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Favorite piano mics?

Hi All, I recently had the good fortune to work out a deal for a friend's grand to live at my studio in exchange for free studio time. It's been a while since I had the opportunity to record any real piano tracks and I intend to beef up my mic arsenal. It's a vintage 6' Knabe in a large, live room with cathedral ceiling. Let the opinions rip!


bap Wed, 01/14/2004 - 12:34
Not able to give real mic advice, but one place where I play a bit uses the Earthworks a few feet directly above a Yamaha C7 [lid removed]. I think it sounds pretty good, but this guy generally records reality without sound manipulation or coloration.
I haven't seen a Knabe for about 20 years, and never played one in really good condition. They can be pretty good instruments. You might have it checked out by a competent piano tech - a beat up instrument won't sound good no matter what mics are being used.

jonyoung Wed, 01/14/2004 - 12:57
coats, First thing I did was have a tech come over (after the appropriate adjustment period of two weeks). It's a 1903 made of rosewood, killer sounding piano (pix on my webpage, see profile if you want a peek). The tuner was drooling :D . Seems like the Earthworks are stacking up the votes, thanks guys, and keep those votes rolling in.

lorenzo gerace Wed, 01/14/2004 - 14:25
I have never used the Earthworks, though I know they're good mics; personally I recorded several times with a pair of the standard AKG 414 B-ULS, right over the hammers, on the treble side, and on the bass strings, about 2'over them; Neumann KM 184 are real good and bright; my favourite approach (when available) is to use a stereo pair (XY or ORTF)about 7' outside of the curve, then place two AKG boundary mics (but I belive other Boundary mics could be good too), with little rubber suspensions, directly inside the piano, laying over the harp, one on the treble side, the other on the beass strings; then you mix the two boundary with the stereo pair to taste for added definition, the sound is killer.
B&K 4011 seem to be one of the most used by some top engineers.

Hope this helps


henryrobinett Wed, 01/14/2004 - 14:43
I recorded that piano last year. A 6 foot Knabe. I used two 414BULS as well. They went into two Dakings. The recording was problematic though for several reasons. It was a jazz trio with vocalist. Upright bass and drums in the same room. So isolation was a problem. Only the songer was isolated. Also the piano was too small for what we really needed/wanted. We needed a 9 foot grand. The bass response was a little shallow.

All came out fine I think. Were I a better engineer maybe it would have been better. But you can't turn a 6' into a 9'.

jonyoung Wed, 01/14/2004 - 15:19
hr, I know what you mean, I used to work at a studio in Boston that had a 9' Bosendorfer, the Titanic of pianos. Still, I'm pleasantly surprised at the low end sound on this piece, balances well with the rest of the range and nice definition. I look forward to getting some tracks in the can and putting a clip on my site. BTW, I recently had a friends jazz quintet in as a guinae pig session to iron out the wrinkles with my new setup....he's the vocalist and upright bassist, refuses to OD vocals. Talk about iso problems! Thanks for the kind words, coats!

bap Wed, 01/14/2004 - 15:49
I'd love it if you'd post something done with this piano. I'm learning to record and, though I have a couple of fine instruments at home [a new Sauter and a 1928 Steinway] my room leaves much to be desired. The church where I play is a nice room and has a 7' Schimmel which, though not as nice as a Sauter or Bosendorfer, is a fine instrument. I have no omni's but may have to get some.

I am interested in hearing piano and room, not so much gear [coloration and fx]. Studios where I play that use close mic technique are usually doing pop, commercial, jingles, etc..

I know when I like a piano or a room [hall], but a recorded sound seems somewhat elusive.

henryrobinett Wed, 01/14/2004 - 20:45
What do you guys think of a couple of AT4050s on piano? For my personal mic cabinet for my jazz group I was either going to use my AT4050s (I only have one the other's on order) on piano and the Oktava MK012s as overheads or the Oktavas on piano and the AT4050s on overheads. My other choice is to pick up a couple of those MXLV69s (I have a line on a deal). I haven't had a chance to use any of these mics in this context. Anyone have an opinion about these options?

At the studio I normally record at it's not a problem. Got mics and pres for days. No piano though! But this is a more mobile rig I'm putting together.

anonymous Wed, 01/14/2004 - 21:57
Studios where I play that use close mic technique are usually doing pop, commercial, jingles, etc..
I know Coats, it's painfull. My former professor Robert Hamilton was telling me about this kind of engineer. On the recording he put the mics inside of the piano, and during the mastering presisely counted 4 seconds rests between variations in Schumann's Symphonic Etudes. :s: :s: :s:
When I was recording him, he was quite surprised when I spent 6 hours for micing and trying different mics. It was in Katzin hall at ASU. Wonderfull acoustics, and two Steinways--Hamburg and New York. Interesting thing--Hamburg sounds much better in the hall, and has much better regulation and voicing, but finally, we decided that New York sounded better on the recording. We tried some mics including U87, borrowed B&K 4007 with Jecklin disk, and ribbons. Finally, he choosed ribbons in MS setup. The decision was made also considering the type of music--Ravel and Rachmaninov. Ravel's Mirroire sounded nicely with B&K's, but Rachmaninov sounded awfull. The recording is gonna be issued on Summit label next year.
So, what was my point?... Oh yeah--don't buy mics until you actually tried them in particular situation.

