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Tips for recording pianos and organs

Recording an acoustic piano is not something many home studio engineers will find themselves doing. For a start, few of us will have a great sounding grand piano casually placed in the middle of studio, let alone room enough to fit one in there.

Recording a piano for the first time can be a daunting task. Here’s a quick guide on where to start for an Upright, Grand, Electric, Hammond or Leslie.

Upright piano

Firstly, make sure the piano is away from the wall. For a one mic setup, mic the back of the piano with an SM-57 pointed at the soundboard. Adjust the proximity and position for more bass or treble. For a two mic setup, mic the back of the piano with a pair of SM-57’s pointed at the soundboard, about 1/2 a meter in from either side. Adjust the proximity and position for more bass or treble and to balance the sound each mic is capturing.

Grand piano

For a two mic setup, use two large diaphragm condenser mic’s. Position one up at the keyboard end over the high-strings and the other at the far end of the piano over the lows. For a three mic setup, you can add a third mic at the left side of the keyboard end.

Wurlitzer electric piano

For a soft, cushioned sound, with good low-end, use the DI. To get a warmer sound that has a bit of bite to it, run the Wurlitzer through a small amp e.g. Fender Deluxe or Vox AC15. To capture the key-click you can mic the built-in speaker, the Low-fi/High-fi quality will vary depending on your choice of microphone.

Hammond or Leslie organ

For Jazz or tracks where the organ is a primary instrument, use 2 Shure SM-57’s in XY on the horn and a dynamic bass drum mic e.g. AKG D112 or Shure beta 52A on the bass. If you’re after a classic pianist’s perspective, pan the 57’s hard left and the bass mic hard right. For a greater stereo effect on the horn, pan the 57’s left and right and the bass mic up the middle.

Going for Rock or Indie Rock? Use 2 Shure SM-57’s either side of the horn about 1/2 a metre away, no mic on the the bass. Depending on your room, you can also try a pair of condenser mic’s e.g. AT 2020, AKG P120/220, Rode NT1-A about a meter away.

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