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Would you know how to mic up the oud?

The world is full of strange and exotic instruments, and sooner or later someone is going to bring an instrument to your studio that you have never recorded before. What are you going to do? Panic? Look up the instrument in a textbook on microphone technique? Really all you need to do is follow a few of the basic guidelines...

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The world is full of strange and exotic instruments, and sooner or later someone is going to bring an instrument to your studio that you have never recorded before. What are you going to do? Panic? Look up the instrument in a textbook on microphone technique?

Really all you need to do is follow a few of the basic guidelines of microphone technique, which apply to any instrument or sound source.

Firstly, bear in mind that the whole of the instrument is the sound source. For example, a lot of sound comes from the bell of the saxophone, but if you put your ear close to the instrument you will find a whole spectrum of timbres emanating all the way from the mouthpiece through its entire length.

Some parts of some instruments are to be avoided. The foot pedals of the harp for instance. This is no place to put your microphone. The sound of the harp is supposed to be angelic - not angels dancing in Doc Martens' boots!

So if you want to capture the natural sound of an instrument, then pull back the mic so it doesn't favor any one part. A good rule of thumb is to position the mic 1.5 times the maximum dimension of the instrument, pointing from where you would normally consider to be a good listening position.

But for larger instruments, this can mean that the mic is so far away that it picks up too much room sound. In which case you have to find a larger studio, or bring the mic closer. As the mic gets closer to the instrument, it isn't able to pick up the whole of the sound. So it is up to you to experiment and find where the sweetest sound is to be heard.

It isn't always the obvious place. The sound hole of the acoustic guitar gives the greatest contribution to the output of the instrument, but place your mic there and you will find the sound rather boomy.

The value of experimentation cannot be underestimated, and the only 'correct' mic position is the position that pleases you..

For amplification, different rules apply since you will be worrying about potential feedback. In this case it is right to go for the part of the instrument that produces the highest level, then apply EQ as necessary to correct the sound as best you can.

By the way, the instrument pictured is the oud. I've never recorded one, but I'd give it my best shot according to the guidelines above. And I reckon I could do pretty well. If the player was as happy as the guy in the picture looks, then I'd say it would be a job well done!

By David Mellor Monday September 25, 2006
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