Re: [Harp-L] Re: Recording Harmonica

David Pearce wrote:
< I found this excellent article on recording harmonica in the studio.  When recording acoustic harp one <thing that's always bothered me when recording through condenser mics is that the mic is so sensitive that the difference between cupped and open hands is greatly <exaggerated by the mic.  I wanted to know if other players have the same problem and if so, what strategy do they use to prevent this from happening.  I have a nice <Joe Meek compressor/preamp and am going to experiment with using compression to smooth out the levels.

I'm familiar with that SOS article. The first thing to say is that it was written for Sound on Sound's audience, which is professional recording engineers.  The reason that matters is that engineers typically work in recording studios that have been professionally treated to produce an optimum recording environment.  Most home studios don't get that kind of treatment; the biggest issue in most home studios is not the mic, preamp, etc., but the quality of the room.  Untreated rooms produce huge frequency bumps and gaps, which can't be overcome by a mic or any other piece of gear in the recording chain.

There are a few ways to address that basic issue:
1) Use an Audix fireball and hand-hold it.  That's how I record acoustic harp, and the sound is beautiful, detailed, and clear. (You can hear samples at  However, this may not work for you if you use a lot of hand articulations, because a handheld Audix doesn't reveal those as clearly as some other mics.
2) Use a portable soundbooth--a foam enclosure that largely excludes the sound of the room. These cost in the neighborhood of $100-200, and they're really great for recording into an open mic in an untreated room.
3) treat the room with baffles, bass traps, etc.  This is pricey (usually between $1000-1500 for a typical home room), but certainly effective when done right. 

All that said, regarding the issue with exaggerated differences between open and closed hand sounds: try working the mic from a little farther back. In Larry Adler's day, harmonica was typically recorded with a mic positioned several feet or more from the player.  That'll smooth out the differences for sure.  However, if you take this approach, the sound of the room will REALLY matter.  The fact is that I use a handheld Audix not just because it sounds good, but because it keeps all the bad stuff generated by the rooms I record in out of the recording. That's not an issue if you're already recording in a treated space, but otherwise, watch out.

Hope this is useful.

Regards, Richard Hunter  


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