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How To Mic a Pipe Organ (not for recording)

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  • How To Mic a Pipe Organ (not for recording)

    New to the forum here. I am Director of Music at a Lutheran Church that has a 1919 E.M. Skinner that was reinstalled at the church in 1986. The great division is on a cantilever and the swell is crammed into a small room behind the great. The seating for the choir is under the cantilever. The problem is that the choir cannot hear the swell division well for anthems. The piano nearby was amplified to combat the similar problem before my arrival as music director.

    My question is what kind of a microphone should I try to amplify the sound in the swell box? I was thinking of a choral microphone or some type of omni-directional mic. The microphone will run through the audio system that mics the piano for the choir (separate from the main audio system in the church).

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.


  • #2
    I would think a monophonic pickup would be fine for this sound reinforcement purpose. Neither are you looking to pick up the reflections for ambience.
    If you can get the mike installed out in front of the swell chamber, a good full range cardioid (one directional) mike with a wide pickup area is the Shure KSM27. You see them all the time on television as a single area mike for bands with mutiple vocalists and acoustic instruments. This is for setups where they don't mike every instrument and voice separately. KSM27 has a - 5 db pickup angle of 60 deg off axis and is only 10 db down at 90 deg off axis, so you don't have to install it very far out in front. If the pipes are well back from the shutter surface, it might be possible to mount it in the swell chamber behind the shutters, or on one wall. It will take up to 132 db according to the datasheet.
    It is a condensor mike, so you will need a mixer with phantom power to energize it. They have been on the market for a while, and in singles you can sometimes find a bargain on craigslist or e-bay. I got mine for $80 last year after looking for a decent piano mike <$200 for 40 years.
    I would say buy the shock mount (against mounting surface vibrations) but not the pop filter (for vocalists saying the letter P).
    There are numerous other brands which people use which are imported. The quality german originals of the condensor mike (Neuman, Telefunken) run over $1000 used. I didn't buy these nor any oriental assembled brand. I would not buy any used radio link mike, as these age badly.
    city Hammond H-182 organ (2 ea),A100,10-82 TC, Wurlitzer 4500, Schober Recital Organ, Steinway 40" console , Sohmer 39" pianos, Ensoniq EPS, ; country Hammond H112


    • #3
      I-Jo knows more about this sort of thing than most of us, so I'd pay attention to his recommendations regarding microphones. Depending on the size and configuration of the swell chamber, however, you might or might not be able to pick up a reasonable facsimile of the sound with a single high-quality microphone. And with the Great organ situated right in front of the swell shades, your mic may be flooded with the sounds of the Great pipes, which you probably do not want to be included in this mix.

      The suggestion about using a cardioid and placing it in front of the shades may work, though I'm concerned that with the great pipes being right there below the microphone no amount of directionality will prevent them from picking up huge amounts of sound from those pipes.

      There are a lot of different kinds of mics that you could try placing in various positions inside the swell box, including those flat-mounted "boundary" type mics. There are inexpensive condenser mics that have amazingly wide frequency range too, and you might be able to position several of those around the chamber and mix their outputs together to obtain a smooth sound to amplify for the choir. I realize that you run the risk of odd phase cancellations and frequency peaks when using multiple mics, but it may be your only way to get a decent sampling of all the ranks and notes if the swell box is a long rectangle in shape, as many are.

      If I were the organist, though, I'd probably be freaked out about having the organ mic'd and having the volume control in the hands of someone else, as this is going to do if the mics are inside the swell box. Whoever rides gain on the mixer will have to be extremely sensitive and will have to coordinate the volume levels with the organist.

      Despite the challenges, this may be a worthwhile endeavor if the organ is otherwise doing a poor job accompanying the organ. It's a shame than the organ was built this way, though it may well sound wonderful out in the nave.
      *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



      • #4
        I would use a small-diaphragm omni condenser, regardless of position. Directional mics of any stripe have to contend with proximity effect, which is the boosting of low-mid and low frequencies in close proximity to the sound source, and positioning the mic in or near the swell box will certainly bring this into play with a plethora of mud and low-frequency boost. The omni pattern will also do a somewhat better job of picking up a balanced representation of the division at close range, although you shouldn't expect miracles with any mic.

