The "Big Bluegrass Microphone" - Pictures of proto

Scodiddly

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I've been working on the concept of live bluegrass music and the "one big mic" thing that's becoming popular. 99% of the time it's an inexpensive LDC, which is not going to be a very good mic for a live situation. I've been doing some research and testing, and it looks like there's a lot better sound (and less feedback) in either a ribbon mic (another win for the Fum Ribbon!) or an XY pair of SDC.

So, I'm starting to design a nice big Bluegrass Mic. Contents of the big vintage-looking body will be an array of SDC capsules, basically a stereo pair but maybe with something else thrown in for more control. Plus maybe an EQ/mixer box.

One idea I still haven't managed to completely figure out yet is the possibility of using mid/side processing. In the context of a mono PA a mid/side mic itself wouldn't be useful, since it would always end up summing to cardioid anyway. But what about applying one of those esoteric mid/side processing tricks to control "focus"? Take an XY pair, run through an m/s matrix to get mid and side signals, those through level controls, and then back through an m/s matrix to get the stereo left & right back. Even if summed to mono, changes in the m/s relative levels could result in a narrower pickup pattern - more emphasis on what's in the center. Or would it? This was a "half awake at 3am" sort of idea.

Another idea would be to have a capsule pointing straight back (180 degrees) to steer things in into more of a figure-8 pattern. Live, especially in a big room or outdoors, sound pickup from the back of the mic wouldn't make much of a difference but would give better rejection from the sides. That would make it easier to have a monitor. While having monitors would seem to go against the idea of having one mic and self-mixing, it would help the performers do that self-mixing more accurately.

Finally, I was thinking about a very basic EQ tailored to the application. I'd be using the same mic capsules and circuit as my Alice mic, which means a rather bright output. Something in a semi-parametric with a wide bandwidth, centered around the vocal range.

Ideally there'd be a nice small box with EQ and any processing, along with a power supply box near the mic. You could put it all in a small case, and have the EQ box out by FOH (big venue with sound guy) or plugged into the powered mixer onstage for smaller venues.
 

Flatpicker

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Sounds like a cool idea! I play in 3 BG bands, so if you need any assistance, just let me know.
 

Flatpicker

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[quote author="pucho812"]Not to jack the thread, but that Nu-metal guide was brillent. Makes want to start a nu-metal band right now...[/quote]Hehe... makes me want to play some NU-Grass!
 

mike_relay

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[quote author="pucho812"]Not to jack the thread, but that Nu-metal guide was brillent. Makes want to start a nu-metal band right now...[/quote]

I can't believe they didn't mention that you need to have a rapper AND a singer to be nu-metal!

More on topic.. how important is rejection for this microphone.. since it would be used for live sound? Is the idea that the ensemble would be able to hear themselves without monitors? I had a recent experience with live mic-ing of my upright and we had both feedback AND I couldn't hear myself...

-mike
 

pstamler

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I've done some gigs with bluegrass bands this way...once ran sound at an outdoor festival for the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Their setup was unusual; they wanted one cardioid at voice level, one wide one at instrument level, and one off on the side. I didn't have a cardioid wide enough for the instrument mic, so asked if they'd mind a pair of KM-84s in XY. They assented, and we had great sound all the way. No monitors, and they didn't need 'em. If you can avoid monitors, you're really better off, as the feedback possibilities are so much less.

Peace,
Paul
 

Flatpicker

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[quote author="pstamler"]...No monitors, and they didn't need 'em. If you can avoid monitors, you're really better off, as the feedback possibilities are so much less.[/quote]Works great when crowd-noise isn't a problem. Not the preferred method in, say, a noisy restaurant.
 

mike_relay

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Yeah, this was at a noisy bar... so playing without monitors wasn't an option.. not that I could hear myself.. :mad:
 

Gus

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Scott PAIA sells a kit that uses 3 capsules and does MS.

http://www.paia.com/msmic.htm

Maybe you could use for some ideas
 

PRR

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> an inexpensive LDC, which is not going to be a very good mic for a live situation.

Why not?

Damsite more rugged than any ribbon. Can be fig-8 if that suits the gig (and you pay more than $99). The only objection I see is that C+W never used condensers in the Old Days, just dynamics and ribbons, so you want a drooping-highs EQ. NBD.

As Stamler says: IF you can get a gig where the band can play as-if they are in rehearsal, just using and blending their own voices and amps to a listener, put a mike at that sweet-spot and grab a beer. Of course if the band can't balance, or the crowd won't shut-up, then it is back to 16-track rock-n-roll with stage and side monitors, and the mixer trying to bring something out of the chaos.
 

Scodiddly

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[quote author="PRR"]> an inexpensive LDC, which is not going to be a very good mic for a live situation.

Why not?

