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  • Jack Longman

My first time recording Grand Piano!

Good afternoon! A few weeks back I got the chance to engineer a glorious Grotian Steinweg grand piano from the 1920's for a folk/country/singer-songwriter record I am currently producing for a friend of mine and I just wanted to talk about how fun it was and nerd out about the mic's and positions and stuff!

Gavin Holligan recording piano for Liam Cromby

Of course, when the discussion of piano was coming into the mix for this record, I knew that there was no one other than my good friend and mentor Gavin Holligan for the job. He just knows how to get so much emotion out of a piano performance, the guy is talented beyond words. That being said, we knew it had to be a real piano that the parts were played on and recorded! So we went to Subfrantic Recordings, a studio out in Kent for a day to get everything down.

The piano was a little out of tune when we got to the studio and so had to wait for the piano tuning specialist to arrive, which allowed me to try a few mic techniques out before he arrived. I went with a pair of AKG C414s for the main stereo mics of the piano. I started with them positioned inside the piano directly over the sets of strings, but when I went back to the control room to listen, everything just sounded way too bright and harsh/brittle. So I pulled them back quite a bit, so they were just on the edge of the piano underneath the lid. I looked "down the barrel" of each microphone to make sure it was addressing what I wanted it to before running back into the control room to re-assess, and it sounded great! I hadn't even checked phase, but it sounded cool so I left it.

AKG C414 Microphones Recording Piano

After this, Gavin said about using a "parrot mic", which is basically a room mic positioned over the pianists shoulder (haha). I've used this technique a few times when tracking acoustic guitar and it makes the listening experience a bit more natural sounding in a way, as it's similar to how the player hears the instrument in the room. For this I used a Sontronics Sigma 2 ribbon mic, as it's quite dark sounding and I wanted the contrast from the stereo condensers.

Sontronics Sigma 2 Microphone Recording Grand Piano

Last but not least was another room mic, the room we had to work with sounded great but it was pretty small... so I resorted to my favourite technique for making things sounding further away! I walked around the room and looked for where sounded the nice, and placed a Sennheiser MD441 facing the opposite way from the piano, and carved some top end off the mic with some of the desk EQ on the way in. This mic on it's own may not sound instantly flattering but it added a nice ambience to the overall sound I got and definitely placed the piano sound "in a room" again, which can sometimes be lost when you've just got close mics.

Once we were in tune and ready to go we let Gavin jam through the tracks first and really get a feel for what Liam is trying to say with these songs. We cut a load of different versions, ones that could suit the piano being the lead instrument with the vocal, and one where the piano sits back a bit to allow the "band" to be the main part of the track.

I had so much fun recording piano and would love to do more of it! It's such a beautiful instrument to listen to and record. It changed the songs in a way that I can't fully describe, added a layer of class and has really helped bring out the maturity of Liams songwriting and what he's trying to do with these tracks.

Would love to record upright piano next! Anyone got a link up?

Jack xoxoxo

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