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Mic placement for saxophones

Discussion in 'Brass' started by Groovekiller, Oct 21, 2008.

  1. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Active Member

    I seem to get the best recorded saxophone sound by placing the microphone in line with the bell about a foot or two away. The lowest note on the saxophone always overloads the mic, however. I can help alleviate the problem by riding the fader, but I'd rather not. If I move the mic to the side, I lose a lot of sound quality.

    Any ideas to get a more even response? I usually use a Rode NTK into a cheap Boss BR-1180 digital 8 track recorder.
  2. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    get the player to move back a bit for that note?
  3. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    the sound of the sax comes both out the bell and out the holes,
    but if all holes are closed, it only comes out of the bell...

    I tend to put the mic at chest-height 1m / 3 feet away pointing toward the chest


    if you must use the recording as it is:
    EQ and or multiband compress the offending note
  4. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Active Member

    Sounds like good advice. I have an unusual situation. I often record very large saxophones (bass sax and even contrabass sax). On the big horns I even tried multiple mics. Perhaps it would be easier to see my web page for photos and recordings to help understand the situation:


    What would you do to mic a contrabass sax?

  5. rockstardave

    rockstardave Active Member

    that saxophone would make a great pipe..
  6. I would say for the lowest note overloading the mic- just turn down the preamp on the mic and mix it up later. Possibly even some mild compression so all the notes are closer in volume. You should place the mic roughly in the middle of the instrument at a distance you're pleased with and pointed slightly toward the bell. Keypad noises are considered to be a part of the instrument's sound; but you can reduce or eliminate them by aiming the microphone closer to the bell's outer rim.

    Oh, by the way- bad ass music!
  7. natural

    natural Active Member

    When standing in front of the sax listening without mics, are those low notes louder anyway?
    Perhaps that's just the way she sounds?

    As mentioned above, move the mic a little higher and/or a little off axis.

    Plus a teensy bit O' compression that only kicks in on those notes will help as well.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Really, you almost can't get away without using a limiter on this type of instrument because of its explosive resonances. Overload in digital recording should be avoided by reducing gain trim. Meters don't need to bang while recording this. It doesn't make it better. And so, your little studio in a notebook should still be capable regardless of microphones used. In fact you may do better by utilizing a dynamic microphones such as a SM57. The bandwidth limitations of a dynamic microphones will work in your favor. But if you're going to use a condenser microphone and place it close, it should have a pad engaged so as to not overload the microphone electronics.

    Blat blat bork
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  9. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Active Member

    That makes sense. Some of my best recordings were done with an Sm 57. The recording of Body and Soul on my myspace site used an SM57 and I like the sound as much as anything I've done. Perhaps I sgouldn't have used the term overload. I can avoid distortion, but the lowest note is just louder.

    My myspace site:

  10. JCMastering

    JCMastering Guest

    As others posters have wroted , try mic technique first. Start with a mic that sounds good for that particular instrument. Perhaps even one that is less sensitive to the low note that gives you trouble. Then try different aims , positions , and distances. When in a hurry I just place a mic about 1.5 to 3 feet away aiming at keys halfway down the instrument. Sometimes a mic above or to the side of the players head works , as you get the player's perspective , and they usually balance themselves. Of course you'll get more room sound , so keep that in mind. You may also try a two mic approach , one on the keys and one on the bell , for a more even coverage , just watch out for phase problems.

    As for gain riding and compression , they wont solve the problem if the instrument is overloading the mic.
  11. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I have not recorded bass or contrabass sax, but I've recorded my daughter's bari quite a bit. I'm usually about five feet away. Recently I've used a Rode K2 tube mic and a Cascade Fat Head ribbon. I'd try at least that far for the bass or contrabass (though I might go closer if I was using a 57). Adding a little compression or limiting can help balance the loudest notes while not destroying the dynamic range of the rest of the instrument.

    With these instruments, you are in the range where the resonant modes of the room are the biggest problem. The placement of the instrument and the mic within the room is crucial. Stay out of the middle of the room. The more bass traps you put in the corner, the better recordings you will get. This will also make your room a more pleasant place to practice.

    Very cool sax collection, by the way. I forwarded the link to my daughter who is in her first year at Duquesne working with Houlik.
  12. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Active Member

    I'm really new to this forum, and I'd like to thank everyone who responded to this post. All of the replies were offers of positive ideas, and they got me thinking in a different direction. A GREAT FORUM!

