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Poll - what instruments do you find the hardest to record and mix?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by DonnyThompson, Mar 15, 2015.


Which instruments do you find the most difficult to record and mix?

  1. Drums

  2. Acoustic Stringed Instruments

  3. Vocals

  4. Bass

  5. Electric Guitar

  6. Piano

  7. Synths

    0 vote(s)
  8. Horns

  9. B3

    0 vote(s)
  10. Percussion

    0 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I thought I'd start this poll, the motivation behind it being that we might discuss those problematic instruments, and share our own personal tips and tricks with them.

    Feel free to add any scenarios that I've overlooked...

    What say you?
  2. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    Can I put most things at the moment again :). LOL.
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Staff


    Why? Okay, I'm ducking after this outburst when it is beyond :notworthy: (mixing perspective)!
    because I've never heard better "sounding" drums than the hundreds of world class samples I use to replace or augment drums. I didn't say performance, nothing beats a real drummer who can play.

    Piano, is another hard to record because I don't have the best space for one of those either.

    Vocals are always hard to blend with excellent samples if your vocal chain isn't of the same quality as samplers or synths. Up until I invested in a great vocal chain, vocals used to be on that list. Now vocals are my favorite thing to track. My vocal chain is par with the best samples now.

    Everything else, I prefer to emulate or record with a few mics and keep it simple. I much prefer hearing a well balanced mix of a band or a very well produced fully loaded production with samples and technology. I'm kind of that keep it raw and simple or if you are going to go for it, forget trying to record the things you can't sonically get incredible and get the electronic out. Its all about the weakest link. Mixing is easy once you understand what the weakest link is and then mix around that. There is no point trying to put lipstick on a pig.

    Nothing worse than a mixture of cheep sounding gear combined with cutting edge samples. You are always forced to make a mix smaller.

    If everything is on par, its pretty easy to mix anything imho. The problem I have as a mixer, I am having to mix other peoples good better best. So, I really don't count in this Poll. However, I thought I'd share a gem of why samples don't mix well with cheap gear.
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    none of the above. i can honestly say i have never run across anything that was difficult to record. my biggest challenge was pipe organs. that takes a lot of work.

    my opinion is totally opposite. i have never heard a sample that sounded real. they all sound "too good" to me. piano and drums, the things you say you have the most trouble with, are both very dependent on the room for decent results when recording. that is because they both benefit from being miced at a distance. lousy room, lousy recording.
  5. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I find piano - especially grands- challenging.
    Even more so, the almighty Hammond B-3 (also listed) as the tonewheels can be quite daunting to mic up inside that beast...
    Drumz iz fun...a Beyer M101 omni over the kick between that and the snare, and a Heil PR-40 on the kick ...voila!
  6. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I find pianos hard to record but easy to mix, so I couldn't check that box. Everything else is easy enough to record. Well, I don't know about a B3, but I had no trouble with a C3/Leslie.
  7. ric3xrt

    ric3xrt Active Member

    Hate horns, they never sound good .......I guess that's why I stick to rock bands, Punk & blue Grass....
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Oh ya they do! But, you need an excellent micpre, a ribbon like the R-122 sure helps (I'm sure others have suggestions too?), a nice room that responds well to horns / brass mid and upper mid freq and a player that can actually play .
    What I would call a secret weapon, get a good overhead mic and blend it. I own an SF-24 and its one of the most useful overhead mics essential for gluing the spacial quality of a live performance. Its hard to live without a good overhead mic. A good reverb glues it all together.
    A great example of that right here!

    kmetal likes this.
  9. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    The more expensive the gear I use the harder im finding heavy dis trotted guitars are to get right.

    Drums aren't really hard to record at all. It's tuning them and playing them well that's more difficult. Direct mics take most of the room out of the sound, at the expense of size. some digital reverbs are fine, but I enjoy using a natural room sound when I can.

    The thing that makes drums 'hard' has much less to do with the room and mics, and player/performance, it is their lack of versatility as an instrument. In most music the drums set the overall sense of space, more than the other rythym elements. so when drummer of 'funk' band comes in with 26" double kicks, that's where the challenge in drums are.

    This is where samples are key in my workflow, to augment what isn't there. I'm not saying I keep up w BFd, but, I've tracked stuff that's easliy capable of a stock sample set. One offs are easy. the real bueaty and power of samples, your own or packaged, lies in its power to change the whole foundation of a song, quickly. That plus an aid in consistency if the drummer is shaky, is huge. The sonics are first class in some collections, so that doesn't burt either. But like a lot of good things there's a time and a place, no one shoe fits all.

    So while keyboardslayers and guitarist can swap patches, guitars and amp heads, the poor drummer has a lot more maple and mahogany to lug around. I've been feeling bad for drummers lately, as my rigs condense, but the drum kit stays the same. Really cool. Until load out.
  10. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member


    Anytime your in town Chris I'll book us a session down at the office, and we can mess w the toys! All you need to do is show up :) same for all you RO buddies! Any excuse to jam on the Yamaha is a good one.

    Attached Files:

    audiokid likes this.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Damn, I wish I could get a job there and set up camp! Your studio and team sounds like a really great place to work at/in.
    That offer is most appreciated! Thank you, Kyle. :love:
    kmetal likes this.
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    For me, the instrument that I find the most difficult to record is acoustic guitar. I have always felt this instrument to be the most difficult..

    Drums, bass, keys? No problem. But getting "that" sound for the acoustic has always been harder for me to obtain than any other instrument.

