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I have a 1968 Sohner upright piano in pretty good shape. I am doing some recording with it and I have to mic the piano, something I have never done before. I have two MXL MXLV63M mics and one Shure SM58, recording into PT with the Digi002.

I am in a home - basement (carpeted), paneled walls & stucco ceiling with typical furniture. I have soundproofing that I am going to put up all around to deaden the room as much as possible.

Can anyone recommend a good mic configuration? I am thinking one behind the piano and possibly opening up the top. What about distance? How far should they be from the piano?

I know that a lot of it is trial and error, but I wanted to start with a good setup and some expert advice and tweak it from there.


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JoeH Tue, 08/09/2005 - 13:44

We should probably move this post over to the acoustic music forum, but for now....

Don't get too caught up in deadening your room just yet.... Upright pianos can sound pretty ugly all on their own. Sometimes the acoustic of the room will help, rather than hinder what you're trying to do.

For starters, you may want to move it out from the walls and have someone play it in the middle of the room; wander around and listen to it from all sides. You may want to take the front kickboard out as well...that sometimes helps, sometimes not. Experimenting is the key, and you'll want to get as much sound of that beast as you can.

No way should you use the SM58 on a piano like that, unless you're stuck on a live gig with nothing else to use. (Hell, it happens, I know..been there, done that!) Check the sound coming out of the top with the lid open, certainly. You may want to try to put a stereo pair - cardioid, most probably - just above the opened top. (Avoid the temptation to stick a mic DOWN inside there, it'll pick up too much of any one key or groups of notes in that narrow opening....lopsided, over-exaggerated sounds will result.)

If you pull it out from the wall (assuming you're doing solo piano recordings?) you may find some good "Sweet-spots" around the back of the piano. (This is similar to the underneath of the soundboard in a concert grand piano, so it may sound more boxy and less detailed than you'd like.)

Again, you can remove the lower kickboard as well as the front (music rack) area of the piano above the keys, and mic it somewhat like a vertical Grand Piano, if you can imagine; try one on the top right (above the keys) and one on the lower left (by the pedals, below the keyboard). Remember, the big differences between grands and uprights are how the harp itself is positioned. Grands are flat - horizontal, uprights are vertical.

In the end, you may find a blend of the above mic positions will yield the best results. (You didn't say what genre of music you're doing, and/or if there will be other instruments playing along. That may influence the sound you're going for.)

I would think a pair of SP C3's will get you started if budget is a concern. They come with omni AND cardioid capsules, so you can experiment with that as well. The MXVV6 3M may prove to be too much of a good thing, as well....not sure if I'd want to record a piano with an LD Side adress cardioid mic, but hey if it works (esp on the soundboard area?), give it a shot!

anonymous Wed, 08/10/2005 - 04:25

I occaisonally record upright piano ( I have a beautiful one myself),
and I have been taught to do it a simple way;
I open the top and put a SM57 halfway between middle C and the highest key and put a SM57 halfway between middle C and the lowest key. The natural acoustics of the inside of the piano usually do the job so you wont need and FX, reverb or acoustic treatment for that matter. I do strongly agree with 'JoeH' on his use of the word 'ugly' to describe the piano. You can also use any substitute mics you want, possibly a nice condensor mic i 'spose. (I'm not really into fancy mics I just use the basics.)

JoeH Wed, 08/10/2005 - 07:38

Sorry, no, the SM58 and SM57 microphones are not good mic's for piano or various other serious recording situations.

Don't get me wrong, they're wonderful mics for what they're intended to do, and it's fun breaking the rules and trying different tools for different jobs. But so we're clear, both mics are dynamic mics, with cardioid pickup patterns. They are not condenser mics, which means the level of detail they pick up is limited (it's a magnet & coil, not a charged plate, so there's no phantom power needed), and the cardioid pickup pattern can get boomy and warm. (Which is why 58's sound GREAT on vocals, esp when you're right up on top of them. Ditto for the 57 on snares and guitar cabs.)

They're just not a great choice for picking up something as complex and percussive as a piano, be it an upright or concert grand. I wish I had a dollar for every rock and roll gig I've seen where a 58 was crammed into the top or the back of an upright or spinet. (That still doesn't make it right! :roll: ) They WILL give you a specific sound, but not nec. a good sound.

Elorson asked a serious question about the right way to record a piano. The fact that it's upright doesn't mean it deserves any less when it comes to mic choices.

anonymous Wed, 08/10/2005 - 08:59

Good Feedback

Thanks for all the tips. I only have the 2 MXL MXLV63M, so I will have to use those. I'll play with different arrangements and see what works.

The piano has been recently tuned and does sound really nice. I am recording old jazz standards. My father plays piano and wants to record some songs from his days playing the NYC jazz clubs in the late 50's & 60's. He does basically jazz trio stuff, so the piano is the main instrument and needs to be clear and present but not too bright, as the feel of that type of music is very mellow.

The recording will be just the piano at first, then he will want to track drums and bass down the road.

I will be doing the recording this weekend. Maybe I could post the results and get some comments/advice on my work? Is there a way to do that?



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