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!