Operating the sound system from the mix position during a recent Sunday worship service, it all began when the first note from our grand piano was distorted. Hmm…
We’d checked the piano channel and sound prior to the service, and all was fine. My first reaction to the distortion being produced was to reduce the gain on that console channel, thinking perhaps the piano player was nailing the keys very hard. Yet the problem remained.
Next, I did a pre-fade listen (PFL) in my headphones – yes, it was definitely distortion on the piano channel, no question about it.
To capture sound from this grand piano, we use a magnetic pickup from Helpinstill Designs, which sends the original vibrations of the strings (the source of the piano’s sound) directly to the mixing console. (If you’re struggling to reproduce a full, natural piano sound, these pickups are definitely an option to consider.)
Anyway, my next thought was that someone had accidentally bumped the pickup so that it was hitting some of the strings. Oh well, nothing could be done until the service ended, so I just did my best to work around and minimize the problem. But a quick look immediately after the service showed that the pickup had not been disturbed.
Finding nothing else visibly wrong, we set up a few microphones to capture the piano in case we encountered the same problem during the next service, scheduled to start in less than 30 minutes.
Sure enough as the service began, here it came again—big-time piano distortion! We quickly switched over to the backup mics, which covered us without major incident.
However, I was perplexed and facing a challenge. What could it be? Perhaps the pickup unit itself was failing—my most logical guess at this point.