[/quote]

Uneven polar pattern. Smaller capsules have much better rejection at all frequencies, while LDC tend to approach omni in the lower frequencies.
 

pmroz

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I've been working on the concept of live bluegrass music and the "one big mic" thing that's becoming popular.
That made me laugh! 'Becoming popular'!
'All the kids are doing it'. I sure hope so.

IMO LD condensors work fine, esp for live bluegrass.
I work at Telluride Bluegrass Fest and a few other assorted 'fests'. planetbluegrass dot com
Not FOH guy, nothing important. Just stage/shuffle crew. But i smile and ask lots of dumb Qs, just like here.
Most often the LDs onstage are KSM32 or AT4050. Less frequently AT4060. As PRR mentioned, durability is important, especially for the product you are envisioning. Bluegrass bands often have uncovered shows in dusty fields, around sooty campires etc. Even the ones who make decent money.

As pstamler said, some bluegrass players prefer less (or no) monitor mix (they like to actually hear each other!) so makes it much easier. Others are used to loud stage volume. Depends on band.

My fav trad bluegrass band is Del McCoury Band.
He's old 'high lonesome' singer from way back. 5 piece band, guit/mando/banjo/fiddle/standup, all 5 sing. 2 are his sons.
For years their stage setup (for every gig, indoor/outdoor, not just TBF) was one AT4033 and a bass DI. They control ambient volume perfectly. I've listened from FOH, and after 5 minutes, FOH guy didn't touch a thing. For solos, the rest of the band moves apart slightly, and soloists step up. It becomes a kind of dance, esp for concurrent solos. Amazing to watch and listen. (check 'Get Down on Your Knees and Pray')
Not sure if they used a monitor last year.

These guys put engineers out of business. They could hit the studio with that just-okay mic and any DI... 6 hours later, out comes a (mixed) record. Like Tom Dowd etc in the old days. They're like magic. They think autotune is the demo button on the store organ. That's what's great about (some) bluegrass, the authenticity of sound. Also why i think your big mic/box is a great idea.(also PRR never says 'good enough for bluegrass').


Their 'new' setup as of last year is (2) AT4033, about 2 feet apart, each 15-20 degrees (or so) off axis. I guess they wanted more elbow room for choreography. That means each mic slightly pointing toward SOS mains. Still, no mains feedback.
For bass, they also traded the DI for a KM84, mounted in a foam tube under the bridge, pointing at the neck, parallel to body surface.
Great bass sound! Technique works with a C451EB in my house too.

Uneven polar pattern. Smaller capsules have much better rejection at all frequencies, while LDC tend to approach omni in the lower frequencies.
Well thanks, maybe that explains why KM84/451 works so well under the bridge.

2 SDs could sound really nice, except maybe not for vocals??? Just my opinion after recording my own voice with C451 (cardiod cap). A little too thin from 24 inches. I'm a baritone.

For bluegrass, TBF tried 'everything + bass' on one mic a few times over the years, but IMO it never worked well. The bass is just such a different thing, less signal, lower down and often farther away from the mic than the other instruments. Bassist-plus-bass often takes up too much room around the mic. So bassist might stand behind the front circle, then there are bodies in the way. Also, the SD bass mic technique only works with my upright in that one position. I can't get a great sound from SD anywhere else around the bass, only with LD or 2mic combo. Even if you had a SD mic inside the 'big mic' pointed down to the spot where the bassist was 'supposed' to stand, i don't think you'd get anything usable. Might i suggest 2 separate mics, or mic plus bass DI for an all-in-one box.

For the 'rest of the instruments' mic, at least for stage bluegrass, a rolloff would be handy. Maybe include a switch on the box for indoor/monitor gigs, or windy outdoors.

I've played (too many) salsa/rock/etc (loud) gigs. Sound guys have put FET LDs on 2 saxes and congas in our band (with monitors) all at once with no feedback. And a tumba from 6 inches (low conga) will generate lower freqs than a guitar or daddy singing bass from 24...
So though i am no FOH guy, i suspect an LD is in the realm of possibility.
How bout Alice in an iron pipe (for durability) and separate SD bass mic w/ mount?

Even though i just said Del McCoury etc can sound good with tin can/string, I admire your pursuit of this directive... it's a good source to aspire to capture authentically. Could i ask what inspired this idea? Friend asked, bluegrass fan, niche market analysis, etc?
 

Scodiddly

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Thanks for the extensive comments, pmroz!

I got interested in this whole thing because a few groups came through the local folk club, and I wasn't entirely happy with the sound they got with the LDC. "Not entirely happy" of course leads to research... :)

I agree that bass works better with another mic or a DI. It's just not a loud enough instrument to cut through and make it into an ensemble mic, plus I suspect a lot of those LDC mics have a low-cut going on to reduce the feedback (LDCs approaching omni pickup at low frequencies). I think that an SDC is generally fine for bass, depending on the mic. The Alice does do a nice job on bass, as does the small Oktava MK-012. A clip-on bass mic is yet another future project.