    I'm no stranger to world class recording studios. I've done dozens of sessions at Criteria in Miami (The Hit Factory) under lots of producers and engineers. Miami is home to many studios and I've probably been recorded in most of them. No one has ever recorded any of my big horns, however, except for Jaco Pastorius, who used my bass sax on a recording of "Holiday for Pans" that was never released.

    I posted this question in the beginners section because in my own spare-bedroom studio, that's what I am - a beginner. All of your posts were helpful, and I appreciate the input.

    By the way, I'm an old guy and I like the old uncompressed recordings of horns from the 50s and 60s. Especially the trumpets were exciting back then with their big spikes on the VU meters. I'm not a fan of limiters or compression. The best suggestion here for me is to move the mic back. keep the "sweet spot" but don't mic up close. Thanks so much.

    Here's my Myspace site, with pics of Jaco and others, and recordings too. None are from Criteria, but for a good example of ON LOCATION remote recording, check out Peter Yanolos' engineering on the night club recording of "Jaco Pastorius - The Birthday Concert," with Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, and a great big band in 1982. I'm playing baritone sax (Randy Emerick.) I think the CD is on Columbia-Epic.

  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I'm a fellow old guy with similar tastes (there are a few of us around here). I think it's a mistake to reject limiters and compressors as tools just because so many people use them badly. Remember, tape saturation is a form of limiting. Tube saturation is a form of compression. All of those tracks you like use those effects. Now there is no question that the digital compressors and limiters don't sound as good. But they are cheaper, easier to use, and much easier to learn.

    If the Boss unit allows you to do this, take a short (maybe 1-2 bar) phrase of a sax track and loop it for playback. Insert a compressor on the track. Play with the parameters of the compressor while listening to the looped phrase. If you search the archives you will find some detailed descriptions of what the parameters do and how to go through them. I'd start by working with threshold and makeup gain. Once you have a handle on that go on to ratio. Then attack and release. You don't have to use a compressor or a limiter to squash the life out of a song - even though it seems that way these days.

    On another topic, my wife plays pans and I'm a bassist, so I've always been curious about "Holiday for Pans." I've only heard a couple of snatches of badly mixed bootlegs. I read a Jaco biography recently (depressing), but I forget if there was any definitive info about the existence and state of the original tracks. Heard anything? (I know. Actually having played on the thing probably assures that no one will tell you anything, but I thought I'd ask.)
  14. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Active Member

    The bootlegs were horrible. On the original Holiday for Pans, Jaco arranged the original David Rose arrangement with all the original woodwind background parts, substituting pans for violins. The background parts disappeared on the bootlegs.

    There were legal issues surrounding Jaco's last few works. I don't know who has the masters. I'm hoping they turn up someday.
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Groovekiller, Yeah, Peter, of Artisan had that nice red GMC motorcoach back then. I crossed paths with him a few times back then. That's when I had started thinking about building my own remote truck. And as I recall a MCI JH 400 series console, in his truck which I didn't much care for. Along with his MCI 24 tracks. He had to cut off the entire rear end of the motorcoach to get the equipment in. I thought that was incredible in and by itself! Now, like all the other remote truck owners, he's got a new red truck with the same Yamaha digital consoles that Kooster McAllister of Record Plant & David Hewitt of Remote Recording Services has.

    Just curious, did you ever cross paths with Neil Bonsanti? Back in 1978/79? I think he was principal oboist, as I remember, for the Miami Symphony? He was also a terrific big-band/jazz saxophone player and we used him a lot along with other Miami symphony musicians & studio cats that frequently worked at Criteria, for most of our fully orchestrated jingles at Golnick Advertising in Fort Lauderdale. I'll just never forget how rude and snobby they were at Criteria. I walked in the door one day with my resume. They wouldn't even take it. They told me "they didn't need no stinkin' engineers and I could get out". I was really quite shocked by that. I thought it was very unprofessional. Couldn't have been more ill mannered. And I was an accomplished commercial production & music engineer & authorized MCI service technician, not a beginner. It was OK. I really couldn't stand the Bee Gees and all that stupid falsetto stuff. At least I was stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Huh huh huh huh stayin' alive. Without their help.

    It's a small world with big saxophones
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  16. Groovekiller

    Groovekiller Active Member

    Neal Bonsanti is still very active, one of my best friends, and I work with him a lot. The old Criteria studios pretty much went under and are now run by totally different people and completely renovated - much better than before.

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