Written by Ian Anderson
My first ownership of a musical instrument was the more than slightly disappointing result of mail-ordering a genuine high grade plastic Elvis Presley ukulele. With imprinted likeness of the great man’s autograph and different coloured nylon strings, this wretched piece of tat was just about playable, but failed to stay in tune for more than thirty seconds. It was supplied with pitch pipes to enable tuning the notes of the open strings and a chord chart to songs like The Campdown Races and Yankee Doodle Dandy, which I could not remember Elvis actually having made famous. I was about nine at the time.
At age eleven, I persuaded my father to buy for me a Spanish guitar, spied in a music shop in Edinburgh, where we lived, and suspiciously cheap at £5 ($8). This ferocious beast would not be tamed until fitted with steel strings and pressed into an orgy of three chord strumming with the young John Evan and Jeffery Hammond as reluctant witnesses, some five years later.
A solid electric guitar of nameless and vague origin came and went before the purchase of a true name instrument, the Harmony Stratotone. Sounds like a blonde bimbo-esque CNN presenter. Harmony and I taught each other the rudiments of Black American blues with a little help from our friends T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker et al, whose records were bought by pooling our meagre resources or, more than likely, by just pooling Jeffrey’s.
Later came the Burns Black Bison, an elaborately horned devil played through a Burns 30 watt amp and which was soon traded in against a vintage (although then a mere few years old) white Fender Stratocaster. This was purchased from Lemmy, the rhythm guitarist with Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars for thirty pounds. Lemmy and I probably both wish we had kept the thing to this day, since it would be worth around ten thousand in the condition in which we owned it. Lemmy went on to a lengthy career with Motorhead and a lifelong entanglement with the loudest bass guitar on the planet.
Around this time, I coveted the Shure microphones used by some of the professional bands around the Blackpool area. Trading in the Fender, I acquired the services of a Shure Unidyne Three and, to pad out the part exchange, a shiny Selmer Gold Seal flute, in neat carry case with no playing instructions; not even in Japanese.
No longer playing the guitar, since Mick Abrahams had by then joined the band, I rounded out the musical trio of ’68 instruments with a Hohner blues harmonica, the Marine Band single reed version which, as I quickly learned, you had to suck more than blow to get the blues thing happening.
At this time in mid ’68, the Tull PA system was a brace of 30 watt Vox AC 30 guitar amps, wired through a little mixer made by someone called Edwards. It had five inputs and two mono outputs. Since one of the Vox’s was a bass model, you didn’t want to stand on the left side of the Marquee club when Tull were on if you wanted to hear the vocals.
My instrument line-up increased to include a hot water bottle, alarm clock, tin whistle and the mysterious and almost legendary Claghorn, the resultant bastard offspring of an unlikely midnight pairing of ethnic bamboo flute and a saxophone mouthpiece. At the bottom, was taped the plastic bell end of a child’s toy trumpet and the whole thing wrapped in layers of parcel tape to hold it all together. “Dharma for One” soared aloft on the searing strains of the mighty Claghorn, but with seat belt signs permanently on in terms of pitch and reliability.
The only guitar which I had retained, principally for writing songs, was the Harmony, which now resonated falteringly with knotted strings and missing pick-up. The first songs for the Stand Up album were written with this poor old wreck and the missing pick-up was found and later fitted to a three string Balalaika in time for the recording of “Jeffery Goes To Leicester Square”.
My first Tull acoustic guitar was a Yamaha, the cheapest model in their range, and the first mandolin was a bowl-back European-made thing purchased from a little shop in Denmark to annoy Mick with on the return trip by ferry, when I wrote “Fat Man”.
Martin Barre kindly gave me a Gibson SG pointy horn electric guitar which I ventured to use on the Benefit album, as occasional rhythm guitarist.
With our first trip to America, my French Selmer flute gave out and was replaced with a US made Artley, a basic student model sturdily made for the school band trade. At one time I owned more than twenty Artleys, in various states of repair (or lack of) and each tour in the seventies started with my finding the best bits to put together to make up three playable instruments for the duration. Having given most away to charity auctions over the years, I retain only a couple, now largely unplayable.
For a while I switched to 600 series flutes by Pearl, a Japanese company, and then more recently in the early nineties to Sankyo Silversonics and the US-made 2100 and 3100 Powell flutes. I use the Powells for recording and take a Sankyo and a Powell on tour. The intonation and sonority of the Powell is better, but the Sankyo blows more loudly and easily, especially when the player’s lips are fatigued and thus less articulate.
The Powell has a narrower bore and a more demanding “Q” or “P” headjoint than the free-blowing Sankyo raised shoulder “NSR1” headjoint. My practice, or kitchen, flute is a Yamaha student model, cheapest in the line, and well recommended. I take it on holiday and leave it assembled when at home to pick up and puff on whenever passing. It undoubtedly helped when I gave up smoking, a good few years ago.