    It's always either too muddy or too thin, too thick or too bright - regardless of the pre or the mic I've used. The room plays a big part, but I've been in situations where the environment sounded great, and yet I've still had problems.

    Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I'm saying that I've never gotten it right, because I have, many times. But it's taken me much more time to get right than any of the other instruments.

    Maybe it's just my own perception of what I want it to sound like, what I'm hearing.

    For me, to my ears, I love the sound of the acoustic guitar on James Taylor songs.... Paul Simon, too. I can't ever seem to get "that" sound. I understand that a lot of it is in the performance as well, but I've worked with some great acoustic players, most of whom really like the sounds I get for them - but I almost always have trouble getting the sound I hear in my head.

    I've talked to colleagues who have said that the acoustic guitar tracks I've recorded and mixed have sounded very nice... but I hardly ever hear it that way, so maybe it's just me.

    This is what I'm talking about:

  13. Audiofreek

    Audiofreek Active Member

    Sounds like a high strung guitar as a double, who knows what mics they used, sound delicate and soft, but still great transients. Maybe a ribbon and a condesor.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    That's a great guess... I don't know the answer though. I wouldn't imagine that James is working in studios that are lacking nice gear. ;) Some of it is attributed to his playing style too, I think. He has such a way with picking - you can hear every note he plays. It's delicate - but with definition and clarity.
  15. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    It's funny, one of the Interveiws in behind the glass, was with an engineer who did a James Taylor recording. They did it in a house on Martha's vineyard, with a Yamaha ov1, and some modest gear.

    While obviously James Taylor has the option to record on any gear, it's interesting to me that they made this choice. i wanna say the album was called hourglass or something like that.
  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I remember reading (Mix, I think) about an album that he recorded almost entirely at his home studio back around '96 or so, where he used a Yamaha digital console - it was either the 01V or the 02R.

    Although I would imagine that he also had the best mics and pres at his disposal as well.

    I don't know if the album was mixed at his place though... maybe.

    And... not discounting that he's also James Taylor. ;)
    kmetal likes this.
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    As a followup - It's my opinion that Yamaha's digital desks got a bad rap. They were released at a time when a lot of guys were still tracking through analog desks, and many were comparing it to other analog consoles - and unfairly so, I think.

    There was a complaint that the mic pre's were cold, "sterile"... when actually, they were were just transparent.

    There wasn't any character or color imparted to the signal like analog desks were known to give, and so they took a beating from those who wanted the convenience of a digital console - where 98% of all controls in mixes could be stored and recalled with the touch of a button, with frame-accurate moving fader automation - but who also wanted "the sound" of certain consoles, pres and transformers that they had grown accustomed to in more expensive analog desks.

    You have to remember that this was around 1996 or so, and at that time the division between analog and digital was very wide.

    The truth is, both the 01V and 02R had EQ controls that would rival those which are sought after today in modern DAW's. The EQ on the 02R was actually very similar to what you would find today with Samplitude's 116EQ or Fabfilter's EQ.
    It was fully parametric, highly detailed in both frequency and Q. The dynamics per channel were also very good, with compressors and gates that were really not that much different than what you would find these days with any DAW platform or 3rd Party gain reduction plugs.

    Compared to today's DAW's, it probably pales in comparison, because technology has come so far in the years since.

    The 02R did have some limitations - it could only track/convert/mix at 20 bit - unless you "doubled up" channels ( assigning one track to 2 channels, at which point you could record and mix at 24 bit - pending, of course, that your recording platform could also support 24 bit).

    Another limitation was that you had to choose the i/o cards for the desk, relative to what recording format you were using; there wasn't any type of "universal" i/0 on the desk - such as USB - you had to buy separate 8 channel interface cards that would fit into slots (up to four slots) on the rear of the console. Also, there were only 8 XLR inputs. The other limitation was that the converters were just "okay". They were average for the time; I would wager that these days, even the cheapest entry level USB mic pre i/o probably has better converters than what came as "stock" in the Yamaha digital desks. It wasn't uncommon for 02R owners to invest into dedicated OB conversion systems.

    But, for the 10 grand that it was selling for at the time, it really was a very nice digital desk; lots of features that rivaled - and in some ways even surpassed - features found on far more expensive consoles of the time.

    As a final note, I had an 02R for several years; ( lol, I still do, in storage) and at that time I was tracking to a rack of Tascam DA88's - believe me when I tell you that the console certainly wasn't the weak point in that workflow.
    To this very day, I consider those Tascam DA's as the absolute worst recording equipment investment I ever made.

    But... that's a topic for another thread, I suppose. ;)

    kmetal likes this.
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I think the big change has been in clocks and converters. Clocks and converters sucked pretty bad up to about 2006. I think we have that part right now.
    The next big step is 32 channel ADDA lanes in one box with excellent monitoring systems. Heat and PSU are going to be impacting that. The battle to make things last and remain stable on all channels is where I see problems. Consistencies all across the lanes. Kind of sounds like tape again eh ;)
    kmetal likes this.
  19. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    that was Nathan Kunkle's set up .... studio in a box he called it. super high end PT system with sate of the art (for the day) clocking and converters ... the Yami was a control surface basically.
    kmetal likes this.
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I did a similar system like that from 1998 to 2006. Pro Tools Mix plus system using the Yami for a control surface and pre's. I compared clocking on either one and they both sounded terrible. So I stuck with the Yami as the clock, it was slightly better than the core interface.
    The auto faders impress the clients. But even so, I ended up using the mouse and hating everything about Pro Tools and control surface automated faders. I felt like a idiot using them.
    Complete nonsense, better off getting a console.

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