Community member Audrey Martinovich has been an audio engineer since 2010. Since then she has switched to studio and on-location recording mostly. In part 1 of this series, Audrey outlined her setup and covered the acoustic guitar, cello and mandolin. In part 2 of the series, Audrey moves onto the ukulele, violin, double bass and harp. Over to you Audrey...
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 second part, 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 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.
This is my favourite way to record ukulele. It’s bright and happy just like the instrument itself.
This sounds lovely! Just kidding. It sounds like the ukulele is in the next room.
If I was recording several different ukulele parts to layer, this would be the way to go in my opinion, although I would probably swap the large diaphragm for a small diaphragm instead.
Most of these “favourite mixes” in this article are a blend of a dark ribbon sound and a brighter sound brought in. However, the ribbon just doesn’t fit well on the ukulele so this is only the KM184’s with a little reverb and minimal compression.
Isabella is the Concertmaster of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and was kind enough to make the trip north to Madison for this recording.
Since this is an instrument that lives in the higher frequency range, these KM184’s are well suited to the violin. I use these quite often when recording live orchestral and choral performances.
The ribbon is overall a pretty comparable sound to the 184’s, the biggest difference I’ve noted is the sound of the room. The 184’s sound roomier and the AEA has more focused sound.
A bright sound and a bit more room than the AEA as well
This combination brings out a smooth tone in the violin and I love this reverb (Rverb, Hall 1) in general, but especially on the violin. Pictured below are a C6 compressor and L2007 Mastering Limiter.
The double bass or upright bass is one instrument where it’s essential to consider how it will be played when planning your mics. Most of the time, I run into bassists plucking the strings although, in classical ensembles, it’s common to bow the strings as well. I’ve included audio of both playing styles and will introduce a mic technique we haven’t used on the other instruments. I’ve also added the DI for comparison. Let's start with Plucked Playing....
These are placed where the neck meets the body of the bass
Placed higher than the KM184’s and a bit further back
This was placed where the neck meets the body
The RE20 is placed low, near the sound hole and the KM84 is placed higher, by the frets near the top of the bass. I call this the Top/Bottom technique.
The direct out of the bass went into a Countryman DI. I have to say, I was taken aback by just how much bass this had compared to the mics.
The RE20 and KM84 had the right combination of bass and fret action and is my go-to mic technique for this style of playing.
With the Bowed Playing style the mic placement remained the same. The only thing that changed was the style of playing.
For bowed playing, the AEA captured the low end just beautifully.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to get a harpist into the studio for this article. Should one of the harpists I know stop by, I will update with audio for your listening pleasure. That being said, here are a couple of different ways to mic a solo harp. For exact mic placement, I would walk around the harpist as they play, and place mics where I hear sounds that I like.
For a mono recording: SM44 or other large diaphragm condenser in cardioid, placed above player pointed down at the harp’s soundboard which is near the bottom of the instrument.
For a stereo recording: KM84 or other small capsule condenser placed above player pointed at the sound board, with an RE20 under harp pointed at the sound hole. This is reminiscent of the Top/Bottom technique for recording upright bass mentioned in the previous section.
Then the AEA Ribbon high and back a few feet from the player, with similar placement as cello, with an SM44 or other large diaphragm condenser in cardioid as a highlight mic, placed lower and closer to the player.
Thank you, Audrey Martinovich, for taking so much trouble and care in putting this 2 part series together with photos and sound clips, to illustrate your techniques and experience. Thank you too to all the musicians who helped by playing the examples for the clips, Wyatt Barhite on acoustic guitar, Ji Eun Kim and Mark Bridges on cello, Casey Seymour on mandolin and double bass, Noah Gilfillan on ukulele, and Isabella Lippi on violin.