How to record the saxophone

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Thursday August 29, 2019
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I've seen this so many times - a microphone so close to the bell of a saxophone that it is almost shoved down.

In live sound, there is a good enough reason for this - most of the sound from a saxophone comes from the bell. In live sound, if the sound source is louder or closer to the microphone, then less preamp gain is needed and there is less chance of feedback.

But next time you are in the same room as a saxophonist, and you have the chance to get up close and personal, listen with one ear from the side of the instrument.

By 'one ear' I mean turn your head so that one ear is closest to the instrument. Listen from a distance of half a metre or less.

Listen with your ear by the bell, by the mouthpiece, and at all positions in between as the saxophonist plays.

What you will hear will astonish you...

Firstly, the differences in sound texture are huge - the sound close to the mouthpiece is very different to the sound from the bell.

And if you listen from the centre of the instrument you will clearly hear that different notes seem to come from different points along its length.

Now turn your head so that you are facing the instrument from the side and your ears are parallel to its length.

At this point you will almost certainly be convinced that if you only ever point a microphone at the bell of the saxophone, then you are missing out on the wonderful variety of sound textures that can be achieved.

Best microphone position

So what is the best microphone position to record the saxophone?

I'm reluctant to say that there is one best position. You might like the sound from the bell for one production, or the more breathy sound from close to the mouthpiece for another.

But as a general rule for any instrument, if you are close-miking the instrument then point the microphone towards the centre of the instrument at a distance of about 1.5 times its longest dimension.

That's always a good place to start, and then experiment with distance, position and angle.

Summary

Although in live sound there are good reasons to point the microphone down the bell of a saxophone, in recording you can place the microphone wherever you like. Experiment will clearly show that different microphone positions along the length of the instrument will capture a range of interesting sound textures.

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