Microphone Placement

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When we first started recording we were using just one microphone for each instrument, but quickly we discovered the sound was richer if we used both a dynamic and a condenser mike.

What seemed to be happening was our dynamic microphones were doing a good job of picking up the ring and other subtle resonance of our instruments, while our condenser microphones were better at catching the initial attack and shape of the sounds.
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( For more about microphones see the Microphones section on the Our Updated Kit page. )
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Once we started double miking there weren’t any significant changes in the positioning of our AKG condenser mikes, except to increase proximity effect we nudged them ever closer to our instruments.   This allowed us to dial back preamp amplification and so reduce the hiss we were getting with these very modest condenser mikes ( the cheapest we could find back then that even somewhat worked ).

But over time the way we positioned our Shure dynamic microphones evolved dramatically.

Initially we just put them in crude stands which held their tips very close to our instruments, but this straightforward approach didn’t give us nearly enough signal.

shure rubber bands bowusa
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So to see what would happen, we tried using two big rubber bands to tie a Shure to the neck of Dotara, one of our Bowus Family instruments…. and bingo!  Suddenly we had a huge rich sound!

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shures on quartus closeupa

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Soon we discovered putting one or more of our dynamic microphones directly on top of our Kalimba Family instruments similarly improved their performance.

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We now understand that placing our dynamic mikes in direct contact with our instruments had in effect turned them into cost effective high quality pickups!

quartus mikinga

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But still we weren’t satisfied and since we knew the Shures were very directional mikes we started wondering about the effect of putting their heads instead of their sides in contact with our kalimbas.

And since we didn’t have any clips or stands designed to make this possible, we decided to do it with the aid of gravity, bookends, and rubber bands.

And lo and behold it worked !!  The weight of the microphones held them tightly enough to the instruments so they didn’t rattle ( to make doubly sure of this we usually put small patches of single ply tissue between their tips and the instruments ), while positioned this way they recorded a much bigger signal.

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dotara mikingExtending this gravity assisted miking approach to our bowus family instruments required a bit more ingenuity since the sides of their sound boxes were slanted, but we made it happen with piles of books creating inclined planes which supported the Shures at the necessary angles.

To be sure this looked a bit clunky, but to us it felt totally appropriate since already we’d been using stacks of books to prop up the necks of our bowus instruments, because we live surrounded by books, and because especially old books are absolutely critical for our sanity.

And again it worked !!  Even positioned on an angle the weight of the microphones held them tightly enough to the instruments so they didn’t rattle, and as with our kalimba family instruments suddenly there was lots of volume.

As a bonus our new miking arrangements did much more than just giving us additional volume, they also made the amplified sound of our instruments warmer.  Of course this may have been in part because with more volume we could play more softly, and we always sound better when we’re not struggling to be loud…. ( Performance )

However since most of our books are used and have challenged bindings, eventually we started feeling terrible about asking them to serve as microphone supports.  Living as we do in the middle of nowhere these books are our most important intellectual friends and after a while it began feeling disrespectful to use them for anything but reading.

dotara mike standSo first for Dotara and then for Bass Bowus we replaced the books with proper mike stands made from triangles of 3/8” plywood glued to short lengths of 2 x 4.

Because we were careful with our carpentry the heads of the Shures are now in tighter contact with the sides of the sound boxes than they ever were with the inclined planes of books, and we think it’s this plus the fact that they’re touching higher up on the sound boxes which explains why with the settings unchanged, the exact same mikes are now picking up richer stronger signals.

And of course not only are these stands more stable than the piles of books, since they share the triangular shape of the Dotara and Bass Bowus sound boxes, they look more tidy.

Also since these mike stands have the same basic design as those we built to hold the necks of our bowus instruments, when we’re playing the instruments amplified the two types of stands used together look like a set.  The difference is that the necks sit between the plywood triangles, while the microphones rest across notches cut in their truncated tops.  ( Bowus Family )

shoki mikinga

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We also shifted to a new and simpler miking arrangement for our shokis ( Shoki Family ).  Previously we’d been using one or more dynamic mikes plus a condenser mike.  But with so many mikes everywhere we were always knocking into one and producing loud alarming noises.  ( Of course this happened most often just when we were sounding good and getting a little excited. )

So instead we tried placing just a single AKG condenser microphone on a pad of cloth with its face turned towards the bottom backside of the flute.

Doing it this way we still had to be careful not to glunk the mike and not to float too far away from it, but with only one mike to worry about we were less frozen into an uptight position.  Plus now the mike was never hit by air blown from the flute so it recorded fewer nasty sibilant noises.

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Doing Music Differently***Performance***Unspecialized***Our Recording***Our Instruments
Bowus Family***Kalimba Family***Shoki Family
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music

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