Microphones in guitars

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AndrewD
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Microphones in guitars

Postby AndrewD » Sat Feb 20, 2010 9:42 am

Gordon, after the Ireby gig I am interested to learn more about the microphones you have installed in your guitars alongside the pickups. Can you tell me a bit more about them such as what kind of microphones they are, their placement and connections? I am presuming that the output runs to the jack socket along with the pickup output, but how are the outputs balanced so that you get the right blend of acoustic/pickup sound? Also I noticed a small black object adjacent to the pickup at the top of the sound hole on your Fyldes, is this one of the mics or something else?

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Mike Stranks
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Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Feb 20, 2010 12:12 pm

Hi Andrew

Gordon will go into the detail, but the sort of pick-ups you're asking about are these:

http://www.fishman.com/products/details.asp?id=46

I don't know if this is the model Gordon uses; I know he has at least some Fishman pickups.

You may have noticed, or Gordon may have described, reaching into the guitar soundhole to adjust the blend between the pick-up and the mic.

Now the contoversial bit...! :) For pure tone of the instrument you can't beat miking the guitar with an external condenser microphone. However. for live performace and to make use of effects as Gordon does then the blend that these pickups give is pretty darned good. As you commented about Ireby, the sound was excellent.

Maybe we'll meet-up sometime - although I don't venture north of Derby on Giltrap-patrol! :lol:
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Postby Trevor Raggatt » Sun Feb 21, 2010 6:38 pm

Andrew,

As Mike says, the pickups which Gordon regularly uses on his guitars are the Fishman Rare Earth Blend pickups with a built in microphone on a goose-neck so that they can be placed at an optimum point in the soundbox for a good sound (whatever that animal is).

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Now here's my personal controversial comment... there is a lot said about the only proper way to capture the sound of an acoustic being a good external condenser mike - and in the studio, absolutely. However, in the hurley burley world of live performance a good pickup is a really practical compromise. So long as it's one that produces a good, usable live sound. Life is full of compromises and playing live, doubly so.

I've certainly found that a pickup/mike blend system is a great way to get a sufficiently authentic sound live on my two acoustics. On my Fylde I've got a Fishman which is pretty much GG's set up. On my Brook I have a different system - the LR Baggs Dual Source which gives you an under-saddle piezo pickup and an internal PZM mike which can be fastened to the back of the guitar or the soundboard...

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Both systems work really well and give you a degree of control over the system onboard without having to cut or drill holes in the guitar. Many people are sniffy about just the magnetic or undersaddle pickups but in my experience (particularly in a band mix rather than solo) the produce a surprisingly servicable sound on their own. Certainly the sounds are a little bit more synthetic than true acoustic sounds but no worse that any other good pickup system. Again... particularly where the guitar is part of a larger mix of instruments. I've heard some say how the Fishman magnetic pickup sounds rubbish and just like slapping some rubbish electric guitar pickup on there (nightmares of '60s and early '70s add on pickups will be flooding back for some of our members!). That's just not true. Acoustic pickup design has come on leaps and bounds over the last 20 years - and Mike Vanden who designed the pickups the Fishman is based on is a genius!

Of course the fun starts when you start to blend more of the mike into the sound mix and this really does make the sound come alive. You do get a lot more depth to the sound and the sound does seem more "airy" and rich. So why not just go 100% mike and forget the pickups? It's compromise again. As you increase the level of mike vs pickup the feedback threshold of the guitar comes down massively and can become difficult to control. My Brook is a very resonant guitar and, frankly, 50/50 or 60/40 (piezo/mike) gives a great, natural amplified sound so there's need to push the mike to higher levels.

Anyway, summing up, the headline is that a pickup/blend system will tend to give you more flexibility and scope to get a natural sound than just a magnetic or undersaddle system alone without the difficulties of being stuck stationary in front of a mike stand, terrified of moving in case the sound of the guitar suddenly drops out as you move away or explodes into feedback as the mike strays across the sound hole...

But I'm a bass player... what to I know? :wink:

Trevor

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Mike Stranks
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Postby Mike Stranks » Sun Feb 21, 2010 7:06 pm

Excellent write-up and commentary Trevor!

I think we're of a mind about the role and place of pick-ups in live performance. Back in the '70s it was a nightmare trying to mic guitars - pick-ups were virtually non-existent then, apart from maybe Ovation guitars.

As you so rightly say, pick-ups have come on a LONG way since those days. I'd go for pickups every time now for live performance - or when effects are needed. Of course, there's still some iffy stuff out there in £10 pick-up land - makes my job as a sound tech 'interesting' when I come up against one of those! :lol:
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Postby Trevor Raggatt » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:36 pm

:D Mike, yes indeed. I've often seen young players at acoustic nights who've got a really nice guitar with a naff £10 pickup or a bug practically sellotaped to their guitar with the cable hanging down the front of the guitar and thought... "So close but no cigar!"

Of course, they're always the ones giving the poor longsuffering sound guy a hard time for not getting a good sound! :roll:

It also caused me to recall a chum I had in the mid-80s who had one of those old '70s Ekos that seemed to be built from half inch thick planks of wood with a plastic humbucker pickup rammed in the sound hole. Suffice to say, his live sound wasn't quite up to Mr G's!

Oh, and I should also point out to others that the sniffyness and snobbery I hinted at in my other post above to has been at other fora I occasionally frequent not here where, as others have oft mentioned, one of the best things about it as a forum is it's a great bunch of folks who hang out here!

