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Microphone Month 5

Piano Miking Summit

August 8th, 1997 is a date which will live in infamy for inSync readers the world over; for it was on that fateful day that Jeff R. sent the editor of that esteemed journal a single innocuous question:
“…(what is) the best way to mike a grand piano (remember the big heavy things with all the strings in them?)… it might be of interest to others (and certainly to me) how to get the best sound out of such an instrument, including just enough overtones to capture the inimitable sound of a real piano without getting lost in the host of tones and reverberations which emanate from it.”

Little did Jeff know the havoc his question would wreak, or the far-reaching implications it would have for the future of the cosmos. For you see, upon pondering Jeff’s query, the estimable Editor of inSync was moved to issue from his dark-filled sanctum a grand proclamation, one that would change the course of events for all time. He uttered, in his regally inimitable, thoroughly quantum fashion, “Um, maybe we could ask our readers if they have any ideas…”

Silence fell on the entire Sweetwater pantheon as the import of this statement dissipated into the ether. The loyal inSync team was moved almost to tears at the depth and grandeur of his words – could a mere mortal really have wrought such brilliant insight? There was truly only one thing to do in the face of such impassioned verbosity: Make It So! So, the revered Editor’s plea was distributed to the ends of the earth by every means of communication possible. From end to end, the planet would know “inSync Needs Your Piano Miking Tips!”

Only nanoseconds passed from when the message went forth, but it seemed eons to the assemblage of inSync’ers frozen in silent anticipation. Would they respond? Would they ignore? Would they revile? Would they suggest using a Mirage sampler?

Thankfully, inSync’s readers are a generous and responsive lot; and the inSync team was soon able to compile the following massive compendium of piano miking techniques and suggestions. In it you’ll find a variety of methods for miking grand pianos in just about every situation, musical style, and environment you can think of…

Special thanks to all who took the time to send us their suggestions and tips! If, upon perusing this list, you find you have a piano miking tip or suggestion to add to it, send it along to insync@sweetwater.com.

So, without further ado, here are the suggestions sent in by inSync readers, listed in the order we received them.

Nika Aldrich

About miking the piano, I just approached Greg Hanks about this yesterday. (He has done a lot of work with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.) I explained that my wife was an opera singer, and wanted to know how to mic her and the piano together in one room and still get all of that “essence” that the piano carries. His suggestion to me: Put one condenser mic in the room and pick up the essence of her and the piano in one mic to “capture” the performance.

Of course, miking a piano for classical works such as this uses a much different mentality than miking a piano for further processing. But, hey, food for thought, and one suggestion.

John Oram

I have a favourite method that I’ve used on many records. Put a mic about 9 inches from the strings, lid-up, inside the piano looking at the strings positioned about one third from the back of the instrument looking down at about one octave above middle C. Use a condenser with some EQ (mine of course!) of about +4 dB at 4 kHz. Place a second mic UNDER the piano in a similar position looking up to the soundboard. EQ this to taste, (warm up the lows is nice, with a little HF for attack) but concentrate on getting just enough mechanical wood sound to add percussion and “real-piano” feel. Set this mic panned half left with the one above panned half right. “Sounds Jolly Dee to me!”

Rob McGaughey

I’ve had great success miking a Yamaha C7 Grand Piano using two Beyerdynamic MC834 microphones in a fairly large room with hardwood floors. I take one MC834 and place it about 2-4 inches behind the hammers (from the player’s perspective) at about a 15 degree angle up towards the player and about 18 inches above the strings. This microphone is placed about 2/3 of the way up the keyboard (upper midrange). I will move this microphone up or down the keyboard slightly to balance the sound and change the tilt or angle slightly to get a brighter or duller sound. I take the second MC834 and place it under the piano, in the center of the body (front to back), about 8 inches from the bass side, and aimed towards the floor with about a 30 degree angle up towards the player with the diaphragm about 8 inches off of the floor. The key to this is the big room and hardwood floating floors, but you get a very tight, robust low end that isn’t tubby and it blends extremely well with the top end. I love the Beyer MC834 for miking pianos because of its clarity and presence without sacrificing low end and especially for its ability to handle high SPL without getting edgy sounding. I know this is a slightly esoteric miking technique but it works well for me in some rooms. I also have used two MC834’s miked from the top with the high freq. mic the same as the earlier technique and putting the low freq. mic about halfway down (front to back) near where the low strings cross one another and nearly parallel with the sound board.

