We all seem to do this a little bit differently. Mic’ing instruments seems to be more taste than a science. In this area there are so many variables such as getting the right capsule to match the source, personal taste, preferences regarding EQ, personal taste of the artist listening through the monitors, and on and on and on. However, what I’ve learned is that this needs to be a conversation not a decision. Similarly with preparing for the weekend, this area of our work needs to be prepared and flexible so that as instruments change with the humidity in our rooms or studios, we can change with it or be setup to make a change on the fly. We have a variety of instruments on our stage at Christ Community and my time in studios in the past has exposed me to several instruments I never knew even existed. There are however a few basic things we should all have in order to amplify instruments well.
The first is a great set of direct boxes. Whether that’s whirlwind’s director direct box, whirlwinds budget alternative imp direct box, or something like the radial’s active J48 Direct Box, there are so many options to choose from. Good features to have are the ability to pad the input side of the box, a ground lift, maybe even an output if the artist would like to have their amp on stage behind them. The key is to find the DI that gives you the features you need, the quality you can afford and want, and work well in your space. For us at CCC, we are a radial house. We have passive and active DIs both mono and stereo and we love them because of how clean the sound is coming from them and the ability to mono sum inputs if necessary, great electronics on the inside, and their sheer reliability. However in the past the much cheaper whirlwind products like the IMP or the Director, or even direct boxes made by countryman. These while not quite as nice, worked well in the spaces I was working in and we were able to get enough of them so that I’d never be concerned about who I could jack in or not. This gave me a tremendous amount of flexibility that many lose when they will only purchase the nicest products. It is important to note that CCC has worked up to having mostly radial gear, over the years we have replaced a lot of our gear with better stuff as more and more of our ministries are asking to borrow gear and we are able to send stuff with them without worrying about a $200 direct box being wrecked in the elements, IMPs are perfect for those types of events.
The second set of things to have in order to be well prepared if you can afford them is a wide array of pencil/condenser microphones. This variety allows you to experiment with things if you aren’t happy, it allows you try new things and move with the times. You don’t need to have a lot just one or two of say 3 or 4 different types of mics. One of the studios I worked with had a drawer of these types of mics (CCC has built up a collection as well) so that no matter the instrument we have something we can at least try. Having a few sm58s and sm57s never hurts either. A few microphones that most people seem to have are the sm81, ksm44, sm7, Neumann KM184, sennheiser e914, a standard AKG condensor, or a few dpa 4099s.
As for how I mic instruments, all of the above. For bass guitars, in most cases, I am taking them direct as I’d prefer not to have a bass cab on stage throwing off my PA timing. If the artist is insists on having a cab up there I’ll take a DI with an out on it and still take a direct line. At CCC we use the Neve RNDI but a lot of people love the sounds of both the active and passive versions of the J48. For live sound I’m not incredibly picky so if we can land the plane with at least one of those three, life is good. In a pinch I’ll use an IMP as I’ve always felt the no frills gear is always reliable and great in most cases. I honestly feel like it’s the sm58/sm57 of the direct box world.
When it comes to electric guitars I seem to find myself using the sennheiser e906 the most. These mics when used correctly have always seemed to yield a very balanced and solid tone that both sound techs and musicians can be happy with. We also use the Shure SM7 when our guitarists have a deeper sound to help capture those lower tones more effectively. However, if you are on a tighter budget, the very popular sm57 seems to be a perennial favorite. Here is a great video from Reverb.com that goes through a few different mic techniques that apply both in the studio and live world both for single and double horned cabinets. At the very least, either within the live or the studio setting to isolate the cabinet away from the stage or studio that vocals are being recorded into. While this makes accessing the amps and making changes a bit harder, it will completely minimize or eliminate any bleed from the electrics into the vocal mics. Since this is a widely accepted practice this shouldn’t be an issue for the players as they might come to expect it. But, if you do have issues with this, remind them that if they agree to isolate their cabinets, they can feel free to run them at the volume that sounds the best rather than the volume that works for the vocal mics (often two very different levels).
This covers the majority of the instruments we see around Christ Community Church where I work. What techniques or unique instruments do you see where you work or volunteer?