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Postby AndrewD » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:55 pm

Mike and Trevor

Thank you both for your detailed and very helpful overviews of these pieces of kit and the potential issues associated with using them. My guitar is a Fender La Brea, a dreadnought acoustic that isn't even a solid top but which is quite playable (especially after I got it professionally set up) and which gives a reasonable sound. There is a piezo transducer under the saddle which is absolute rubbish, not to put too fine a point on it! I fully intend to upgrade to a guitar more worthy in the future but in the meantime was wondering about recording and the superb live sound that Gordon got. When recording my classical playing I use a Rode NT1000 which goes into a Creative Labs E-MU 0404 USB gadget. I record using Cubase SE which came with it. I get reasonably good sound from that set up (check out my Preludio De Adios on YouTube under AndrewDCG). I still would like to get a blend of more than just one microphone though, and head towards experimening with some stereo mixes. Rather than buy another mic I am considering a pickup and hence my original question. I'll keep you posted.

Mike - it would definitely be good to meet up sometime. I do get down the country periodically and am always keen to go to GG gigs. I'll drop you a message at some point and perhaps we can organise something.

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Postby Trevor Raggatt » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:25 pm

Andrew,

Here's a thought... if you've got a guitar which already has an undersaddle pickup that you're thinking of upgrading to a "better" guitar later on then the Fishman would actually be quite a practical option.

When you get one of the Rare Earth pickups the installation is actually remarkably non-intrusive. If you look at the picture of the pickup above you'll see a couple of screws at each end of the main pickup. These operate clamps which hold the pickup onto each side of the sound hole.

Here's the one attached to my Fylde (more info/photos on http://www.trevorandthea.eclipse.co.uk/guitars.htm

Image

Image

You should be able to see the two clamps - cork/felt lined to avoid damaging the guitar finish. You'll also see from the second photo that the jack socket comes all pre-wired with an end-pin jack socket. This makes installation very easy - if your guitar already has an end-pin jack (or even if the jack is on the bottom rim of the guitar - looking at some La Brea pics online it looks like the latter) just remove the existing one and mount the Fishman jack socket through the hole.

Of course, you won't be able to use the onboard controls which come with your piezo system but that's not a killer issue.

If and when you move up to a better guitar you can very easily remove the Fishman system and mount it in the new guitar. If you keep the old jack socket from the La Brea in a safe place it should be a very simple job to return it to action at that point. Without knowing th einterior wiring layout of the guitar if I was doing this job myself I'd be tempted to roll up the jack and the piezo cable together with some insulation tape and tape them out of the way onto the preamp unit inside the guitar - no cable snipping or soldering required!

The whole thing should be a simple enough job which is easily done at home - alternatively installation would take a guitar tech a matter of minutes so should be a very cheap job.

Anyway, even in your position where you're looking to trade up guitars later on it's always a possible option. Food for thought. That said, if you're only looking at home recording application and not stage use then the Rode mic is hard to beat (I've got an NT3 small diaphragm condenser which I just love!). Live, I'm sure that the Fishman would produce a good sound and combining the Rode and the internal mic (or even the blend sound) might offer some interesting results - never tried this with my guitars. Then again it's just a case of recording to two tracks and seeing how the mix together.

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Postby AndrewD » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:42 pm

Thanks again Trevor! Great photos and I can clearly see the clamps and cork. Looks like a good arrangement. You are right about the La Brea - the jack socket is around the rim below the strap button. I am a handy whizz with a soldering iron (did loads of analogue electronics projects when I was younger and even built a Maplin 3800 synthesiser, which I still have). The tone and volume for the existing piezo pickup are very noisy and incredibly basic so I don't think that even removing them completely would be a great loss! The Rode is a lovely mic and I have never regretted buying it.

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Postby Mike Stranks » Mon Feb 22, 2010 11:44 pm

Ah! We definitely have a Rode mics fan-club starting here!

Not wishing in any way to start a "mine's bigger than your's!" boast-session - not my style - I'm a huge fan of Rodes. I have two NT3s, an NT4 and a newly acquired matched pair of NT5s. All bought second-hand from EBay.

Of course I can 'invest' (!) money in mics 'cos I'm not also trying to buy decent guitars (or any guitars!) like you guys are! :lol:
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Postby AndrewD » Tue Feb 23, 2010 7:20 pm

Lol! I am so wanting a better acoustic but I think I will be stuck with the Fender for a while yet. I do fully intend to upgrade however, and it will be to something worthwhile. I just need to work out how to sneakily buy a Fishman Rare Earth Blend in the meantime...might check out eBay and see what they are going for on there. It also means I don't have to worry about buying an electro-acoustic, which I thought I would have to. I'll focus on a solid top with a cutaway and wire it up with the pickup.

Off to practice for a bit now. "From the Four Winds" which I am polishing followed by some "Isabella's Wedding" for this evening...maybe some technique stuff too...

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Mic?

Postby Dave Warren » Wed Feb 24, 2010 11:10 am

I've just got myself an endorsment with Walden guitars and I'm looking to fit a Rare earth blend or K&K Trinity, (I've also seen the new L R Baggs Anthem which will be available in May I believe) to my new G2070. I have a Schertler onboard Bluestick fitted to my Moondog ga which sounds awesome when used with my Phil jones 100watt cub amplifier, but I want to add an internal mic to this as I use a lot of percussive techniques and I'm not sure which one to go with any thoughts?
Thanks for reading and dont forget to check Myspace. www.myspace.com/djcwozza

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