Introduction to Recording Piano
The piano can be recorded in a variety of ways, with different miking methods yielding markedly different results. Classical recordings often benefit from some degree of room ambiance, achieved by placing the microphones outside of, or at a distance from, the piano. Pop and rock recordings often call for closer miking of the piano’s soundboard to give a tighter, more immediate response. Placing mics over the hammers yields an even brighter, more percussive recording. Removing the piano lid allows for miking the soundboard with no lid “bounce”, while opening the lid at full stick and placing mics just outside of the lid can give a fuller bodied, more natural sounding recording. The piano is a wonderfully complex instrument and the possibilities for recording it are endless!
Engineers around the world are using Royer ribbons to record piano, from classical and scoring to rock and country. We’ve been fortunate to attend a number of sessions where engineers have let us photograph their miking techniques and we share them with you here. As always, these are good starting points, but experimentation is the key to getting the sound you’re looking for.
This is a wonderful technique for recording classical piano. Position an SF-24 active stereo ribbon mic just outside of the open lid of the piano, leaned forward toward the soundboard.
Producer/Engineer Chuck Ainlay’s SF-12 positioned at the outer edge of Chuck Leavell’s piano.
You can also try pulling the mic back further to bring in more of the natural ambience of the room. In this picture, engineer Giovanni Di Simone was beta testing a prototype SF-24V (tube) stereo ribbon microphone for us – it’s on the stand next to a stock SF-24 at a live concert.
Japanese artist Hiromi being recorded by Telarc Engineer Michael Bishop. Michael used an SF-24 and two condenser microphones on the piano. The mics are placed outside of the piano, just far back enough to not be under the lid.
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell 3 Recording Session
This multiple mic technique is one of the most useful methods for recording rock/pop piano. Here we have a spaced pair of R-122s alongside a pair of Neumann U-67s, although any quality condenser microphone should yield decent results with this method.
Two R-122s – Spaced Pair
Live piano during a Henry Mancini Orchestra performance.
Open the piano lid to full stick and place one microphone about 12 inches above the hammers, half way between the lowest key and middle C. Place the second microphone at the same height, between the highest key and middle C. This technique gives a brighter, tighter sound which is usually preferable for rock, country, and pop.You might also try panning the mics hard left and right.
Two R-121s – Blumlein
Blink-182 Recording SessionPlace a stereo pair of R-series mics in Blumlein (one mic above the other at 90 degrees apart) directly in the middle of the sound board over the hammers for a tight, percussive sound. You can also try this position with a stereo Royer SF-12 or SF-24.