More readers' queries are answered by the expert teaching staff of London's Gateway School Of Recording & Music Technology.
A regular column where members of the teaching staff of the Gateway School of Recording & Music Technology answer your questions.
Q: I possess only a modest amount of recording equipment. However, I am determined to use my gear to achieve the very best possible sound quality. Can I therefore ask your advice about microphone placement when recording a steel stringed acoustic guitar. Also, are PZM mics worth considering if you don't have a particularly good ambient environment to record in?
Dave Ward, who teaches the recording courses at Gateway, replies:
A: Your question is probably one of the most simplest, most often asked and most interesting to answer! It deals with the fundamentals of all sound recording techniques, namely the importance of getting the sound as correct as possible at source. This enables us to use all our tone controls and effects creatively rather than using them to correct a poor sound later in the process.
With the acoustic guitar we only have to think about where the sound is coming from the instrument. Although a lot of sound will come out of the sound hole, the whole body of the instrument is generating or amplifying the sound of the vibrating strings.
Try giving the microphone 'lots of air' - that is not being afraid to mike the guitar from some distance. Experiment by moving the microphone closer to the sound hole favouring either the lower or higher strings. Try miking up the body of the guitar and you may find a much more bassy or boomy sound. You can see that the best way to learn about microphone placement is to experiment. If it is possible, have someone move the microphone for you so that you can hear the difference. In the final analysis the best position is the one that gives you the sound you want.
PZM microphones are definitely worth considering but they will probably work better if they are stuck to a much larger reflective surface than their small backing plate.
The ambient area in which you record the guitar is the one parameter which will probably give you the greatest difference in quality. If you have been trying to record in the living room on a heavily piled carpet with lots of velvet drapes, all this upholstery will soak up the natural brightness of the guitar or at least will not allow it to reflect off the hard surfaces. You could try looking for a brighter sounding area in the house. What about the bathroom or the hall?
Bright areas like the bathroom are often the secret to crisp acoustic recordings for people who don't have an ideal ambience.
I used to sing in the family wine cellar but I was sussed!!
Q: I have a fairly good set-up consisting of a Roland JX3P and Juno 106, a TR606 drum machine and a Fostex A80/450 recording package. My problem is that I lack any signal processors and I would therefore like to ask your opinion of whether I should look at buying a multi-effects unit like the Roland DEP5 or Yamaha SPX90, or should I buy individual units that might have a better specification.
Gateway's Dave Ward replies:
A: This is another question that is asked many times. The quality of the Roland DEP5 and the Yamaha SPX90 are so good, that to better them you would probably have to buy considerably more expensive units.
The problem with most multi-effects units is that you are only able to process one signal at a time. However, the DEP5 will do several operations on that signal simultaneously.
If you are using the device as a digital reverb you could, of course, send varying amounts of different instruments to the unit down the 'effects send' of your mixer. But if you were using the box as a noise gate - for instance, on one channel - you could not be using it as a digital delay on another because the box only has one input section and a stereo output section.
It is not necessarily the specification that gives us the problem, but the ease of operation when we need to perform several functions at the same time on different signals.
You can imagine that this will crop up all the time in a 'mixdown' situation. With only one effects unit we would have to plan most of our effects in advance and record those effects on tape along with the clean, untreated sounds. Very often in mixdown you will want your effects unit to be working as a stereo reverb and if you wanted a chorus effect on your synthesizer or some delay on a snaredrum, this would have to be planned in advance and recorded. Obviously, in an ideal situation we would have lots of individual units available for when the need arises, but for somebody working to a tight budget like yourself, the Roland DEP5 or the Yamaha SPX90 provide wonderful opportunities to experiment with many effects.
Q: I have recently been triggering my Roland TR505 drum machine from my Akai AX73 keyboard. I set all the MIDI transmit and receive channels to Channel 10, but when I played I got some very strange synthesizer sounds. As soon as I set the transmit channel on the drum machine to Channel 11, all the synthesizer noises disappeared. Can you tell me why this is?
Steve Parr of Wallen Parr Music & Production, who lectures at Gateway on MIDI, replies:
A: What is happening is very simple: when you play a note on your AX73 synthesizer, it sends a message down the MIDI cable to tell the Roland drum machine which drum sound to play. You are transmitting information from the synthesizer on Channel 10 and the drum machine is receiving it on Channel 10; thus far everything is great. However, because the drum machine is transmitting as well as receiving on Channel 10 and the synthesizer is set to receive on Channel 10 also, the drum machine is in fact trying to play the synthesizer down Channel 10. As soon as you change the transmit channel on the drum machine to Channel 11, this solves the problem. Equally, you could have changed the synthesizer receive to another channel.
Probably the best way of solving the problem would have been to disconnect the MIDI cable between the MIDI Out of the drum machine and the MIDI In of the synthesizer. This is good practice with any MIDI set-up, particularly when you are first getting used to MIDI systems. Do not have things connected that you don't need.
When you start to have even more instruments linked together it is probably a good idea to buy some form of MIDI patching unit like the Akai ME30P or Quark MIDILink.
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