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Recording a grand piano

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Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Sat May 19, 2012 3:17 pm

I'm in the process of having a 1908 Bechstein grand restored witha view to recording it along with vocals.

There seems to be as many different mics as there are techniques for getting these beasts on to tape. I'm not treally in the braket of spending £000's on yer Neumanns Sheops etc (especially after the Bechstien rebuild!) so wondered what advice you might have for a less expensive alternative.

I'm looking for a good price performance ratio...should I use a stereo pair and if so, a pair of what (no sniggering)

I like the look of Mike Joly's Oktava mods on the MXL 603 matched pairs but, as has been mentioned before, its a hard thing to try before you buy in this field. Also the modded Apex 205s look (and sound on Mikes site) very nice.

Thanks for any input.

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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat May 19, 2012 3:45 pm

The room acoustics will influence what mic techniques might be appropriate. One option would be to hire some mics and experiment with mic and technique to find something that gives you what you want before committing to a purchase.

On the other hand, it's hard to go wrong with a pair of rode nt55s. Spaced omnis, ortf, cross cardioids, close mics... The options are numerous!

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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby John Willett » Sat May 19, 2012 4:59 pm

For good but affordable - a pair of Røde NT55 with the omni capsules (Or the NT5 + the optional omni capsules) is hard to beat at the price.

The room needs to be reasonable, of course, but a directional mic. will lose the bottom end of the piano which the omni will capture much better.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Sat May 19, 2012 9:16 pm

Thanks for replies. I have a Rode Classic which will be used for vocals so it seems quite neat to continue the Rode theme to the piano mics.

Now, the room. It's a bit political. The wife wants the Bechstien in the lounge (which is basically two 12' square rooms knocked into one whereas I want it in my (acoustically treated) studio. The only way I could talk her into letting me have my Hammond at Chrsitmas was if I gave way on the grand placement...

As I say the room will be around 20'x12' with a couple of window and 7'4" (ish) ceilings, I tried to swing a wooden floor but apparently this also is a deal breaker so it'll be carpet. Not the best room situation I know but the piano will be at one end with the lid opening into the room (firing through the longer dimension) so I guess reflections from opposing wall could be worse. Obviously with it being a living room it's going to be hard to explain bass trapping all over the place but I'm thinking if I close mic it this shouldn't be too much of a problem?
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby John Willett » Mon May 21, 2012 7:30 am

Sad about not having a wooden floor, but there are ways around this.

First get the piano in the room and positioned where it sounds best (maybe angled slightly so as not to excite standing waves).

If your wife wants it in the living room, I assume that she is a (the) pianist (?)

So, get her to play and you move around the room listening carefully - lut the mics at the position where it sounds best to your ears.

If you have problems with reflections from the far wall, try putting up a couple of mic. stands with boom arms at the far end, off the wall - have the stands at their highest and the boom arms horizontal and tape the ends of the arms together. Then hang a duvet over this. This should help tame the reflections and improve the sound.

If this works well, then I would consider having some heavy curtains at that end of the room that you could draw closed when recording.

Personally I would try a more distant mic. placement first and use the room (my starting position is normally about 20cm spacing at head height around 2m from the piano) and only go close if the distant placement really doesn't work.

Back to the floor - roll up wooden matting that you can put on top of the carpet when recording may help (I know someone who did this when they turned up at a church to do a recording and found out that, since his last session, they had carpeted the church and totally changed the acoustic - needless to say that this popular recording venue suddenly became a no-go area for recording and the church earned no more money from recordings) - alternatively, you could try some of those boards that B&Q, Homebase, etc., sell for flooring out the loft space - some of these on the floor over the carpet would liven up the acoustic and can easily be removed and stored when you have finished recording. Just some ideas.

I hope this helps.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Wed May 23, 2012 11:40 pm

No I'm the pianist (see avatar) she's the boss.

Does my room shape/dimesions alter the sort of mics to go for or would you still advise NT5s?
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu May 24, 2012 8:24 am

Stick with the NT55s. Best value for money and plenty of options for different techniques.

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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Thu May 24, 2012 8:54 am

Thanks, will do
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:15 pm

Just a quick question. Which AKG mics would people recommend for grand piano recording (if any) as I might be able to get hold of a second hand pair at a good price. And how would these compare with the NT 55s? Thanks.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby The Red Bladder » Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:38 pm

Oliver21 wrote:Now, the room. It's a bit political. The wife wants the Bechstien in the lounge (which is basically two 12' square rooms knocked into one whereas I want it in my (acoustically treated) studio. The only way I could talk her into letting me have my Hammond at Chrsitmas was if I gave way on the grand placement...

I think it's pretty obvious what you have to do.

Say to her "Darling, you are absolutely right. The piano must really go into the living room and now that I come think of it, it makes sense for the Hammond to go in there as well. And the Leslie, of course! As we now have got the two big keyboards in there, there really isn't much point in the synths being in the studio, so I'll move them in there as well. The only thing is, I now have almost nothing to record, so I think you will agree with me, when I say that the studio equipment should be in the living room, along with the mics, mic stands, speakers, amps and guitars. I mean - there's not much point in them being back there any more, is there? If it's too cramped, we can always use the studio as a living room, now that it's completely empty!"
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 2:12 pm

Except that the studio is actually bigger than the lounge...but I take your point
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby mjfe2 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 6:18 pm

Oliver21 wrote:Just a quick question. Which AKG mics would people recommend for grand piano recording (if any) as I might be able to get hold of a second hand pair at a good price. And how would these compare with the NT 55s? Thanks.


I've always wondered about AKG's ULS small-diaphragm mics because there's barely anything written or said about them. They're priced in competition with Neumann's KM180 series, and yet don't have anything near the same reputation.

