Setting Up Microphones for Strings - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Stringed instruments — violin and fiddle, viola, cello, and acoustic bass — can be a lot of fun to microphone. They have a rich tone and produce an almost unlimited variety of textures. Each instrument has a different tonal spectrum, but because they all have the same basic shape and design (f-holes, strings, bows, and so on), they can all be thought of similarly.

You can try any of the techniques that described for one of these instruments on the rest of them. For example, try the mic technique from the cello on the fiddle and see what you think. Your options are many, so experiment and use what you like.

Making the most of the room

As with any other acoustic instrument, the room can have profound impacts on the sound that you capture. Unless you have a really nice-sounding room, try to isolate the instrument from the room’s sound. In this case, spot miking is the best choice.

On the other hand, if you have access to a great-sounding room or concert hall in which to record, by all means add room mics or use a stereo-miking technique.

Making sense of the mics

A favorite type of mic for classical string instruments is a small-diaphragm condenser unit, although on occasion you might use a large-diaphragm condenser mic. A dynamic mic may produce an interesting effect, but it doesn’t capture the most natural sound.

You can place the mic for each of the string instruments as follows:

  • Violin, fiddle, and viola: These all sound great with a mic placed 1 to 2 feet above and behind the instrument and facing down at the instrument’s body.

  • Cello and double bass: For these instruments, place the mic several feet away from the instrument (between 4 and 8 feet) and point it toward the f-hole in the instrument. This allows you to capture the sound of the entire instrument.

  • The only drawback is that you also get a fair amount of the sound of the room. If you don’t want the effects of your room recorded, you can place acoustic panels on either side of the mic.

  • Ensembles: Ensembles sound best when miked with a stereo pair placed between 8 and 20 feet away. If you are miking soloists, you may also need to add a spot mic or two for their instruments. If so, follow the recommendations provided earlier in this list and watch for phase problems.