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Accordions & Didgeridoos: Mic Techniques For “Exotic” Instruments

No matter how weird it may be, it still must be miked...

By Teri Hogan October 12, 2016

Miking for accordion (photos with this article by Frank Burton and Dale Rempert)

Didgeridoo/Alp Horn. The Didgeridoo is an Australian aborigine instrument. It’s a long tube that rests on the floor and can be made of anything from wood to PVC pipe, producing a low, rumbling sound. Your first instinct is to put a kick drum or bass mic on it. Don’t do it!

Our experience is that a Shure SM58 is a great bet. Place a mic on the floor near the opening and monitor the low frequencies. This instrument is designed to cover long distances (miles, even), so the low-frequency response is intense and needs absolutely no help from sound reinforcement.

The Alp horn, a Scandanavian instrument, is similar in construction and intent. It can be miked the same way, although the low end is not quite so intense, and it does produce melody.

Celtic Harp. The first few times we encountered a Celtic harp, which is a half-sized version of the concert harp, we attempted to mic it with a condenser, placed near the strings.

Unfortunately, the harpist needs to move the harp backward into playing position, then forward to set it at rest.

Too often, the strings of the harp rub against the mic and create really ugly noise. Then when the harpist pulls the harp back into playing position, he or she rarely gets it back in the same place and the whole thing becomes an unsatisfying experience.

Then we did a show with Polyphonic Spree, which boasts a full-size, concert harp. The harpist used a Barcus Berry harp pick-up, and it sounded fabulous!

A mic approach that handles the hurdy-gurdy.

The Barcus Berry folks informed me that the very first Barcus Berry pick-up was invented for harp, and that their piano pick-up is exactly the same, just with a different name silk-screened on it. Oh, how happy we were to learn this.

The Barcus Berry piano pick-up is small (two inches long), designed to be stuck on the soundboard of the piano with two-sided tape. It plugs into a control box that acts like a DI, and works works best with drums; other times, a well-placed single mic does the trick.

It does the same on the harp. Just apply it to the soundboard of the harp and no more worries – beautiful harp music without all the annoying noise of an external microphone. Any sound company that works with acoustic pianos or harps should own one of these fabulous pick-ups.

Stringed Instruments. The diverse types of stringed instruments that come across our stages is staggering, from the balalaika to the bazouki to the oud, banjo, papoose, and on and on. If they have a pick-up, we’re happy people. But often, they don’t.

The miking technique is pretty much the same, no matter the name the instrument. Most sound folks mic these instruments at the sound hole; however, the place to get the very best sound out of a stringed instrument is where the neck joins the body.


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About Teri

Teri Hogan
Teri Hogan

 
Teri was the long-time co-owner of Sound Services Inc., a sound company based in Texas.

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