Any users out there?
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Oliver21 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:19 pm

Do you mean the AKG C480?
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby didier.brest » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:33 pm

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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby twotoedsloth » Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:45 pm

I have Rode NT5/55s, and AKG c451bs, and c480s with cardioid and omni capsules.

To my ears, the 451s are a bit bright, the NT5s and NT55s with the cardioid capsule are a bit lean on the bass side (not the omni capsules though), and the c480s are really nice mellow sounding mics, to my ears, the best of the three I'm comparing here.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby mjfe2 » Wed Nov 14, 2012 6:00 pm

twotoedsloth wrote:I have Rode NT5/55s, and AKG c451bs, and c480s with cardioid and omni capsules.

To my ears, the 451s are a bit bright, the NT5s and NT55s with the cardioid capsule are a bit lean on the bass side (not the omni capsules though), and the c480s are really nice mellow sounding mics, to my ears, the best of the three I'm comparing here.

Interesting. What are the c480s with omnis like? I can't remember if they're diffuse-field equalised or not. With the NT5s it seems the omni capsule is what makes them special not the cardioid. Even the best cardioid mics still sound compromised to my ears, especially on choral recordings. There's nothing a pair of true omnis!
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby didier.brest » Wed Nov 14, 2012 11:34 pm

The current AKG CK 62-ULS cap has a flat response. The CK 62-DF for diffuse field is discontinued.

There is a nice comparison between the AKG C 460 B + CK 62-DF and DPA 4006 on orchestra here.

I found the omni cap NT45-O for the Rode NT5 being slow against transients when compared with the Oktava MK-012 fitted out with its omni cap. Two piano takes:
Rode NT5 + NT45-0
Oktava MK-012 omni
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Jeraldo » Thu Nov 15, 2012 8:17 pm

Acknowledging that I'm in a very small minority with this opinion:

I don't care for those Rodes (NT4,5,55). They have a peculiar wheezy quality that is especially obvious on two instruments: 1. Metal flute, and 2. Piano.

Starting from one octave above middle C and going upwards, they turn many pianos into some unpleasant electronic version and will turn a metal flute into a sort of half shakuhachi (not bad if that is what is wanted). I find this with both cardioid and omni capsules.

I know no one else feels this way, but there you have it.

I really like my Oktavas with all of the caps-especially the overlooked hypercardioid, but unless you select the capsules yourself and have the bodies modded, the probability is high that they will fail-and you may not get good capsules. You can get them modded after they fail, which is what I did.....

Adding to or seconding what didier has said:

The Line Audio cardioid, which has a sort of cardioid front/side with not much of a rear null is also good, and has a sound difficult to distinguish from the classic MKH series, except it's not as quiet of course, nor quite as fast, but you have the idea. It's very, very good on piano, and this may work very well for you. I can't stand hearing piano's close mic'd- but I love hearing the Line Audio mic's very close- or much further away. It's a big round sound with lots of fundamental!

Of all the mic's mentioned here, that may be best for your situation (if you were I).

A fantastic piano mic is the Shure KSM141, which is a medium diaphragm end fire omni/cardioid. This mic has a very thin diaphragm and excellent electronics. You will hear absolutely everything happen-the point the hammer contacts the string, the change in pitch after the contact and into the sustain and so on. It's a mic that behaves differently than other mic's when used as a cardioid, so it's something worth auditioning well before buying. They may be a little bright in a smaller room.

A pair of 414B/ULS are very good on piano. Even in a small room. In the past I recorded a lot of pianos (grands) in very small teaching studio rooms with MS, and all was great (or grand).

And then the endless list of almost every microphone made...especially ones in didier's list.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Jeraldo » Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:06 pm

I forgot to mention:

Check out the SOS article some time ago on microphones and pianos. I believe it was in two parts over two issues, and has informative recorded examples!
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby twotoedsloth » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:26 pm

Have you tried the NT5s for rudimental snare drum corps? I don't think anyone does that better than Rode.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby DC-Choppah » Fri Nov 23, 2012 3:36 am

I'm following this thread as I am in the process of learning how to mic my Estonia Parlor grand in my project studio.

So far, I see big differences in sound from the mic technique. More-so than from the mic choice itself.

Try to make peace with recording the piano in mono at the sound hole. This inevitably sounds the best in the mix with no phasing issues and no hammer noises.

You can create a stereo image with parallel aux tracks added with complementary shelving eq that simulates having the lower strings on your left and high on your right. This stays near 1 on the master channel stereo correlation meter for all frequencies.

You could try this unglamorous technique and see if you like it in the mix.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby Mike Senior » Fri Nov 23, 2012 7:11 am

DC-Choppah wrote:So far, I see big differences in sound from the mic technique. More-so than from the mic choice itself.

You're not wrong there.

Try to make peace with recording the piano in mono at the sound hole. This inevitably sounds the best in the mix with no phasing issues and no hammer noises.

I've always found that a bit congested-sounding, somehow, but I suppose it depends on what role the piano typically plays in your mixes.

You can create a stereo image with parallel aux tracks added with complementary shelving eq that simulates having the lower strings on your left and high on your right. This stays near 1 on the master channel stereo correlation meter for all frequencies.

Fine in a full mix, but I've always thought this widening technique can sound a bit strange on acoustic instruments if you're not careful. A bit of ambience reverb might be another option, albeit slightly less mono-compatible.
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Re: Recording a grand piano

Postby DC-Choppah » Sat Nov 24, 2012 3:26 am

Here is one of my latest composition/performance/productions recorded with the grand piano technique described above.

http://soundcloud.com/dc-choppah/milly
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