I'm planning on a short indoor recording session of shattering long fluorescent tubes. Who has done this and has sage advice to share? Mic choices? Best way to contain debris while not coloring the sound too much? Surfaces? Thanks in advance, all -

ADDITIONAL: No one has yet commented on the potential perils of shattering light bulbs that may or may not contain harmful gases or chemicals. I believe this was a concern with CRT monitors as well. Thoughts?

  • These are the kind of questions we need more of on this site +1. Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 16:49

5 Answers 5


One of my first field recordings was shattering glass. These are some things I remembered:

  • Laying down a tarp is great for cleanup, but can color the sound quite a bit if you're not careful.
  • Wear thick gloves at all times, preferably leather.
  • Have Band-Aids ready anyway.
  • Your local home improvement store has buckets full of glass cuttings leftover from customers, and if you ask nice, they'll give you the whole thing :)
  • Recording in an empty field at night in North Carolina with an H4n is lousy for unwanted sounds like bugs and occasional traffic, but amazing for helping the decay of the glass sounds.
  • Big pieces ring, small pieces sparkle.
  • Holding the glass with one hand and hammering with the other sound decent if the hammer's head is smaller.
  • My favorite sounds can from cracking smaller pieces over the corner of a raised cinderblock, and from pouring all of the glass back into a box from the tarp (like pouring the pieces from a board game back into the box).

Good luck and be safe.

  • Great tip on the home improvement hookup - thanks, Matt! Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 18:59
  • I used the same idea to get free tile, brick, and wood scraps. I actually had to buy a tile for the tile cutter to give me his scraps, but for 97 cents, I think it was worth it. Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 20:19
  • Wow, this post is full of great advice. Nice job, Matt! Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 22:36
  • Nice one Matt. Commented May 1, 2010 at 4:09
  • 1
    I'm glad you guys liked the post. As an addendum to the Home Improvement trick, I've since discovered that there are many establishments nearby that provide free sound-capable materials (i.e. trash) if you just smile and ask politely. One guy actually gave me a whole box of cool junk because he thought it might sound good. Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 10:17

I've not done too many recording sessions of shattered glass, but I've done a few. If I were to do a big session, this is how I would design it:

  1. Find a nice clean cement floor, with a decent area to work with.

  2. If the room that contains this nice area adds a lot of character to sound (like reverb, annoying modes, flutter, etc...), make some time to treat some of these problems

  3. Outline the area you are going to be breaking the glass in with some kind of boarder. It might be 2x6 pieces of wood, metal, etc... that create a boundary to stop most of the broken glass. In my opinion, the best way to do this would be to surround the area almost completely with hanging furny pads (from the ceiling or on mic stands), with maybe a foot or so on the ground to prevent glass from sliding under them. You can secure the sides together too so that nothing gets between them. The furny pads will not only keep the glass contained and leave the sound uncolored, but they will also provide you a makeshift "booth", sheltered from room reverb.

  4. Set up your mics (probably good to put foam or a furry on them to prevent the glass that hits the mics from making pinging in your recordings).

As for mics, I'd try a few LDCs, maybe a shotgun to add some sweetness in post, a stereo mic, etc... I'd probably try to stay away from brighter mics, such as a 416, a C414, and such. A ribbon mic would probably sound cool. But be sure to protect it!

Hope I explained myself well enough. If I need to clarify anything, let me know!


  • Great answer, Colin. LDCs? Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 17:21
  • Sorry... Large Diaphragm Condenser.
    – Colin Hart
    Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 17:41
  • Ah ok, got it, thx. Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 19:15

Health-wise, the scarier flavor seems to be compact fluorescent bulbs - tubes seem to be better. I've read that vacuuming debris is bad - keep stuff from getting too airborne in a small space. Ventilate well and just be careful and for longer tubes it doesn't sound like the risks are that high. Avoid contact and breathing particles directly and most sources I found seem to suggest you'll be fine. Ventilate the area afterwards, use a wet paper towel for clean up and - most importantly - dispose of the shards as hazardous waste (drop it off at the appropriate place), don't just put it in the trash.

Birdhousesound, you should comment or post an answer to share how things go and anything you learn from the session!

  • Thanks for the health tips - it's nice to know that someone cares! Commented Apr 30, 2010 at 23:27

I like to use old bed sheets for this type of job. They catch all of the bits, are silent and can be easily wrapped up with all of the shards and disposed of in one go.

With regards to the mic choice I would use a inexpensive large diaphragm condenser like a Rode NT1-A, with a windshield, positioned nice and close. Afterwards I would use some compressed air to clean the windshield.

Remember to wear goggles, a protective mask and heavy gloves, and have lots of fun. If you are brave, squeezing them prior to snapping them can sound great, as well as smashing them on top of the existing debris. You'll need lots though.

Before you start, check out You Tube as there are some excellent examples of all the different sounds you can make. Obviously all of the self-exhibitionists had another purpose in mind, but it is still a great resource for planning what sounds you want to capture.

  • holy crap those youtube kids are crazy. Wow.
    – Rene
    Commented May 14, 2010 at 18:18

All the above, plus wear safety glasses.

  • Yes, I was surprised no one mentioned that yet.
    – Mark C
    Commented May 17, 2010 at 15:32

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