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Tutorial: Tips for Recording Orchestral Stringed Instruments

By moosers on 01/03/2010 - (Anyone)

Introduction

In this tutorial, I will aim to give some tips and pointers about how to go about recording orchestral stringed instruments like violin, viola, cello, and double bass.  This can often be tricky and overwhelming for those who don't have much experience doing this, so hopefully this helps!

Step 1

The main thing that I try to keep in mind when recording orchestral stringed instruments, is that most of the time I try to take a different approach than that for recording traditional rock or pop instruments.  Depending on the genre that you are recording, often times classical musicians will be looking or a different sound than a rock musician, so keeping this in mind is crucial to getting the proper sound.  For example, while a country fiddler might be looking for a sound up close and personal, a classical violinist might want something with a bit more air to breath.  While all players and genres are different, being able to adapt to different situations for different types of players and sounds is a key element for an engineer recording orchestral instruments.

Step 2

Probably the most recorded orchestral stringed instrument that I come across is the violin, and often times it can be the trickiest.  There are a variety of different approaches that you can take when recording a single violin, but I usually tend to stick to recording them with a condenser microphone, which is what I'm sure most other engineers will do as well.  I like to have as much detail as possible in my violin sounds, and using a condenser is the best way to do so.  Another consideration to take into account is placement of the microphone.  It is crucial that you don't get too close to the instrument in my opinion, as this will often result in a tinny sound.  I always try to give a bit of space in between the microphone and the instrument as I find it picks up a more realistic sound of the violin overall.  Depending on if you want more of the strings sound rather the resonance from the body, make sure to place the mic accordingly.  The viola is another instrument where these guidelines can be taken into account, but should be slightly altered through experimentation as it is a different instrument.

Step 3

The next instrument that I would like to examine is the cello.  I tend to take more a conservative approach when recording cello, although there are variety of ways that the instrument can be recorded.  I like using two different microphones to record cello since it is a larger instrument and has sound coming from more angles.  For starters, if I have a tube condenser microphone around I will generally use it in tandem with a small diaphragm condenser.  I find that placing the tube mic near the bridge and the small diaphragm mic above the cello generally gets me a pretty full sound.  I always try to give myself as many options as possible in terms of blending, so having the two feeds available for mixing is a good idea in my opinion.

Step 4

The last orchestral stringed instrument that I would like to talk about is the double bass.  Please keep in mind that I'm talking about the double bass being played in a traditional sense rather than a stand up bass style, as there is a difference.  Like the cello, I find that a tube condenser mic around the bridge of the instrument is a good starting point.  However, your sound will change drastically the higher up you place the mic, so I would suggest experimenting with your placement to see what type of sound works for you.  I generally feel that the single mic is enough as it is the low end that is important for the double bass and something to pick up the higher frequencies isn't always necessary for me...

Step 5

Another factor to keep in mind is that recording orchestral instruments individually and in a group is an entirely different process.  For the individual player, you're mostly likely going to want a different set up than for if you were recording a string quartet.  This is because the dynamics and the way the sound travels and interacts with each other will be different in both situations.  Rather than individually micing up each instrument in a group performance, I'll generally place a few select microphone throughout the room that I feel will get the job done.  This isn't to say that micing up each instrument is a bad thing, it just isn't always necessary.  It totally depends on the size of the group and what you've got to work with...

Conclusion

Please keep in mind that these are tips and guidelines and not rules!  You should definitely experiment and try new things out as everyone is different and you never knew what will work for you!