Anyway, recent testing with an actual bluegrass group included a CAD M179, a Fum Ribbon, a Sennheiser MD-421, and two different sets of SDC mics in stereo XY (a stereo Alice and a pair of AKG C-460). The M179 was OK, but the ribbon was better, as were both SDC stereo setups. That includes vocals. Given the amount of outdoor shows I wouldn't recommend a ribbon mic, so that leaves the stereo SDC approach.

My guess as to the recent LDC phenomenon is that everybody in bluegrass has seen "Down From the Mountain" and all those old Neumann tube mics. I just rented it a couple days ago, and I'd have to say I wasn't that impressed by the sound quality. And if we're doing live sound, the importance of off-axis rejection is much higher than it would be in the studio. Would you like to live with 50% more feedback in order to gain 5% better sound?

P.S. One of the recent groups was Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. While I wasn't entirely happy with their sound (three Shure LDCs), I'd cut off my tongue before saying anything about the musicianship.:shock: Those guys are incredible players and singers. They had one mic for all vocals (and nearby instruments), one mic for instruments (primarily fiddle), and one mic in the middle at waist-height for mandolin and banjo. They also had in-ear monitors in one ear, so they could hear the mic balance. Four singers into one mic, spaced out just right for relative volumes and harmony parts, and some sight-gags about the loud tenor at the same time. Amazing. :cool:
 

pmroz

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Sco, thanks for the info. Always interested in live setup details. People say this or that mic sucks or doesn't suck, but it's so dependent on proximity and source. There's a few threads around here about the 4033, mostly sitting unused on shelves. I don't have one, but I've heard it in the one-mic application, not just for Del, and it sounds great. I think it's a matter of studio vs live in this discussion. Maybe it's about the combination of off-axis rejection and the right size field for this job. Guys at HOB and other mid-size places my band plays loud music are always throwing a pair of those things on drum overheads.
My KSM32 generally sounds good for close-micing, but not-so-good farther way...

Can't even start to get my head around how you might design a mic for optimal spread and proximity of 24-36 inches. Probably lots of testing...
With 2-in-1 mic, maybe tough to avoid either a less-sensitive or too-sensitive spot in the middle that would throw players off. Maybe you could tweak the pattern of just one capsule for optimal proximity and rejection.
But stereo would be pretty nice for this mic, wouldn't it... :D

AT4033 might not even be a LD... saw a couple posts from Gus, went to website, but no capsule diameter in spec. Funny, they say 'choice of bluegrass musicians' or something.

This year at TBF... Bela Fleck/Jean Luc Ponty/Stanley Clarke trio.
what a gas...my hero SC...

Good luck with the mic! If it works 'mighty fine' bring it out to TBF one of these years.
 

Scodiddly

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[quote author="pmroz"]
This year at TBF... Bela Fleck/Jean Luc Ponty/Stanley Clarke trio.
what a gas...my hero SC...
[/quote]

Bela Fleck is gonna be here Wednesday, I'm house tech, and I have no idea what he's bringing or what he'll want in the PA. Should be an interesting gig.
 

pmroz

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No stage plot?
solo? or with heavies mentioned above? With those other cats, wow, who knows?
Flecktones brought their own in-ears to TBF since 2001 or so.
Sounds like you've got a great gig. And bluegrass people are generally friendlier than your rock crowd, at least my neighborhood.

The few dozen times i've mixed live, been too worried/inexperienced to really enjoy the music.

Funny Del story... went to get him for his set 7 ? years ago...
He was under the band bus, fixing tranny.
Crawled out from under in coveralls, unzipped to reveal white shirt, string tie already on...
Washed hands, grabbed coat, 5 minutes later onstage smiling.
 

Scodiddly

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[quote author="pmroz"].
No stage plot?
solo? or with heavies mentioned above? With those other cats, wow, who knows?
Flecktones brought their own in-ears to TBF since 2001 or so.
Sounds like you've got a great gig. And bluegrass people are generally friendlier than your rock crowd, at least my neighborhood.

The few dozen times i've mixed live, been too worried/inexperienced to really enjoy the music.
[/quote]

"Bela Fleck with the Acoustic Trio featuring Bryan Sutton & Casey Driessen" is about all I know.

Luckily live sound is my strength - I'm not worried about, except maybe that he'll bring in a band tech who isn't that good.
 

Flatpicker

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[quote author="Scodiddly"]"Bela Fleck with the Acoustic Trio featuring Bryan Sutton & Casey Driessen" is about all I know...[/quote]Wow! Let me warn you, its going to be a great show!
 

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