The guitar with which I am most associated, especially in the seventies, was the US produced Martin 0-16NY, a small bodied so-called “parlour” guitar which I first found in a shop (would you believe it?) in Tokyo during our first visit in 1972. I still own three of these guitars, although they have been reworked with slimmer contoured necks and new bridge pieces to improve intonation. At the time of recording the “Aqualung” album, I was briefly playing an Aria Japanese guitar. By “A Passion Play”, I was on the Martin New Yorkers. I also have about twenty classic Martins dating from 1834 to the late 1930’s. These are all wall-hangers rather than players but they have featured on some recordings, notably “Too Old To R & R” and other tracks from that period where I used 0-42 and 0-45 models.
During the eighties, I switched to guitars from Andrew Manson, an English luthier, who works in Devon producing hand-made guitars for aficionados of acoustic instruments. My instruments are based on traditional designs by the Martin Company as well as on the ideas of Andy and myself, and we have come up with modern variations on the theme, giving a compact guitar with the resonance and playability associated previously with the big “jumbo” style guitars favoured by Country artists. The sexy little parlour guitars are not at all common in pop and rock music: indeed, I am probably one of the very few to use them. The instrument currently on tour with me is the smallest ever! It is a 3/4 size parlour guitar based on a French design of 150 years ago. I sent Andrew Manson the drawings and measurements and even he was surprised at how well it played and sounded, especially fitted with one of the Fishman transducer pick-ups which I have been using since the late eighties.
Below are a few more of the instruments which I currently use, together with the more pedantic but equally important electronic counterparts to make them actually heard in concert. Also listed are some details of principal recording equipment in my studio.
Concert Flutes by Sankyo (Japan) and Powell (USA)
Alto flutes by Sankyo
Acoustic Guitars by Andrew Manson (UK)
Kitchen practice acoustic guitar by Norman (Canada)
Electric guitars by Schecter (USA)
Acoustic bass guitar by C. F. Martin (USA)
Bamboo flutes by Patrick Olwell (USA)
Tin Whistles by Generation (Ireland?)
Piccolo by Phillip Hammig (Germany)
Harmonicas by Hohner (Germany)
Mandolins by Ozark and Ibanez (Japan) and Fylde (UK)
Mandolas by Andrew Manson and Ozark
Octave Mandolins by Ozark and Paul Hathway
Bouzoukis by Paul Hathway (UK)
24 track analogue recorder by Otari
2 track digital recorders by Panasonic and Sony
Mixing desk by Soundcraft (Saffyre)
Monitoring by ATC 100A speakers and Genelec 1030A speakers.
Headphones by Sennheiser (HD480 Classic)
Microphones by Shure Bros.
Various signal processors by Sony, DBX, Alesis, Yamaha, Drawmer
Recording tape by Ampex and HHB.
Live performance electronic equipment
Flute radio system by Shure (UHF U4D)
Monitoring by Shure in-ear system (PSM 600)
Sound processing by Alesis (Q2)
Microphones, Shure SM Beta 58
and Countryman Hypercardioid headset flute mic
Guitar pre-amp and sound-shaping by Zoom (9030)
Monitor mini-mixer by Mackie (1202)
Standby monitor for keyboards, Turbosound passive low profile 2 x 12
Tuner by Boss (TU-12)
Ian Anderson on the amplified flute
Over the years, I have tried a number of microphones and pickups to attempt the difficult task of making my flute audible above the sound levels generated by a rock band.
I began, when I first took up the instrument, by playing into the same mic as I used for vocals – the Shure model 57. This is one of the most commonly used dynamic mics for a variety of purposes, including micing drums, guitar and vocals where a relatively flat response between 100 hz and 10 Khz is desired.
The close and slightly preferable cousin to this mic is the Shure model 58 which has a slight peak response of around 8 – 10 Khz as opposed to the 6 Khz peak of the 57. This, combined with the greater rejection of the familiar “golf ball” pop shield makes, in my opinion, the 58 the mic of choice to play into for stage use. The two mics are similarly priced and widely available for around $160 if you shop around a little.
I still use my vocal mic (Shure Beta 58) for about a third of the time where I have to make quick changes from voice to flute or am otherwise encumbered with an acoustic guitar or mandolin.
The trick is to get close to the mic (almost touching, say half an inch from actual contact) to reject, relatively speaking, as much noise from the other musicians – particularly drums – on the stage. You would normally get this close with vocals as well for the same reason. The penalties paid are twofold: firstly, you have a greater tendency to “pop” on explosive consonants and to greatly exaggerate wind and breath noise. Secondly there is the “proximity effect” of added bass response which leads the unwary sound engineer to add much more treble or “top end” to compensate. WRONG! This problem should be corrected by putting in the high pass filter on the mixing console (removing progressively the frequencies below, say, 80 hz.) Instead, or in addition, it may be necessary to take out further frequencies from around 180 hz. and below. A little top at about 10 -12 Khz may, however, help articulation.