Steve Schow

In college we actually had to do a lab where we were supposed to setup different mics in different positions around a piano. We tried all kinds of different setups. We tried close mics, distant mics, mics in-between, mics under the piano, mics over the keys, mic arrays in different combinations.

To my ears, the best sounding setup was to use a simple M-S array using AKG C414s at about 3 feet from the piano sounding board.

Josh Jenkins

In my experience, the best way to RECORD an acoustic piano is with a pair of high quality condenser microphones placed about seven feet away on boom stands. Generally you would want to put these on the same side where the lid is lifted up (on a grand). They should be about 4 or 5 feet apart depending on the length of the piano. I generally like to have the lid open on the tallest leg. You might try panning them slightly (one left, the other right). Remember to make sure they are off-axis to one another to prevent a whole wealth of phase problems (speaking from experience). This method of miking only works in a silent room with great acoustics, and when using top quality microphones.

Chris Anderson

Well since you’ve asked, I like to use three mics on my Yamaha C7 Conservatory grand: Two AKG C391s spread about 18-24 inches apart over the hammers (no X-Y for me!). The more rock and roll I want it (read brighter) the closer to the hammers I position them. For a more classical sound I move them back and up, away from the hammers. The third mic is an AKG C414 I put over the spot where all the bass strings crisscross. This input is panned to the center of the image and brought up to add warmth and solidify the center of the sound. I work with the piano top on the long stick and usually throw two packing blankets over the side to keep the room out. Sometimes I line the inside of the top with Sonex. For real classical stuff I’ll use a coincident pair (X-Y) just outside of the ‘waist’ and a pair of 414’s back in the room, with no damping of course. Sometimes a mic underneath is helpful, too.

Ryan Fraser

I just read the comment about miking grand pianos, and I think that I should point out (as a performing musician, _not_ as a recording engineer!) that any set-up should vary greatly with the situation. The great Canadian concert pianist Glen Gould’s Bach recordings were famous for the clarity, and purity of tone, sound, and technique. He insisted that the microphone(s) (alas, he existed in the mono age for a good chunk of his career!) be placed right inside the piano, with the lid at full stick. If I recall, the ‘phones hung a few inches below the lid. I’d guess that they were highly directional.

The best rule of thumb that I could ever suggest, is that regardless of your actual physical setup (i.e. what kinds of mics, digital effects, etc. etc.), the best thing you can do is to talk to your musicians, and play them back examples. Most (especially soloists) know the kind of sound they need to fit their style like the back of their hands. It’s something all good musicians train themselves to do. Every situation, every tune, every moment, that’s going to change to fit the occasion. I’ve recorded in a couple of studios where the engineer(s) insisted on one particular setup, and the results showed that the recording missed out on many of the subtleties that the instrument was capable of, and that the musician relied on to make music. Whether Rock, Jazz, Classical or anything else, this seems to hold true. Musicians, (however annoying we may be in a studio), are extremely picky about what sort of tone and timbre comes out of the end of the horn.

My 2 cents, anyways.

Rich Fox

First off, have someone play the piano. If you’re going to set up a stereo XY (two mikes crossing heads at 45-90 degrees, this gives you an ambient stereo field) you need to use one ear and find the spot on the piano that sounds the best to your ear and aim the mikes at that spot. I usually find it to be a few feet back aimed at the cutout part of the grand.

If you are going to close mic and want lots of attack, use a parallel placement with one mike in far to catch the bass strings and one near to cover the treble. Face the capsules down at 30-45 degrees and have the piano player, play one hand at a time and listen again with one ear turned toward the piano source first for the low strings and then for the high for mic placement. If you want a little warmer sound, do the same thing further back toward the front (narrow end) of the piano as to not get the hammer brightness. Remember the ratio of 1:3. For every one inch your one mike is placed close to the source, the other mike has to be 3 inches away from the 1st mike to avoid phasing. This is always noticeable in a stereo miking situation. Phasing collapses the stereo spread and makes the sound hollow. My favorite piano mikes are PZM (pressure zone mikes) taped to the lid of the piano or soundboard. I like the lid and use two PZMs with the capsule end facing the hammers. The high mike close the hammers and the low mike away. I can then raise and lower the lid for more or less ambience. PZMs don’t seem to be as affected by phasing and I get a great sound this way. I also like to open up a (Neumann) U87 in the room for depth.

