Microphones On Instruments & Vocals

There is no "one right and only way" with it comes to mic techniques, but here are some approaches that have proven successful

Here’s a look at the way I use microphones on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, upright bass guitar, electric bass guitar, horns and vocals.

Keep in mind that this is the way I mic these instruments - you should not take it as the “right and only way”. Experiment, listen carefully and try to find “cool sounds” on your own.

Let’s begin with the acoustic guitar. Almost every acoustic guitarist I’ve worked with has had an internal pickup built into his or her instrument. This makes any sound mixers’ life tons easier for two reasons.

One: we can use a direct box (I like Countryman Type 85), which gives us greater gain before feedback than would a microphone.

Two: the pickup is in a fixed position on the instrument, meaning no matter what the person playing the guitar does (flips, stage dives, summersaults), we will get a constant and stable sound source.

Countryman Type 85 DI If we were using a microphone on a stand, any movement of the player holding the instrument would effect the signal.

Of course I’ve had a few players who did not have a pickup. When this happens I usually use an Audio-Technica ATM63 or Shure SM57, placing it as close to the instrument as possible and aiming it at the top of the sound hole. This provides a good combination of the body and the neck resonance.

The closer the mic is to the center of the sound hole, the more mid range (sustain) and less high end (scratch).

Here’s something else to try. Use both DI (direct box) and a mic. Now the gain on the mic can be turned up without having to worry about it feeding back in the monitors. (Only put the DI in the monitors.) I’ve gotten some pretty big sounding acoustics with this technique.

Let’s move along to the electric guitar. Electric guitarists take pride in their sound and are usually particular about what kind of amplifier they play through, so capturing that sound can be particularly important.

I usually use an ATM63 or SM57 and place it against the grill of the amp, aiming it at the speaker cone.

Looking at a speaker, the center part is called the dust cover (It looks like a little dome), and around that dust cover is the cone section. The cone is the part of the speaker that is vibrating the air to make sound.

Sometimes guitar amps have multiple speakers, so it’s always good to ask guitarists if all their speakers are, first of all, working, and then if the speakers are all getting the same signal.

If they’re running a stereo feed, consider using two mics to capture that effect. I like putting the mic right against the grill if it’s made of some type of fabric.

However, if it’s made of metal, then it’s usually best to place the mic about a quarter of an inch (1/4-inch) away - you probably don’t want the sound of the metal resonating against the mic.

Moving on to the upright bass guitar. Rarely in the rock world do we see these bad boys, but they’re popular with jazz and folk styles.

The first consideration is if the bass guitar has a pickup. Usually they do - the cost of a pickup is peanuts compared to the cost of the almost six foot tall, hand-made instrument.

What I like to do is use a DI on the pickup and miking the amp with an Audio-Technica ATM25, and than combining the two inputs. I use the DI to get that “high-end snap” of the strings and the mic to get the “low-end meat” of the instrument body.

If the upright bass doesn’t have a pickup, then consider aiming the mic just above the bridge, as close as possible without getting in the way of the musician.

The bridge is the piece of carved wood that stands between the two f-holes on the body of the bass, and it suspends the strings. Pluck the string, it vibrates, and that vibration is sent to the body of the bass through the bridge.

Next, electric bass. Usually I get a good signal just with the DI.

However, for more “bass driven” music, adding a microphone provides more to work with. I put the mic (again, ATM25) about a quarter-inch away from the grill, and aim at the speaker cone.

One input may sound good in the low end and the other may sound better in the top end. Use EQ to extract some of the weaker sounding frequencies in either input so that when you combine them, they will compliment one another.

Moving on to horns. The three most common ones are saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. I mic all three of them with an Audio-Technica ATM35 clipped on to the instrument bell, and this usually captures some cool sounds.

Sometimes I use two mics on saxophone - an SM57 about 2 inches from the bell, aimed down into the hole, and an Audio-Technica AT4054 placed three inches from the side of the bell, where the pad holes are. (Sound from a sax not only comes out of the big hole but out the side holes as well.) This technique “beefs up” the sax sound and is especially good for solos.

For trumpet and trombone, on occasion, I will use the beautiful beyerdynamic M88 microphone, which really works well for both instruments.

Place the mic on a straight stand in front of the player and let him/her find the sweet spot - usually 5 to 7 inches from the bell and a little off-axis from the center of the hole.

Finally we come to vocals. I personally have two favorites, AT4054 and Shure Beta 58A. If there are multiple vocals on stage, I go with the Beta 58A for each vocalist because the mic’s pattern is tighter, which helps in terms of the monitor situation because it boosts gain before feedback. (This is especially useful on smaller stages.)

I also find that the Beta 58A sounds clear and crisp without EQ and the tighter pattern forces singers to come in nice and close, just where we want them, about an inch or two from the mic.

For a single vocal, I go with the AT4054 because it sounds sweet - so good, in fact, that I use it in my studio as well. The one concern for live purposes is that it’s “wider, looser” pattern can hamper gain before feedback.

As always, keep in mind of the 3 to 1 rule, which states that basically two microphones should always be at least 3 times the distance from each other as they are from their source in order to avoid phase cancellation (destructive wave interference caused when two or more microphone outputs are mixed together).

For example, if you place a mic 3 inches from a snare, then there should be no other mic within 9 inches of that snare mic.

I also suggest listening carefully to microphones in pairs, which really helps in terms of sorting out phasing problems.

Happy miking!

Peter Franco is a long-time audio professional who has worked in engineering, technician and supervisory capacities for a wide range of artists and productions.Courtesy ProSoundWeb.

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