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Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

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Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby guillome2k » Fri Nov 01, 2019 9:14 am

Hi people!

Ive got a question about recording a Steinway concert grand piano.
The dampers make much noise when they are lifted from te strings. Like they stick a little to the string and then release it. It makes a lot of string sound.

Check the youtube video, the sound for 1 key is not realy noticable on the phonerecord, but live you really hear it. You`ll hear some when i lift all with the pedal.

The flat dampers doesnt make such sound.

https://youtu.be/eD41vQQiNyY

I hope there are tips to avoid it or reduce it.

Thanks in advance!
Wim te Groen
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Nov 01, 2019 10:19 am

Damper noise is a part of the instrument, just as key clicks are part of the sound of wind instruments, and blower noise and tracker clacking is part of the sound of a pipe organ... Physical elements are in contact with one another and moving and rubbing on each other... that all makes noise.

A good piano technician can often improve the level of mechanical noise slightly by servicing/replacing parts and setting the piano's action and mechanisms up well... but there will always be some noise.

As with all recording of musical instruments, careful mic placement can minimise the pickup of mechanical noises to some degree, depending on the room and its acoustics. Close miking will always make the mechanical noises much worse, of course. Distance helps massively... but distant miking techniques obviously require a good acoustic space to record in.

There's also the issue of playing technique. In many cases the mechanical noises are actually caused by the way the damper pedal and keys are physically operated by the player... just as finger squeaks on an acoustic guitar are down to the player's technique more than the build of the physical instrument!

H
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Eddy Deegan » Fri Nov 01, 2019 11:39 am

guillome2k wrote:Check the youtube video, the sound for 1 key is not realy noticable on the phonerecord, but live you really hear it. You`ll hear some when i lift all with the pedal.

That's exactly what I would expect it to sound like, and there would be something weird about the piano if it didn't!

Korg, Yamaha and other synth manufacturers spend a lot of time and money reproducing this effect on some of their higher-end synthesizers in order to improve the realism of their piano sounds ;)

The higher keys you lift right at the end of the video seem to have slightly more mechanical noise in their movement than the lower ones, which you could look into if you don't like it but from what I can tell (listening at volume on decent headphones) everything is sounding fine to me.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby The Elf » Fri Nov 01, 2019 11:48 am

Embrace these things - it's what makes them real instruments!
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby John Willett » Fri Nov 01, 2019 4:41 pm

I agree with everything that has been said so far.

Recording piano is my speciality - most often a Steinway D.

Mechanical noise can be minimised with mic. placement - but do not compromise the sound to minimise the noise as (as has been said) it *is* part of the instrument.

When I record a recital we often have a piano technician at the session who tunes the piano in the morning and at lunchtime and is available for any tweaks required during the session.

If it is particularly noisy, then you really need a technician.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Nov 01, 2019 10:56 pm

Then again, some musicians not only embrace the mechanical imperfections of their pianos, but even enhance them to create a more 'intimate' sound.

Nils Frahm is the person I'm thinking of most in this capacity - he originally damped down the hammers of his piano to reduce sound levels so he could play later at night with nearby neighbours to contend with), but ended up turning this new sound into a feature of his compositions.

There are various other musicians who've taken a similar tack in preparing pianos (anyone spotting the pun here should give themselves five extra points ;) ).

More info here if anyone is interested:

https://flypaper.soundfly.com/discover/ ... the-piano/


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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Tim Gillett » Sat Nov 02, 2019 5:56 am

The damper noise might be "part of the instrument" but is it part of the intended sound?
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby ef37a » Sat Nov 02, 2019 7:01 am

Tim Gillett wrote:The damper noise might be "part of the instrument" but is it part of the intended sound?

One might argue not but the grand piano was developed to play to people tens of mtrs away where the clanking and clumping would not be noticed.
Until we get recording systems that can ignore/allow for poor acoustics as our ears and brains do we shall just have to do the best we can in individual circumstances?

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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby The Red Bladder » Sat Nov 02, 2019 4:58 pm

As stated above - distance.