These are only a few. I am sure some other great tips on mid-side mics, etc. will come up. Good luck and trust the ear, Luke.

T. Greg Squires

I work for the Center for the Arts in Tucson, AZ where we own a Baldwin 9′ grand which resides in our 425-seat proscenium theatre. We are primarily dealing with live reinforcement, but I have done some recording. Here are some of the techniques I’ve tried:

A down and dirty way is to stick a good lo-end responsive dynamic at the nose (approx. 6″ off the bass strings where they cross) and a condenser at the head (6-8″ from the strings and 12-18” from the highest key). An (Shure) SM57 and an SM81 or AKG will work just fine. It helps to adjust the mids for both mics and your body is obviously going to come from the dynamic.

When Marcus Roberts came to perform, they sent a spec sheet that was obviously from a recording session. We still used it. Two Sennheiser 421s at the keys (4-6″ from the strings and 12” and 30” from the highest key), another 421 just inside the bow and an EV RE-20 at the nose similar to the above placement. It was very easy to make this piano sound good and REAL. Also, Mr. Roberts had to play a Steinway – it’s in his contract. If you’ve got the mic power, this is a good way to go; but you will most likely need to remove the top.

When John Denver played, they used ribbon mics taped to the sound board. Sorry, I didn’t get the models. I thought the sound was a little thin, but then again, Mr. Denver was simply stroking a few chords.

One of my favorite ways to record is when we have no audience. I simply place a stereo pair halfway in the house and let the instrument and hall sing for themselves. Our theatre was acoustically designed by Bob Mahoney for acoustic music. Sometimes I place a few band shells behind the piano. Granted this is a luxury not many of us are afforded. Still, there’s nothing like it, and it’s as true as it gets.

Hope this is useful and not redundant.

Scott Fraser

So much depends on the instrument, the player, the studio, the type of music, & whether it is solo or part of an ensemble. I record lots of jazz & classical piano in my studio using XY mounted cardioid Neumann KM140s or KM84s. I place the mics about 6 feet from the piano at head height for classical, or about two feet distant for jazz. With a drummer in the room I often put the lid on the short stick which forces the mics right down to about 5 or 6 inches off the strings, about 10 inches behind the hammers. If the drummer is playing softly with brushes this isn’t always necessary. On this piano with these mics getting in this close does not result in an overly bright dry sound, so I can get away with it more than on other pianos. The best tool, however, is a set of sensitive aware educated ears. Good luck.

Gary Pozner

My two favourite ways to mike a piano are: 1) Two Radio Shack PZMs taped onto the lid. Either open or closed depending on the session and the sound desired. With the lid closed you get very interesting sound. Ambient yet very close.

2) Two AKG C414s about a foot away from the hammers, facing the keys. For a classical session move them a few feet back and add a really sensitive condenser mike (i.e. Sennheiser 221) about 15 feet above or to the right of the open piano.

Tom Petrozki

I have gotten a good piano sound with a pair of small diaphragm condensers X-Y’ed 8 inches above the strings and about a foot behind the dampers. For a more ambient sound, like a solo recording (in a nice sounding room), I would use a coincident pair of omni mikes (I use KM83s) about two feet above the head of the pianist. One final thought is that the closer I have to put the mics, the more mics I feel you need to use to keep the piano from sounding small. If I close mic above the strings, I may try a mic where the bass strings cross to get the low harmonics. Sometimes I will even mic the bottom of the soundboard to pick up more resonance. As the number of mics increase, so does the likelihood of phase problems, so I like to pan all of the mics to one speaker and fade each one in one at a time. If you bring up a mic and hear the sound get hollow, or smaller, try flipping the phase of the mic you just added in. One final trick is to use a pair of PZMs under the strings about 6-8 inches behind the hammers. This worked well when I had to record a jazz group with no isolation. Although I had to use some compression (easy does it there!) to even out the overall sound, it sounded great. Hope this helps someone!

Larry Clark

Here are some of the things I’ve picked up about recording pianos over the years. Hope they help.