jonyoung Thu, 01/15/2004 - 08:34
coats, I'll send you a message when I get something uploaded. I was taught old school, track with no EQ or effects (I track on a Mackie SDR2496, will probably mic through a tube pre. It certainly will sound different than 2" tape.) Get the sound you want up front and the rest is a snap. I doubt my room has a long enough decay to do any serious classical justice, but certainly jazz. Marik, it sounds as if that engineer comes from a strictly pop & rock background. That's mostly what I do here, but I'm fortunate to have worked on some classical projects as a naive assistant years ago. I count on getting some spillover work from other indie project studios in town who need piano, strings or horns on something. Live rooms are great!

anonymous Thu, 01/15/2004 - 14:02

I woud also suggest to play with positioning of the piano in the room, but I am sure you know that.
As said before, the biggest challenge would probably be getting a nice bass out of the 6' instrument. But pianos this old have nice and dried with time sound boards, so it might be not as big of the issue.

jonyoung Thu, 01/15/2004 - 14:46
Marik, the layout of my room dictates where the piano is living, but I think it works well as far as taking best advantage with a couple of room mics. Even when doing pop stuff, I'll probably throw a room mic up for extra flavoring :) The bass quality of this instrument is surpassing my expectations, but then again, I'm not a pianist!

Davedog Thu, 01/15/2004 - 16:09
Back in the old studio. we had a very similar setup.Large vaulted room with a sunken living room next to it(all open)and a 6' Hardman from about 1924.A very nice sounding piano.Anyway, there were four channels ran out to this location from the main room and four phones lines.We recorded a LOT of tracks this way. Mostly what we wound up using was a pair of Neumann U87i's and an occasional SM81 buried in the sound holes in the harp.Sometimes I would put a piece of plexiglass under the piano and stick a Crown PZM on it with a U87 above and a SM81 tight in the upper areas. Good luck and what a nice piece to compliment a room.The only people who're gonna want the extra 3' are the classicos.

anonymous Thu, 01/15/2004 - 16:32
The only people who're gonna want the extra 3' are the classicos.
Making fun of us, Davedog? :( :p

Have you ever heard CD "Saturday Night At The Blue Note" with Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, and Bobby Durham released on Telarc? IMO, it is one of the best Jazz piano, and piano at all recordings ever made, apart of performance. 9' Bosendorfer and B&K 4011... :w:

anonymous Fri, 01/16/2004 - 05:17
I'll throw in another vote for the Earthworks omni's. Gotten great results with those.

I think the best sound I've ever gotten, however, was with Royer ribbon microphones. It was a fairly bright Yamaha piano, so they may have taken a little edge off, but still the sound was very natural. We had an SF-12 fairly close to the piano and a pair of R121's outside in the room, and I actually preferred the R121's. Not sure if it had more to do with the microphones or the position, but they all sounded great in any case.


jonyoung Fri, 01/16/2004 - 05:53
Telarc......those guys are Gods! I have Oscar Peterson Live in Paris on that label, phenomenal sounding. Well, I have lots of mics to look at now. Fortunately, some of them are in friends' collections for auditioning purposes, others I guess I'll try on approval. By all means, keep the suggestions coming, and thanks for all the encouragement and input. If anyone ever makes it through Nashvegas here, please look me up.

henryrobinett Fri, 01/16/2004 - 06:03
For the jazz I do 9' is the piano, but we rarely have one. Theonly other mic pair I've used in my limited piano experience is Royer 121. Sounded great.

All the real jazz pianists use 9 footers. Chick Corea, Jarrett, Hancock (when he plays one).

But nobody has an answer for my query? For my Mobile rig I have a couple of AT4050s and a couple of Oktava MK012s. I'm figuring the Oktavas on the overheads; they're bright, and the AT4050s on the piano. We like a slightly darker piano sound, rather than the usual very bright sound found in pop music.

anonymous Fri, 01/16/2004 - 07:21
I'm not really familiar with the Oktava microphones, but from what I've heard I'd probably agree that the relatively neutral 4050's would be a better choice for a piano. Nice to have the different pattern options for different sounds, etc. I've used 414ULS's and gotten fine results with them, and they're somewhat similar.


henryrobinett Fri, 01/16/2004 - 07:38
Yes, mad scientist indeed. It won't be for a little while till I record our group with the piano/drums. These are my new utility mics. I'm not that familiar with them either. That's why I'm asking. Sometimes I like to KNOW as much as possible before experimenting. Hmm. That's not really possible is it? That's why I'm more the musician than the engineer. Only YOU know what works for you anyway, right?

I'm much more familiar with our studio mics and these aren't included in them.

