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  • Microphone on Electric Mandolin II

    June 6th, 2022
    contra, music, tech
    Several weeks ago I got excited about the idea of putting an additional microphone on my electric mandolin to capture more of the percussive sound. On Saturday with Kingfisher I made recordings at a dance. Listening back over them I have a lot of thoughts, but first, some examples. "Mix" versions include the mic, while "direct" versions don't.
    Chords
    I would call this the foundation of my contradance mandolin playing: rhythmic and percussive. Here it is with fiddle melody:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    You should be able to hear a little more string noise in the second recording: high, percussive, crisp, clicky. This post is essentially a whole bunch of examples to help decide whether it's an improvement (and if so how much of one).

    Here's what it sounds like later in the set after I came in on footbass:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Another straight-ahead reel:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Here's a clip from a different set with a more laid-back feel:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    And an old-time set with pseudo-jawharp:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Here's one with the fiddle playing around with effects, and very high one-string backup:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Melody
    I'm not primarily a melody player on mandolin, but I do some.

    Here's a reel with fiddle chords:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Here's a clip from a laid-back march, with fiddle playing long chords and a bit of footbass:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Talkbox
    Sometimes I route the mandolin through a talk box. This is one of the places where the difference between the two methods is especially clear, because the audio from the clip-on doesn't go via the talk box.

    Some chords bouncing off the inside of my mouth, over fiddle playing a groovy jig and some footdrums:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Here's fiddle and mandolin both playing chords. Not something we do a very often, since you can lose the form, but nice for offering additional texture options:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    The talk box is good for melody too, with rhythmic fiddle accompaniment:

    (direct)

    (mix)

    Thoughts
    If you haven't listened to the recordings yet and made up your own mind, I'd encourage you to do that first before reading what I have below.

    I don't mind waiting...

    Ok! There are some cases where I think having the acoustic mic makes the overall sound better:

    • On reels when playing chords the percussion is nice to have.
    • On the old-time set with the psedo-jawharp the percussion coming through better adds a lot.
    • Talk box chords are slightly better. The percussion adds something nice and it's something almost entirely absent when using only the talkbox.
    And others where it makes it worse:
    • With laid-back chords the percussion feels a little harsh.
    • Talk box melody is very different between the two cases. I like it much better direct, but I could imagine someone enjoying the stronger attacks that the mic brings?
    Overall, I don't think this comes close to clearing the bar for "let's set up even more equipment and use yet another channel on the mixer". So I'm not planning to stick with this.

    Thanks to Bob Mills for getting me to think harder about whether this was really an improvement!

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