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Looking for some suggestions on getting the most authentic recorded sound from a Hammered Dulcimer. The model I am mic'ing has 2 sound holes.

  1. What would be the ideal mic type(s) (i.e. dynamic, ribbon, condensor).
  2. Where would be the ideal mic position(s)?
  3. Would it be better to record in a room with nice sounding acoustics/reverb or a padded sound room with no acoustics?
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Will the recording be solo or part of a group? Trying to record vocals as well? – Bill Gribble Jan 19 '11 at 10:32
The recording will be the solo instrument. – Error 454 Jan 19 '11 at 10:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For a solo acoustic instrument recording, I would find a nice-sounding room and try to capture the whole performance with a stereo mic setup.

By "nice-sounding", I mean

  • No noticeable external noise sources (traffic, air conditioning/heat, etc)
  • "live" (reverberant) but not too live. You can damp liveness with carpets, furniture, etc.
  • Not so small as to have problems with standing wave phase cancellation. Bathroom too small; bedroom maybe depending on size; living room better.

By "stereo mic setup", I mean a MS (mid-side) setup if you can (WikiRecording) or XY (WikiRecording) if you can't.

MS requires 2 mics, not usually the same type, one being a figure-8 pickup pattern, and a little bit of fancy footwork to combine the signals, either on your mixing board or in the computer. A typical mid-side setup has a large-diaphragm condensor with a figure-8 pattern and a small-diaphragm condensor with a cardioid pattern.

XY requires 2 mics, as identical as you can get them, with a unidirectional polar pattern (usually cardioid). Condensor or dynamic mics will work fine, though small-diaphragm condensors are traditional.

By "capture the whole performance", I mean set up the stereo mic rig aimed at the instrument but back a bit (it's your creative choice how far back, I would start at 3 feet from the instrument and move back from there to capture more room ambience if you like it). At that distance the mic patterns are wide enough that you don't need to worry about exactly which part of the instrument you point at.

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Great answer, thank you very much! You've exposed me to some new vocabulary and learning. – Error 454 Jan 19 '11 at 22:34

I'm not trying make the previous person sound bad but it doesn't have to be very complicated.

I just got done recording my 3rd hammer dulcimer CD and here's what I've learned from some great engineers in Nashville.

Ribbons would be ideal but they're very expensive. But if you have the money, go with ribbons. I use Audio Technica 3035's. For some reason you can't go wrong with Audio Technica. They just sound awesome. These are condenser mics.

Placement is key. If you get too close you'll run the risk of over loading the mic capsule and then the sound will be brittle and thin. My best results were 8-12 inches away from the sound board one on the left and right side right over the tuning pins angled toward the treble bridge.

Just remember if it doesn't sound good in the cans it's not going to sound good when you're mixing and mastering. You can't cut corners with the recording part.

Let me know if this was any help or if you have any other questions.

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Thank you Ted. I really appreciate your response. Knowing the location of the mics was very helpful and will be a good starting point for my recording. I'll probably need to take a few passes at recording before formulating more questions. – Error 454 Jan 22 '11 at 19:38

Go figure... ask a certain number of audiophiles a question and you'll get an equal number of answers.

Here's my take:

The dulcimer, like the piano, is a percussion instrument which has two basic tonal elements going on. You have the initial strike of the hammer and then the resonant response of the string/chamber/soundboard.

When afforded the luxury, I like to capture an instrument like this with multiple sets of mics and blend them to achieve the final sound.

If money is no object, a binaural setup is fantastic for capturing the perspective of the instrumentalist. I've had great success with the Neumann's KU-100 positioned just above the head of the musician, centered on the instrument.

In lieu of such a setup, I prefer to go with a matched pair of mics set up in an XY configuration. You might get some pleasant results with a pair of ribbon mics configured like this because of the bidirectional nature of the microphone pickup pattern. Royer's 122 is a personal favorite with Coles coming up close behind.

Then, depending on the quality of the environment, I'd set up a stereo pair of mics that, when blended with my 'close mics' will provide the desired depth of sound I'm looking for. With each of these setups, the distance from the source is going to affect the balance between the strike of the hammers and the resonance of the instrument. The further away, the less prominent the attack.

As with any setup using multiple pairs of mics, check the phase between the mics (left/right) and then between each pair. Adjust accordingly.

One other option that comes to mind is the Barkus/Berry 4000 Planar Wave piano pickup. I wouldn't use it as my sole source, but it does provide some different tones that can be very cool.

Oh, yeah. You can also get some fun results by setting the dulcimer on different types of surfaces. When the instrument couples with the surface, some interesting tones can be achieved. Of course, the inverse is also true.

Good Luck... Break a string!

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I had never considered a binaural setup! It actually makes a lot of sense as the finished product will be sound samples for the HD. – Error 454 Jan 22 '11 at 19:42

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