Yeah, I'm much more familiar with the 414s and if the 4050s are in this same ballpark I'm happy.


anonymous Mon, 01/19/2004 - 19:54
I recently used a Neuman U47 and an AKG 451. I placed the 47 over the harp about 18" were it sounded best when I stuck my head under the hood. This spot is individual to most pianos I encounter. I put the 451 about 3" back over "c" one octave over middle "c" around 10" high facing the high end of the keys. The sound was very open and warm with a nice high end to it that wasn't too glassy. I warmed up the 451 and brightened the 47 using the J9000's channel EQ. No compression was used at tracking. :p:

jonyoung Tue, 01/20/2004 - 07:31
slicraider, My mentor (now in the big studio in the sky) taught me the under the hood appraoch for where to mic anything. It's the most common sense recording technique I ever learned. Nice to see someone else endorse it! My reason for starting this thread is I need to beef up my mic collection this coming year, and I hope/expect the grand to become a main attraction, being I'm one of the very few project level studios in Nashville to have one in a decent size room. I'll have to scour the want ads for a 47.

e-cue Wed, 01/21/2004 - 02:27
C12's into a BA racked Neve 3405, U87's into the AD MP-2 Tube Pre, or if the top of the piano is off Sony 800G's into the AD MP-2 is effin' awesome. If I compress I usually have the ratios at about 8:1 but the threshold set very high so it only touched the mad dynamics, if at all. I've become a fan of the Aphex CX compressors on Piano with the Nightpro EQ3D post compressor with a smig-a-meter of Air (if needed) and whatever is nessasry there after.

cruisemates Thu, 01/29/2004 - 14:57
Back in my day . . .

I depends on what kind of piano music you are recording. Once you get a feel for mics you know what I mean.

For example; if I am doing a solo piano piece that uses the full range of keys I would opt for a pair of Neumann u-87s in a stereo pair over the hammers or perhaps a foot below the hammers (depending on how bright I want it). Why? Because a u-87 tends to capture all frequencies at the same volume (very little bass or treble boost). It also has fairly uniform proximity effect within the full of the piano keys so the far away bass or treble keys will be about the same volume as the middle of the keyboard.

But if I am doing a country, jazz or blues session I would opt for a AKG 414 stereo pair closer to the hammers. Why? to get the bright attack sound of the hammers hitting the strings for that "cut through" piano sound I will want on the brief piano solos I need to boost in the mix.

If the piano is the feature instrument in a fairly crowded mix I just might choose to emphasize the high notes by putting a small condensor (AKG452) on the top 1/3 of the harp near the hammers and an 87 somewhere in the lower middle of the soundboard. You won't get an even full-range of the piano sound, but for a pianist who plays mostly bass notes to chords with his left hand and a lot of fast notes up top it will give you the clarity and definition for his high range solos that he will probably want to show off.

Bottom line, be adaptable and experiment.

cruisemates Thu, 01/29/2004 - 15:00
and one more thing...

when you are miking the hammers, do not point the mic directly at the top of the hammers. Is that what you want to hear - the sound of wood mechnisms dropping felt? No, you want the sound of the string right at the point of impact. Move the mic a few inches below the hammers and point them at the spot where the hammer hits thee string.

Fruition2k Thu, 01/29/2004 - 19:26
Favorite ??? Might be far out of reach for many but one Jazz session I assisted for Mack Emerman when I was at Criteria we used an AKG stereo C24 on the Eric Clapton (Layla) Steinway piano. What else can I say but OMG - beautiful - and going though an SSL6000 to a Mitsubishi X800. Everytime I think about it I want to sell my M269 and get an SM69 or C24....but....that legendary piano is 80% of the equasion.... so magical.

Thomas W. Bethel Sun, 02/01/2004 - 05:50
1> C-414's in figure 8 with the lid removed. Placement depended on the piano.

2> AT4050's in a DECCA TREE arrangement about 7 feet back from the piano (depends a lot on how the room sounds)

3> BK4006's over the piano with the lid removed. Placement depended on the piano.

The MOST IMPORTANT POINT in recording piano is to make sure the instrument is properly tuned and in good playing condition with no squeaks rattles or other mechanical problems. The pedals should be practically "thump" free and sostenuto pedal should be adjusted for the best overall release without the "harp" effect some pianos (STEINWAY ESPECIALLY) show when the foot is taken off the pedal. The other thing is to make sure your studio stays at a normal temperature and humidity during the recording session and that the piano tech call be on call if you need him for problems. There is nothing that can put a damper (excuse the pun) on a piano recording like a broken string, hammer problem or mechanical noise that can ruin a perfect recording job.

I do lots of classical recordings and the best friend you can have is a good piano tech who knows what he or she is doing and is efficient when it comes to solving problems.

Another word of warning is to make sure the piano is in the space for a couple of days (or a week) before you have it tuned and before the recording session goes on as pianos need to acclimate themselves into new spaces (especially in very cold or very warm weather)


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