Recording - May 2018 - 18

Strings Go Pop !

RECORDING STRINGS-
SOLO AND SMALL ENSEMBLES-
TO FIT NEATLY INTO A SONG

By Paul Vnuk Jr. Today we are going to discuss tracking strings-but not 'strings' as in 'an orchestra in

a big hall with classic mics on Decca trees.' What if a client wants a violin or cello solo in the middle of their
current song, or wants to use a small string trio or quartet to add texture to a chorus?
In that context, the following order of importance applies: player, instrument, mic placement, and mic
choice. Note that mic choice is fourth and the room isn't listed at all.

Not too much space
A great reverberant space can be awesome when you're
tracking a live string ensemble that's the main focus of the
song. That doesn't apply to strings in a pop context, be it rock,
country, or metal (yes, I once tracked a prog-metal band where
the lead singer traded viola solos with the lead guitarist).
Most of us track in smaller spaces like converted bedrooms,
basements, or office spaces, and these rooms can be fine for
strings. While I do have a larger reverberant space to track in, I
almost always record strings in my largely-dry control room... or,
if it's a larger ensemble, I will gobo and wall off the players tightly.
Often, bands come in with nothing more than a desire for
strings and a vague idea of the sound. That's great from a
creative standpoint, but more than likely, they have written and rehearsed their songs without strings. This means the
engineer must shoehorn the strings into the existing arrangement, and having too much room sound can be detrimental
if it is permanently embedded into the string tracks.

But some space is OK
That being said, I rarely just spot-mic the strings, as I do want an
illusion of space... and yes, I hear you yelling, "Make up your mind!"
To explain: I still want the option of natural space, if it's
practical. I always add a room mic or mics; in the mix, I will
treat and compress it, similarly to how I treat drums that were

1

18

RECORDING May 2018

tracked in a small dry room. This compressed room sound
(parallel compression is great here) blended gently into the
mix adds ambience to the strings, so they still sound like they
are somewhere, rather than in a bone-dry vacuum.

The f-hole
When it's time to mic the instrument, first find the proper
f-hole. By this, I do not mean a string player with a bad attitude.
Every violin, viola, cello, and upright bass has two matching
holes on each side that look like a script-style letter f.
This is where most of the sound emanates from the instrument
after being generated with the help of the soundpost-a piece
of wood, like a support beam in a house, that runs from the
bottom of the instrument body to the top. Look inside the instrument,
find the f-hole closest to the soundpost, and aim your mic there;
almost all of the time, it will be on the treble side (see Photo 1).

Mics and placement
More important than having a fancy high-end mic is having
the right mic in the right place! Placement will likely inform what
mic you use, as will the quality of the instrument and the player.
Many folk fiddlers play for nuance and feel over "perfection,"
and many use well-worn instruments full of character. These
are all good things, but there may be some buzzes and
screeches, so distance is your friend (photo 2). Also, the closer
you are to the instrument, the more you will hear the drag of
the bow on the strings. Just like finger squeaks on a guitar or
pick noise, sometimes it's cool, other times not.
If the answer is 'not,' then I would lean toward a darker mic
like a ribbon or even a dynamic mic. If the players are more
classical in training, often I choose small-diaphragm mics if
the player is sitting and I want focus, or large-diaphragm mics
if the player is prone to swaying and exaggerated bowing
gestures. Many modern ribbon mics are moving towards a
brighter top end, allowing a best-of-both-worlds result.
In a live recording situation-such as a worship service, a
theatrical production, or a country, folk, or rock band with string
players-then my best suggestion is a clip-on mic. In this case,



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - May 2018

Contents
Recording - May 2018 - Intro
Recording - May 2018 - Cover1
Recording - May 2018 - Cover2
Recording - May 2018 - 1
Recording - May 2018 - 2
Recording - May 2018 - 3
Recording - May 2018 - 4
Recording - May 2018 - 5
Recording - May 2018 - Contents
Recording - May 2018 - 7
Recording - May 2018 - 8
Recording - May 2018 - 9
Recording - May 2018 - 10
Recording - May 2018 - 11
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Recording - May 2018 - 16
Recording - May 2018 - 17
Recording - May 2018 - 18
Recording - May 2018 - 19
Recording - May 2018 - 20
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Recording - May 2018 - Cover3
Recording - May 2018 - Cover4
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