Notes on Amplified Fiddles
IntroductionAs mentioned on my Home Page,
and as the photo to your right proves, I've been known to play a little
fiddle. (Or violin; by the way, when asked, "what's the difference
between a fiddle and a violin?" the best reply is: "the same as the
difference between a car and an automobile.") Many of my bands have
been on the loud side, but I've always managed to use acoustic fiddles
and have yet to switch to a solid-body electric instrument. Aware of my
experience as an audio engineer for both studio and stage, my one-time
fiddle teacher and band-mate Stacy Phillips encouraged me to write a series of articles about amplifying fiddles on the live sound stage. I eventually complied.
are four brief articles (Parts 1-4). The first three are aimed at the
acoustic fiddler who is starting to play in bands where sound
reinforcement (i.e., amplification) is required. The gaol is to arm
that player with vocabulary and basic knowledge that will be helpful
when selecting appropriate mics, pickups, and amplification systems.
(No specific product brands are endorsed.) A major theme is that
amplification involves trade-offs--your amplified acoustic fiddle may
not sound exactly like it does "unplugged"--but that does not
necessarily mean it will sound bad.
The fourth article covers a
somewhat advanced topic, but I've tried to write it in a way that
everyone can understand. My goal is to convince you that it's more than
just an interesting bit of trivia that the polarity of a bowed
instrument's sound flips when bow direction changes. Although this
phenomenon occurs when you play acoustically, it is more likely to have
audible consequences when you are amplified.
These four articles
can be considered the belated follow-up to an older piece, in which I
talk about home-studio recording of the acoustic fiddle; it is still
available at http://archive.fiddlesessions.com/aug05/recording.html.
Here are links to the four new articles, along with a very brief summary of each:
Acknowledgments: Many thanks are owed to virtuoso fiddle and dobro musician, teacher and author Stacy Phillips. I also thank John E. McLennan
at the Music Acoustics Department, University New South Wales,
Australia, for reading and making comments on an early version of Part 4.
Part 1: Microphones.
If the band is not too loud (no drums and electric guitar), you can
probably effectively use a boom-stand-mounted small-diaphragm cardioid
condenser microphone plugged into the band's PA.
Part 2: Pickups.
As on-stage sound levels increase, mics are no longer practical and a
piezoelectric pickup built into the bridge is recommended (other pickup
types are described for your consideration).
Part 3: Preamps, Amps, and Monitors.
If you use a pickup you will need to plug it into a compatible input.
Since you play a fretless instrument, you'll need to hear more of it
than any other band member would tolerate. Thus you either need your
own monitor mix or a separate amplifier on stage.
Part 4: Pickups Encode Bow Direction.
Normally inaudible, a signature of bow direction is imprinted on the
sound of bowed instruments, due to the way energy is transferred from
bow to string to body; it is a kind of analog "metadata." Pickups can
preserve this directional information quite efficiently, and non-linear
amplification gives down-bowed notes a different timbre than up-bowed
notes. An audio clip demonstrates.
Forward to Part 1-->
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