With over 7,000 parts the piano is quite possibly the most mechanically and sonically complex acoustic instrument. With seemingly endless ways to mic a piano for recording, the project might seem overwhelming. As part of our basic recording techniques video series, we review three techniques to capture the perfect piano sound.
Position Microphones Inside Piano
Positioning your microphones inside the piano can help achieve a bright pop sound. This setup also provides good isolation, which you can improve by lowering the piano lid. Position two AT4060 tube condenser microphones approximately 11 inches above the strings, pointing straight down. The AT4060 is ideal for recording the piano thanks to its consistent cardioid pickup pattern throughout the frequency spectrum.
When using two mics it is important to always observe the 3:1 rule: Keep your mics at least three times farther from one another than each is from the piano strings (the sound source). This allows you to maintain proper phase alignment. Phase can also be monitored at the console. Place one mic at the center of each string group. Take great care not to get too close to the strings to prevent overemphasizing the strings closest to the microphone. Increase brightness by moving closer to the hammers or decrease brightness by moving farther away.
Position Microphones Outside the Piano
To achieve a more natural solo piano sound, place a stereo pair of mics outside the instrument. Position two AT4051b small cardioid condenser microphones in X/Y about three feet in front of the piano, five feet above the ground. Move around the studio as the pianist plays to find the ideal placement. Trust your ears, as the spot that sounds best to you will likely sound best on the mics as well.
Single Microphone Recording
You can capture the piano’s full sound with a single mic; place an AT2020 cardioid condenser mic just outside the instrument. As mentioned earlier, you can find the sweet spot by walking the room while the pianist plays. To prevent an overly roomy sound, position the mic closer to the piano.