The Grand Piano
The piano is really just a guitar (or more accurately a harp) lying on its side. It has strings stretched between two bridges, a striking area where it is hit with a soft hammer, and a sound board below.
The drawing above shows the main areas of concern when recording a piano. The mikes can be placed in any of the position A - D as well as underneath. The sound holes give you access to the sound board below the strings. So lets look at each position.
Position A is the most typical mike position used in studio music recording. It's a stereo pair that is about 150cm(6") apart, placed over the hammers with one pointing to the lower strings and the other directed toward the high strings. They should be about 150cm(6") above the strings. They are placed just behind the music stand. If there is no music involved the music stand can be removed giving a cleaner access to the strings. If these two mikes are placed correctly you can achieve a really good stereo image where the low strings appear from the left and the notes follow to the high notes on the left. Because the mikes are over the hammers the notes are bright and have a nice attack.
Position B utilises the hardness of the bridge and can be used to emphasise the low strings. I often add a small amount of it to the left of the image to accentuate the bass strings. Great if you have a 7 or 9 foot grand!!
Position D is the traditional Classical way of recording a grand piano and is still used today when recording grand pianos with an orchestra. It can also be used to add body and warm to a position A setup.
Position C is a position that accesses the sound board. The level coming off the sound board is quite high so it is a good position if you are caught having to record a grand piano in a studio with other instruments and you want separation from the other instruments. Two mikes places in the sound hole s allow you to lower the piano lid to the lower stand and with a couple of blankets or sleeping bags thrown over the lot you will get good separation yet a clean sound that will sound even better with a bit of high shelving added. Another way of accessing the sound board is to place a mike under the piano pointing straight up. This is often used in TV where they don't want the mikes to show.
There is one more way of recording a grand and that is to use 2 x PZM mikes fixed to the lid and then the lid closed. This produces a beautiful clean sound and is also great if you have spill problems, hence there use on stage shows. Give me two good Neumans or AKGs and I'll go with them anyday though. The AKG 451 is my favourite.
Unfortunately most home studio owners don't have a grand piano but lots of you have an upright. So what's the best here - well - treat it like a grand. It has all the same spots.
Here we have a typical upright piano with the typical three positions. To access some of these positions you may have to pull the piano apart. The front panel above the keys can easily be removed as can the panel below the keys. The easiest and simplest is to simply drop two mikes on boom arms through the top and set them up as a stereo pair as in the grand piano over the hammers and about 15cm(6") apart and pointing left right. This placement is easier if you can remove the front panel.
This is the standard position as described above and can be supplemented with either a rear soundboard mike (out of phase) or a lower mike in a sound hole under the keys. In this case the lower front panel must be removed. Try and avoid getting the lower mike too close to the pedals as their sound will become annoying.
Position B is the one used on the old TV shows where they didn't want you to see the mike but it also has a lot of body and warm in the sound so when incorporated with position A it can be helpful.
Position C is a variation of position B except that it can also incorporate the harder bridge sound.
Personally I would go for position A every time and would only use the other positions to supplement the sound or because I can't get into the piano and can't take off the front panel.
Once again two PZM mikes strapped to the front panel at the height of the hammers will work very nicely indeed.
The Hammond Organ is another beast altogether and although it's not a stringed instrument I'll include it here. The Leslie box consists of a divided cabinet. In the top section is a rotating horn covering the high frequencies from around 800Hz up while below is a woofer cabinet covering the lows. The woofer also has a wooden horn shape that rotates. This is how I like to mike a Hammond Leslie Box.
The rear of the Leslie cabinet will need to be removed, its only a few screws. The microphones are basically two stereo pairs which you pan L/R. If you wish to be really mad you can carefully put one of the high frequency mikes into the cabinet like this:
This really gives a great stereo effect and the Leslie rotates in your head with headphones. The top mikes are totally 180 degrees out of phase but who cares, the effect is great.
Incidentally, if you want that incredible Emerson Lake and Palmer growl from the Leslie, remove one of the large output valves that I've drawn in the picture above. Some people have modified their Leslie cabinets so you can plug a guitar directly into the valve amp so you can get a real Leslie effect on a guitar. If you also remove the output valve you'll get the wildest guitar grunge!!