I am taking a world music course this quarter and the professor brought in a bunch of crazy instruments (some he made) and I asked him if we can set up a time to record samples of these unique instruments. He said yeah so now I want to make sure I get it right, because there is only one shot. The instruments are percussive, stringed and a few I don't know what to classify as. I plan on bringing a SM57 for the really loud instruments and a large cap condenser for the quieter instruments. I have a shotgun and several other really nice mics I can use but what would be the mics you would bring to this session?
That sounds awesome!
How many channels do you have?
A nice pair of Small diaphragm condensers and a pair of large diaphragms condensers should cover many bases very well, a contact mic wouldn't hurt.. And depending on the space you're going to record take a few extra mic stands so you can set the arms horizontally and set blankets and stuff for a little acoustic treatment if needed.
Two PZMs taped back-to-back on a flat surface (ex. clipboard, piece of wood) and then hung from a mic stand above the instrument at 6-8' should give a really nice "you are there" image. This technique has been used on drumkits with great success.
Percussion I would use a stereo Royer SF-12. The last album I worked on I recorded bongos, congas, acoustic guitar, and ocarina with this mic and it worked beautifully on all of them.
Flutes and such I'd use a Royer 122 if it needs brightness, or a regular 121.
Loud stuff, yeah an SM57 would work, but maybe try a padded Schoeps MK5, MK6 or MK41 capsule. I also own an AKG C5 which beats an SM57 on certain things any day - it's like a dynamic mic but uses condenser technology.
Large diaphragm condensers will sound good on the strings - though I prefer Schoeps myself. Also, ribbon mics sound great on strings to get a warmer sound.
But, more important than the mics I think is WHERE you record these instruments.
If it's a regular classroom with hard floors, parallel walls and a large blackboard/marker board with tons of windows, your acoustics are going to work against you.
Find a nice, deadened if possible, but if not deadened then find a smooth echo which doesn't zing or bounce all over the place - especially the loud stuff.
Maybe he knows of a studio you could use nearby... It would be well worth it.
Also, sampling instruments and recording things "for the sake of getting them recorded" is actually a highly specialized field of recording which is much deeper and more involved than having the person run through a musical scale once or twice.
I recently recorded a grand piano and we spent 2 weeks at 8 hours a day recording every possible midi velocity and note and keeping it in tune and perfectly recorded. And we didn't use a person's finger on each key - it was a hammer which would hit exact velocities each time for exact accuracy. You might want to read up on how they record sample libraries - might be useful data for you there.
As mentioned, with percussion always make sure you have a good space to record in.
My "go to" mics are the Royer 121, Earthworks QTC40, AKG C414 or the SM47 (if there really is nothing else). The only piece of 'percussion' that I've ever liked the 57 on is a snare drum. On location I've also got good sounds recording in MS (used a MKH60/30 pair) a couple of feet away from the source.
Find a good space, get the player to perform, walk around, listen hard and experiment! Do something you haven't done before.
If you can get hold of them I would go for some DPA or B&K as they used to be known. What you really want are totally flat response mics with fast attacks so that you can capture everything.
I would spend more time looking at the acoustics of the room that you plan to record in, try and arrange some baffles so that you can reduce the effect of room modes.
You won't know what the instruments should sound like so many make sure that you spend some time with the professor to capture all of the potential sounds. I would run a spreadsheet as you not only want all of the individual notes, but you also want the different dynamics and any modifiers such as mutes or sustains.
Finally I like to record the sounds from the player's as well as the audience's perspective as there can be a noticeable difference.
If you want further ideas read up on the way that companies sample drum kits for virtual instruments.
I have used the Electrovoice RE-11 for recording home-made Brazilian percussion instruments. (The current RE-16 is very similar.) Part of why it worked well is because the RE-11 is one of EV's "variable D" mikes, that has very little proximity effect when used close to a source. This helps to avoid problems in the low end when recording unconventional instruments that may have weird bass resonances, etc.
If the acoustical situation will allow it, using omni pattern mikes addresses the same problem, as omni's do not have proximity bass boost.