        A mic such as the Audio-Technica AT4022 would be nearly ideal- I've installed them before. They sound good, are small, and handle wide SPL ranges very well.


        The small-diaphragm design will be somewhat more accurate in its response than a larger diaphragm such as the KSM-27, and it will also be infinitely easier to position and secure so that the mic doesn't come loose and drop onto the soundboard or pipes! A shockmount is helpful, but not absolutely necessary unless the mic mounting is actually attached to the swell box. Most typical mic shockmounts are really much more intended to isolate transients, and a secure mounting strategy is more important than this, since whatever monitor you use will have the very low frequencies rolled out of it anyway by necessity.

        Any of the usual mic makers (Shure, etc) make similar mics that will work just fine. Expect to pay around $250-300 for anything approaching a decent mic, but don't go overboard much beyond that- the necessary positioning of this mic so close to the pipes will compromise the sound quality from the get-go. The purpose is for the choir to hear, not for the ultimate in balanced reproduction. A swell box at close range is anything BUT a balanced sound source. But you know this.

        A boundary mic is an interesting idea as well. Boundary mics are still subject to proximity effect, but if you could get the right mounting position, it would be a very low-maintenance solution that would probably sound as good as anything else. Decent boundary mics are made, again, by all the usual suspects, and will cost somewhere in the $200-300 range as well. A good candidate would be the Crown PCC-160, which is something of an industry standard boundary mic, but Shure (Beta 91), Sennheiser (E901), Audio-Technica (U851), and others make similar mics that would work well.


        • #5
          Uhhhh. No matter what the mic choice, I see this as strictly a last-resort problem solution, and one that has little chance of a musical outcome, even confined to a monitor-speaker situation. I don't know the particular situation and acoustic, but my first inclination would be to monitor the entire organ from a greater distance, from above the cantilever. It might actually be possible to "capture" the closed Swell that way, while avoiding the certain imbalance and noise that will result from close-micing at the windchest. I'm thinking, too, about the sheer wind noise the mic will pick up from the chest and wind system when that mic is sealed in a closed swell box. That sort of noise is always perceptually more prominent delivered through a loudspeaker than it seems in person. The quieter the music, the louder the "ssssssssssssssssssss"....

          I echo the thought that no mic, no matter how radical its directionality, is going to sufficiently reject the Great division to function as a "Swell-only microphone." A Great Diapason chorus is loud at point-blank range.

          I hope you will consider the need to choose a mic that can handle a sufficient sound pressure level without distortion. Pipework does become significantly louder at close range. From my console, my Great and Positiv divisions are comparable in power. But at the chest, I have to wear earplugs to tune the Great. Full organ, with the Swell shades open, could overload the mic if it's sandwiched between the divisions.


          • #6
            This might not be practical, but how about a reflector panel to bounce some sound into the choir area? It would block some sound going out into the worship area, but perhaps you could spare some.
            Home organ, same as church's organ - Rodgers 940

            Sign on my work toolbox that effectively keeps people away:

            DANGER!!! 1,000,000 OHMS!!!


            • #7
              Perhaps I am over-simplifying the situation, but it seems to me that the only time it is essential that the choir hear the Swell division clearly for accompaniment is when the Great is not also playing, so just mike the entire organ from a suitable point out front and use monitor speakers directed at the choir. If the Great is cantilevered out over the choir, it probably won't be heard properly either.

              You should have to deal with our physical setup: our instrument is built to allow for placement of a tracker console at some future time and the space for it divides the Choir division into two parts with about 12 feet of separation. The choir sits directly in front of the Choir division, which uses C-C# pipe placement, and so the melody played in the Choir division (often used for accompaniment) jumps back and forth from one side to the other behind the choir. This was very disconcerting until we got used to it.