A peak limiter can be inserted in the signal path to control the loudest notes or better still, a compressor working at about a ratio of 6-1 with a gain reduction of around 4 – 6 dB will smooth out the volume peaks in performance and give a little more apparent volume response in the lower register of the flute (or vocal).
The alternative to the separate mic on a stand (which limits severely the mobility of the performer) is to use a clip-on mic attached to the head joint of the flute just to the left, or above, the lip plate. The make which I have used for several years, is the Countryman Isomax cardioid wireless model made by Countryman Associates Inc., 417 Stanford Avenue, Redwood City, CA 94063. They can be reached by telephone at 800 669 1422 or 650 364 9988. Fax at 650 364 2794. It can be supplied with the manufacturer’s own flute clip which snaps over the head joint with almost no wear or tear to the silver or silver-plated surface. It is also available from specialised retailers whose names may be obtained from the manufacturer.
I currently use a new model of microphone from Shure – the WL51 – which is a cardioid pattern lavalier-type mic designed for sound re-inforcement of actors’ voices in live stage work. It does require a top-end boost as well as low-end roll-off to sound natural when positioned close to the embouchure hole.
I position my mic so the active surface of the mic is facing down the length of the flute, in line with the front edge of the embouchure hole. The face of the mic is only about an inch from the hole itself and is rather susceptible to wind noise exhaled from the nose of the player. A supplied pop shield is fitted to reduce breath noise and, for outdoor shows, wind noise.
The Shure WL51 and the Countryman mics are electret mic and requires power from some source to operate. In my case, the lead from the mic goes to a Shure UC system radio transmitter belt pack, which also acts as the power supply to the mic. The signal then goes to a nearby rack-mounted UC system receiver which feeds into a small mixer (I use a Mackie 12 channel) along with the signals from my vocal mic and acoustic guitar.
I add at this stage some echo and reverb to the sound from a rack-mounted multi-effects unit, controlled by a midi foot pedal. I switch off the effects between songs for verbal introductions, or for dry vocals. The flute always sounds sweeter with some degree of reverb or a short (250 ms) stereo repeating delay, or a mixture of both. I use a number of pre-programmed effects on both flute and vocals but, I hope, subtly. Don’t overdo it because the varying acoustic ambience of almost any venue will add further reverberations and make for a watery quality to everything you play.
The output from my little mixer, which is positioned a few feet from me on the stage, goes to the main mixer out front in the audience. There, the stereo mix of effects plus flute mic and vocal mic is added to the separate feed from my acoustic guitar as well as all the other musicians’ instruments. A further discrete mix from my little on-stage mixer, which includes the acoustic guitar, is fed to a rack-mounted Shure PSM 600 or 700 transmitter which sends the combined signals to my belt receiver pack leading to the tiny Shure in-ear monitors which I wear to hear myself play and sing as well as to cut down the apparent volume of drums guitar and bass etc. on stage. You could send this mix to conventional monitor ” wedges” instead.
So, really, there is no great mystery attached to amplification of the flute. Just a powerful mic positioned close to the instrument. Various other types of mic can be used, If you are not playing with a loud group of musicians around you, you might prefer a mic positioned a little further away, say four or five inches, and with omni-directional, rather than cardioid, characteristics. This should give a slightly more open and natural sound but, of course, will pick up more of the other musicians and, to an extent, the audience. It will be more prone to feedback when you try to crank up the sound. But in an orchestral or acoustic band context, it will sound nicer and more natural. There are a number of small powered mics available, but you will still have to pay around $200 – $400 for good quality.
There have been some attempts to manufacture contact mics for the flute, but they suffer from the bugbear of transmitting the considerable mechanical noise of the key mechanism and unevenly “hearing” the different notes in the three octaves of the instrument.
The only way to accurately mic a flute is from about six feet away, with an omnidirectional mic or more than one uni-directional, or cardioid, mic. This is, however, clearly impractical for all but the entirely unaccompanied flute performance.
I hope the information above will be of use to the many people who have asked for advice on amplifying the flute in concert. But don’t be afraid to experiment and if you come up with some great new idea, share it with me. Good luck with the unenviable task of working your flute into the world of loud music. Ever wondered why I am about the only reasonably well-known idiot to persevere with it for so long? Hmmmmn…… ’nuff said. Even more good luck!
In mid ’68, the Tull PA system was a brace of 30 watt Vox AC 30 guitar amps, wired through a little mixer made by someone called Edwards. It had five inputs and two mono outputs. Since one of the Vox’s was a bass model, you didn’t want to stand on the left side of the Marquee club when Tull were on if you wanted to hear the vocals!