each other in Blumlein fashion. I must confess the AEA is my go-to for tons of applications from strings to piano to brass.
The Millennia HV-3D preamps are a favourite of mine as well. Their super clean sound and dynamic capabilities, the Millennia pre’s are perfectly suited for classical and acoustic recording.
I tend to start by placing my mics where the neck and body of the guitar meet and adjust as needed. Placement will help you avoid picking up sounds of the pick hitting the pick guard, the musician’s breathing, or potential foot tapping. If you’re using a click track, a handy trick to avoid click track bleed is to have the musician listen to the click track through ear buds with headphones placed over the ear buds.
In asking musicians to record for this article, two of my favourite cellists stopped by. Mark Bridges plays with several ensembles all over Madison, WI and Ji Eun Kim is a recent college graduate who recorded her dissertation project with me. My favourite mics on cello are usually the AEA ribbon with a hint of the KSM44 to brighten it up. The dark ribbon sounds great on pretty much any classical instrument from cello to baritone sax.
Now that we’ve all fallen in love with the full sound of the ribbon, let’s examine how that sounds on a mandolin.
Not the best, right? The ribbon loses a lot of the character of the mandolin and sounds distant.
That’s more like it! The presence is back and it’s less dull but there is a little too much pick sound coming through for my taste.
With the large diaphragm condenser, we will have the brightness, but the sound of the pick hitting the pickguard is less present.
I chose to blend the ribbon in slightly with the KSM44 to have the present sound I like and add a little body.
What Is In Part 2?
In the second part of this series, Audrey will continue her look at how to record stringed instruments, covering the ukulele, violin, double bass and harp.