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Tech Tip Of The Day: Miking A Rotary Speaker

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By PSW Staff May 24, 2010

Provided by Sweetwater.

Q: My band just picked up a vintage Hammond B-3, complete with the matching Leslie speaker from a church.

It works perfectly, however, a guy at the church was telling that miking that Leslie isn’t like miking a guitar cabinet.

He described what we needed to do, but I’m kinda lost. Is this true? What should we do?

A: First of all, nice find! The gentleman you met at the church is correct, in that miking a rotary speaker requires techniques different from those typically used on guitar cabinets.

The sound of a real rotary speaker is complex and is created by the Doppler effect, which is why it’s difficult to create a truly accurate digital model of the hardware.

The most famous rotary speaker, which you have, is the Leslie. It has controls for both the upper rotating horns, which handle the high frequencies, and a separate baffle for the low frequencies. This makes it almost impossible to close mic a Leslie (or any other similar rotary speaker), which is the technique we typically use on guitar cabinets.

The key to miking a Leslie is to place the microphones out in the room or hall, since that’s where listeners normally would hear the best effect. A stereo condenser mic would be excellent, as they are set up to produce an optimal stereo signal.

If you’re going to use a matched pair of mics, you can use the classic XY stereo configuration, which places two mics at a 90-degree angle from each other. You might want to experiment with different polar patterns, such as omnidirectional or figure 8 (if your mics have variable polar patterns), particularly if you are stuck miking a rotary speaker in a small room.

Otherwise a cardioid pattern typically produces the most tightly focused sound. In general, the larger the room or hall, the tighter the polar pattern needs to be so that the direct sound isn’t lost in a wash of reflected sound.

For the trademark overdriven Leslie sound, make sure you are using mics that can handle high SPLs and if necessary, insert a pad.

Other than that, make sure to have fun!

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pete in plano says

I would tape a small size PZM inside the cabinet, one on the left side and one on the right side. Pan these hard left and right. Then I would put a RE-20 on the low side and leave it dead center. What a sound!! The PZM is designed to accept the direct sound only so you don’t get as much of the reflected inside cabinet sounds.

Brent Handy says

The thing to understand about the leslie is that there is a compression driver below the rotating horns, blowing out only one of them.  The other is plugged.  It is there only to balance the other horn.

If you place one mic at the top of the cabinet, the doppler effect might be exaggerated.  I was in one session where one mic was placed in the back and the other on one side.  Most times I see people doing a hard left/right thing.  In all cases a mic was placed on the low f driver as well.

I agree that room mic’ing is more natural and might be best most of the time.

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