This may sound obvious, but you need to start with a good-sounding piano. Few people get to record a well-maintained, 9′ Steinway on a regular basis, and most baby grands sound terrible, especially on the low end. So, just like recording a singer, you need to identify the character of the instrument (e.g., bright-sounding, dark, “honky” midrange…) and work within its limits. Get a good piano technician to come in and adjust and tune the piano before you begin — it’s worth every penny! Talk to the technician about the kind of sound you want, so they can work in that direction. Also, have the technician make sure there are no rattles in the piano, and that the pedals can move silently.

That done, have someone play the piano with the cover off and stick your head inside. Move your ears around and listen for sweet spots and hot spots — places where the good and bad characteristics really come out. Obviously, you don’t want to stick a mic right on top of a dead spot on the sound board.

Then, you need to consider what kind of sound you want. A rock or country tune with a really bright attack and even dynamics would usually call for close mics right over the hammers, where an orchestral sound or solo piano piece would lend itself well to more distant miking. You may even want to use room mics if the room sounds good.

Speaking of mics, make sure they compliment the piano. For example, I just finished a project that used a Steinway baby grand that had a dark sound, and much of the record was pop music. We used a pair of KM184’s (Neumann’s, about $600/each) to get a brighter sound. If the piano lacks lows, you may want a good, large diaphragm mic to bring out the low end that is there.

A good starting place for mics on a grand piano is a crossed pair placed near the end of the long stick that holds the cover up, with the cover open. If leakage is not a problem, you can remove the cover altogether. From this position, see what kind of sound you get. Moving closer to the piano will emphasize the attack of the hammers (and sometimes the piano’s problems), further away will emphasize the room. You can use as many mics as you need. Just remember, the more mics, the more complicated things get (e.g., phasing problems, balancing problems, leakage).

You really need to experiment with mics. Just like recording a voice, the mics need to match the instrument (Wouldn’t it be great if it were the other way around!). I recommend you don’t buy anything until you are sure that they work. I’ve seen everything from contact mics to large-diaphragm condensers to a Shure SM57 work well. Try renting a variety from a local studio or store and test-driving them. It will make a huge difference in the results and in your wallet…

Keep in mind that, with the piano, you really are recording a performance. That means you are recording the instrument and the sound of the person playing. Once the mics are in place and everything seems OK, have the pianist let loose and roll some tape. Listen for grunts and groans, creaking benches, pedal noise, stomping feet, room rattles, etc. Have the player come in, and let them hear the performance. Usually, they are amazed at how much noise they make during the process! Sometimes, a little embarrassment up front will save a lot of headaches when it comes time to mix. Good luck!

Christopher Peacock

After 17 piano albums on Pure & Simple Music, these are tips Producer/Pianist Christopher Peacock learned, with the help of Reed Ruddy, Manager/Engineer at Studio X/Seattle:

As with all sound, consider the source…we have spent a lot of time with piano technicians achieving the best possible sound (and lack of!) from the instruments.
Every piano is different, so mike placement will differ. For us, it was different each and every time. Listen for the location that provides an even Left/Right spread across the keys and minimal hammer/pedal noise (This can be 8 inches away or 8 feet!).
Our label gets so many piano demos that have effects and EQ applied in the recording process. Record the raw sound to tape! It’s much easier to redo the processing of the sound than redoing the performance! We prefer miking with two B&K 4011s, running through a Summit preamp, direct to tape (or hard disc). If you find that you need very little processing of your recorded piano, congratulations!

Matthew Lien

This would naturally depend on your desired sound, and the piano used. I record on a Yamaha C7, and am looking for a natural sound, rather than a recording of hammers nailing strings two inches from your face.

After extensive experimentation, we (my engineer and I) settled on using two AKG C414s placed in the curve of the piano’s body, at a height split between the edge of the body and the lid at full stick, the two mics slightly angled away from each other, facing in and down toward the high and low sections of the strings. We avoid going under the lid, as the sound is not what you’d hear as a listener.

After going through the Neve pres, and hitting 2″ tape with Dolby SR, the result is a fine blend of warmth and brightness.

Shai Drori

Here is a simple yet effective way for recording a mono compatible piano: Open the lid to the top position and place a cardioid mic in front of it. Find the sweet spot with your ears. On top of it place a figure of eight pattern microphone tipped on its side. If you are missing some bottom end, you can play around with a PZM underneath. Usually comes out great.

