Q. How should I mic an accordion?

Published in SOS July 2010
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Hugh Robjohns, Mike Senior, Martin Walker

I'm recording a folk band soon, and the lead singer plays an accordion. I want to record most of the band live, but was concerned about spill from the accordion getting into the vocal mic. Fortunately, the singer says he's happy to overdub the accordion — doing just the vocals live — which should mean less spill, but I've never miked up an accordion before. I know that the sound projects from both ends, so a mic for each end would make sense. But, at the same time, I don't want a particularly wide sound. If I use two mics and pan them both more or less mono, will I get any nasty phase cancellations? Or is there a better way to mic an accordion if you, basically, want it to be mono?

Brian Rudd, via e‑mail

SOS Editor In Chief Paul White replies: I've recorded several folk outfits with accordions, so I think I can help. You're right in your impression that the sound comes from both sides of the accordion and, because the action of the bellows means that the instrument is always on the move, you need to keep the mics a little distance from the accordion, to prevent the level changing too much with movement. I generally use a pair of cardioid‑pattern mics, slightly forward of the accordion and set around 18 inches further apart than the width of the instrument. This spacing may need to be adjusted, depending on the instrument and its bellows extension. As you're not miking really close, the room acoustic will affect the sound, so improvise some absorbers with duvets or foam if you need to tame the room sound.

If you simply pan the two mics left and right, you will end up with the impression of a 20‑foot‑wide accordion, which is not what you want. I've never found any serious phasing problems when playing back in mono, but, for mixing I tend to use a stereo‑width adjustment plug‑in so that I can still have a bit of stereo spread on the instrument, but nowhere near as much as you'd get by panning the two mics hard left and right. If you don't have that facility, record the two mics onto two separate mono tracks, rather than as two halves of a stereo track, so that you can pan each independently. If you work in that way, group the two tracks (if you have that option) so that the two halves can't get nudged accidentally out of sync with each other when you're editing. If the level wanders a bit on playback, some gentle compression will help, but more serious fluctuations can usually be addressed using track‑level automation.  

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