Recording - May 2018 - 56

STUDIO 101

Instruments-Real and Virtual

Variations on a theme
Pickups are found in other instruments
besides guitars and basses. For example,
electric pianos use pickups to detect the
vibrations of struck tines or strings, and
Hammond organs use pickups to track
spinning tone wheels. In many of these
keyboards, there's a built-in preamp
so the instrument provides a line-level
signal right out of the box, but electric
pianos like the original Fender Rhodes
have high-impedance instrument-level
signals that require an amp.
These instruments represent another
case where players want to hear their
own amplifier when playing. The sound
of an old Rhodes suitcase amp or
rotating Leslie speaker may be the thing
that inspires the player to produce great
results, and therefore becomes an
important part of the performance. But
it is also useful to capture the direct
sound whenever you can: you never
know when the added clarity (or lack of
effect!) might be useful during mixdown.
Another variation is found in acoustic
instruments that have piezoelectric pickups. Piezos (based on the same technology
as contact mics, described briefly in Part
4) don't capture sound waves; rather,
they track the vibration of whatever they
are attached to. Acoustic players often
have piezo pickups built into the bridge
of their instruments, and use the output of
these pickups to amplify the sound of the
instrument during performance.
In the studio, having this sound can
be an added benefit: it's easy to get
set up, and the pickup will probably
provide a very detailed, articulate
sound. However, piezo pickups require
preamps with a very high impedance
(10 Megohm or more), and when they
don't get it, they produce a nasty tone
nicknamed 'piezo quack'. The only sure
way to avoid this sound is to invest in
a piezo-specific preamp like the Fishman Aura Spectrum or BOSS AD-10, a
good value if you plan to record a lot of
these instruments.
56

RECORDING May 2018

PART 5

Electronic and virtual
instruments
Electronic instruments-analog and
digital synthesizers, samplers/sample
players, workstations, and drum
machines-generate their signals directly,
and will always have amplification built
in. Some, like older analog synths, may
benefit from a DI, while most provide
low-impedance line-level signals that
can be recorded directly. All can sound
awesome when amplified and miked as
an additional sound!
While we are talking electronic instruments, we might as well jump into virtual
instruments-the logical endgame of
the digital instrument lineage. Virtual
instruments are digital instruments, but
they don't live in their own boxes, they
live in your DAW as software. Their output is created in the digital domain and
recorded to your hard drive as is, but
since there's no actual instrument, you
need a way to play them. To do this,
you must provide MIDI commands to
the device, then either record the output
of the virtual instrument, or (more
typically) record the MIDI and play it
back as part of your recording project.
Why would you want to record the
MIDI data? Just like the case with direct
guitars, it adds flexibility during mixdown. When you record MIDI information, you are recording a performance:

the actual keyboard presses and releases
(like notes on a player piano). With
your performance recorded, you can
route the MIDI to a different instrument
for a different sound, or even change
the performance itself. This can be done
by playing MIDI back to external
synthesizers (like reamping a guitar
performance), but it's way easier to
do with virtual instruments built into the
DAW. Recording the MIDI and giving
yourself options for later changes tends
to be well worth the effort.
To get MIDI into your system, you
used to need a whole separate infrastructure: MIDI keyboards (or other
input devices), MIDI cables, and a MIDI
interface for your DAW, often built into
your audio interface. Nowadays, most
MIDI keyboards have a USB jack that
plugs directly into your computer, giving
you instant access to MIDI instruments
with a minimum of hassle.

In closing
Instrument recording does have its
share of complexities: matching levels
and impedances, source selection and
even MIDI connectivity all come into
play when putting together your studio.
The best approach is to get comfortable
with the instruments you already have at
hand-the guitars, basses or keyboards
in your room-and how they interface
with your recording system.
In our next article, we will be looking
at the recording system itself: how we
interact with tracks, buses and I/O.
Until then, dive deep into our past
articles, check out YouTube recording
videos and dig into the recording blogs
and forums. You can never know too
much about the art of recording!
Darwin Grosse (grosse@recordingmag.
com) is a musician, engineer, educator,
podcast host, and digital audio guru,
living and working in the Minneapolis
area.



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 - Cover4
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