Paul Freudenberg

There is no “best way” to mike a grand piano, just the way to get the desired result of the individual recordist. But I have used many traditional recording methods as well as some unconventional ones with good results.

  1. Microphone selection – Almost always condenser. The piano is a full range instrument and in today’s music, the sound we are used to hearing is bright and responsive; always recorded with condensers. Large diaphragms will produce a robust tone with slightly less transient response but highly sensitive. Small diaphragm mics will produce a crisp, tight, accurate sound with slightly less dynamic range.
  2. Mic position – Most pop and rock recordings position the mics somewhere over the hammers. Assuming this is an overdub, (many considerations need to be made when recording with a band), put the lid on full stick, using a traditional stereo mic array like XY or spaced pair, place the mics about one foot off and slightly behind (toward the back of the harp) the hammers. One of the best piano recordings I’ve witnessed used a pair of old Neumann KM86 (large diaphragm condenser) spaced about 11″ apart placed above the hammers with the center just below middle “C”. Problems may come up with the sounds of the dampers or hammers or even the performer making noise so you may have to move the mics back. Many times, a third mic is used at the far end of the bass strings in order to pick up the rich harmonic overtones which resonate at the end of the strings.

Jazz and classical piano recording can be approached in a different fashion. I prefer the softer sound of a distant miked piano for these musical styles. I have used traditional mic techniques such as MS (middle-side), XY and spaced pair miked 6 to 12 feet away from the piano with the lid on full stick – much like a listener at a piano concert would hear front row at Carnegie Hall. A subtle stereo image is created from the room ambiance so in this example you need space and a good sounding room. Large diaphragm condensers worked best for me here because of the extra dynamic range.

Ric Heeter

Since this question has come up many times here at the IU School of Music I decided to do some inquiry myself. I am not a sound engineer but a piano technician who sympathizes with the notion that a real piano has dimensions which, as of yet, has not been duplicated with digital technology.

Since we are dealing with a 3D sound rather than 2D, the piano can be miked in many ways to achieve different ends. If in a studio, where final mixes include the adding of effects etc., it seems best to get semi-directional type of mikes as close to the soundboard as possible. At least two, but the more the better, because of the complexities of the different colors produced by different areas of the sound board. It is important to realize that you are miking the soundboard, not the strings. Miking the soundboard closely like this is best achieved from under the piano where more of the soundboard is exposed for experimentation of placement. If in a concert hall where an ambiance of natural reverberation is to be recorded (3D to 2D), It seems better to place a mike roughly 15 ft away and roughly 10 ft high. This too is subject to much experimentation. Quality of microphone in this application is extremely important.

There is no way, as of yet, to duplicate the live 3D sound of an acoustic instrument or any live performance for that matter. When recording we are only dealing with illusions. However, to those of you who are in the business of recording, remember that what a musician feels and hears WHILE he or she is recording greatly evokes the WAY they play. So, never expect good musicians, particularly pianists and piano players, to come to your studio and give it his or her best on anything less than the real thing (and a darn good one in tune as well). Too often, many dollars are spent on “state of the art” recording equipment but little or nothing on a good quality piano, in tune, and in excellent working condition.

George Hanson

I have been the Stage Manager at the local Civic Center here for many years and have seen it done a number of ways. The most common is of course the old mic on a boom stand. However, as head of the television production at a church I once attended, we tried several ways to get the best sound for television without picking up extraneous noises from the audience. If you consider that the sound from a grand piano comes from the sound board underneath, the best place might be from the bottom. We tried that with a standard mic and a PZM mounted on a Plexiglas backing. Both were somewhat effective, the PZM probably the best, but both were still subject to extraneous audience noises. The very best we were able to obtain came from mounting a PZM on the bottom side of the lid using the lid for the necessary hard surface backing. With the lid closed, it is virtually unnoticed and blocks out all noises except somebody beating on the piano body. Two things to watch out for: 1. Be absolutely certain the mic is mounted so it will not fall off during performance, and 2. The microphone cable does not droop onto the strings killing some strings. Why does this work well? A PZM is designed to pick up in all directions more so than other “instrumental” mics. Using an (Shure) SM58, let’s say, will tend to pick up the sound the mic is closest to, i.e. bass strings or high end. One or the other will typically be weak. The PZM, on the other hand, mounted to the lid, picks up more nearly all of the frequencies of the instrument. One more thing, since most PZMs are also designed to work at a distance of 15 feet or so, you may need to pad the input, again depending on the particular mic you use. All of this is moot if your artist wants the lid off, but we have found it really is the best way to pick up the overall sound of the instrument.

