Shamisen Live Microphones


#1

Hey fellow Shamisen-Enthusiasts!

This question is targeted to people who maybe already professionally recorded Shamisen or have regular Live concerts with amplification. So I would especially appreciate an answer from Kevin & Kyle ;))

I’m wondering what the most suitable microphones for a live show are, for a single shamisen player and groups.

I saw that at the recent Hirosaki Contest they mostly used large diaphragm condenser mics. I guess in the Close-Ups of the Solo-Performances I saw the Sennheiser e906. Which is funny, because that mic is often used for miking super loud guitar amps.

And also for large groups the use like 4 or 5 mics like these, facing the front row of the players, and the sound is really great.

I a recent concert of my shamisen group we used simple dynamic mics, each player (10 in total) had one pointed at the Dou. It was quite ok, but during Tsugaru Pieces (like Rokudan), the percussive striking kind of dominated the sound, which was not very enjoyable for the audience.

So if any of you got Ideas or recommendations (mics, placing of the mic, cardoid setting…), would be great!

Regards
Andreas


#2

I have two Rode NT2-A that I have tried out recording with a bit. A problem is that I have no real good recording room. With what I’ve got I came to the conclusion that one microphone is enough. I think at the taikai they are EQing it a lot and they do add a lot of reverb.

I think you need a microphone that will capture the loud strikes but still contain the tone and then lower the striking with the EQ.

Like with the guitar it’s common to put it where the neck starts so it doesn’t get the direct full sound of the boom box. One thing that is a problem here is that people hold their shamisen differently. As can be seen during the tournaments people sit a bit away from the microphone and this helps.

I think I spoke with Kyle and he said Aki had tried to put a microphone from the side of the dou to get more of the tone. I tried this but didn’t work that well for me. This is the spot where you can hear the sawari buzz most though, so it might be that with the right EQ you can retrieve that sound from that microphone.

I’m not recording much but if you have some setup that you want me to try with my microphones just tell me and I’ll try it out.


#3

I do a bit of recording, mostly birds, but some instruments as well: sanxian, guitar, drums, shakuhachi. I go two routes on stringed instruments - my go-to microphone, a Sennheiser 66 shotgun, or an Audix i5.

The 66 is wicked sensitive - fine setting gain is critical - but it picks up every hum and rattle and string noise. It is super cardioid (shotgun), so where you point it matters. Best not to point at the location of bachi strikes or you will get a lot of strike front and center in the sound. The Audix, a dynamic cardioid, is far more forgiving - it is meant to be a vocal mic, but has excellent response for stringed instruments. Point it at the face of the instrument, not more than 18" away, tweak the gain (sound checks are critical, and for a good sound check you should always have all the microphones you are going to use on and everybody making sound after you check each mic individually - I highly recommend The Microphone Book by Tom Lubin for loads of practical info on various set ups).

I agree with Karl - some massaging of the signal can improve the sound for the audience. I have used both reverb and a nifty echo pedal to give shakuhachi the sound people expect. If you have a good soundboard and you can play with EQ you can indeed cut off some of the strike sound.

Every combination of microphones, instruments, players, PA system and performance space is unique. Only by testing and tweaking can sound be optimized. Do let us all know what works well for you, please, so we may learn by your experience.


#4

Hey Guys

Thx alot for your Input! Especially about EQing and the Audix i5.

I think I will go to a music shop which has the mics I wanna try out and do some test recording. When I found one or two good ones I will try the positioning.

You have any experience regarding Group Concerts? I’ll soon have a concert again with my group, let’s see what I can tweak there :wink:


#5

Just a tought for the sawari. Has anyone checked how sitar is usually recorded? This might give a hint I think.


#6

Andreasan, google the term ‘microphone comb filtering.’ This is a very important concept when setting up multi-mic situations. The Microphone Book covers all this and much more - I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone making home recordings or playing in public with amplification.

In old videos of Ravi Shankar, you will find everything from ribbon mics up close to shorty shotguns four feet in front of the players. The microphone is only the first part of capturing sound - what is the mic feeding into? This is why there is mystique around old mixing boards - the first ones were hand built by audio engineers. There are now bands who are returning to ribbon mics and tube amplifiers again for the distinctive sound - it’s more of the analog vs digital argument, plus the very different ways that old and new mics turn sound waves to electrical signal.

A sound board with EQ (more than just a patch board to get all the mics to the amplifier/speaker) allows individual bands of sound frequencies to be pumped up or hushed. Use a Neumann U87 microphone with the right board (or a Royer R121 turned backwards!) and you will have plenty of jingle jangle. The book Mastering Audio by Bob Katz is another gem that explains how to get what you are hearing onto a CD or a WAV file - it isn’t as easy as just pluggin components together. Turns out this is a whole field to master.

That said, it is astonishing what you can do with the voice memo app on an iPhone - it is wicked clever, and cuts out a lot of noise: there is filtering software in there trying hard to find the sound that is up front and suppress the smaller sounds in the background. I’m sure there are USB microphones and laptop programs that are balanced and work together to be either a PA system driver or a recording studio. AVID and ProTools are two fairly ubiquitous programs. You can convert the proprietary Apple sound file extension into an MPEG using iTunes - again, consult the interwebs for the series of keystrokes that allow your sound to exit Appleland.

One other microphone that might be interesting to explore is the ‘contact microphone,’ a stick-on piezo disc that is picking up vibrations from the instrument rather than the air. There are (like with all microphones) expensive and cheap versions, and even home-built kits available from sites like Reverb, but nearly all need some form of pre-amplification - they generally don’t do well just plugged into an amplifier. Stuck to the dou, a contact mic will get everything, including handling sounds on the neck, but with the gain adjusted and a separate cardioid mic in front of the shamisen you might get a really interesting sound. Contact mics open a whole rainbow of sounds - you can get some really weird wonderful sounds from solid objects, like pulling a wet finger squeakily over the dou. The under-saddle mics on some acoustic guitars are piezo contact mics in a skinny strip form. Interesting things to work with - I am building a hydrophone for whale and dolphin monitoring using a piezo mic kit.

It all comes down to really playing with what equipment you end up being able to afford and getting the most out of it, and that comes with experience, just like everything else.

I would add one last thought, and I think it has been put forward several times by many on this forum - sometimes a great performance has nothing to do with the sound. A great performance comes from you, your love of the the music and the connection with the audience. Sell it! Smile! Put on a show for the nice folks!


#7

Hi all,

I know that i´m kind of late to the party and that this thread is 3 years all. I have discovered that DPA makes great condenser mics that can be attached to the doukake and, with the help of a goose neck, orientated to the skin of the shamisen. The result is great for a live performing situation.

Best