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Q. What's the best way to record a psaltery?

By Various

Can you offer any suggestions for which type of microphone to use to record a psaltery? I know there will be a huge difference in both price and quality, but I just need somewhere to start. An idea of the type of microphone would be helpful — for example, condenser or ribbon. Also, any information about recording techniques would be useful as well. I'll be recording this along with electric bass, djembe and possibly udu. I'll be using Cakewalk's SONAR X1 with M-Audio's ProFire 610 and a Radial JDV direct box and it will be recorded in a small room that is not acoustically treated.

Jeff Van Beek via SOS web site

For recording acoustic stringed instruments with resonant bodies, such as the psaltery, a small-diaphragm condenser is a good bet — particularly if it offers a choice of capsules, as does the Rode NT55 (pictured).For recording acoustic stringed instruments with resonant bodies, such as the psaltery, a small-diaphragm condenser is a good bet — particularly if it offers a choice of capsules, as does the Rode NT55 (pictured).

SOS Editor In Chief Paul White replies: For an affordable solution I'd look at a good small-diaphragm condenser microphone, because these can usually handle most acoustic instruments well, and they'll pick out the transient detail in the sound. There are plenty of such small-diaphragm mics from various manufacturers such as Neumann, AKG, Sontronics and Oktava, which might work well, but the Rode NT55 is my own go-to affordable acoustic instrument mic and I know that would do this job well.

As for the mic position, my rule of thumb about using the physical length of the instrument body as the initial mic distance should work, with the mic pointing towards the sound board but not directly at any sound holes. You can then try moving the mic closer while listening to how the overall tonality is affected, but try not to get the mic closer than half the body length. If you can get the desired separation from the other instruments using improvised screens (if you're on a budget, polyester duvets should do the trick) then an omni capsule may produce the most natural-sounding results in an acoustically sympathetic room. That's one reason that I like the NT55: it has changeable capsules. If this doesn't give the desired results, the cardioid capsule will improve the separation slightly and pick up less room ambience — but you may have to experiment a little more with the exact positioning to find the sweet spot for the instrument.  

Published November 2013