Michael Besson

There should be three microphones underneath the lifted cover. The first will be on the right; the second will be in the middle; and the third mike will be on the left. Each mike will go to a different track. (There are some really special, sensitive mikes and in that case, one may use two mikes–left and right.) With mikes plugged in mixer, the engineer will check the signals when the pianist plays.

Jesse Fawcett

Well, I’ve never done a grand piano, but when I was working as a tech (former chief tech at West Toronto Collegiate), we mic’d the piano by using an omnidirectional (cardioid) microphone placed at the back of the (upright) piano at a distance of about 3-4″. So I would suggest either using a cardioid on an inverted stand (so that the microphone is pointing upwards) close to the underside of the piano, or perhaps you may wish to place a microphone inside the box of the piano, probably near the back would be best, in the narrower part. Another thing you could do, for a nice balanced output, is to use 3 or 4 lavalieres placed inside the box, each on a separate mixer channel (if you can spare the channels), and you can adjust the gain on each mic not only to eliminate distortion, reverberation, and echo, but also to adjust for different playing styles (enhance or reduce the bass or treble, as needed). If you’re using the piano with the top closed, then you might want to try a floor mic. This is a microphone which we used during one performance, which is designed to pick up vibrations through the floor, and could probably be improvised with a unidirectional microphone (more sensitive than omnidirectionals), and some duct tape (but don’t do this on a nice shiny expensive grand piano, because it will probably ruin the paint job). If the top is open, you could always use a unidirectional on a straight stand, fairly high up, to pick up the deflected sound waves coming off the top… but this doesn’t look very nice to an audience…and you would probably get some distortion in the sound…but that really depends on what kind of sound, and what kind of reception, you’re looking for.

Rich Lamb

To get a full bodied, natural piano sound, I like using a pair of same-model condensers (experiment with different ones, depending on availability and the overall tone of the piano), in an X-Y configuration, either 18″ over the hammers (facing straight down), or slightly outside the lid, facing the strings on an angle at a greater distance. Keep the two capsules close to insure a well-defined image and excellent mono compatibility. Moving the mics closer to the strings does NOT result in a brighter sound; it’s the sound board where the resonance happens (compare the sound of an unamplified, solid-body electric guitar to a regular acoustic guitar). Some low-end rolloff may be helpful, as is a slight boost in the 800-1K range, where the ear defines “piano tone.” You can hear this miking technique on many albums, particularly ones recorded by two great engineers I’ve assisted: Paul Wickliffe (Special EFX, Roseanna Vitro) and James Farber (Brecker Bros., James Taylor). Be conservative with compression.

The above method may not achieve the bright pop piano sound of David Foster or Bruce Hornsby. For that, find a Humberto Gatica interview, and look for a Yamaha grand with bright hammers in the meantime.

Upright Piano Miking

Back on 1/21/00 an inSync reader posed a question about how to mic an upright piano, and we opened the forum to our readers to send in their tips and techniques. A few have responded with helpful information and insight so as promised we are posting the results here. As always these summit entries are published with only minor edits and corrections.

John E. Van der Brook

Olympia, WA

When you listen to a piano, are you listening to the strings or to the soundboard? That’s an age-old question which, at least in the piano building industry (as well as other acoustic string instruments) has been answered: you’re listening to the sound of the strings as amplified by the soundboard. More technically correct, the soundboard serves as an impedance matching device that takes the energy of the vibrating string and couples it to the air.

Here’s an analogy: Do you remember the phonograph? When playing a record, with the volume turned all the way down, you could put your ear near the phono cartridge and hear the sound of the music being played back. In the really old acoustic phono players, this sound was impedance-matched to the air via a big old horn. These can be found in most museums and if you are lucky, you might get a demo. They actually do a pretty good job, considering how primitive it was. And an analogy for younger performers, non-acoustic guitars have almost no sound when their strings are strummed. That’s because they lack acoustic coupling, the front plate of a guitar. In a string instrument, the string is vibrating and the bridge serves as a mechanical coupling device to the soundboard. The sound board, like a large speaker driver, moves a lot of air a very small distance, which sets up acoustic waves, which is what we hear when we listen.

