Recording my piano

I have a thirty-year old Sojin 6 foot grand piano. The friend that sold it to me about ten years ago said it was a Korean knock off of a Yamaha. That said, I can assure you it’s no Yamaha! Sojin (for those that don’t already know), was a subsidiary of Daewoo, the maker of Hyundai cars. According to one source I read, they went out of business in 1991.

Just like with flutes, there’s a lot of hype about what makes a good piano. A few years ago it dawned on me that even the cheapest flute doesn’t sound like a clarinet or a trumpet. So how much more “flute” does a $10,000 flute sound like compared to a $100 one? It can get to be a very personal business trying to sort it out. Ultimately, you like what like, and if you’re willing to shell out the cash, so be it. I think the same holds true for all the instruments, including piano.

With that hypothesis in mind, I’ve been experimenting with just how close I can come to a professional piano recording with what I have. In other words, no $150,000 nine-foot Steinway, no multimillion dollar concert hall, just my cheap piano in a 14×28 foot room with a hardwood floor.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: I prefer putting my pair of Rode NT5 mics (relatively cheap condensers compared to Neumann) about 15 feet back from the open lid of the piano rather than close miking. Because bass waves take longer to develop, I find having the mics back this far gets a better bass response and the piano sounds richer overall.

Then there’s the hall. Fortunately, there are decent digital reverbs to help approximate the effect of being in a concert hall. For example, according to Wikipedia, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco has a reverb length of 2.5 seconds. The use of reverb in recording is a somewhat contentious topic, but I’d argue that the main draw for a concert hall (as opposed to an open air stadium or field) is reverb.

On my Tascam DP-008 recorder, one of the reverbs is 2.2 seconds (Hall 2), so I’ve been playing around with that at the 3 o’clock position on the reverb knob. After exporting the track, I then import it into Peak Pro 7 and add another 17% of reverb using the Domkyrkan Cathedral sample. These simple steps are yielding surprisingly good results to my ears.

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