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Thread: string section sound

  1. #1
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    Aug 2011
    Minneapolis, MN
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    string section sound

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    I have a quick question about getting a string section sound with 1 violinist and 1 cellist. I have been very happy with our single string instrument sound or string quartet sound when tracking. I get in trouble when I'm wanting to double or triple the parts to try to get that string section sound. Whenever I do it, it sounds very synthesizer like and fake and stop doing it.

    Here's my process and my gear and maybe someone can tell me where my weak link is.

    First my room of recording is treated pretty well. It's very dry but not dead so as to give the instrument a little bit of life.

    I'm recording into the Blue Baby Bottle Mic into a trident S20 pre. This is going into the focusrite pro 40 interface. I don't have any other DA/AD converter outside of my interface.

    I mic the instrument about 2 feet away from the bridge. This is the best most natural spot I found and have played around when just tracking the single instrument. If the mic is closer I get too much bow/string contact and gets too scratchy so have to give a little more space to find the richness and dark sounds I want.

    Again when I track this way I get a really good sounding single instrument. When I try to double the parts it sounds really bad and unusable.

    I have some different gear options but in my A/B of mics and pres I actually really like the Blue Bottle with the S20 pre. I could use an AKG 414 and a UA 6176 but these are too bright for what I'm looking for in my estimation. I have a few other options, but not worth mentioning for strings at least.

    I don't know where my weakness is coming in. It's not the playing as I'm the cellist and have toured around the world as a classically trained musician and am hired a ton for studio work. Other engineers have gotten great string section sounds with me so that's not the factor. It's not the instruments as my cello is worth $40K along with the violinists and love the sound of both instruments.

    I'm wondering if it's a gear issue, or if it's the mic placement. Lastly, what's the best process for mixing this string sound. I'm doing a project and really want the string section sound that is in Damien Rice's song Amie.

    If you want to hear my single instrument recording to see where my starting place is you can go listen to a few instrumental tracks I've done at

    Sorry my question is so long and vast. Hopefully I can get a quick answer as I need to track this part this weekend.

  2. #2
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    Feb 2009
    Southern California
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    While I'm not a violinist or cellist I have experienced a similar problem when trying to layer my vocals or guitars

    I think the crux of the problem is that we are taking one player/vocalist, one instrument and one mic and technique and trying to make it sound like a group.

    I've found variety is the key to good layering. if you are listening to a real group in a real space then not everyone can be up front and two feet away from the listener. Some instruments are more forward others are further back etc and our ears are very good at picking up on these differences to give us a sense of how the group is spread out. So when I layer guitars I mix things up. Use a different guitar or at least a different pickup, different strings, different chord voicings at different neck positions, use a different amp for different tracks, use a different mic, close mic some tracks, distant mic others. Mic some things on axis, mic other things off axis.

    Not sure how much availability you have to other instruments but it's easy enough to try different mics, distances and on/off axis configurations

    another thing to remember is that you can't go for a full rich sound on every instrument if you are trying to layer a lot of sounds. If everything is full, beautifully sparkling and filling the entire frequency spectrum there isn't enough space for everything to work together. Individual tracks may need to be a little thinner, so some things when soloed may sound a little harsh, mid forward, bass light, bass heavy etc, to be able to give you a good, full clear sound as a group

    As always YMMV
    Last edited by Bristol Posse; 09-02-2011 at 09:03.

  3. #3
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    I was going to say what Bristol said but he beat me to it. To reiterate, experiment with all the different mics you have at different distances and with the violin and cello in all kinds of different places in the room. If your DAW enables you to use varispeed {that is, speeding up and slowing down the recording} then I'd make use of that to give yourself different sound textures once everything is back to the correct speed. Record some passes dull, some bassy, some bright, some with your back to the mic, some with the mic hanging above the instruments but angled down, some with and without vibrato and importantly, whatever pieces the instruments are playing, play them at different parts of the neck/board and different strings and in various octaves with a good smattering of high, medium and low notes. It may not seem like it while you're doing it, but even a quiet sound or a dull sound will add to the overall sound. The important thing is not the importance of each individual sound, but how it all makes one sound.

  4. #4
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    Queensland, Australia
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    I'll start by saying I've never tried to create a string section from solo instruments with layering the way you're doing it so I'm only guessing here.

    However, on the few occasions I've actually been involved in recording a string section, it was always done with a small number of mics (generally one or two) more distant. Your technique is exactly how I'd record a solo instrument, but not a whole section.

    I'd probably try recording the violin and the cello at the same time with your mic farther away, then repeat that rather than close miking solo instruments.

    Not exactly the same thing, but I have had to try and recreate a choir/chorus sound by layering in the past. Close miking individual vocals didn't work but doing 2 or 3 people at a time with the mics (usually in stereo pairs) farther back allowed me to put together the voices fairly well. The same might well apply to a string section.
    That's what I do. I drink and I know things.
    -Tyrion Lannister (and Bobbsy)

  5. #5
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    I guessing when you say "doubling" you are talking about playing it a second time, and not splitting/doubling the same track in the DAW...?

    If it is the former...then yeah, like it's been said, "mix it up"...don't record each part exactly the same way.
    If you have another/different violin and/or cello...use them. Alternate the mic positions, room locations...etc.

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