From the keys of guest-blogger Erik Zobler:
I am currently on tour with the George Duke Band.Â Georgeâ€™s keyboard rig consists of two Yamaha ES8s, a laptop for generating virtual instruments, a â€œkey-tarâ€? that he wears like a guitar, and an acoustic piano.
One of the hardest things to do in live sound re-enforcement is project the sound of acoustic instruments when the bandâ€™s stage volume is high.Â The Duke Band stage volume at times approaches â€œrockâ€? levels (or so I have been told my many venue crews).Â Getting a good piano in this environment is no easy task. There are some big acts that take the easy way out by placing a midi piano inside a piano shell, but George loves the sound a feel of a real piano, so that is not an option.
In the past, we used to tape AKG 414â€™s across the plate braces inside the piano. We would also use a Barcus Berry contact pickup attached directly to the soundboard.Â The Barcus Berryâ€™s sound was not great and required a fair amount of EQ.Â Sometimes instead of the Barcus Berry, we would place a 57 on foam looking across one of the sound holes. We used this approach for many years, but the sound was always a bit uneven, and I still found it difficult to get the acoustic piano sound above the band when the band inevitably turned up their amps to 11.
About a year ago we started using the Earthworks Piano Mic system.Â It consists of two â€œrandom incidenceâ€? microphones (thatâ€™s what Earthworks calls them) suspended on a bar that adjusts to fit the size of the piano.Â As far as I can tell â€œrandom incidenceâ€? means â€œomni-directionalâ€?.Â These microphones are very small diameter condenser mics that are placed close to the dampers.Â These mics can be used with the piano lid open, on the small stick, closed with the music stand cover open, or completely closed.Â We tried all of the lid variations and as one would expect, the quality of the piano sound decreased with each increase in lid closure.Â However, as the sound quality went down, the feedback rejection went up.Â We currently keep the lid completely closed, but there still isnâ€™t enough volume before feedback on the piano.
Enter the Schertlers
Eventually I had the idea to pick the brain of Chick Coreaâ€™s engineer Bernie Kirsch.Â Bernie has been with Chick as long as, or longer than I have been with George. He handles Chickâ€™s live sound as well as studio work.Â He recommended we try Schertler Instrument Pickups in addition to the mics. The Schertlers sound much more natural than the Barcus Berrys.Â They have better feedback rejection than the mics and they are perfect for feeding monitors on stage. For the front of house I blend all the mics and pickups together. Using this combination, I am able to achieve much higher gain before feedback.Â When things get really tough, I can turn up the pickups a bit more than the mics to keep the piano on top of the band.Â It is, after all, a piano playerâ€™s show.
We originally started with two Shertler Dyn-GPâ€™s, but when one of them failed, Schertler sent us an A-Dyn pick up that uses their phantom powered pre-amp. To my ear, this setup is the best we have had, but still not perfect.Â There are phase issues, and I have to apply more eq than I would like. The resulting sound of the piano occasionally ends up with some lower midrange honk and is almost always lacks a little warmth.Â However, I can finally get the volume I need from the piano when the band is loud.Â Last night in Zoetermeer, Holland, an audio engineer in the crowd paid me a compliment.Â He was curious as to how I was able to get such a big piano sound with such a loud band.Â (Smile!)
PS I am a studio engineer who has been dragged, kicking and screaming into the live world, so I am not surprised that I have never used a Helpenstill piano pickup.Â But at a recent gig in Minden, Germany, a Helpenstill was installed in the piano. I was very impressed.Â Leakage was almost non-existent and the sound of the pick up was quite good.
Click here to here my interview with Erik on mixing piano
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