Also -

This may not apply to the OP but (IMO) there's just too much DIY footsie-tootsie romantic guff being played lately which is usually just an exercise in harmonies and progressions and of course, the dampers and all the other mechanical noises of a pianoforte are very noticeable as some of the notes are at the very limits of the softest of sounds. They just think of the piano bit and forget the forte!

The pianoforte was designed to go several rounds head-to-head with an orchestra!

If the tootsie-footsie brigade were to play the instrument properly, they wouldn't hear the dampers. Anybody - listen to Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto in B-flat minor and tell me you can hear the dampers!
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby DC-Choppah » Sat Nov 02, 2019 10:05 pm

Using mics right over the strings will pick up the most damper noise. Add other mics, especially room mics away from the piano and at the stick/lid point ala Al Schmitt. Also add one mic right at the sound hole. Blend these mics together. Use time delay to time align them Upward compress the mics away from the strings so that they have the same closeness sound as the string mics.

Now during a quiet part, the non-string mics will dominate due to the upward compression and you won't hear the dampers. But when the piano is playing louder, the string mics will dominate but then there is no damper sounds being played to pick up.

One producer I know always records using the sound hole and room mics because he doesn't want to hear the dampers.

So when you record all of the mic options, then when you mix you can always edit out the dampers transparently.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Nov 03, 2019 2:37 am

AKAIK we can't capture the quietest played piano notes and not capture the damper and other noises. Distant micing will only tend to mask both.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby DC-Choppah » Sun Nov 03, 2019 3:28 am

Tim Gillett wrote:AKAIK we can't capture the quietest played piano notes and not capture the damper and other noises. Distant micing will only tend to mask both.

A sound hole mic captures the quiet stuff without hearing the dampers. You still get the attack from the hammers, but with a different tone. It will need some eq to blend with the brighter string mics. But it is damper-free.

Upward compress this sound-hole mic to make it dominate during quiet parts. Over-the-string mics take over during louder sections.

It's a nice option to have when you mix it.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Nov 03, 2019 5:25 am

guillome2k wrote:Hi people!

Ive got a question about recording a Steinway concert grand piano.
The dampers make much noise when they are lifted from te strings. Like they stick a little to the string and then release it. It makes a lot of string sound...

You're right but the noise you have isolated here needs to be heard in the context of a performance on that same piano. In a real pp or ppp passage, how does it sound? Is it a problem for the listener?

Also the sustain pedal is always initiated while notes are already sounding - otherwise there would be nothing to sustain. To some degree or other, those already sounding notes will mask the sound of the dampers releasing.

But as already mentioned too, for serious live performance or recording sessions, pianos are normally prepared to be in top condition, which includes the dampers and their actions. That "sticking" you mention could be the result of the tapered felts having become conformed to the shape of the strings. When released, the felt may make more than the normal noise as it escapes from or "pops" off the string.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby Arpangel » Sun Nov 03, 2019 8:26 am

There should be no sticking of anything, of course, there will be some damper noise, but it shouldn't be unduly obtrusive. I have a Bluthner Grand piano, and there is no damper noise that's ever got into any of my recordings, in fact, it's very quiet, I would expect your Steinway to be the same if not better in this respect.
I've put mic's over the action, and still no obtrusive noise, I'd recommend the foot of the piano as a starting point, but ultimately, I think maybe your piano needs regulating by someone who knows Steinways, that's very important.
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Re: Recording Steinway grand piano - damper noise

Postby guillome2k » Tue Nov 05, 2019 9:29 am

Thank you all for your reactions!

First: i agree to embrace the sounds. It makes the recording feel real.

The first recording i used Neumann 103 mics, and there the sound was really too loud to embrace. It was bumpy (low bass noise) and also high frequency string noise.
This made pp and ppp passages very a-relaxed to listen to.

Fortunately, i could also use the Neumann 193 mics, and as a miracle, this mics nearly doesn`t record the noise! I don`t know how, but the sound is perfect:
You still hear some pedal/damper noise, but very subtile and soft and real, and not annoying or blocking your ppp feeling.

But still weird that a Steinway from 2011 in top condition makes such noise. You really hear the string noise while playing p pp or ppp passages.
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