Winter Pills

Note to future-Bryan: do NOT use hypercardioid mics on acoustic guitars in a full-band setting!

Second note to future-Bryan: That Sennheiser MD421 with the tone you’re so fond of is in fact hypercardioid, and not just cardioid as you’d previously believed.

The Winter Pills set should have been straightforward; electric and acoustic guitars, three vocalists, a drummer, and a bass player. The only wrinkle was that the bass player was without an amp and had to be DI’ed (through a standard transformer), but Nick and I were able to deal with that by compressing the hell out of the channel (DBX compressor with a ratio of something like 6:1 and no limiter) and boosting the midrange (~1-2 KHz) a bit.

The acoustic guitar we dealt with by DI’ing its internal pickup using the SansAmp (not a piece of equipment I’m very familiar with) and mic’ing it, then mixing/panning the two signals. As with the bass, the SansAmp got heavy compression as well as some reduced high-end via its EQ knobs to reduce the tinniness; at the end of the day it sounded pretty good. The mic was the aforementioned MD421, which I’ve used in more isolated situations to mic acoustic guitars with generally good results. The problem was that the hypercardioid pattern is basically a tight figure eight; the polar response around the front of the mic is very tight, but the tradeoff is that there’s a region directly behind the mic that picks up nearly as well as the front “hot spot”. Since I’d faced the 421 away from the drums and amps to reduce bleed (ha ha), that rear hot spot got almost as much drums as the front did guitar, resulting in lots of bleed and, in particular, an annoying high-mid pickup of the snare that I spent some time trying to notch out with little success. I eventually just dropped the 421 from the mix about halfway through the set, the SansAmp mercifully picked up the slack and sounded at least adequate, if not brilliant.

It should be noted that a soft-pan of the 421 and SansAmp channels sounded really nice with just the acoustic guitar playing; the warmer 421 balanced out the very crisp SansAmp output nicely, so I wouldn’t rule this combination out for solo-acoustic acts and the like (Kyle pointed out that the hypercardioid pattern can still pick up weird reflections from the wall behind it, but the wall closest to the door is pretty dead so that didn’t seem to be an issue). The 421 was aimed at about where the neck meets the guitar body, which in my experience is the sweet spot for that mic on acoustic guitars (one advantage of the hypercardioid pattern is that you can very precisely pinpoint different parts of the guitar to get a tinnier or boomier sound). For busier acts with acoustic guitars, the SR69 works perfectly well (lacks some character but it gets the job done) in my experience and has a regular old cardioid pattern.

In conclusion, you learn something new every week apparently. I still thought it sounded decent in spite of all that, but I was only half-awake to be honest (quiet bands again).

5 thoughts on “Winter Pills

  1. While we’re talking about the MD421, this article mentions a trick that might work for double bass – wrap the 421 in foam and wedge it below the saddle, pointing up at the bridge. Also, the 421 has a 5-position hipass filter, which opens up some possibilities in different situations.

    If anyone looks at the article, can they tell me if they recognize the nd468 from any local clubs? I think I remember seeing them used at the Middle East, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a show there.

    Also, I think the main issue with using a hypercardioid pattern on acoustic guitar is that it’s so sensitive to the position of the player. In live situations, this may lead to feedback if it points in the soundhole, but that’s not such a problem for us.

    The fact that an acoustic guitar is not even close to a point source is another issue – to that way of thinking, omni is the best pattern to choose when you’re reasonably close. Of course, many times we’re not in the business of reproducing instruments accurately; we’re out to make a sound that fits the song/ensemble. To that effect, use anything that works for you!

  2. I don’t think I’ve seen the ND468 around any venues in the area (which means nothing, but it’s got kind of a distinctive shape so I might remember it if I saw it), but since you mention that article I did see a pair of AT4033’s being used for drum overheads at the Fantomas show last night. Hard to say how they sounded since Dave Lombardo uses such an odd drum kit to begin with, but I thought they were a little bit harsher on the high-end than our SM81’s (which was a good thing in this case).

  3. Remember to check mono when using both a DI and a mic on the same instrument–you can get cancellations due to different arrival times. when doing this some go so far as to slightly delay the DI signal to be perfectly time-aligned.

    I’m totally stoked to try out that 421 trick on double bass–I’ve never gotten a great tone, their volume is relatively low so it’s difficult to find the close/far/placement sweetspot w/o tons o bleed.

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