Recording Bluegrass Instruments

May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Gary Paczosa

Gary Paczosa


Paczosa: “I stereo-mike everything, or at least I use two microphones; it's not always a true stereo configuration. On mandolin, I like to use [Neumann] KM54s that I angle in from the top and bottom. The top mic is pointed down at the top string and the bottom mic would be pointed up more at the sound hole, six to eight inches off. The bottom mic really helps with low punch for mando chop, and the top gives you the high-end detail. I always want a fast preamp for mandolin, so I'll usually use a discrete preamp like the Millennia. I'd also use a compressor with a fast attack time and a fast release — almost the same compression and path I'd use on a snare drum. I've used the dbx 160 on mando, but lately I've gone to the Distressor.

VornDick: “My workhorse is a [Neumann] KM84 and I also use a Milab a lot, or an Audio-Technica 4033 or 4040. But [vintage gear dealer] Fletcher has a new microphone, a KM69, that I've been using a lot instead of the KM84 and it's really amazing — it's bright, but it's smooth. For me, the main thing with the mandolin is watching where the hand moves, making sure the mic is placed so it actually gets the instrument and you don't have the masking effect of the hand going in front of the mic.

“By stereo-miking instruments, you can bring out the high mic or the low mic without having to do anything EQ-wise except highpass filters. I'll put the mics six or seven inches away to get the whole tonal overtone of the instrument. I like API or Neve preamps, and Rupert [Neve] also has a new stereo mic pre that's really stunning on mandolin called the Portico [5012].”

Kohrs: “I'll typically use a pair of [Neumann] KM184s. I'll put one at each f-hole top and bottom, pretty close together, maybe six inches apart, tilted in to capture a stereo image. I also like to use a stereo pair of Violet ‘Finger’ mics or, depending on the mandolin, a Royer 121 for thickness and depth. All of them are run through Forssell preamps.”

Chandler: “On Dwight McCall [in JD Crowe's band], I'll put one KM84 in front, between his hand and where the neck starts and get back a couple of feet — I'll move in and listen for that right proximity. Then I'll put another mic where the lower f-hole is, almost like I'm miking his hand. There's good warmth there. I like Neve and API preamps on just about everything. I don't use an EQ on that because a mandolin will cut through anyway. I use a Sony C-30 for Ricky Skaggs.”


Paczosa: “In the case of both Stuart Duncan and Alison [Krauss], they've got great-sounding fiddles, and I'll put KM54s on them, fairly close together — I'm never panning them hard-left and -right; I'm only opening them maybe two degrees from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock. I'll use a Mastering Lab [pre] with a GML compressor. I think fiddle is by far the hardest [bluegrass] instrument to record because what's perfect for one song might not be for another — once you move to another key, it can change dramatically.”

VornDick: “I don't always do stereo; it depends on whether we're going to overdub fiddle later, like we often did with Mark O'Connor. I'll use a KM64 for some people, a KM84 on others. If I'm in a situation where I'm overdubbing, I might use a [Neumann] 67 or an [AKG] C-12; go for a tube.”

Kohrs: “I usually use one mic on a fiddle, eight to 10 inches away, right where the bow strikes the strings and tilted a hair toward the neck. Lauten Audio's Horizon mic or the Globe or Amethyst mic from Violet Microphones all work great on fiddle. These are run through Natale Audio-modified 600 Series Ampex pre's.”

Chandler: “I've found U87s or 47s on the fiddle are reliable and great when-in-doubt mics, but another one I like is this Studio Projects [LSD2] stereo mic, which is a large-diaphragm mic and surprisingly flat. I used to do two 87s on Mike Cleveland, for instance, but after I used the Studio Projects stereo mic on him one day, he called me up late that night, and said, ‘What mic did you use on my fiddle? This is the first time it's ever sounded exactly like my fiddle!’ So I used that on Ronnie Stewart, too, and I've used it on Stuart Duncan. It gives you two channels, obviously, and the coverage is great.”


Paczosa: “I'll usually put a mic down below the tone ring, near the bottom left pointed up. Because it's a harder sound there, I like the Royer 121 for the tone ring. Then, in front of the banjo I usually will put a large diaphragm — either an Audio-Technica or a Neumann M49 or a 67 — about eight inches away from the open spot below the strings and angled up toward the bottom strings. Another mic I've used and loved is this really old, nasty, giant iron microphone — a Telefunken 201 into a Telefunken V76 preamp.?It is outstanding to blend that in with any large-diaphragm Neumann. It has a midrange punch that is perfect for banjo in a full track. In general for preamps on banjo, I use the Mastering Labs — I love tube compression, especially if the banjo is being played hard. And if I need more compression, the dbx 160 has a nice attack and release for banjos.”

VornDick: “I stereo-mike banjos. On the high end you really can't beat a KM84. Sitting in the position of the banjoist, coming in from down to the left, I'll put it in between the resonator and the head, then move it around until you hit the sweet spot. Then I'll use a U89, which is sort of an unsung hero. A lot of banjo players like a U87. Another one I like is this Swedish microphone, a Milab 56. When Béla Fleck brings out his old Mastertone banjo, which is a beautiful instrument, I'll mike it differently, maybe using a C-12 or a C-24.”

Kohrs: “For banjo, I'm a Mojave Audio fan all the way. I'll run stereo Mojave MA200s. I like my stereo zone to be right where the neck joins the head of the banjo — to me, that's the sweet spot, but it depends on whose instrument it is. I'll use two channels of Fred Forssell preamps — banjo takes a really fast pre, and most times I won't compress the banjo at all going down. In fact, upright bass is the only thing I compress at all.”

Chandler: For JD Crowe, I have a wonderful 40-year-old U87 that I have used on him for years. We've tried other things but we always come back to that. Sonny Osborne, too; he says, ‘Just bring that U87; that's all I want.’ If I do use two mics on a banjo player, it'll probably be two U87s. There have been instances where I'll reach out and grab a [RCA] 77X ribbon mic. I recorded Earl Scruggs the other day and that's what I used on him. I've also used the Royer [121], which also sounds the way a ribbon should sound. I used that on NewFound Road at Dark Horse. I usually record everything pretty flat because they bring these $100,000 instruments in there, and if you've got a good mic, you're in good shape. So I almost never insert the EQ button. I like using Tube-Tech preamps on banjo; in fact, I like that on just about anything. But I also like Neve and API preamps, as well.”

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