The grand piano uses a soundboard, which allows for different resonating lengths, and thus is better at its job of acoustic impedance matching. The upright is just loaded with compromises. But that said, I’ve had good luck using a pair of vocal mikes (AKG 535s) about 18 – 24 inches from the back of the upright. One mike is near the high end of the treble section; the other is near the break (the break with where the piano switches from the treble section, with 3 strings per note, to the base section with heavier strings per note. Also, they are generally criss-crossing each other). The piano doesn’t sound as good as a grand, but it is amazingly good anyway. You eliminate most or all the noise from the action.

Greg Baum


I have had outstanding results miking upright pianos by shoving a solitary Crown PZM mic up underneath the piano. If the piano is sitting on a naked wood floor, then the floor helps to act as a sounding board. I found the lows to be thick, the highs very clear and present and the mids to shimmer. The labels and A&R people loved it. I have tried other ways of miking, but I keep falling back on this. Using 2 mics doesn’t work as well as using one. Once you get it positioned the sound will blow your mind!

Don Herman, Jr.

Most uprights allow one to open the top, which provides a place to put a pair of mics to pick up the high and low strings. Putting the mic in the cabinet has never worked well for me, however — too much boom and tizz. I’ll usually put (or prop) up the lid a bit (maybe 8″ to 10″) and mic from the front, pointing the mics generally into the piano but at an angle. Some nice resonant effects can be had (also some bad resonance effects, of course) which add ambiance. This can be a challenge on some uprights, like some Steinways, which have the whole front section open rather than the top. For these, miking from the side may be better. In either case (no pun intended!) a PZM or two on the lid (or front) (facing the strings) may work really well.

It’s almost always necessary to fiddle with mic placement (so what else is new?). I (or the player) pound out some chords and arpeggios, recording the same sequence using several initial placements to rough in the placement. Then I repeat the procedure with finer adjustments to choose the final positioning. You can get several sonic signatures (“bright” vs. “dark”, “grand-like” vs. “honky-tonk”, etc.) by doing this.

FWIW, I generally also mic from the back (if it’s not flat against the wall or I can move it) to help pick up the soundboard, in addition to the top (or front) mics. Mixed in at a lower level, or perhaps EQ’d so it’s mostly bottom, the back mic can help fill out the sound.

Finally, as for a grand piano, a single mic hung out in the room may do the job just as well or even better. It can be quite frustrating (and humbling, and revealing) to find a simple omni (or cardioid) or two out in the room sounds better than the three or four mics around and in the piano you just spent several hours dialing in to perfection.

Jesse Cian

Fawcett DNE Productions

Just wanted to point out that my suggestions for the grand piano are derived from my experience miking uprights. But to reiterate, an omnidirectional about 6 inches away from the back of the piano, and towards the bottom, with an additional omnidirectional mic in front to pick up both the person’s voice (if they sing) and some different elements of the piano’s sound. If the person doesn’t sing, point the mic toward the piano, or straight down toward the keys, but at least 12″ away so that it doesn’t pick up the sound of the keys themselves. EQ the front mic for mid-range, and the rear one more for bass and treble. I used AKGs for both mics, can’t recall which model.


Of all the numerous piano miking set-ups I’ve heard, the M-S approach always seems to win with me. This approach works especially well for popular music forms where there tends to be a lot of audio information of differing timbres competing for “presence.” Proximity to the soundboard varies with room size and acoustics, but generally 3 to 4 feet away.

Matthew Reeves

Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church, Georgia

I’ve had reasonable success miking an upright piano by placing a Crown PZM upside down on the lip where the lid rests. I CAREFULLY closed the lid on top of the mike and got a pretty good sound.


San Francisco, CA

I’ve had good success through a combination of simply hanging a pair of omnidirectional mics (I use the Earthworks QTC1’s) inside the piano from the top and one or two room mics at a distance (less than five feet). For the hanging mics I simply tie the mic cords off to a large boom stand. I use the stand’s position to control the height (depth?) of the mics in the cabinet. A few inches makes a big difference here. This sound by itself isn’t very natural, but it does have good presence and when blended with the room mics the sound becomes remarkably well rounded. The low midrange can sometimes get a little “boxy” sounding on the hanging mics, but that’s been easy to correct with EQ.

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