Going Beyond Natural Sound Part 5
Another interesting aspect of the project was that we used different microphones and miking techniques every time we recorded the guitar, each one being unique to the style we were trying to capture. Although we might be recording the same guitar, employing a different mike technique provided a different texture and feel. This approach proved particularly useful when we were doubling the guitars, but still wanted to retain a different identity for each instrument. There might be three parts; for example, each played by the same guitar. If you used the same technique of miking for each one, it wouldn’t be as easy to define the subtle differences, or for the listener to image each different part. By employing different texture for each part, it is easy for the listener to feel that he or she is hearing three distinctly different guitars.
Take as an example the Django Reinhardt passage we recorded for the album, which consists of two rhythm parts that were panned to the left and right sides of the stereo soundfield, and were recorded on two passes using a Shure SM57. Then for the lead sound, we employed a little bit of the Neumann U87 room mike, blending it in with the SM57 to add a little bit of a different texture and space. Early studios were small and acoustically dead, and during the Thirties and Forties live radio sounded better than the sound of a record.
Reinhardt was a Belgian guitarist who left a legacy of recording and transcriptions from radio broadcasts during the 1930s. Two members of his family also played guitar in the original quintet of the Hot Club of France. Chris and I wanted to portray the difference in the three guitar sounds that could not be heard on radio broadcasts or recordings made during this period.
The inherent quality of a microphone determines the choice of mike for a particular instrument. As an example, condenser microphones work very well on instruments that need ultra-clarity, or that produce sharp transients. Dynamics work well if you need to have a certain degree of sonic clarity, but also want a “warmer”, almost dull sound. And you’ll turn to a ribbon mike if, for example, you want to capture the “splatter” from a trumpet. We used a Coles 4038 on cornet – which worked beautifully – whereas a smoother, rounder-sounding Electro-Voice RE20 dynamic worked beautifully on tenor saxophone and a Neumann U47FET on baritone sax.
In terms of acoustic guitar, some mikes enhance the sound better on certain models of guitars than others – it really is a matter of putting up a microphone and listening to the instrument in the room. Then you can have your engineer go back into the control room and tape a few bars, and have him play it back for you to see if it sounds the same as it did in the studio, or that it sounds how you want it to sound. And, if it doesn’t sound quite right, change the microphone until you find something you like. When you get close to the sound you’re after, it usually requires a touch of equalization. But you shouldn’t try and save it in the control room by doing massive amounts of gymnastics on the console’s EQ section.
For the room miking we used omnidirectional microphones, because that’s exactly what we were after; the total sound of the room. We used cardiod patterns for the close mikes to prevent excessive leakage from other instruments or room splash, at the same time checking to make sure that the room omni mikes being introduced didn’t cause phase cancellation. In other words, we had to make sure that that room microphones was moved until its output was in-phase with that of the close mike picking up the original sources.